RPS At E3: Mass Effect 2

By John Walker on June 5th, 2009 at 12:30 pm.

Spoilers are a weird thing when it comes to sequels. Especially sequels which promote themselves by throwing out mysteries and sly hints about the deaths of major characters. BioWare told us some answers today regarding the very beginning of Mass Effect 2. The very beginning. I’m going to share them, okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

You play as Shepard. There, it’s out. He/she’s not dead (for the sake of this article I’m going to call Shepard a “she”, since the One True Shepard (my one) was). Quite why there was all that promotional material saying she was remains a mystery, and one that will presumably be resolved when the game appears. But this of course means we have an answer to the questions about whether your Mass Effect 1 character carries over.

It very much does. And more than you might imagine. Traditionally giant compromises have had to be made when letting you pick up the same character in a later game. BioWare promises this time will be quite strikingly different. When you import your save game, you’ll not only bring across the look of your Shepard, but also all the decisions, actions and relationships she formed. This seems an enormous task, meaning their stories for the recurring characters will have to have multiple beginnings each, to match up to however they might have ended in the previous game. Oh, and of course if you killed that character, they won’t show up at all. It’s tempting to suspect this means the roles of previous characters will have to be somewhat diminished, if the story is to survive their complete absence. BioWare made it clear that having played the original game was not necessary, and apparently the sequel will still work as an entry point for new players.

The only aspect that seems unlikely to make the transition complete is your skillset. Although the impression we got – and it was an ambiguous one – is that this is less to do with trying to reset things for the beginning of a new difficulty curve, and more to do with the sizeable changes they have planned for how skills will work.

Humans are going missing all over the galaxy, you’ll be concerned to learn. Shepard is tasked with finding out why. Which requires her to fly around many planets attempting to recruit a crack squad of team mates into her pro-Human group, Cerberus, necessary for a climactic final battle.

We saw one such character’s arrival into the team, a new alien called Thane, known to be the greatest assassin in the galaxy. To get to him we saw Shepard and her team perform some of the vastly improved combat on their way. Using cover much more intelligently, the direct control combat seemed far more sturdy (although of course we were watching BioWare play, rather than at the controls ourselves).

Combat can still be paused at any time to access your skillset. However, crucially it doesn’t need to be this time. Arranged on the wheel that appears on screen, you can assign skills to three shortcuts, and then deliver them on the fly. These abilities now include some that exploit physics to perform some pretty decent attacks. We were shown one in particular where enemies were lifted up from their hiding places, and cartwheeled in slow motion through the air, trapped in a blue stasis field, through which Shepard fired lots of lovely bullets.

Squad members can also be controlled independently (although we didn’t see this in action), which should also make for more involved battling. Nine new weapon classes are added to the mix, along with the ability to use heavy weapons. We saw a wrong-faced male Shepard using a rocket launcher to take out cartwheeling baddies (although it seemed to launch pretty weedy rockets – it doesn’t seem quite right that people should get up again after being hit by such things).

Finally for the fighting, the enemies have not had the rather unfortunate (for them) upgrade of having their bodies divided into regions. So you can now shoot out a leg, or more practically, a face.

Conversations see a new ingredient, too. The Interrupt System is a briefly appearing icon on screen that provides an opportunity to change up a dialogue moment quite dramatically. You may be chatting with someone who’s stood near the ledge of a tall building, for instance, and then as you’re going to pick your next dialogue option see the exclamation mark appear in the bottom left of the screen. Hit one button at this point and you’ll do something drastic and horrible. Like push him off. Hit another button and you’ll do something drastic and heroic. Although I’ve no idea what that might be, since BioWare chose to push him off the ledge. You can, of course, just play the conversation out without making these impulse decisions if you’d rather hear what someone has to say.

