Mass Effect 2 is a better game than the original Mass Effect. Plain and simple. The combat is better, the side missions are much better, and this is arguably the most polished and relatively bug-free game that BioWare has ever produced. Little nitpicks and problems with the first game are long gone, and what you are left with is amazingly fun gameplay and a spectacular story with great characters and a complex and rich galaxy to explore. This is one of the best games on the Xbox 360.
- Publisher: EA
- Developer: BioWare
- ESRB Rating: “M” For Mature
- Genre: RPG
- Pros: Great story and characters; fun combat; addictive exploration; excellent presentation; no Mako driving
- Cons: We wish it was even bigger
Mass Effect 2 once again places you in the role of Commander Shepard, an elite human warrior tasked with saving the galaxy from a powerful alien race called the Reapers. I can’t discuss most of the story or even the characters who will join your team (EA sent along a list of taboo topics a mile long), but I can tell you this. The story is just plain great. The characters are all unique and likeable and you really care about them by the end of the game.
One huge feature of Mass Effect 2 is the ability to import your character from the first ME and all of the choices you made carry over. It is absolutely fascinating to have this sort of continuity, and it means that every player is going to have a different path through ME2 based on what they did in ME1. There are also additional benefits of credits, XP, and other things if you import a character, but these bonuses don’t actually add up to much (other than you’ll likely be able to reach level 30 on your first play through, which I don’t believe is possible if you start from scratch. I only made it to lvl 25 starting from scratch). If you don’t import a character, some of the conversations about what “you” did before are sort of awkward, but the story had to move on somehow for people that can't import their character.
Once again, exploration of the galaxy and the overall freedom to do what you want plays a big role in the game. You are given control of the spaceship Normandy very early on and are free to explore within the first hour of the game. You do have a list of objectives to move the story along, but you can do them in any order you want or even just ignore them and start exploring planets and finding secondary objectives.
Planet exploration is greatly improved in ME2. There are hundreds of planets to visit, but you can only land on a few dozen of them and only if there are specific missions. Also, each planet you land on is entirely unique and has a unique mission to accomplish, so there is no more driving around identical deserted planets in the Mako (no Mako at all, actually) doing the same boring crap the whole game like in ME1. Instead, you land on the planet right where the action is. On the planets that don’t have missions associated with them, you can mine them from outer space by scanning their surface and shooting mining probes into areas where you detect mineral deposits. You use these minerals to upgrade your weapons and armor as well as the Normandy. Mining is kind of tedious, but the rewards for your work are worth the effort, which makes it rather addictive.
One more thing I’ll say about the story and overall exploration is that the path to the end game is laid out in front of you immediately. You know exactly where the game is going to end from the very start of the game. The path to get back to that point is what makes it all interesting, though.
Combat is the other major component of the gameplay and, thankfully, it is much better than it was in ME1. There are no more dice rolls or specific weapon skills or other nonsense to determine if you hit an enemy. Now your battle skill relies entirely on you, the player. When you put the crosshairs on an enemy and pull the trigger, they take damage. One other improvement is that instead of having to wait for weapons to cool down, now you can just "reload" by using a fresh thermal clip. On a fundamental level, the combat plays the same as before – it is still a third-person-shooter that pairs gunplay with character class-specific special abilities – but it plays more like a shooter than an RPG now, which is a big improvement. Because of this change, the way you level up is different. Instead of individual XP for each character, your whole squad levels up, at which point you can assign and upgrade different special abilities depending on character classes. RPG purists might not like this simpler, more streamlined approach, but it puts the focus of the game on the story and character interactions and exploration instead of RPG nitpicky-ness, which are really the important parts of Mass Effect 2. You still have plenty of room to customize your character, it is just more focused than before.