Wot I Think: Mass Effect 2

By John Walker on February 9th, 2010 at 12:00 pm.

First of all, to explain why this review is so late. We’d hoped for code well in advance, but sadly it wasn’t sent to us until the release day. I have since played the game to absolute completion. Thus it is only proper to tell you Wot I Think. (You can safely assume this review contains enormous Mass Effect 1 spoilers, but I will not spoil ME2.)

I feel like I should declare my interests. I had a savegame. My original save of my original Shepard from the original Mass Effect. A Shepard with whom I’d bonded, and a Shepard who had bonded with the galaxy. I cannot imagine the frustration of having lost a save, and discovering that BioWare recklessly backed down on the claims to let you pick the events as you remembered them. To have found that the game had decided I’d destroyed the Council, or killed Wrex, would infuriate me beyond belief. But this didn’t happen to me, and it seemed important I make that clear.

Pretty!

Mass Effect saw Shepard, whether male or female, saving the galaxy from the threat of the Reapers, via the tricks of action RPG. Sovereign, a ship-sized Reaper AI, intended to wipe out the alien races occupying the Citadel. A stop was put to that. But despite this rather epic plot, the real story of the game was humanity’s emergence into the wider cosmos. It was a game about being the youngest race, the new kid at school, and the confusion of humility and humiliation this imposed upon one of space’s most arrogant species.

This sequel reverses the theme. While its main story is about humanity, and the disappearance of entire human colonies – millions being wiped out while the Council authorities do nothing – the real plot here is made of the smaller stories of individuals. And the action is much more, well, actiony. But more on that later.

The One True Shepard.

So there was that moment. Booting the game, having imported the save across, and seeing my Shepard, the One True Shepard, there on the screen. An Infiltrator, entirely Paragon (Mass Effect’s morality is divided between goodly Paragons and naughty Renegades), who had saved the Council and Wrex but allowed Captain Boringpants Alenko to die. And I beamed a huge smile. Shepard! We’re off again.

However, those scared of commitment are given plenty of options. Due to plot events in the opening scenes of the game (and even they I think would be too much detail to reveal, beyond that it contains Shepard’s apparent death) it is possible to change the appearance of your Shepard, should you wish him/her to have aged, changed hairstyle, or become a strange ugly old crone. You can also change specialisms, should you maybe wish to switch from Tech to Biotic, perhaps try out the Adept class, or have a go at being an Engineer. Oddly, later you’re still given some dialogue choices about events from the first game – a person’s fate can be decided by what you remember, rather than what your save game says. Which is very odd.

Potential love interest?

Once past this extreme muddle at the start, the experiment begins to work. In the attempt to cater for every contingency, they’ve created this blur of options that rather spoils the fluid idea of just importing a character and carrying on. But get through that and it really does feel like the galaxy you once stalked. You will meet many people you previously encountered, even from the most minor side quests. Everyone wants to say hi, make a comment about how they thought you were dead, chat to the hero. Then more significant characters will reflect key decisions you made.

In fact, some of these are extremely significant to both the galaxy and the plot. Shepard is recruited by a black ops human organisation called Cerberus, rogue from the military Alliance, funded and controlled by the mysterious Illusive Man. They intend to find the source of the human disappearances, believed to be at the hands of the Collectors, and ancient race thought to be mythological by most. But Cerberus is neither liked nor trusted, and to defy the Alliance and work for them is to ostracise yourself. This is also to rebel against the Citadel Council, and indeed the Spectre organisation you joined in the first game. Unless of course there is no Council thanks to your actions. The story of the Krogans is equally defined by the actions you previously took, while relationships established previously can carry over here. I was looking forward to seeing Liara.

See, these are dark tones.

The darker tone so frequently promised over the last year of promotions is absolutely true. Mass Effect was a game about potential. Humans were not trusted, not respected, and Shepard demonstrated that they at least deserved to be heard. But Mass Effect 2 is a game about death. It begins in brutal death, and rarely offers hope beyond that.

This extends to your companions. Shepard’s primary goal is to gather together a team of the most adept and dangerous fighters and tacticians in the galaxy, who will then together face the menace waiting for them at the other side of the Omega 4 mass relay. Given dossiers of potential recruits by the controller of Cerberus, the Illusive Man (voiced wonderfully by President Barlett himself, Martin Sheen), you set about convincing them to join your cause.

That's quite a cold.

As is apparently a tradition at BioWare, only broken by Dragon Age, it’s crucial to begin with two really boring characters you’ll never want to bother with again once you’ve recruited some others. This time there’s Jacob Taylor, a human biotic soldier who is… oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine how they could have made him less entertaining. He’s even overtly surly toward you from the start, meaning he refuses to chat. So, well, bye then. The other is Miranda Lawson, biogenetically engineered to be the perfect human. Perfect in all ways other than having anything interesting to say. She’s voiced by the completely lovely Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck’s Agent Walker), with her face modelled on the actress, but sadly she’s just not that engaging.

