Publisher: Electronic Arts
by: Jason Love
Mass Effect 2 places players once more in the shoes of the galaxy’s last, best hope for survival – Commander Shepard. Seeming to take lessons from other third-person shooters, rather than other RPGs, Mass Effect 2 has improved upon its predecessor by streamlining and enhancing the shooter aspects of its gameplay, while sloughing off some of the role-playing trappings in the process. To some degree, this kind of split in the game mechanics can make it rather difficult at times to tell how good a game Mass Effect 2 is, with the two elements that are at heart of the game experience, the game mechanics and story, causing one’s opinion to shift back and forth.
From a game mechanics view, Mass Effect 2 has done away with many of the elements in the first game that helped identify it, in some respects, as an RPG, specifically the inventory, weapons and armor system, and level progression. There is no inventory in Mass Effect 2 and in its place players are now able to discover the occasional new weapon with which he/she can choose to outfit his/her squad, as well as armor pieces that grant different ability boosts for your Commander Shepard. The other element that’s been put on a treadmill for a little weight loss is the level-up system; instead of each squad member having seven or eight abilities to choose from and increase, they now have three, with a fourth that unlocks if you gain that squad member’s loyalty. While all of this reduces some of the tedium one does find in RPGs, there is a certain experience lost in the effort that leads to Mass Effect 2 feeling, at times, like another Gears of War clone.
As a more traditional RPG player, this streamlining was a bit disappointing; however, the characters you encounter and the story that unfolds along the way are perhaps some of the best offerings I’ve encountered in an RPG title. Like many Bioware titles, Mass Effect 2 presents players with some rather important decisions to make, and the impacts these decisions have on the environment, your fellow squad mates, and the universe as a whole for the seemingly distant conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy, lend a weight to whatever you choose. Few titles place so much power in the players’ hands as to give them the feeling that they are actually creating and controlling the world around them, and Mass Effect 2 deftly manages to empower the player in such a way that you occasionally feel as if you are setting the course of events, rather than being inexorably pulled along.
While the game mechanics may leave some players feeling a bit like Marcus and Dom have taken over, Mass Effect 2 still delivers an amazing overall experience with a story that is as much user-driven as it is developer-driven.