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Mass Effect 2: The Truth About The First 90 Minutes

Yep, right from the title screen. Here's some sensitive information you may want to know about.


 Just who the hell is this guy? And why is his office so cool?
I'm going to tell you some things now about Mass Effect 2, things I learned after starting a new game right from the title screen. If you're some kind of raging purist that wants to know absolutely nothing about this sequel, you should probably stop reading. But realistically, the average person isn't going to make it to the January 26 release without hearing about most of this stuff; it's all contained in the game's introductory moments, after all. It's all central to the storyline.

But! If you want to know the truth about Project Lazarus, Commander Shepard's killed-in-action status, and your allegiances in Mass Effect 2, I encourage you to keep on readin'.

Remember that initial teaser trailer from earlier this year, the one that was all "Shepard KIA" and everything? That wasn't smoke and mirrors. It wasn't the Citadel helping Shepard pull a vanishing act in order to go undercover, like I suspected. Shepard dies in the first five minutes of the game. Dead as a doornail. As the Normandy is savaged by a mysterious alien warship, humanity's first Spectre agent is sucked into the void and seemingly lost. Things look pretty grim.

The next things you see are computer displays of lab-grown internal organs, robotic arms bolting cybernetic doohickeys onto bone structures, a desperate scientific effort to resurrect a man who was nothing but "meat and tubes" when they brought him in.

That's right: Commander Shepard is Robocop. He was dead, and they brought him back. They made him better.

 Yep, definitely Mass Effect.
"They" is actually more like "he," and he is the Illusive Man, the shadowy figure at the head of the extremist pro-human faction Cerberus. You may remember Cerberus from some of the first game's cookie-cutter side missions, in which the group's agents opened fire on you mercilessly in defense of their morally dubious experimentation and take-no-prisoners philosophy of human advancement. The rebuilt Shepard finds himself working for Cerberus and for the Illusive Man, who looks and sounds an awful lot like Martin Sheen, if Martin Sheen had cyborg eyeballs and communicated from a secret location only by hologram. He shares Shepard's apparently unpopular belief that the Reaper menace you defeated in the first game is only in hiding and not actually vanquished, and he's at least ostensibly bent on nothing but stopping it. The Illusive Man apparently poured infinite resources over two years into what he called Project Lazarus, an effort to revive not just any soldier but the only soldier he considers capable of both galvanizing humanity's spirit and beating back the threats to its liberty and its existence that are lurking in deep space.

That was the biggest surprise to me about the setup in Mass Effect 2. Not that Shepard is some sort of bizarre cyborg zombie--which is evident by the fissures in his face through which you can see the faint glow of machinery. That part is a little creepy to me, but the people involved in the project like the scientist Miranda and the biotic soldier Jacob assure you early on that you're as much Commander Shepard as you ever were (other than the cybernetic bones and all that). For all I know, the resurrection story was just an excuse to let you completely remake your appearance and class (which you can) when you import your save from the first game. The surprise for me was that Shepard is working for Cerberus, a largely reviled organization he finds personally repugnant but that, at least for the moment, seems to share his goals. No more Spectre, no more Citadel. Shepard's original team is scattered to the four corners of the galaxy. The Normandy is lost. After the relatively upbeat ending of the first game, this isn't where you expected the big hero to end up.

For a little visual reference, here's Shepard and Jacob, escaping from the Lazarus facility as it comes under attack by unknown forces.

  
  

Game-changing setup or not, though, it's not long before you start to settle back into Mass Effect's old rhythms. Jacob and Miranda respectively make for biotic and engineering squadmates that are every bit as effective as their counterparts from the last game. The Illusive Man refuses to give you orders, but he does provide guidance, guiding you to a deserted human colony called Freedom's Progress, the latest settlement to be stripped of its inhabitants but otherwise remain seemingly undamaged. It's during your investigation that you run into Tali, the first familiar face from the first Mass Effect you'll encounter. She doesn't join up with you immediately, but there's some great tension (and the chance to gain renegade or paragon points) between Miranda's drive to find out what happened at all costs, and Tali's desire to protect her own people.

Hey, let's look at some of that!


  

Once you return from the Freedom's Progress mission, the game goes about as Mass Effect as it can get: You get a new ship. And it happens to look an awful lot like the Normandy. And the Seth Green-voiced Joker shows up to pilot it, and hey, he's walking on his previously useless legs! It's like a big old happy family reunion. This is the point where BioWare wrested the controller from my hands, but i can tell you before they did that Shepard's new ship has an advisor artificial intelligence called EDI (read: Edie), and the "Uncharted Worlds" music you hear while you're navigating the galactic map is almost exactly the same. Man, I loved that track.

