After I got to play a good chunk of Mass Effect 2 about a month ago, I was only permitted by the space cops at BioWare to tell you about the first half of the demo I played. Now the curtain has been lifted on the other half, a mission that involved Commander Shepard's recruitment of yet another fresh party member who's new to the series, Samara.
Samara's an Asari, one of the blue, sort of mystical, ladylike beings from the first game. But her demeanor is about 180 degrees from the steady, contemplative cool of your previous Asari squadmate, Liara. Samara is a justicar, a hot-blooded vigilante bent on exacting justice upon the galaxy's lawless scum. She operates within her own questionable but nonetheless specific moral code, which makes her a good fit for the rogues' gallery Shepard appears to be constructing in this sequel. She's also an intensely powerful biotic character, so--while I didn't get to play her, myself--you can probably expect to fling a lot of enemies to and fro with her abilities.
This trailer ought to show you pretty much exactly what Samara is about.
The brief mission I played had me running after Samara on the Asari homeworld of Illium, where she was herself on the trail of a group of mercenaries whom she was hellbent on bringing to justice. I don't want to give away too much of what was a pretty cool narrative interlude (albeit one that may or may not have much bearing on Mass Effect 2's core storyline), so I'll only say that the investigation into the mercs' operations went deeper than expected into a series of tangled events, and everything was not as it seemed, even with the minor characters involved. There were some tense exchanges of dialogue, a few quick decisions to make... and Samara threw someone out a window. Pretty good stuff.
Afterward I jumped ahead to a pure combat section that had me blasting my way through the mercenary base. Not a lot new to report about the shooting that I didn't cover in my previous story, though I will reiterate that Mass Effect 2 certainly feels more like a third-person shooter than its predecessor did. One new feature I ran into in this merc base was a weapons locker, which BioWare hasn't finalized the design on but which seems like it will act as a sort of weapons vending machine, where you can trade out different types of weaponry mid-mission, rather than rolling around with huge amounts of guns in your bottomless inventory.
As if to drive home the more shooter-focused nature of this sequel, the demo ended in a boss fight with no less than a gunship that was doing strafing runs, firing considerable ordnance on my poorly defended position. A few shots from my trusty grenade launcher--one of the new class of heavy weapons being introduced in Mass Effect 2--was enough to take the craft down, but before I got too cocky, I was informed that the demo had been set to the easiest difficulty setting. So it would seem the designers are focusing on creating some intense, action-oriented boss encounters--which is probably no surprise for anyone who remembers the Benezia fight from the first game.
I think I'm about 50/50 on all these new party members. Certainly some of the new faces--mainly Samara and Thane--are looking cool, and I sincerely hope that Geth character from the enemies trailer becomes a party member at some point. But I would also really like to get some playable time in with old friends like Garrus and Wrex at some point, too. To be fair, BioWare still has five more characters to reveal before the game's January 26 release, so who knows who might pop up between now and then?
How are you feeling about what you've seen of the game so far? I'm cautiously getting optimistic that this is going to turn out to be a better game overall than the last one, though part of me also fears all this change.