By JimmyJackJones 1 Comments
Mass Effect 2 has quickly become one of my favorite games of all time. Bioware has somehow managed to find the right blend of third-person shooter gameplay and RPG mechanics, and delivered it with an incredible level of polish to create an experience that is unmatched by any other game out there. In my opinion, Mass Effect 2 has it all: an epic story, memorable and unique characters, fun gameplay, beautiful graphics, a sense of progression, and the feeling that you are having an impact on the events of the game's universe. While Red Dead Redemption threatened to snatch the top spot from this list, I felt Mass Effect 2 had a more lasting impact on me and was just a better game overall. This is the kind of game I've dreamed about since I was a kid, and to see it become a reality was simply amazing.
I loved the original Mass Effect. Bioware had been refining their approach to RPGs over the years with games like Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire (with great success on the former and maybe less so on the latter), and Mass Effect was their most ambitious attempt yet. They were looking to make a RPG with an epic story in a huge universe that would appeal to mainstream audiences. That's not an easy thing to pull off. And they were trying to do it without the Star Wars license this time. For the most part, they did pretty well. By and large, the best thing about that game was the cinematic presentation. The camera angles, the voice acting, heck, even the lighting all worked to make Mass Effect look like nothing before it. The key element, though, was the dialogue system. Rather than just picking a line of dialogue, you were picking the type of response you wanted to give, and your character, Commander Shepard, would say something according to that. Somehow, this made the whole thing seem to flow more smoothly, though I'm still not sure why. It was through the dialogue trees that you would decide what kind of Shepard you would be playing as. Would you be the model of the virtuous soldier, or would you be a renegade agent who would get the job done by any means necessary? Your choices had an impact on the events around you, and people could live or die (even in your own crew) based off those choices. When the game was all over, I felt like I had just wrapped up an incredible journey rather than just a game. Mass Effect got to me in a way even only a few movies have been able to.
That's not to say it didn't have problems. When designing a game like that, you're bound to have some issues, and Mass Effect had more than its fair share. The previews made Mass Effect look like a cover based third person shooter with exciting action and squadron dynamics. Sadly, the combat didn't live up to expectations. While it worked well enough, it became clear early on that you had little impact on the accuracy of your shots. Instead, pulling the trigger was roughly equal to hitting the "Attack" command in any other RPG, and it was up to the dice rolls behind the scenes if you hit anything or not. I didn't hate the combat, but it quickly became a means to reach the next story element rather than being an awesome part of the gameplay. The graphics engine also labored to keep up with the game, with textures often popping in very late. The worst offender to me, though, was the inventory system. While it was cool in concept to have a ton of guns, armor, and mods available to spec out my squad however I saw fit, managing all those items was an incredible chore. The menu became cluttered all too often, and almost half the game was probably spent comparing one piece of equipment to another or choosing what modifications to equip.
With Mass Effect 2, I was expecting a lot of the same. I knew they had made some changes, but I just figured some sacrifices had to be made in order to create the epic space saga Bioware was looking to tell. Boy was I surprised when I learned that not only did Mass Effect 2 fix all my problems with Mass Effect 1, but it even improved on things I loved about the first game. Combat was now an actual cover based third person shooter! Leveling up would increase damage or give you special abilities, but the actual pointing and shooting was based on your skills. Now combat was a key feature of the game rather than a necessary evil. Texture pop-in was a thing of the past. The cinematic presentation was even more incredible, and the characters even more interesting. And the inventory system was basically gone. You could still equip armor mods and choose your weapon loadouts, but it was far more simplified and intuitive than the prior game. This game was as much fun to play as it was to watch.
But the most important part was the story. Mass Effect's story was, simply put, amazing. Commander Shepard was placed in the midst of a quest to save the entire galaxy, and he and his crew were basically on their own. While plenty of other intellectual properties have used that model, Mass Effect still managed to stand apart. I had no idea where they would go next, but the game made it clear there was some unfinished business. Mass Effect 2 somehow managed to come along and blow me away once again. The quest seemed even more urgent. The worlds and conflicts seemed more complex and unique. And most of all, the characters seemed more interesting. You're gathering a team of elite and specialized warriors to take on the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. This brings you into contact with people like Jack, the most powerful biotic in the galaxy. She also happens to be a psychotic killer. How about Grunt, a Krogan bred to be the pinnacle of the Krogan species? Or Dr. Mordin, a Salarian scientist with some real entertaining quirks? You take orders from the Illusive Man, a mysterious and powerful figure who leads one of the most controversial agencies of humanity (and voiced by Martin Sheen. Martin Friggin' Sheen!) Oh, and then there's Miranda. Genetically modified to to be superior in every way. I really like Miranda. That's probably because I'm a guy, and she was modeled after and voiced by the girl from Chuck. Yeah, there shouldn't be a question of which girl I had my Shepard pursue.
Of course, the most interesting character is Commander Shepard him/herself. Not just because you can choose Shepard's actions in this game, but because of the actions you took in the prior game. Mass Effect 2 takes all the choices you took in Mass Effect 1 and has them reflected in one way or another. They can be as small as hearing some item in a news story, which still seemed awesome. They can be as big as determining what state the Krogan homeworld will be in during this game. In short, Mass Effect 2 has a way of making your choices feel important in a way no other game ever has, in my opinion. Sure, you have to have played the original game to really feel the impact, but it feel incredibly rewarding to have done so. This feels more than ever that it's your story. This is your saga that you're writing. This universe feels alive and tangible. And the choices in Mass Effect 2 could be even more far reaching. Considering the way Mass Effect 2 can end, I can't imagine what Bioware has in store for Mass Effect 3 and how they plan to address all those possibilities.
About the only thing that I didn't love in Mass Effect 2 was scanning planets. There are a lot of upgrades available to you in this game, and you need precious metals and elements to unlock them. Unfortunately, the best way to gain these resources is to scan planets from orbit. This involves methodically moving a sensor across the planet and waiting for a spike in the readings so you can launch a probe. This becomes really tedious really fast. Some people found they were just fine without scanning very often, but I keep getting drawn into it for some reason. Maybe I'm just OCD or something. Thankfully, this wasn't nearly enough to detract from the rest of the experience.
Simply put, Mass Effect 2 is the most incredible game experience I've had to date. Games have tried to blend these genre elements before, but something always felt off. It always felt like some elements of the gameplay had to be sacrificed. Mass Effect 2 is the first game that I've played that successfully managed to pull it off while making each part seem fun and fully realized. Mass Effect 2 is emotionally engaging, full of exploration, and a ton of fun to play. I feel like this could be a very important game. I hope developers look at what was accomplished here and figure out how to build on it (however that may be possible). Because Mass Effect 2 feels like a game that declares a new era for games has begun. Ideas that seemed like a dream back when I was a child are now fully realized in this game. Mass Effect 2 is my favorite game of the year so far, and I have my doubts that any of the games coming toward us this holiday season can top it. But who knows? It's been an incredible year so far. There just may be some surprises yet to come. And I can't wait to discover them.