So fortunately you can pick up at least nine others (I found eleven companions in total, but there’s suspicious space left on the selection screen for more). And could I encourage all to make sure that Mordin is one of the first they pick? I’d hate to influence someone else’s decisions in a game that leaves itself quite so open, but missing out on Mordin for much of the game would be a tragedy. But we’ll get back to him.

Krogans quite like combat.

I really should have mentioned the combat by now, what with it making up about half the game. Whatever your memories (or indeed what you might have heard) about the original game’s slightly flaky fights, forget about all that. This nails it. While the difficulty is, in contrast to Dragon Age, set a little low, this is splendid third-person action stuff, but imbued with and embellished by some really smart RPG skills.

A lot has been stripped down. Gone are inventories, ammo types, armour selection, and then all the confusion of augmentations added to these. Now the battlefield is focused on the action, using an absolutely fantastic cover system to orchestrate thrilling fights. Holding down Space to sprint, and aiming toward an object, will see Shepard slide magnificently into cover. Then you can fight in real-time, your two selected buddies making smart use of their abilities and weapons, and the cover (but always giving up a key spot for you should you want it). Hitting Shift pauses the action and opens up a very simple menu system from which you select a special ability from anyone’s collection. This also lets you change weapons, and heal fallen party members (again, super simple, just click the button and so long as you’re carrying medi-gel, they’ll get back up and carry on). It’s possible to issue instructions to your companions, Q and E creating markers on the ground ordering them to that position. But mostly they’re so efficient you’ll not need to worry about that. Instead you focus on firing off some awesome biotic or tech powers, perhaps pulling an enemy out from his cover and into the air, so you can then fill him with bullety goodness.

Thane has a fantastic voice.

As an Infiltrator I had access to sniper rifles, which were just wonderful. As my abilities improved (again, a very simple skill selection system whenever you level up), using a sniper rifle gave me a few moments of slow-motion time in which I could fire off three or four shots into three or four foreheads, making me feel like the greatest shot in the universe. This feeling emboldened by a buddy commenting, “Great shooting!” only when it actually was some great shooting.

Improvements are made to weapons and armour through research back on the Normandy. Research information can be found during missions through hacking, or learned from companions, and then purchased in exchange for raw materials gathered through mining planets. Which brings us to hacking and mining, two areas where Mass Effect 2 perhaps falls a little short. Where by “little” I in fact mean, “a stretching chasm of horror”.

Oh dear.

There are two hacking “minigames”. Both are essentially picture pairs. One requires you to match five different symbols with their partners, by hovering the mouse over blue blobs to see which are which. Then you click on both of them. So it is, in fact, like picture pairs without the challenge of having to guess. The other is even simpler, where you must click on a block of coloured text that matches the block of coloured text at the top of the screen. You do this three times, without accidentally moving into one of the red rectangles, and you win. Neither requires more than a vestigial brain stem to complete – in fact, to take more than half the available time would be embarrassing. They instead serve to be enormous irritants, when the game might just as well have let you get the info with a single mouse click.

Mining is far more time consuming. There’s five different materials needed for purchasing upgrades, and you’ll need them for not only weapons and armour, but also making significant improvements to the Normandy for the final stages of the game. To get these you fly about the stunningly huge cosmos, looking for unexplored planets in the dozens and dozens of solar systems, and then scanning them. This involves laboriously sweeping a clumsy cursor across every millimetre of a sphere, waiting until a meter on the right spikes, then firing a probe to retrieve that ore. Each planet contains approximate 15 to 30 spots to find before it’s depleted, with very many needing to be mined to buy the available upgrades. I found the only way to tolerate this was to put on a TV show on my other screen to prevent madness. Although the “PEEOONNNG!” noise made by launching a probe is nice.

So you can no longer land on most of these planets to perform your searches. Instead very, very occasionally your probing will reveal an anomaly, which can then be investigated. These lead to unique, somewhat perfunctory mini-quests, but with far more imagination than the identikit warehouses of the first game. But also gone is the vehicle for exploring surfaces (despite the controls still appearing in the options – later DLC it seems).

Some sort of probing pun.

To get the other two gripes out of the way: The indication that something can be interacted with appears in the form of some extremely crude text at the top of the screen. (Crude in the sense of being ugly, it’s not swearing at you – not here, at least.) It looks so tacky, like some placeholder they forgot to fix before release. And there’s a couple of frustrating bugs. When holding a sniper rifle, for some reason using other abilities (like AI hacking) will cause you to become zoomed in, and unable to zoom out for a while. Worse is Shepard’s odd habit of accidentally climbing on surfaces then not being able to get down. This became completely farcical at one point when I was stuck on a table, and then had my two companions float up to join me. It seems mysterious that this bug wasn’t spotted pre-release. And that’s enough moaning.

Because by God’s beard, this game is brilliant. The combat is brilliant, the missions are brilliant, the worlds you explore are brilliant, and most of all, the characters are so very brilliant.

Lovely Mordin?

