Mass Effect 2 Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2010-01-26
Genre:
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Outside of the campaign missions, your main activity in the game is exploring random planets and mining them for resources. However, instead of using the Mako for this, which was the case in Mass Effect, you have to sit on board the Normandy and scan the planets manually. On the PC, this involves holding down the right mouse button and moving the cursor over the surface of the planet, looking for resource (hot spots.) If you find one, then you send out a probe, and it gathers the resources for you.

Suffice it to say, scanning planets isn't a lot of fun. I wasn't a huge fan of the Mako (I didn't think it was a bad concept, just overused), but at least it involved playing the game and driving around and shooting stuff. Scanning planets is just pixel hunting at its worst, and it gets boring after the first planet, let alone after the dozens you have to mine to gather enough resources to pay for your ship and weapon upgrades. Even BioWare must have realized that scanning planets isn't enjoyable, because after beating Mass Effect 2 once, any subsequent characters that you create start out with a huge surplus of resources, so not as much mining is required. But that begs the question. If BioWare knew that scanning planets isn't any fun, why did they make it such a major component of the campaign?

Other Changes

Large parts of the Mass Effect 2 engine have the same look and feel as the Mass Effect engine. For example, the game still uses an over-the-shoulder camera, and you still use the WASD keys to move around (at least on the PC), but other things have changed, some subtly and some not so much.

First and foremost, weapons now use thermal clips, which prevent them from overheating. That sounds like a major positive, but to make up for it, weapons now require bullets. You're only allowed to hold a certain amount of ammunition on your character -- basically enough to get you through one major battle -- and that means you have to scrounge for bullets after every fight. Ammunition clips are reasonably plentiful (I rarely ran out of bullets for my preferred weapon), but I didn't especially like looking around for them every few minutes. If your goal is to make the missions action-packed, why would you force an intermission after every battle? Of the two options, I actually prefer overheating weapons.

Another change involves regeneration. In Mass Effect, only certain classes, races, and upgrades allowed you to regenerate your health, and so medi-gel was important. In Mass Effect 2, if you crouch behind cover for about 5 seconds, you completely regenerate your shields and health, and so you only need medi-gel for emergencies (which rarely happen). Moreover, since regeneration is so friendly, that makes the battles much easier, and you'll probably die far less often in Mass Effect 2 than in Mass Effect.

Finally, while Mass Effect only had six companions, Mass Effect 2 has no less than 11, with possibly more on the way in future DLCs. Having more companions sounds like a good thing, but there is just so little dialogue in the game that most of your companions are nothing more than battle bots for the missions, and having more or less doesn't make any difference. Of course, once again BioWare added in romance options with the companions, and this is one of the reasons why people accuse them of following a formula. You don't build any sort of relationship with any of your companions (I spent way more time talking to my administrative assistant than to anyone else), but then right before the big final mission I was suddenly able to get a couple of my companions into bed.

Conclusion

The tone of this review is mostly negative, but that's not because Mass Effect 2 is a thoroughly bad game. It's just a slimmed-down action game, which is disappointing to me -- and, I'm assuming, to anybody else who was hoping for an actual role-playing game. If BioWare is going to spend two years to create a game, I just wish they'd set their sights higher than what they produced in Mass Effect 2.

But the production values are once again excellent (and all of the voice actors from the original game returned to reprise their roles), the engine looks better and runs much more smoothly than it did before (saves and loads are almost instantaneous, and all of the interminably long elevator rides disappeared), BioWare did a fantastic job of incorporating characters and events from the original game into the new one (even the guy looking for a refund on the Citadel is back), and while the PC version didn't receive quite the same amount of love that it did last time, everything still works pretty well, and the game didn't crash on me once.

It's just that the dialogue, equipment, character choices, game decisions, puzzles, and depth all took a big hit, and BioWare chose to focus on somewhat repetitive combat over everything else. Plus, the storyline isn't great. Mass Effect 2 seems much more like a set-up for Mass Effect 3 than as a game that was meant to stand on its own.

And so this is going to be a mixed review. If you're one of those people who doesn't particularly like wading through dialogue, or sorting through equipment, or figuring out which character build makes you the most powerful, then Mass Effect 2 might be a good game for you. But if you're more on the Dragon Age: Origins side of the role-playing game spectrum, then there might not be much for you in Mass Effect 2, unless you're just looking for a change of pace.