 Something looks off here.
My short time with the game shed a little bit of light on how the save-importing feature will work, though I wasn't provided with a sample save to try importing myself. That at least made it clear what the game's default history will be, if you don't import a save. It assumes that you allowed the Citadel high council to die at the end of the first game, for instance, allowing humans to take control of the highest positions of government. It also says that you allowed Kaidan Alenko to die, sparing that space bigot Ashley Williams for the sequel. Of course, the reverse might be true in your game, depending on how you played. After your hasty departure from the Lazarus facility, these answers are provided to you as a nice refresher course when Miranda and Jacob grill Shepard on a few "random" facts to test his cognitive functions. So if you're like me and have no recollection of some of the less significant choices you might or might not have made when the first game came out two years ago, this is a good way to get you back up to speed on the nature of your personal version of Shepard.

You might also have spared the life of all-star Krogan badass Wrex in the last game, and BioWare let me see a non-interactive presentation indicating one example of how the game will differ depending on who's dead and who's alive. At some point, you'll travel to the Krogan homeworld, and if Wrex is dead, you'll understandably meet with an icy reception. But if he's alive, you'll find that he's united all the Krogan clans under the banner of Clan Urdnot to combat the genophage and strengthen the Krogan race. That Wrex... what a guy. Shepard.

At this point, Mass Effect 2 is looking like a better version of Mass Effect with a way more mysterious story and a steadier frame rate. All the touches I loved before, from the '70s sci-fi synth soundtrack to the film-grain visual filter, are still in place. I think I'm warming up to this new crew of misfits Shepard has gotten involved with, and the Illusive Man/Cerberus/resurrected Shepard storyline is such a curveball that I really can't wait to find out where it goes. I hope no one at BioWare takes it the wrong way when I say I'd rather not see anymore of Mass Effect 2 until I can sit down with a final copy and play through it for real. 
 

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
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Posted by Brad

 Just who the hell is this guy? And why is his office so cool?
I'm going to tell you some things now about Mass Effect 2, things I learned after starting a new game right from the title screen. If you're some kind of raging purist that wants to know absolutely nothing about this sequel, you should probably stop reading. But realistically, the average person isn't going to make it to the January 26 release without hearing about most of this stuff; it's all contained in the game's introductory moments, after all. It's all central to the storyline.

But! If you want to know the truth about Project Lazarus, Commander Shepard's killed-in-action status, and your allegiances in Mass Effect 2, I encourage you to keep on readin'.

Remember that initial teaser trailer from earlier this year, the one that was all "Shepard KIA" and everything? That wasn't smoke and mirrors. It wasn't the Citadel helping Shepard pull a vanishing act in order to go undercover, like I suspected. Shepard dies in the first five minutes of the game. Dead as a doornail. As the Normandy is savaged by a mysterious alien warship, humanity's first Spectre agent is sucked into the void and seemingly lost. Things look pretty grim.

The next things you see are computer displays of lab-grown internal organs, robotic arms bolting cybernetic doohickeys onto bone structures, a desperate scientific effort to resurrect a man who was nothing but "meat and tubes" when they brought him in.

That's right: Commander Shepard is Robocop. He was dead, and they brought him back. They made him better.

 Yep, definitely Mass Effect.
"They" is actually more like "he," and he is the Illusive Man, the shadowy figure at the head of the extremist pro-human faction Cerberus. You may remember Cerberus from some of the first game's cookie-cutter side missions, in which the group's agents opened fire on you mercilessly in defense of their morally dubious experimentation and take-no-prisoners philosophy of human advancement. The rebuilt Shepard finds himself working for Cerberus and for the Illusive Man, who looks and sounds an awful lot like Martin Sheen, if Martin Sheen had cyborg eyeballs and communicated from a secret location only by hologram. He shares Shepard's apparently unpopular belief that the Reaper menace you defeated in the first game is only in hiding and not actually vanquished, and he's at least ostensibly bent on nothing but stopping it. The Illusive Man apparently poured infinite resources over two years into what he called Project Lazarus, an effort to revive not just any soldier but the only soldier he considers capable of both galvanizing humanity's spirit and beating back the threats to its liberty and its existence that are lurking in deep space.