You’ll have a favourite. For most it’s Mordin Solus. A Salarian geneticist, his fast-paced chatter is wonderfully written. He analyses, constantly, including everything he’s just said. And then you learn about who he is, what he’s done, and things get interesting. BioWare have long had a special skill for creating morally interesting situations, but never with the sophistication of Mordin’s back-story. This isn’t a couple walking up to you in the street and asking you to decide if they should have an abortion (and I should mention here that there appears to be a joke in the game directly referencing this piece I wrote about such moments, and it made me laugh long and hard). This is about a complicated, nuanced and extremely well argued debate. Oh, and he sings a song.

But I can’t share my favourite character, as it’s another big spoiler. So instead I shall talk about my second favourite, Jack. She’s the one from that ghastly trailer, all swears and attitude. And she is all swears and attitude, but executed brilliantly. I was nice to her when I first met her, as is my Paragon way. “Shit,” she replied, “You sound like a pussy.” She’s bad-ass, she’s furiously angry, she’s shaven-headed and covered in aggressive tattoos. In so many ways that might make her so many game characters. But she’s unique. She’s a phenomenally, devastatingly broken person. The tragedy of her life, the reasons she’s the person she is now, are explored in traumatic detail. And even they are nuanced beyond even her own expectations.

When she's in prison somehow no one refers to her as

Jack’s past, and indeed elements of the lives of all eleven companions, are explored in ‘loyalty missions’. So you have the initial mission to recruit them, then as you get to know each of them they will ask you to help with a particular situation. Once completed it opens up new abilities for them, and rather ridiculously, an alternative costume. Again here the bleak tones of Mass Effect 2 emit their gloom. Whether you secure the loyalty of a companion or not often comes down not to whether you’re capable of successfully completing a mission (although it is possible to fail, and the game carries on), but more to do with whether you find the goal morally acceptable. Many will challenge you on this. And even when they don’t, the outcomes can be… well, this isn’t a game about puppies and flowers.

Among the morbid tones are some real moments of fantastic humour. In fact, I haven’t laughed out loud at a game this often since Time Gentlemen, Please. One conversation in particular, toward the end, was so beautifully written and performed that it had me in stitches, awkward and cute and silly and bursting with love. There’s also some lovely self mockery from BioWare. Along with the apparent reference to objections regarding strangers asking Shepard to solve their personal problems (something that does occasionally still happen, but each time with a rational reason behind it), there’s so many wonderful conversations to overhear as you walk around. A favourite was a couple in the souvenir shop in the Citadel, arguing over the idiotic gifts available. Goodness knows how many of these I missed when rushing past crowds on an important errand.

It's Jayne!

The desire to escape cliché extends further. The self-awareness on BioWare’s part seems to have led them to cleverly defy expectations. A good illustration appears aboard a prison ship. It’s a place for some of the worst criminals in the galaxy, but also home to some terrible brutality. At one point you walk past a caged prisoner who calls you over. He’s a sweet guy, friendly, chatty. He helps you. And so here we go, it’s the wrongly imprisoned/ambiguously guilty man we can help to set free if we see his side of things. (See every BioWare game ever, including Dragon Age.) But then you can ask him why he’s in the prison. Ah, he explains, he murdered nineteen, maybe twenty people. And blew up that colony. Oh.

“Good deeds are like pissing yourself in dark pants,” explains Jacob in a strange moment of not being rubbish. “There’s a warm feeling, but no one notices.” That’s a great line. And it’s one of hundreds. Of which a considerable number belong to the interactions between your pilot, Joker, and the Normandy’s new AI, EDI.

Good old Joker.

Also more interesting is the Paragon/Renegade divide. While Dragon Age usefully got rid of a good/evil rating altogether, Mass Effect 2 evolves it to be something much more appealing. It doesn’t win over the approval of your companions. The missions aren’t really appropriate for their shock or delight at your actions. Most of the people you’re with are so morally ambiguous that they’d be hard-pushed to be bothered whether you murdered some babies, or arranged for them to be adopted. It’s about opening up conversation options, and thus resolving situations in different ways.

The other purpose is the interruptions. During some scenes you’ll see either the Renegade or Paragon icon appear on screen. Hit the appropriate mouse button at that point and Shepard will step in to do something either nice or nasty to change events. Don’t click and things will carry on despite you. This can often save lives, or quickly end them. What’s most interesting here is that choosing the option that goes against your normal nature doesn’t feel like a betrayal of who you are. It’s not like in KotOR, where you’ve been spreading happiness across the whole of the universe, and then suddenly announce to a stranger that you’re going to stamp on her child’s face to see if it sounds funny. It’s about assessing a situation and wondering if a less than holy response might be more appropriate here. (The only problem with this is my habit of playing DS games during conversations meant I kept missing the appearing options.)

When post office ticket counter queue systems turn bad.

The balance between story and action has never been so deftly handled. It’s not compromised action, a weedy RPG version that’s really only dice rolling. It’s hands-on, real-time, well designed combat. And it’s not a story draped over the action. It’s an intricate, epic, involved and emotional series of adventures and meaningful relationships.