The cutscenes look spectacular. They are absolutely phenomenal to watch, not only because of the luscious character designs and gorgeous backgrounds, but because of the direction, the framing, the artistry. And that’s just the dialogue. We saw one scene showing a space battle, resulting in the destruction of a large ship, that was just breathtaking.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of the original Mass Effect was the paucity of exploration on non-plot-critical planets. Again none was shown, but we’re promised that this has been overhauled, and that all planets will now be completely unique, and far more interesting to poke around.

BioWare went out of their way to make it clear that Mass Effect 2 will be a far darker game than the original, with much more serious consequences to your actions. They say that it will be possible to reach an ending – not a game over screen but a proper game ending – in which Shepard dies. Now, let’s see them carry that save position over into Mass Effect 3.

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62 Comments »

  1. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah, we probably should open the comments on posts.

    KG

  2. Hentzau says:

    Conversations see a new ingredient, too. The Interrupt System is a briefly appearing icon on screen that provides an opportunity to change up a dialogue moment quite dramatically.

    E3 2009: Putting into our sequels all the features we said would be in the original games.

  3. jalf says:

    Yeah, we probably should open the comments on posts.

    Sure? What’s that going to achieve? :p

    We were shown one in particular where enemies were lifted up from their hiding places, and cartwheeled in slow motion through the air,

    We did have the Lift power in the original game too though… ;)

    (Of course, playing an infiltrator on my first playthrough, it took me ages to figure out that that was what happened when my enemies suddenly came floating through the room. I assumed they were special weightless space ninjas or something… Turns out it was just my squadmates lifting them.

    Anyway, sounds good. I’m thinking they might finally have found a situation where QTE doesn’t actually suck. Impulse actions during dialogue actually make a certain amount of sense. Also, I bet the “friendly” action is to jump forward and give the character a hug!

  4. cullnean says:

    “she” sure is butch in them there pics john

  5. Orange says:

    Is the first one definitely worth playing on PC? Had it sitting around for ages.

  6. jalf says:

    It’s definitely worth playing if you like it. ;)
    I think it’s a really good game (And yes, the PC version is preferable. It’s had a good bunch of improvements over the 360 version).

    If you liked KOTOR, you’ll like Mass Effect (Unless you’re SuperNashwan). If you’ve got it already, go play it. :D

  7. Noc says:

    Awww. I thought we were being out in Internet Time Out.

  8. Brulleks says:

    “Is the first one definitely worth playing on PC? Had it sitting around for ages.”

    Erm, if it was worth you buying it then surely it’s got to be worth trying it?!

    Otherwise you’ve just bought yourself a rather bland looking shelf ornament.

    Personally, I loved the first and am very pleased to hear of some of the changes they are implementing here. Particularly enthralled at being able to carry on from precisely where my own personal story left off – superb stuff.

    Expecting release day bugs-a-plenty and (hopefully) imminent patches though…

  9. Sinnerman says:

    I don’t know why it is but I always see the official Shepard used on the box and in media as the real one and the one I played as a cheap imposter. Like there is some secret official Mass Effect that is better than the one I played.

  10. mickiscoole says:

    Hang on, weren’t Cerberus the bad guys in the first game, you know, the ones you shot at and were doing experiments on people and other generally evil things?

  11. SuperNashwan says:

    If you liked KOTOR, you’ll like Mass Effect.

    I really can’t agree with this. There is plenty wrong in Mass Effect that wasn’t an issue in KotOR.
    If they’ve genuinely improved the combat, especially the lacklustre skills and terrible team AI, I might still be interested in the sequel, but I suspect gimmicks like pushing people off buildings will bear the typical Bioware hallmark of not actually affecting how the game plays out in any significant way. I want a world that reacts to my interaction, not just another tick on the feature list.

  12. distended says:

    Has it got a due date?

    I hadn’t bothered with Mass Effect until a couple of months ago, but now can’t believe I waited so long to play.

    It had many glaring faults, but the rest of the game was so damn good that those faults didn’t detract from the game at all for me.

