Mass Effect 2 Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
Mass Effect 2 box art
System: X360, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: BioWare 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: EA 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Jan. 26, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Star Struck!
by Jonathan Marx

For Mass Effect 2, BioWare set out to create a sequel that surpassed the original in every way; they succeeded on all counts. Mass Effect 2 features more engaging combat, tighter visuals, better mission structure, an even more robust, character-driven storyline, a more sensible and streamlined approach, and a stable, polished experience. Mass Effect 2 is a cinematic action-RPG that simply can't be missed whether you are a fan of the first entry or not.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot

There really is something here for everyone in Mass Effect 2, assuming, of course, you're up for an epic, 20-30 hour video game; the casual set in search of a quick dose of gaming goodness need not apply. This title's developers have taken the crafting of this sequel very seriously, so potential consumers should also dive in with the same level of enthusiasm. If you are a gamer that enjoys immersive, character-driven, complex storytelling, Mass Effect 2 will have you engrossed and on the edge of your seat. With every hard save that I made, a game time read-out was stamped to the file; I was astonished at how the hours flew by! That's because the story, characters, and gameplay are so good, you'll plow through mission after mission without heeding real-world constraints.

Speaking of missions, the new mission structure is phenomenal! Rather than spending umpteen hours running around The Citadel looking for quests and errands, the reborn Normandy will serve as the game's main hub. Rather than scouring the galaxy in search of story, the main missions as well as side quests are relayed to you instantly. What's more, you're already in your vessel geared up to tackle the next objective. Additionally, all quests feel as if they are important to the narrative. No longer will you take on goals that seem out of place or superfluous. The few that do crop up are on your way to something bigger anyway, and they actually provide for a more lush and detailed backdrop.

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Best of all, the story in Mass Effect 2 is highly malleable from beginning to end. As such, there's no sense in trying to explain the plot in any great detail. Suffice it to say that you'll be tasked with putting together a crack team of skilled individuals from across the galaxy with disparate and often conflicting motivations in order to pull off a seemingly-impossible suicide mission. To call this the dark second act of the trilogy is something of an understatement.

Of course, continuity between each game is important to both fans and BioWare. Consequently, if you played through the original, you'll have the ability to import any of your qualified game saves (those that finished the story). This will give your Commander Shepherd the distinct look and feel you worked so hard to achieve initially. That said, even after importing, you can still change up the protagonist anyway you see fit, including targeting a new class progression. If you didn't play the original or just want to start out fresh and unfettered, creating a new hero is a snap and highly customizable. Thereafter, decisions you make throughout the game will truly sculpt the tale, making the experience distinct with every playthrough. As inundated as I get with video games, this will be a title I'll actually play through at least a second time.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot

If you dig story but really groove on action gameplay, you won't be disappointed either. Mass Effect 2 features a completely overhauled combat system that is reminiscent of the original but far more user-friendly. In fact, the game plays as well as any of the best tactical third-person shooters out there. Honestly, the action is so visceral and clever it felt akin to the sweet combat found in Gears of War 2. High praise to be sure, but I genuinely think such a statement is backed by the gameplay. Unleashing biotic powers, issuing squad commands, sliding into cover, and delivering pinpoint headshots just feels great, and excellent level design and varied threats keep fights interesting to the distinctly bitter end. Anyone who found the action in the original to be a little dull and wonky will not be disappointed with what's on offer in the sequel. From excellent, far more precise control implementation to a greater emphasis on third-person shooter gameplay, Mass Effect 2 is a totally different animal without selling out its tactical soul. Touches like the inclusion of heat-sync clips (essentially ammo reserves), automatic healing, a superior hop-in hop-out cover mechanic, and a broader variety of weapons (each having an entirely distinctive feel), have combined to make combat in ME2 much more appealing.

Another important difference between Mass Effect and this sequel is the way in which everything has been streamlined. Whether you're buying equipment, cruising through menus, accessing area maps, navigating the galaxy, exploring planets, etc. it's all easily negotiated. Most importantly, character and squad customization, including power progression and equipment load-outs, are so much more comprehensible. For starters, there are fewer powers you'll have to choose from. While this may dismay a few hardcore RPG enthusiasts initially, it proves to be much more enjoyable, balanced, and efficient. Along those lines, BioWare also did away with inventory organization. No longer will you have to slog through your equipment collection comparing weapons and armor in order to find the most mechanically efficient setup. Now, weapons and armor are improved through research and resource investment. When all is said and done, simplifying the power gaming aspects allows the player to focus on the cinematic storytelling, which in turn leads to greater immersion and true role-playing.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot

The power-leveling tropes established in the thousands of classic RPGs out there have largely served to distract players from actually getting into their role, and BioWare has masterfully created branching dialogue and Paragon/Renegade interrupts that allow you to control the scene and shape the story. Moreover, the incredible, cinematic presentation brought to bear makes the whole experience riveting.

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