Where the main story does fall down slightly is on reflection. Finish the game and look back at what the main thread was about, and it’s a fairly hollow thing. Because this is a game about smaller, intertwining plots, personal stories about those who keep you company. It’s the middle section of a trilogy, and as such its plot cannot be complete, nor revel in introducing a new world. The solution of involving you in the complex lives of your shipmates works magnificently. And the finale makes clever use of taking advantage of all the efforts you’ve made. You need not have recruited everyone to reach this point, so any extra work you’ve put in feels rewarded.

Look at him all mysterious.

It’s a stunning thing. There are so many stories I’m left wanting to tell. So many situations that merit discussion afterward. So many characters I’d love to talk about in more detail. It’s been agony not to give anything away. But you should go find out for yourself. If you’ve not played the original Mass Effect, don’t be put off by talk of the clumsy combat. It’s definitely clumsy, and I’m quite certain if you played the sequel first you’d not put up with it. So go play the original, then come to this. It’s worth it. If there’s anyone who did play the first game and for some reason hasn’t yet picked this up, for goodness sakes get on with it.

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392 Comments »

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  1. Kast says:

    Awww, hell, I knew I should have bought this and not BioShock 2. The clincher? Upgradable Normandy. I LOVE upgradable bases/etc in otherwise adventure-centric game. And yes, it is that tiny feature alone that sells this game to me.

    Shame that I am now out of money…

    • Nick says:

      It really does very little at all, the upgrading that is. Very very simple and a bit of a let down.. like all the upgrade options really.

    • Dante says:

      As much as I love ME2, the Normandy upgrades basically have no effect or appearance until the end of the game, so I wouldn’t base your purchase on that.

    • Nalano says:

      Well, it makes a very significant difference in the end.

  2. d00d3n says:

    I liked Mordin’s backstory but the “morality choices” associated with it didn’t make any sense. Being a paragon meant picking the most stupid and short sighted answers at every turn.

    • Nalano says:

      So don’t be a Paragon.

      Renegade isn’t just “I kick puppies” or “I let my gun do the talking;” it’s also “you’re wrong.”

    • Dante says:

      The beauty of ME2 (and ME1 actually) is that you can happily mix it up without looking bipolar. Sometimes you do what needs to be done, other times you manage to find a better way.

    • Kadayi says:

      @d00d3n

      Unlike the first game, there really isn’t any strong incentive (IE achievements) to be pure paragon/renegade. So go with what you feel is right.

    • mrmud says:

      I ended up being 55% paragon, 45% renegade at the end of ME2. This was pretty much how I ended up after ME1 as well.

      You dont have to play as a paragon OR renegade, it is perfectly viable to be both. In fact I feel that my character who is a little bit of both is much more relatable and real because of it.

    • Nalano says:

      Because they weren’t mutually exclusive, I always read Paragon/Renegade not as Good/Bad but Idealist/Badass. And when you’re at the end of the game being a principled badass, there ain’t nothin’ in this world that can stop you.

  3. Dr Lulz says:

    For goodness sakes, Shakey Jake!

  4. Deuteronomy says:

    While enjoyable, ME2 isn’t near the *experience* that ME1 was. Not exactly sure what was lacking, perhaps the music? Was there even any music while roaming the Normandy? ME1 had such a contrast between a haunting sense of stillness at times (Feros especially) and extreme urgency at others (Ilos+Citadel). IMHO ME1 was much like Stalker driven by an aesthetic more than anything else, and like Stalker succeeded as art first and game second.

    • cjlr says:

      @Deuteronomy
      I think some of that is inevitable with successive works in the same franchise and/or universe. Nothing but nothing will compare to that first delectable tryst.

    • Bugsport says:

      I agree that mass effect one has an aesthetic quality that the second game fails to capture in its entirety. This however I feel is intentional. The game series as I see it (my shepard is a full paragon because for some reason I feel compelled to be a good guy) Are equally beautiful for their own reasons. But this may be a result of the nature of the story within itself.

      The first game is sort of intentionally cold and calculating. A universe where our most advanced species are pathetic imbeciles compared to what came before. Our stories are lowly squabbles for survival and understanding that unfortunately is framed in the ruins of much higher intelligences. The mystery was wrapped up in the past and forced us to wander in the ruins of precursors. It led us to very pretty places.

      The focus of ME1’s story was on the past and focused on deep, dark sadness that comes with the loss of something special and the inability to get it back and how that causes people to suffer. You see it alot, as characters always refer to something that happened to them and being unable to make it right. Joker was teased in flight school, Wrex was betrayed by his father. Garrus’ father screwed him out of being a spectre (similar to saren and anderson). Benezia never showed Liara the affection she needed and was too late to make up for it. The prothean VI killed everyone to keep itself alive on ilos. Septimus is bitter over the inability to win the love of the consort. The two individuals fighting over the unborn child because they can’t agree on how to remember the deceased father. The visuals and grandiose decay of the universe merely matched the tone of the story.

      Mass Effect 2 on the other hand, has a drastic tonal and thematic shift from past to present. Characters, Places and events are no longer tombs of the past, but rather the broken, sad ruins that exist now. There is no need, visually or thematically to dwell any longer on how the past can hurt us and cause us to suffer. We know and understand this and any further exploration of it would cause us to become bored. The game is intensely focused on the present, and history becomes backseat. The first game is focused with understanding the past, this game is focused on showing us and understanding the present. And we must move past our old wounds and pasts in order to become happier with ourselves now. And as a consequence of linking visuals with theme you mostly wander about modern landscapes and existing, lived in structures compared to ruins and old places.

