Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cowboy Space Opera 2

Game: Mass Effect 2

System: Xbox 360 & PC

Release: January 2010

Commander Shepard is back in action for another epic Bioware RPG adventure. The second in a trilogy, Mass Effect 2 begins a few years after the events of the first. Human colonies are disappearing on the out skirts of Citadel Space, and the Normandy is mysteriously attacked on a routine mission by an unidentified species. More could be said, but this is one of the few games where I won’t spoil the story. Besides it’s Bioware so you know the game will have good writing, voice acting, and forty plus hours of RPG action.My two biggest critiques of Mass Effect 1 were mediocre combat and boring planet exploration. The sequel suffers from the later, but enhanced the gunplay significantly. Let us start with the crap. The galaxy map is back and remains the ships navigational hub. Explore various star clusters filled with space stations, moons, planets, and massive stars. Instead of landing on a planet for resources the Normandy scans the surface from orbit. The scanning mini game makes players hold down the Left Trigger to activate the radar. A graph denotes when minerals are detected. Pressing the Right Trigger will launch a probe to collect the goodness.

Occasionally a mission based on the scan will necessitate a landing party. Piling into a shuttle Shpeard’s party lands and the side quest begins. This means there are no more lego vehicle sections and crappy cut n’ paste planets. Now players get cut n’ paste bases and a few oddball exceptions. The side quests offer nothing worthwhile, which is a mix blessing. For those not interested in exploring every corner of the universe not needing anything from the side quests is a blessing. For the rest of us it feels like a waste of time. Where’s my super bad ass reward for being a completionist?

Combat has seen a significant overall, and many of the RPG elements have been stripped away. The sequel is more akin to an action game like Gears of War.It is easier to get behind cover, return fire, and give squad commands. Powers can be set to a hotkey which minimizes the need to pause the action and access menus. The powers themselves are more effective, and a variety of heavy weaponry—rocket launcher, mini nuke, laser beams—are available to help take out larger enemies. Loot is limited to upgrades of existing weapons, armor, and abilities. Veterans of Mass Effect and new comers will find this new streamlined combat RPG a welcomed change from the usual bloated menu system and unsatisfying action segments.

Speaking of veterans, if you have completed the first Mass Effect your character and deeds will be transferred to the sequel. This is a fantastic feature that PC gamers may be familiar with, but the poor console folk rarely see. Bioware does an excellent job incorporating Shepards past actions. Major events like deaths and romantic involvements are an obvious must, but it’s the smaller touches that really enhance the experience. All of a sudden an NPC will come up to Shepard and praise/scold him for his past deeds. My personal favorite is the return of Conrad Verner. The single greatest achievement of this series is the continual development of this fictional galaxy. I can’t wait to see how my actions will affect the final installment.

As mentioned above the main plot, character growth, and writing reflect the quality you would expect from a Bioware game. I am, however, getting a little tired of the same old formula. The majority of quests involve gathering an elite team to take on a threat and save the galaxy. Each team member has a rich past that can be explored through various dialogue segments and one side mission critical to the teammate’s survival. In Mass Effect 2 the main hub for the beginning the quest is the Normandy. There are four levels each with their own load screen. If these issues are so dam important to the crew then why aren’t they coming up to the Capitan’s quarters? I don’t mind doing these quests, but this was the majority of the game. After gathering a team in the last dozen Bioware games it would be nice to have one ready to go with no side issues/quests. Just an open galaxy with various missions that aren’t necessarily related to anyone aboard the Normandy.

Mass Effect 2 is another great Bioware game with all the usual features. This is also one of their most polished games. Importing your character from the first game is simply awesome and enriches the fictional universe. Fans will be enthralled with the new combat system, but saddened by another round of boring planet exploration. Bioware veterans may also be getting sick of the same old formula, but let’s not kid ourselves. Until some other company comes up with something better Bioware will continue to sell and score well. Snerts Snazzy Score for Mass Effect 2 is a 4.8 out of 5.

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