Mass Effect 2: Electric Bugaloo

Hot off the heels of Mass Effect, I was quick to play the sequel. While I thought the first Mass Effect was an incredible experience, it also had some quirks to it that could really turn someone off. I haven’t been able to put down Mass Effect 2; stopping about 3/4 of the way through the game to write this down. If I didn’t feel compelled to gush about Mass Effect 2 to the world, I would just keep playing. Mass Effect 2 might possibly be the best game ever. I have played a lot of games in my life, and I’m hard pressed to think of many more examples of gaming brilliance.

Why am I throwing around the hyperbole? Because the good folks at BioWare took everything that was great about the original and amplified it while simultaneously fixing everything that sucked about the first game. What we’re given is an action RPG with virtually no flaws.

Let’s start with what worked with the first game. I got to play the role of Shepard, live through some exciting scenarios and save the galaxy. In Mass Effect 2, I can carry over my Shepard and continue my quest in a galaxy I impacted in the first game. The game starts out by asking you a few questions about major events that happened in the first game, but you’ll soon see all the little decisions you made in the first game come to the forefront in the sequel. It’s unbelievably cool to see this play out, and to think that decisions that are made in the first and second Mass Effect will carry over to Mass Effect 3 is scary. How will BioWare make a game that will be able to adjust itself to all of the different variables?

Should you be starting the series with Mass Effect 2, you can just start a new Shepard and go from there. However, the game will constantly reference stuff from the first one, and I feel it’s kind of a shame to miss out on the impact your decisions in the first game have on the sequel. If you’re late to the party, I would personally recommend you start from the beginning to get the full experience.

The scope of the first game was one of my favourite aspects of Mass Effect. In the sequel, the galaxy is way bigger and your adventure much more meaningful. Without going into too much detail, you’re basically on a mission to recruit a team strong enough to go on a suicide mission. Because the story at its core is so “simple”, it’s much easier to follow while not being boring in the least. There is a lot more going on, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Along the way, you will build up a bigger squad that you’ll feel even more closely connected to than the original cast. Besides having them work out main missions with you, each person has a “loyalty quest” that really fleshes out their back-stories and helps you better connect. Even psycho convicts like Jack can grow on you. My personal favourites are the resident hottie Miranda and the ultra-cool assassin Thane. Depending on how you played the first game, most of the original cast will return in varying capacities, which is also great for those feeling a bit “home sick”.

BioWare clearly knew what worked with the first game and made it better. But how about the stuff that wasn’t so hot? I’m glad to say that they’ve fixed just about everything people complained about. The auto-save system has been upgraded to work just like you would expect a modern video game to work, meaning you won’t lose hours of progress because you didn’t manually save. Mass Effect 2 is even prettier to look at, even in motion, now that the sequel has a rock-solid frame-rate. The combat has been much-improved, with the feel of shooting guns now comparable to any good third-person shooter. All the special attacks are still intact, with a few new ones thrown in for good measure.

A lot of the unnecessary complexities of the first game have been heavily modified or removed completely. You have less variables to tweak on your characters, which sounds like a bad thing at first but really isn’t. There are less variables to add level points to, which works just fine within the context of this game. Health is simplified greatly, so that your health and shields recharge with time and medi-gel is only used to revive downed teammates. The nightmare that is the equipment screen has been completely reworked with a much simpler interface and way less guns and armor to noodle with. Simplifying these systems makes it a lot easier to develop your character without having to spend a stupid amount of time comparing guns or just trying to figure out how the equipment screen works. Also completely gone from Mass Effect 2 are the Mako and elevators. Vehicle missions have been removed completely and loading screens take the place of the elevator sequences.

Speaking of loading screens, you will see them a lot, and at times, for longer than you would like. The game is a bit slow to load across the board, even when you’re reloading the exact same place you just died in. That though, isn’t the Achilles Heel of Mass Effect 2. The worst part about Mass Effect 2 is the boring (and to a point, necessary) planet-scanning sections. Unlike Mass Effect 1, where you had to land on a planet and drive to a mineral source to mine it, you just scan the planet and shoot a probe when you pick up a signal. The problem is, scanning planets is slow, boring and kind of important to get the minerals you need for upgrades. There is an upgrade you can get to scan planets faster, but it doesn’t make the process fast enough or make it any more fun.

I am glad that I went out of my way to jump into the Mass Effect series. Mass Effect 1 was a great game, and the sequel is on pace to be one of the best video games I’ve ever played. Some may not hold it in that high regard, but I think it will be a consensus pick for one of the best games to come out this generation. To me, it is so good, I would recommend you go back and play the original just so you can fully enjoy the awesome that is Mass Effect 2.

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