      This is most evident in the loyalty missions. We are literally, a sheppard guiding a flock out of their obsessions with the past and bringing the full fold of their awareness into the present. [SPOILERS COMING UP] Tali must move past her father’s absence and see, though extremely misguided, the amount of love he had for her up till his final moments. Archangel must move past the loss of his team and the betrayal that ruined him. Jack must face the horror that defined her life and learn to define herself on her own terms. Grunt is a creature literally force fed the past without context or particular reason and he must make the first step to being his own character. Samara must kill something she truly loves to end her and their suffering. Thane must use the time he has left to mend his past mistakes. The final character picked up must move past his preconceptions of how his race works and understand that people against all known beliefs will fracture and differentiate to the point where they are not the same anymore. [END SPOILERS]

      That’s why Ashley/Kaiden, Liara and possibly Wrex aren’t and can’t be team members of the last game. They are creatures too defined by their pasts, too wrapped up in their suffering to understand the needs of the present. Liara is obsessed with vengeance, and even goes so far as to emulate her mother, Wrex is too focused on fixing the cultural mistakes of the Krogan species, and ashley/kaiden are broken and fractured by the loss of shepard and their own respective pasts to be anything but disgusted with you.

      Also expect another shift for ME3. As I expect the game to shift its thematic focus to the future and adapting, shaping and preparing for it. Given this we most likely will see an even larger team (partially composed of surviving ME2 characters and less experienced individuals with heavily moldable opinions and behaviors depending on your actions) , a focus on army/alliance building, and a greater focus on emerging colonies and worlds on the cusp of techological, cultural, societal, social, evolutionary progress. (e.x. helping the geth atain their Future, returning the quarians to their homeworld/fixing their immune problems, freeing the batarians from their dictator government, curing the genophage. Also characters may have to learn to adapt to the future and have their relationship with shepard define their actions.

      For example take tali, if she appears in ME3. A character specific mission will arise and she disappears from the ship. She leaves a personal note for you and fails to tell you her location. You, due to your concern for her safety, track her down only to find that she is undergoing a dangerous experimental procedure to give her a regular immune system so she can live without the suit. Assuming you formed a relationship with her, she may have done this to become closer to you, to break the barrier that the suit formed so she could fully expose herself to you both emotionally and physically without fear of death or misunderstanding. If no relationship occured, and you’re paragon, she may have done this to aid her people so they can live without fear or restraint. If you’re renegade, she might have done this to escape the stigmata and persecution the suit brings.

      this is just an example though.

      I consider games like these parts in a singular whole rather than separate but interconnected products. It elevates both games to equal but different standing and helps me understand the meaning of both better.

    • Nalano says:

      Interesting analysis, Bugsport. I’m not sure I buy all of it, but it’s certainly something to chew on.

      One caveat, tho. In this trilogy, a lot of the first Mass Effect wasn’t about the past but speculation about the future: Humanity’s future in an already populous galaxy. It was a great “we’re on the cusp of something grand” feeling, where there’s no time to consider the past because there’s so much to explore.

      The Krogan have nothing on the blazing speed at which the Alliance are spreading their colonies across the galaxy and fighting wars, first with the Turians, then with the Batarians and now with the Geth – with no thought to slowing. Earth itself is going through a golden age and you never – ever! – consider going back there because there’s way too much to do all around the galaxy. The Alliance got an audience with the council in record time, and by the end of the first game are a member of the council (also in record time) or basically run the council (again, in record time). Humanity did in decades what other species couldn’t do in centuries! They become an important military power right out of the gate!

      I’m pretty sure an Asari blinked and totally missed Humanity’s rocket to the top.

      Even technology is forward-thinking: Kaidan is using outdated L2 emitters despite being a relatively young biotic and low on the pecking order, as they’ve already come out with L3. (They’re at L5 by ME2, which is a version a year!) You’re riding a ship that’s prototype technology – a combined effort of Human and Turian engineering – when you were at war with the Turians hardly any time ago! A ship, consequently, that’s laughably outdated and obsolete three weeks after ME1 ends! Who has time for yesterday? There’s tomorrow to think of!

      After all, when the short-lived Salarian councilor says you’re being impatient, you’re being impatient.

    • Bugsport says:

      yes the technology and politics are all speculating on the future in the surface narrative. But much of the game thematically focuses on the past. Everything you see, do or say, no matter how much they talk about shaping the future, always has something to do with the past and loss. Humanity’s past with the turians and their previous behaviour shapes the opinions of those around you. Kaidan is a relic. He is/was forced to use an archaic method of biotics and as a result suffer because of it. Ashley strives to achieve in the military but he is still held in contempt because of the past actions of her grandfather. On noveria, a species once long dead is resurrected. The thermian is an ancient and long lived species who specifically approach to find out clues to the past. Why is it that you find an ancient beacon, with mysteries of the past, on the oldest human colony. Why is that they initially believe saren based on this history. Everything, as much as they love to talk about shaping the future and being the beachfront for human alien relationships, is about the past.

