2183 A.D. The first Mass Effect game takes players on a varied and engaging voyage across the galaxy, in an effort to stop a colossal menace, along the way having to combat rogue agents, robot zombies, unseen antagonists, with the option of genocide, messianic options, and everything in between as a resolution.
Two years later, both in-universe and in reality, Mass Effect 2 launches to much praise. Upon picking it up, a few things stuck out as improvements over the original. A few unique games of similar gameplay have also been released on DominoQQ and are really enjoyed by the players.
First, the camera. While it seems like a paltry thing, a good camera system can make or break a game. Resident Evil 4, considered by some to be the best in the series, was revitalized largely by the new perspective. Mass Effect 2 does nothing so dramatic, but the camera feels more cinematic, swinging more fluidly and focusing to keep a crisp view on the action.
Second, the player animations. Bioware still has some flaws to work out with their character modeling system (Miranda’s model, for instance, sits firmly in the Uncanny Valley), the general animations are much improved. Running through fire, Shepard will raise his hands to cover his face. In the cold of space, he’ll shiver. Characters wince away from nearby bullet impacts, or scuttle behind cover in different ways to minimize the amount of their bodies that’s exposed.
After those first two things jumped to the fore, I continued to play. The story is largely the same in premise, Shepard is the only person who stands between humanity and extinction. This is not a bad thing. A well written script (coupled with Martin Sheen’s outstanding performance as the antagonist-turned-wary-friend Illusive Man) turn a hackneyed plot into a space epic, with characters showing genuine concern, guilt, and fear over their fates.
The game does a good job of keeping the pace of the story moving. There wasn’t a point where I felt that the story should have been condensed to stop it from being slow. Another improvement over the original is the change to the inventory and leveling system. Fewer skills mean less to spend points on, and as such there are fewer levels. From 60 being the maximum in the original, 20 seems to be the highest one can expect to be during the first run. The inventory system is greatly reduced, and there’s no longer any agonized lingering over what items to keep, and what to change into space goop.
With a higher focus on action, Mass Effect 2 manages to defeat an obstacle many action games have had trouble tackling without stumbling: Quicktime events. Normally, a game will present a quicktime event as an easy (or not so easy) ‘press x to not die’ sequence. Mass Effect 2’s are treated differently, with a right or left mouse click corresponding to a paragon or renegade action (hero or anti-hero, respectively).
All this praise, however, doesn’t mean Bioware’s new game is without flaw. The justification for Commander Shepard’s scarring is lackluster at best, and wall-bangingly frustrating at the worst.
On the topic of Commander Shepard, the male voice actor was still a lump of coal in the pile of diamonds that is the rest of the talent pool for Mass Effect 2. It can be forgiven, though, in that it’s hard to record dialogue in a multitude of different tones and inflections, responding to the same event, and still seem genuine.
The last major flaw I saw was the final battle. After a suitably monumental struggle through the antagonist base, numerous (optional) character deaths, Shepard and crew are confronted with an enemy that seems like it would have been more in line with a Terminator fan fiction story than the until-then largely untarnished story of Mass Effect.
But even with the flaws, Mass Effect 2 suffers from none of the decay and dreariness that tends to hang around sequels of large games like smog. With an improved weapons and inventory system, a wider cast of characters, and a more streamlined world, and a very interactive, possibly heart-wrenching ending, Mass Effect 2 trumps the original, standing on the shoulders of the predecessor and reaching new heights for the action game genre. Between Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware has firmly secured itself a place in video game history as innovators, inventors, and taleweavers of epic proportions, crafting wonderful game after wonderful game. Mass Effect 2 absolutely lives up to the standard set by other games- and surpasses them.