When this game first came out in January, the Internet buzz surrounding Mass Effect 2 was insane. People were hailing this as the game of the year 2010, regardless of what else was to come out in the next 11 months. I got so caught up in the Mass Effect 2 that I went out and bought Mass Effect 1 and beat it just so that I could get the full Mass Effect 2 experience.
Mass Effect 1 rocked my socks pretty hard. If it weren’t for a few excessive RPG elements and technical issues, it could have been right near the top of my unofficial “best games I’ve ever played” list. With such lofty expectations built up for this game, did they live up to them?
Yes. Yes they did.
To start, BioWare directly addressed all of my major complaints about the game. Most of the excessive RPG mechanics have been stripped away, which helps keep you in the game rather than managing menus. The frame-rate is now rock solid and loading isn’t masked by robotic elevator sequences. The Mako is thankfully nowhere to be found here. Side missions have also been reworked so that they’re all unique.
Having taken out pretty much everything I didn’t like about Mass Effect 1, am I left with a truly epic and amazing game? Aside from very minor niggles, yes.
The scope of the first game returns, as the galaxy the game gives you to work with is just as big (if not bigger) than before. Amplifying the importance of the world is the fact that if you’ve completed Mass Effect 1, all of your decisions from the first game will impact the second game. It was nuts to see all of my big and small decisions reflected in some way in the sequel and I look forward to seeing how they all come together in Mass Effect 3.
On the surface, Mass Effect 2 features a much simpler story, that you could sum up in one sentence. However, it does get a lot deeper than that, as the journey towards that final mission is arguably more epic than the climax. The best part about the story is that, just like in the first game, your choices will have a huge impact on the outcome of big and small plot points.
The real highlight for me were the characters. The Mass Effect 2 cast of characters may be the strongest casts of characters in any video game, even trumping its predecessor. Even though the game has doubled the size of your squad, I couldn’t help but have strong feelings towards all of them. Some people I really liked (Thane and Miranda), while others I absolutely hated. In particular, Zaeed pushed my buttons to the point where I was ready to kill him on his loyalty quest. You can play the game and minimize your interactions with your squad, but you’d be missing out on the best part of the game. Enemies, secondary and tertiary characters are also much stronger than what you’d find in almost any other game out there.
When you’re not talking, you’ll notice that the combat has been much improved. I played as a soldier and immediately felt a difference in the feel of the shooting. Powers are easier and more fun to use.
If I have to levy any criticisms towards the game, I would have to say that planet scanning sucks. Without going into spoilers, it’s an important part of the game that is really boring and can eat up at least one-hour of your gameplay. If you need to scan, I’d recommend changing up the soundtrack or listening to a podcast while you fire probes. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor quibble compared to the legitimate problems the first game faced.
Put it all together, and Mass Effect 2 is currently my front-runner for game of the year 2010. I loved Mass Effect 1, but this game to me leapfrogs it in just about every way. If it weren’t for the abundance of other stuff I have to catch up on, I’d go back and start as a renegade and see how the story plays out from there. Any other game vying for the best of 2010 has a hard act to follow in Mass Effect 2.