      Why in ME2 does the matriarch bartender, with so much history and story, doesn’t want to dwell on the past. Why do help thane’s son prevent making a mistake now, rather than atone for Thane’s past mistakes. Why is Illium currently the biggest trading planet on the edge of citadel space. why is so little time focused on the history and violence of omega and more about current events. Why is the last squad member picked up, unaware of how their species work now? Why is the couple that want to have a kid, having their trouble now because the asari can’t decide if she loves him enough, rather than it being about a past dispute. Why is the importance of the collectors’ revealled history, as shocking as it is, so comparatively unimportant to what they are now.

      It’s a matter of perspective but that’s just how I see the games.

      Also is it me or do I see a lot of lovecraft references in this universe. Ilos, bares alot of passing resemblance to R’lyeh and the city from at the mountains of madness. References to the reapers being old gods and dreaming even when dead. The statuary of the protheans are also another at the mountains of madness reference with a heavy dose of space jockey. I think that’s pretty cool.

  5. MrMelons says:

    I like the conversation 2 of your characters have about talking in the elevator like they did in the citadel from ME1. How they saw it as a time to get to know one another and the other character threatens to shoot them. I dunno that just made me laugh.

  6. Wulf says:

    So… shooting for 500 comments and longest RPS comments thread ever with this, eh? >.>

  7. Wraggles says:

    While I love the game, I still can’t get over the broken combat. Biotics JUST DON’T WORK. Oh sure when they have just health left I can throw/singularity/shockwave/pull to my hearts content, but unfortunately at that point a single headshot from a heavy pistol does the same thing. Until that point they do nothing.

    I love the story, the character interactions, hell i don’t even mind the shoot from cover aspect (though I do miss being able to run and gun), but when half the powers in the game just don’t do anything there’s something seriously wrong, but that’s what I get for wanting a “challenge” and by loading up on Veteran (not even hardcore or insanity) as soon as I began.

    • Bugsport says:

      since shockwave saved my ass innumerable times with husks, varen, mechs and other stuff with a tendency to charge or swarm,. and I used pull and charge to get a better fix on distant enemies, I respectfully disagree with your statement.

    • Wraggles says:

      Eh? Well shockwave will work on, well, varren and husks as they remain undefended despite the difficulty, but pull? Really? What did you bother using it on? If they have defenses to start with you need to move to shoot them, you can’t use pull to move their defended ass out of cover, so why not just finish the job with a gun. Varren and husks will rush you so it’s not like you need pull, and as for mechs, why use a power, pop each one once with a heavy pistol in the face, and they don’t cower behind cover anyway….

      As you can see I respectfully disagree with your disagreement.

      Mayhap if the ability didn’t work and actually did a decent chunk of damage it could be worthwhile, but as an adept all you do is sit behind cover and spam warp, at least as a vanguard you have charge and a shotgun for kicks.

    • Taillefer says:

      I picked slam as my “bonus power”, it recharged way before the target stood back up so I could just spam the power and big groups of enemies were helplessly rolling on the floor for the whole fight. I was an infiltrator, but slam along with incinerate meant I only ever used my guns in really intense situations. Which made the cloak and all the combat bonuses a bit of a waste. It stood out as a poor balancing issue to me when the infinite use powers are more powerful than the limited ammo.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Hmm. Pull is my most used power, strangely enough. On Veteran, most enemies have armour or a shield, so you take squadmates with abilities which can burn through those quickly, ideally someone with Warp or Incinerate, and someone with Warp or Overload. You pop overload on the shielded enemies and incinerate on the armoured enemies, then pull them out of the cover, and shoot em up a bit, or make your squadmates do it.

      You can also use pull to get quite a few environmental kills, which are hilariously good fun. Fully upgraded charge is also a joy in that regard.

    • Wulf says:

      My favourite power is Cryofreeze.

      There’s really little that’s more hilarious than to have a Krogan charge at you, your team mates go nuts, and then having the thing frozen inches before it gets to you, only to fall over sideways and shatter.

      Plus, Overload is my friend when it comes to the Geth, and especially that Colossus, which went down in about 15 seconds thanks to Overload. <3 Sentinel.

    • Dante says:

      Biotics are amazingly useful, and I’ll tell you why, because they go around corners.

      Strategic use of overload/warp/incinerate can tear the shields/barriers/armour right off an enemy, then when they try and hide you loop a pull field around the cover and drag a whole group out into the open.

      Add Warp ammo into the mix and a single light tap of the assault rifle will take them all out as they pinwheel away.

    • sigma83 says:

      I was a soldier, and I picked Barrier as my extra power. It let me walk up to things with the trigger held down until they died. Very good for being soldier-y.

    • Wraggles says:

      @ Wulf
      Cryo freeze, while amusing is also useless (along with cryo ammo) on harder difficulties, it doesn’t work on any form of protection and when enemies have 500 shield 500 armor 100 hp, it becomes pointless trying to get that double damage bonus or using it to CC.