  13. Super Bladesman says:

    Shepard must be a she. I’d not pay good money to stare at a man’s behind for hours :D

  14. jalf says:

    @SuperNashwan: Fine, fixed my post

  15. toni says:

    grand moff shepard is clearly a whiney, juvenile adept, unable to lift heavy weapons and if possible the first thing I will do in ME2 is KILL HIM OFF. what a unsympathetic character (I played both paths paragon/renegade). I wanna continue as Tali

  16. Tei says:

    I played Shepard as a she.

    I must admit my Sheppard was 100% Honor Harrington .

  17. Dante says:

    @ mickiscoole I was thinking the exact same thing, I killed a lot of those guys. But not enough apparently.

    Does anyone know if it’s going to be a simultaneous PC/Xbox release this time? Or will it be staggered as before?

    Because if it’s simultaneous then I’d prefer to play it on PC, but my old save is on the 360, so I’ll have to play the first one again with the same decisions if I want Dante Shepherd and his beard of power to rise again.

  18. Rinox says:

    The Interrupt System is a briefly appearing icon on screen that provides an opportunity to change up a dialogue moment quite dramatically. You may be chatting with someone who’s stood near the ledge of a tall building, for instance, and then as you’re going to pick your next dialogue option see the exclamation mark appear in the bottom left of the screen. Hit one button at this point and you’ll do something drastic and horrible. Like push him off. [...] You can, of course, just play the conversation out without making these impulse decisions if you’d rather hear what someone has to say.

    Oh man, I’ve got a nagging feeling Jean-Luc Shepard isn’t going to be letting many people complete their sentences come ME2. But hey, he’s got a reputation of biggest asshole in the entire galaxy to uphold! And yes, he chose Senator ‘backstabber’ Udina to be on the council.

  19. Zyrxil says:

    Played Shepard as a she as well. Jennifer Hale does great voice work, even if I skipped 70% of it because I read 10x faster than the conversations play.

    Is the first one definitely worth playing on PC? Had it sitting around for ages.

    It’s an 8/10 game in my mind, worth playing, but definitely skip the non-plot planets. Don’t even be tempted. Just skip em.

  20. MrBejeebus says:

    Commander Louisa Shepard!!!!!!

    Shame my choice of what I played through original game as wont be carried over, I suppose if theyre overhauling it all its ok…

  21. Bananaphone says:

    “Arranged on the wheel that appears on screen, you can assign skills to three shortcuts, and then deliver them on the fly.”

    Er, couldn’t you do this in the first game? There’s a shortcut bar at the top of the screen for powers.

    This death thing has me worried. In the EG preview they suggested it was the result of a choice during certain sequences, but surely everybody will just reload after they die, making the entire thing completely pointless. “Die” or “Not Die” isn’t much of a choice.

  22. Xercies says:

    I hope Tali’s still in it, and you can actually have a relationship with her…

    @Bananaphone

    Am I the only one that doesn’t save before an option and try a different one if it doesn’t go my way?

  23. TheDifficult3rdAlbum says:

    @mickiscoole “hang on, weren’t Cerberus the bad guys in the first game”

    That’s exactly what I thought. Proper bad rogue ex-Alliance military dudes doing experiments on aliens and stuff. Killed that Admiral Kahoku and everything. Booo hissss!!

    Oh, but I actually join them in ME 2? :/

  24. The Innocent says:

    I liked Shepard because he was sort of funny, being all xenophobic and then sparing the hive queen and getting down with that blue alien. He learned life lessons about tolerance and stuff.

    I still hope he dies, just to see how Bioware manages the third game. Maybe they’d pull a “Search for Spock” and bring him back to life, but without his skills, memories, or love for Liara, but with a penchant for humorous juvenile banter. That would be crazy fun.

  25. deceiver says:

    They mentioned in a video interview once, for GT or some other place, that the “Shepard: KIA” is one of the plot points for the sequel. Having seen the new trailer, it seems he fakes his death or everyone thinks he’s dead for some reason given the reaction of the alien girl “Shepard, but you’re dead”.

  26. Bananaphone says:

    @Xercies
    No, I do that too. I like to know which choice results in someone being punched in the face.