That was the biggest surprise to me about the setup in Mass Effect 2. Not that Shepard is some sort of bizarre cyborg zombie--which is evident by the fissures in his face through which you can see the faint glow of machinery. That part is a little creepy to me, but the people involved in the project like the scientist Miranda and the biotic soldier Jacob assure you early on that you're as much Commander Shepard as you ever were (other than the cybernetic bones and all that). For all I know, the resurrection story was just an excuse to let you completely remake your appearance and class (which you can) when you import your save from the first game. The surprise for me was that Shepard is working for Cerberus, a largely reviled organization he finds personally repugnant but that, at least for the moment, seems to share his goals. No more Spectre, no more Citadel. Shepard's original team is scattered to the four corners of the galaxy. The Normandy is lost. After the relatively upbeat ending of the first game, this isn't where you expected the big hero to end up.

For a little visual reference, here's Shepard and Jacob, escaping from the Lazarus facility as it comes under attack by unknown forces.

  
  

Game-changing setup or not, though, it's not long before you start to settle back into Mass Effect's old rhythms. Jacob and Miranda respectively make for biotic and engineering squadmates that are every bit as effective as their counterparts from the last game. The Illusive Man refuses to give you orders, but he does provide guidance, guiding you to a deserted human colony called Freedom's Progress, the latest settlement to be stripped of its inhabitants but otherwise remain seemingly undamaged. It's during your investigation that you run into Tali, the first familiar face from the first Mass Effect you'll encounter. She doesn't join up with you immediately, but there's some great tension (and the chance to gain renegade or paragon points) between Miranda's drive to find out what happened at all costs, and Tali's desire to protect her own people.

Hey, let's look at some of that!


  

Once you return from the Freedom's Progress mission, the game goes about as Mass Effect as it can get: You get a new ship. And it happens to look an awful lot like the Normandy. And the Seth Green-voiced Joker shows up to pilot it, and hey, he's walking on his previously useless legs! It's like a big old happy family reunion. This is the point where BioWare wrested the controller from my hands, but i can tell you before they did that Shepard's new ship has an advisor artificial intelligence called EDI (read: Edie), and the "Uncharted Worlds" music you hear while you're navigating the galactic map is almost exactly the same. Man, I loved that track.

 Something looks off here.
My short time with the game shed a little bit of light on how the save-importing feature will work, though I wasn't provided with a sample save to try importing myself. That at least made it clear what the game's default history will be, if you don't import a save. It assumes that you allowed the Citadel high council to die at the end of the first game, for instance, allowing humans to take control of the highest positions of government. It also says that you allowed Kaidan Alenko to die, sparing that space bigot Ashley Williams for the sequel. Of course, the reverse might be true in your game, depending on how you played. After your hasty departure from the Lazarus facility, these answers are provided to you as a nice refresher course when Miranda and Jacob grill Shepard on a few "random" facts to test his cognitive functions. So if you're like me and have no recollection of some of the less significant choices you might or might not have made when the first game came out two years ago, this is a good way to get you back up to speed on the nature of your personal version of Shepard.

You might also have spared the life of all-star Krogan badass Wrex in the last game, and BioWare let me see a non-interactive presentation indicating one example of how the game will differ depending on who's dead and who's alive. At some point, you'll travel to the Krogan homeworld, and if Wrex is dead, you'll understandably meet with an icy reception. But if he's alive, you'll find that he's united all the Krogan clans under the banner of Clan Urdnot to combat the genophage and strengthen the Krogan race. That Wrex... what a guy. Shepard.

At this point, Mass Effect 2 is looking like a better version of Mass Effect with a way more mysterious story and a steadier frame rate. All the touches I loved before, from the '70s sci-fi synth soundtrack to the film-grain visual filter, are still in place. I think I'm warming up to this new crew of misfits Shepard has gotten involved with, and the Illusive Man/Cerberus/resurrected Shepard storyline is such a curveball that I really can't wait to find out where it goes. I hope no one at BioWare takes it the wrong way when I say I'd rather not see anymore of Mass Effect 2 until I can sit down with a final copy and play through it for real. 
 

Staff
Posted by JeffGoldblum

I loved the idea of the first one but could never get into it, I hope can get hooked by the second one.
It happened with AC maybe it will happen again...

Posted by ez123

 "This is the point where BioWare wrested the controller from my"
 Somewhere between this and the next paragraph, Brad was knocking somebody out.

Posted by AndrewB

I'll admit, I didn't read everything here because I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but I did happen to watch that gameplay clip and noticed the mention of mouse controls. Thus, I'll assume it came from a demonstration of the PC version, which makes me wonder: are they not delaying the PC release as heavily as the first game, this time? I'll probably still buy it on 360, since I did with the first, but still...

Edited by Cornman89

A curveball indeed, Brad.
 
Considering one of the main themes of the first Mass Effect - organic vs. synthetic life - this development is... interesting, to say the least. Can't wait to see where Bioware takes it!

Posted by RHCPfan24

The fact that Martin Sheen is in this game is freaking sweet. I already can't wait for it just because of him and Keith David.

