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Delayed Reactions: Mass Effect 2

For those who like:
RPGs with guns, Third Person Action-Adventures, Space Dramas/Operas/Epics in the vein of Star Wars

+ Combat is much improved from the first game
+ Pop-in has been addressed
+ RPG elements streamlined a lot
+ Classes revamped so none feel gimped
+ Choices carry over from the first game

+ RPG elements streamlined more than fans of the first game will like
+ Paragon/Renegade choices still don’t account for much
+ Story makes even less sense if you skipped the first game

Space operas don’t really exist anymore.

At least, not the way they did when Star Wars came out.  You see ‘space operas’ are from a bygone era when Space held a mystery and allure that has been squelched by politics, bureaucracy, and economics.  It’s too expensive, it’s too far away, it’s not a major issue right now.  Space should still be a precipice to unbelievable adventures: big, bold, and full of swash-buckling grandeur and self-importance.  So I humbly thank BioWare for doing everything in its power to keep the space opera alive in video game form, because without them I fear the space opera would have gone the way of the John Ford western.

Simply put, Mass Effect 2 is a game where the geek is king.  This game makes no bones about being a science fiction fan’s wet dream.  Every single character, planet, race, creed, political struggle, and biological profile has been meticulously designed with the intention of fleshing out a galaxy that, as far as we know, doesn’t exist.  It’s exactly what anyone who has played the first game, or any BioWare game, would expect to find ‘under the hood’.

What you won’t find is a lot of the stuff that made the first game an RPG-hybrid.  It’s the stuff that most people referred to as ‘the broken bits’.  Complex skill trees: gone.  A never-ending list of items: gone.  Your less-than-trusty vehicle, the Mako: gone.  Exploring planets: gone!  If it was lambasted in a review for Mass Effect 1, it got revised, tweaked, updated, or outright axed in Mass Effect 2.  It’s a disappointing and rather reactionary tact that, occasionally, throws the baby out with the bath water.

On the other hand, what’s left has been spit-polished to such a blindingly pristine shine that I almost, almost, forgave BioWare for chopping off and sowing up so many other pieces of the pie.  There is not one confrontation in this game that doesn’t feel rewarding and exciting.  Every single class from the Engineer to the Adept has been rebuilt from the ground up to be more than ready for a fight.  And the extensive armory means that even non-soldier classes are no longer resigned to playing out the entire campaign with a pistol and three other guns that Shepard couldn’t hit the broad side of New England with.

Party AI is good, but don’t expect your buddies to do cartwheels to get out of the way of enemy bombardment.  More often than not, they’ll charge right through a choke point full of baddies raining down the wrath of hell upon you while your attention is squarely focused on blowing those same fools up.  Then, as if to blame you for their failure, they’ll scream out in pain just soon enough for you to watch them rag doll to the floor.

Enemy AI is also pretty straightforward.  While more than competent, it doesn’t compare to anything like that found in a Gears or an Uncharted 2.  And it can’t be denied that by improving the combat system, it’s actually made the majority of the battles in Mass Effect 2 much easier to complete.  Furthermore, and maybe most disappointing, while the ending is quite satisfying, Mass Effect 2’s final encounter isn’t nearly as nail-biting as Sheppard’s confrontation with Saren at the end of the first game.

Speaking of the first game, if you haven’t played it, stop reading this and go play it.  Now.  Sure, sure: you don’t HAVE to play it in order to enjoy Mass Effect 2.  But if you want any of it to make a lick of sense, you owe it to yourself to get the complete experience.  Not to mention there’s that ‘all your decisions affect the outcome’ thing.  It’s true: they do.  And when you begin to realize that what you do in this game will dictate your team’s outcome in the final chapter of the Mass Effect Trilogy, it just seems wrong to wander into the middle chapter without knowing why these crazy bug-like dudes are firing at you (and why so many people are pissed at you).

While renegade and paragon choices don’t account to much, once again, they do have a much more rewarding integration into the game this time around.  Attached contextually to certain conversation trees, when activated, they can severely change the course of an individual moment in the game as well as solidify your reputation in the galaxy as a Commander with a strict moral code or a lose cannon whose ends justify the means.  Plus there’s nothing more rewarding than shanking a dude in the back with a futuristic cattle prod (believe me, you’ll know the moment when you get there).

In short, this game is epic, despite being noticeably more svelte and streamlined than it’s predecessor (for better in my opinion).  While the 23-25 hours it’ll take to beat the main campaign might seem blasphemous to some, no one can deny Mass Effect 2 for being the space opera all of us would want to visit in our most epic of nerd dreams.  It plays better, it flows better, and once it gets going do not expect it to allow you to turn off your PC or Xbox360 for many, many hours.  Mass Effect 2, for lack of a better word, is a blast.

WHEN IT CAME OUT: JAN. 26th, 2010

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