  27. Rinox says:

    @ Xercies:

    Isn’t she wearing that suit because she can’t survive in an oxygen-rich environment? Could make things kinda tricky, but at least the Bioware crew’ll get to be creative with the sex scene settings! Compression chambers = summit of romance

  28. tmp says:

    I hope Tali’s still in it, and you can actually have a relationship with her…

    She appears in the E3 trailer, just now has apparently a lightbulb installed in her helmet.

    Don’t get the infatuation with geek jailbait tbh, but that’s horses for courses i guess.

  29. Dante says:

    There was an interrupt button in the first game, but it didn’t work very well, only certain parts could be interrupted otherwise you just skipped through the dialogue, so you ended up not using it unless you missed something.

    Now it appears that they’re going to clearly signal when you can interrupt, and also give you a choice of how you interrupt, sounds like a definate improvement.

  30. JonFitt says:

    I played the first on on my Xbox (can’t remember why, it was either the earlier release date, or it may have been the DRM), so am I going to be obliged to buy the sequel on Xbox too?
    Oh well, at least it’ll give me an excuse to dust the thing off.

  31. Rook says:

    I lost my savegames :( I’m going to be really annoyed if the generic version they stick you in made stupid choices.

  32. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I wont hear a bad word against mass effect 1, it’s brill and if you didn’t like it it’s probably because your jealous!

    I accidentally skipped the character creation screen and ended up with standard Shepard which was fine cause he kinda looks like me anyway.

  33. Xercies says:

    @Rinox

    Yes could be very creative…could always go in the sut with er…or get a suit for two people…I think I thought about this a little bit to much

    @tmp

    Shes underage!? 0_0

  34. IncredibleBulk92 says:

    Can we form some sort of gentlemen’s agreement not to discuss spoilers of Mass Effect 2? Fucking Garnett Lee over at 1UP already said something on 1Up Yours to the effect of telling somebody that there was a twist at the end of Sixth Sense to do with somebody being dead.

    I’m not talking about minor plot points like meeting a certain character or doing a certain quest but big spoilers like characters dying. They make me sad.

  35. Vinraith says:

    @Orange

    It’s fun for one playthrough, but the side missions are too repetitive and the main quest too linear to make revisiting the game worthwhile. I’m hoping that won’t be the case with the sequel.

  36. GreatUncleBaal says:

    Depending on the impact the presence (or absence) of characters affecting the storyline has, it makes the original worth another playthrough or two (not that it wasn’t already), to see how it affects the sequel. Looking forward very much to this.

  37. Bear says:

    This game is the only one from E3 apart from SWOR that I really care about.
    Do not disappoint me please.

  38. BarkingDog says:

    I absolutely adored the first one. Only niggles were the random planets in which you spend hours driving over some featureless wasteland in a fairly un-fun vehicle and nothing really happens. Also, the party AI makes some terrible choices now and then, but I adored the abandoned ships in space and the story planets (especially the one with the sentient plant)

    @Rook- Surely that’s the perfect excuse to play it through all over again :D

  39. Horza says:

    Character carrying over from ME1 sounds nice.

    I kinda wish I hadn’t deleted my savegames though.

  40. EBass says:

    Is this coming to PC at the same time as XBox? Or are the consoley types getting it first?

  41. DSX says:

    Curious.. Cerberus is now an alliance organization??? Is that verified, or perhaps Mr. Walker misheard among the excited din of the presentation?

    Romance with Tali, or at least getting her mask off, is probably on the high 5 “must fix” list for ME2 somewhere after unique planet terrain and installation floor plans. My lesbian Shep finds her char far more interesting then Ashley or Liara.

    My ME2 wish list also includes a more interactive crew, it’s comical that your second in command gets like 3 voice lines for the entire game while the helmsman seems to do everything on the ship: steer, communications, sensors, fire control, and comic relief. Poor Pressley and your crew are only ever useful in pop-up “SURVEY” results evidently lol.