Posted by Shibbles

I didn't care much for the first game, but I am fairly stoked for the sequel.

Posted by Brunchies

Must...Not...Read! I watched some of the videos though and I like the approach combat in the game has taken.

Posted by CL60

i still don't understand why they made guns have ammo...they went into great detail in the first game in the codex about why the guns didn't have ammo.

Posted by MarkWahlberg

I am so glad you can remake your appearance. My Shepard looked goofy as hell. 

Posted by Rourkey

I am really stoked for this game. I thought the first one was awesome

Posted by Redsand26

Excellent write-up.  I cannot wait for this game.  Good on Bioware to let you have an early sneak peek!

Posted by Chewii101

I'm twitching as I'm reading this. Come on Bioware just release the game already. Give your fellow Canadians some love. 

Edited by CL60
@MarkWahlberg said:

" I am so glad you can remake your appearance. My Shepard looked goofy as hell.  "

Mine looked cool for a bit then I noticed his eyes looked ridiculous and were oddly shaped then I couldn't unnotice it.
Posted by AltonBrown

Must... not... read...

Posted by Reverseface

Lovely Tali is back, Hope you get to smash her back doors in.

Posted by Onious
@CL60 said:
" i still don't understand why they made guns have ammo...they went into great detail in the first game in the codex about why the guns didn't have ammo. "
Guns still don't have ammo; it's like using the proton pack in Ghostbusters, you're gonna fire till your gun overheats where you have to remove the overheated clip to continue firing.
Online
Posted by wolf_blitzer85

Yup, I'm ready to play this game.

Posted by Milkman

Everything about this game seems completely fantastic. I'm going to post this in every Mass Effect 2 related article up until release.
 
STOKED!

Posted by Jeffsekai

DO NOT WANT ANYTHIGN POSTED ABOUT THIS GAME

Posted by CL60
@Onious said:
" @CL60 said:
" i still don't understand why they made guns have ammo...they went into great detail in the first game in the codex about why the guns didn't have ammo. "
Guns still don't have ammo; it's like using the proton pack in Ghostbusters, you're gonna fire till your gun overheats where you have to remove the overheated clip to continue firing. "
They still have ammo, there's an ammo count at the bottom of the screen and Bioware even said that there is a limited amount of ammo for your guns.
Posted by Brontes_Muse
@CL60: I always just made mine just like theirs.  I like using their character / expectation of shepard.  He also always annimated well, and sound right.   
 
I don't really care for the customization that much.  I never minded playing zelda as link, of max pain as max, or halo as master chief; why would I want to change who commander shepard is?
Posted by Meteora

I don't know if I should regret reading the post or not... =/

Edited by Metal_Mills


The guy in the background is freaking out.
Posted by TheYear20XX

Can't believe the game of the year for 2010 is coming out in January.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Wait a second. Shepard is a Zombie Cyborg? WHA?!?!?! As if I needed another reason to get ME2.

Posted by kagekage

The Illusive Man kinda gives off a G-Man vibe.

Posted by Wiseblood
@CL60 said:
They still have ammo, there's an ammo count at the bottom of the screen and Bioware even said that there is a limited amount of ammo for your guns. "
For gameplay purposes the HUD counts shots like there was ammunition, but it's heat management.  In the video Jacob even calls them "thermal clips".
Posted by MarkWahlberg
@CL60 said:
" @MarkWahlberg said:

" I am so glad you can remake your appearance. My Shepard looked goofy as hell.  "

Mine looked cool for a bit then I noticed his eyes looked ridiculous and were oddly shaped then I couldn't unnotice it. "
Sounds about right. 
 
 And when I started a new file to play it differently, I made a really attractive woman, but then a few hours in I noticed her neck was super tiny and it bugged THE HELL outta me. I never beat the game with that profile, but I did realize that  ass-whooping as a girl was a hell of a lot more fun for some reason. I wonder if you're allowed to have a sex change...
Edited by ProjektGill

It is funny how Brad's paragraph got either cut off or just unfinished. Also about the ammo it is weird. They had previously said that normal weapons,while they needed to be reloaded, they would have unlimited ammo and only heavy weapons like the rocket launcher would have ammo. I wonder if they will make you resupply at these "lockers" that they have been talking about or if you can walk over an enemy and get ammo or maybe the ammo will just refill as your weapon cools down.