      I’ve also never had cause to use pull, it was always more efficient to just;
      a) run up to them
      b) finish them with a damaging power (incinerate or warp are best)

      It’s also annoying how the rock paper scissors system leads to cookie cutter battles. It’s just, hide, use appropriate move a), use appropriate move b), finish with gun. That said, infiltrator/solider/vanguard have a couple of ways to mix up the battlefield.

  8. Will says:

    I’m really curious what happens if you don’t bother to get ALL of the Normandy Upgrades before the final game….anyone tell me?

    I’m assuming if you recruit less people then you find it harder at the end and that how many loyalty quests/how soon you race after the collectors also affects the last mission. SO many things to try!

    • tmp says:

      There’s a few “must have” upgrades. Lacking them means death of one team member per missing upgrade before the main mission even starts.

  9. Chalee says:

    Lovely review, but having a favourite character who is not Mordin is quite blatantly incorrect.

  10. Furius says:

    Love the game. Anyone else notice that Male Shepard is just a little camp now? Don’t know if they got a new mocap actor in or something, but now and again he just does a the odd little flounce as he’s talking. Must be a Side effect of That Thing That Happens At The Start.

  11. jsutcliffe says:

    Second playthrough, starting a ME2 character from scratch. Kaidan is alive! Wrex is dead! It’s all gone horribly wrong!

    I didn’t fully appreciate how important having a ME1 backstory for my Shepard was, or how unnerving it would be when things are different.

  12. Rane2k says:

    Oh boy, I am SO pissed off right now, finally received Mass Effect 2 (and Borderlands) in the mail, installed the 2 ME2 discs, configure everything, import my ME1 savegame, start the game… and it hits me like a hammer.
    The dialogue is in GODDAMN GERMAN.
    Why did I order from the UK again?
    Not that I don´t appreciate them making a version in my native language, but I played the first game in english, twice, and now it just feels wrong…

    This is seriously offputting, does anyone know a way to get the english voice files?

    Edit: Nevermind, I panicked there, seems to be an international version that has more than one set of language files. To anyone with the same problem (and an international version), go to (your Mass Effect directory)datasku.ini and change VOLanguage and TextLanguage to INT, instead of DEU)

  13. Kots says:

    [MASSIVE SPOILERS]

    The main story felt like a pointless thing to prolong the story into trilogy. There was just minor revelations that everyone with half a brain could read between the lines in the first part. Biggest nag to me was the whole suicide mission. After the first part it was pretty obvious that the Reapers were coming, millions of years old sentient machines must’ve been aware that Milky Way had gone without it’s periodical check and their fleet was on the way. It could be months, years, who knows. So why was it necessary to do a _suicide_ mission against a threat that seemed so minor in comparison against the actual Reaper threat? And by minor I mean the Collectors targeted only insignificant colonies.

    How the missions were executed bothered me too, mostly because of the Paragon/Renegade options given along the way. Like the Zaeed mission, first I thought it was awesome, I had to choose between the people and his loyalty. Would I have to watch my back throughout the rest of the game if he would decide to take revenge because I helped the people? No, I just poured some Paragon honey to his ears and we were best friends again. In all, the Paragon/Renegade options solved all the problems for the player and there was no hard decisions at all. I would’ve preferred a solution where you could never ever have a fully loyal team, you’d have to piss someone off by making someone else happy, so your decisions along the way would dictate what kind of setup you have for the mission. Same goes for the whole upgrade and loyalty system. When I pay 50€ for a game, of course I want to crawl through all the content, which means I had a fully loyal team in the end.

    The mission itself had some nice moments, like the first time I realized I have to choose people for the different tasks. But it instantly killed it for me when I realized there were right picks for the jobs. And of course they were obvious. It could’ve used some random moments, like second team getting in trouble and having to make a decision to either help them or leave them on their own, and the decision would also affect the morale of your own team, they would start to question your leadership should you make irrational decisions based on personal feelings. It kind of missed all the drama it could’ve had. If I now chose to play it so that I lose people, it would never have the impact since I might as well shoot them myself.

    I also am in the 2% minority that seemed to like the Mako parts in first part, not because of the combat and physics that were clearly broken, but for the feel of it, landing on barren planets with a gas giant covering half of the sky, just enjoying the scenery. It also gave a sense of massive scale to the world. They could’ve developed it further, added environmental hazards that were actually somehow significant instead of just the small bar that indicated when you’re going to die. Have some visual feedback of it and make conditions affect the gameplay, for example low gravity that would send Mako flying to outer space because of a little bump. That said they actually had one part like that in ME2, the mission to recruit Tali where you have to stick to shadows to avoid harmful sunlight.

    And when it comes to the mineral scanning they should’ve added something like completely random discoveries of tech, history, small story pieces, surprising elements to spice it up. I hear people nagging about the PC scanning speed but my god it was horrible on 360.

    Overall I loved it but hated it because it could be so much more with so little effort.