    Along those lines, also hoping for more dynamic enemies.. Give them patrols, or animations, or conversations COD style. Something. Anything but still wooden blocks waiting to spring into action.

    Anyway.. ME2 is probably highest on the excitement factor regardless of the nitpicks. There is a second ME DLC scheduled though before it gets released, so we’ll all have a chance at some new savegames.

  42. Zidy says:

    I think John made a mistake when he said Shepard joins Cerberus. I’ve heard on other sites that you go up against Cerberus.

  43. tmp says:

    the official ME2 site says:

    “Now Shepard must work with Cerberus, a ruthless organization devoted to human survival at any cost, to stop the most terrifying threat mankind has ever faced.”

    so i’d guess it’s these other sites that have it wrong…

  44. tmp says:

    @Xercies: the “Pilgrimage” is a coming of age/rite of passage thing for quarians, they depart on one when they reach “young adulthood”. So she’s most likely ‘legit’ (if only just), but with the way she sounds so much like a teenager and given her somewhat sheltered childhood, can’t really help but think of her as one.

  45. Funky Badger says:

    Cereberus were antagonists in the first one – baddies or not rather depended on your point of view. Charles Charley Shepherd fight them frightfully sporting chaps and jolly good patriots to boot. But he worryingly dense for the most powerful human in the galaxy.

    Kind of like having Boris Johnson as mayor of England’s largest city…

  46. Tom says:

    I just can’t understand the huge popularity that seemed to surround the first Mass Effect. After reading several rave reviews I bought the game and played it through, I’m not hard to please, but it was just… dreadful… it was a generic RPG with a clumsy ‘good guy or a bad guy’ plot which even Fallout 2 had already crapped all over however many years ago. There was zero variation in the entirely dull array of weapons and armour, the vehicles drove badly, and the side missions were the most disgusting attempt at randomly generated content I had ever seen. The AI was poor. The plot was predictable and brief. What aspect of this game did people find so enjoyable and revolutionary to justify all the popularity for it??

  47. Alex says:

    I do hope they improve the undeveloped worlds, but making them more like the main-plot planets wouldn’t really help since those were almost completely linear.

    I almost wouldn’t mind having the terrain of the first gamme if the UNC quests were more involving. Whether you were looking for the Matriarch’s lost scrolls (in one playthrough I managed to find 9 of the seven missing pieces) or the Turian insignias or places to mine raw material, all that would pop up was a sentence or two of text. Since the XP granted was tiny, it wasn’t even worth it if you wanted to grind up a couple levels.

  48. BarkingDog says:

    @Alex- I thought those weren’t meant to be anymore involving than they actually were. They were just there to reward exploration by those OCD-types among us who just have to scan every planet and investigate every crashed probe thing. And I absolutely would mind the terrain of the first one if they insist of having the Mako be as fiddly as it is or putting those plonking great mountains everywhere.

    Another reason I like it is that the voice acting for the Shepard that comes with a uterus- the sport version, if you will- is fantastic.

  49. cjlr says:

    Good call, DSX. Pressly had, I think, two mandatory lines, and he was the freaking XO. Also, the Normany had about 30 people on board (and on duty simultaneously!), but only 8 sleep pods, so figure that one out. It’s the little things, you know?

    I remember a lot of similar promises regarding savegame carryover from a whole slew of older games. Yeah, that usually doesn’t happen. You get the same name, maybe the same appearance, maybe one or two plot points in the continuity…

    There’s a couple choices in the ending that ought to matter, plus checking who died on Virmire. But what else d’you think’ll carry over, plotwise?

  50. tmp says:

    There’s a couple choices in the ending that ought to matter, plus checking who died on Virmire. But what else d’you think’ll carry over, plotwise?

    One example of “what else” they’ve shown, there’s an Assari diplomat who gave one of side missions in first game. She appears in the sequel and her attitude towards Shepard depends on how the ending of that particular mission was handled in the first part.

    Guessing there’s more small touches like that, which would be pretty nice.

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