Posted by Onious
@Wiseblood said:
" @CL60 said:
They still have ammo, there's an ammo count at the bottom of the screen and Bioware even said that there is a limited amount of ammo for your guns. "
For gameplay purposes the HUD counts shots like there was ammunition, but it's heat management.  In the video Jacob even calls them "thermal clips". "
Bingo.
Online
Edited by CL60
@Wiseblood said:

" @CL60 said:

They still have ammo, there's an ammo count at the bottom of the screen and Bioware even said that there is a limited amount of ammo for your guns. "

For gameplay purposes the HUD counts shots like there was ammunition, but it's heat management.  In the video Jacob even calls them "thermal clips". "
Dude...Bioware CONFIRMED that ammo is in the game. 
 
" Part of the development of Mass Effect 2 is focusing on it as much a shooter as it is an RPG. They’re equally important to the game and part of the things we realized as a recognition on the team is the tension, and the excitement during the action sequence during a shooter game. There’s a certain tension to having a limited supply of ammo or bullets, and just realizing you gotta make sure every one counts. They really do have a tremendous impact." 
 
"There's two different categories: there's heavy weapon ammo and there's the ammo used for all the different weapons."
 
A direct quote from Bioware.
Posted by spiceninja

Oh my god. I cannot wait any longer for this game!

Online
Posted by HatKing

Okay I'm glad I read that... I think.  I am like Brad now though, I don't want to know anything else.  In fact there were a few things in here that I didn't need to know, like that Wrex thing.  Oh well.  At least now I can set all my worries aside knowing that the game is going to be great.  I just need to replay Mass Effect again one of these days... I so pissed I lost that save file.
Posted by Wiseblood
@CL60: 
 
You're taking the term "ammo" too literally.  In the ME fiction the (non heavy weapon) guns still operate off the whole "mass accelerator fires grain sized pellets from a block of metal" principle as in the first game.  In ME2 they changed how HEAT MANAGEMENT works to make the game feel more like other shooters with conventional weaponry without completely retconning how guns work in the ME universe.  That's why they're called thermal clips.
Posted by zombie2011

I can't wait to play this. With my Dragon Age blood armor, Shepherd is gonna look badass.

Online
Posted by NAKent

I'm not really in to the whole cyborg Shepard thing, because my origin story for my Shepard, was War Hero and i played him like no one could replace him. BUT that being said, if you get to a middle point and the real Shepard appears and not dead, I hope he kills this Cyborg Zombie Shepard. By the end of this game, I want shit to be so cray at the end of this game that it makes MGS2 look like a punk ass bitch.

Posted by rohanspear345

WOOOOOOOOOOOO ASHELY WILLIAMS!

Posted by CL60
@Wiseblood said:
" @CL60: 
 
You're taking the term "ammo" too literally.  In the ME fiction the (non heavy weapon) guns still operate off the whole "mass accelerator fires grain sized pellets from a block of metal" principle as in the first game.  In ME2 they changed how HEAT MANAGEMENT works to make the game feel more like other shooters with conventional weaponry without completely retconning how guns work in the ME universe.  That's why they're called thermal clips. "
You still have to pick up "thermal clips" to use them in your guns. It's just ammo with a different name..
Posted by Zaapp1

Robocop?  More like Inspector Gadget.

Posted by Afroman269

My mind was just blown....

Posted by SoothsayerGB

 
Cover system still doesn't cover all, I see. 

Posted by Hexogen

LA LA LA NOT LISTENING

Posted by Claude

Default settings, crap. I played Mass Effect on my PC and had a different ending than you described. I knew I should have played Mass Effect on my Xbox 360 for a save file.

Edited by DJGhostmare
@SeverePapercut: As Brad (and all the other previewers of these ninety minutes) have specified, Cerberus recovered Shepard's original body to create the cyborg. Which is exactly what a cyborg, like Robocop, is---a human whose physical abilities have been enhanced by mechanical parts built within the human shell. In this case, Shepard was brought back to life, like Robocop, so we would assume that his brain survived despite having shut down. Thus, there is no other Shepard. What you see is what you get. The only question left to ponder about the reanimation process is whether or not one's soul remains, or if we ever had one to lose.
 
I wonder if that will ever figure into the storyline, or maybe I'm just asking for way too much.
Posted by nickhead

I hated how my character looked and now I can finally fix that. Thanks Bioware :)

Posted by Jedted

Ashley was NOT  bigot, she just had trust issues with aliens.  Considering how humanities first encounter turned out and how new we are to the community it's understandable. 
Posted by Ping5000

Oh sweet, PC footage. Looks like the interface hasn't changed all that much. Not that it needed any.

Posted by NAKent
@Andvari: Well thanks for clearing that up, but my status does change from I want shit to be crazy.
Posted by Skald

Can't we get BEYOND ammo? 
 
Game looks great, by the way. Day one purchase, collector's edition.

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