    • ymrar says:

      “I would’ve preferred a solution where you could never ever have a fully loyal team, you’d have to piss someone off by making someone else happy, so your decisions along the way would dictate what kind of setup you have for the mission.”

      I failed to have Zaeed loyal to me as after saving the people, I chose wrong words. I also lost Miranda’s loyalty as I chose Jack over Miranda in their argument. So yes, you do have this kind of choices you speak about.

  14. Carra says:

    My wrists actually hurt from all the scanning. Who thought and playtested that? Grmbl.

    I am quite surprised by Jack. At first she seemed just like one of the many evil personas I’ve seen in countless other mmorpgs. After knowing her a bit better it comes clear that she’s not really evil but more a product of her education. I actually started to like her after her side quest. A game that teaches us that we shouldn’t rely on our first impressions? Never thought I’d see the day.

    The new interactive cutscenes are also a great addiction. In a split second you can make an important decision. A paragon option comes up for a poor civilian? Clickie! A renegade option comes up for this jerk who just talks too much? Clickie! I ended up helping all the poor civilians while kicking the crap out of all the bigmouth criminals.

    And then there is the attention to detail. Walking around in cities you can hear people talk casually. And it’s not just two sentences after which they repeat themselves. You can often hear conversations of ten sentences. They’re fun to listen to and I actually stopped from time to time to see how the conversation ends. Two of my favourite are the Krogan who’s convinced that he is the father of a child or the Volan who’s playing the stock market.

    • Wulf says:

      [Disclaimer: I LIKED ME2, so no unreasonable and irrational bouts of maul, please? Thanks.]

      Anyway, ME2 isn’t the first game to do this, quite a few have. In fact, Gann of Dreams in Mask of the Betrayer looks questionable at first. He’s a criminal, and the game has the player thinking initially that he mind rapes people, and uses his silken tongue to get out of it, that he’s a total bastard but very sly and cunning.

      The truth of it is that he has a heart of gold, but all the people around him are caught up in persecuting his race, a race which CAN perform some particularly nasty mindfucks and often does. Gann, however, does not. And if you give him the chance you get to find out just how incredibly selfless and noble he is, and all he really wants to be is an actor, a thespian, a weaver of dreams rather than a base dream rapist, hence the silken tongue.

      He’s just in a bad situation, and because no one believes in him he finds it hard to believe in himself, so that’s why when he’s first encountered he just pretends to portray the image that everyone has of him, instead of revealing his true nature. He’s a very guarded character at first, so it’s hard to know what to make of him, and people who don’t care to dig too deep will go through the game just thinking he’s really not at all that nice, and doubtlessly some people have, just as some will have with Jack.

    • Nalano says:

      Believe me, the trope’s been there a while, Wulf. Doesn’t mean that the current examples aren’t especially well-written.

    • Wulf says:

      @Nalano

      I actually didn’t say that they were, at all. In fact, I even really liked Jack’s story, a lot.

      That I didn’t is just you misreading me.

      Because because I like one thing doesn’t mean I automatically dislike another, especially when I’ve all ready pointed out that I thought that ME2 was pretty good.

  15. Dante says:

    Nalano said:
    @tmp

    What’s the point of cooperating with a race that can’t defend itself? What had the Turians to gain? Sure, the Asari got there first, but being there first and being able to hold onto it are two different things. After all, look how fast the humans completely rewrote the whole galaxy’s power structure in the blink of an eye – faster than the Krogan <i>or</i> the Rachni – by military might.

    Er… because you aren’t evil?

    Even if we’re assuming every race in this equation is composed entirely of coldly calculating psychopaths, just because you’d beat the Asari and Salarians at battle doesn’t make it a wise choice. The Salarians might not do well in a sustained war, but they have great intelligence agencies and they fight seriously dirty.

    After all, if they genophaged the Krogan, God knows what they’d infect the Turians with if they started anything.

    • Jeremy says:

      Not voting for Nalano in the elections.

    • Nalano says:

      Elections? Why would I offer elections?

      I detect insufficient grovelling. Don’t make me break out the Pain-o-Matic™.

      Funny you should call them not evil. They just committed genocide against one species via a proxy war with another species, then fought a proxy war against that species with a third species before committing all but genocide on them, and rewarded the third species with exactly what the second species was vying for.

      By all rights the Turians should have shot first. Ha!

  16. Bjorgenstein says:

    Dominic White said:
    The guy who dug it up was Gibbed on the Something Awful forums. Dude is a hacking demigod – he’s the guy who made Red Faction: Guerilla moddable, dug up the debug mode for Bionic Commando: Rearmed, wrote the ME2 savegame editor, and is currently trying to find some way of ’spoofing’ DLC files so that modders can import new content into ME2.

    I trust him. Never led me stray yet.

    http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3259234&userid=95254

    Dominic, thanks so much for posting that link. Gibbed updated his editor to build 25 last night, and it includes the ability to toggle ME1 choices on and off!

    The timing couldn’t be better. I had just resigned myself to yet another ME1 playthrough. I like the first game, but I’m glad I don’t have to play it every time I want to try some different choices in ME2.

  17. capitolwasteland says:

    @wulf:

    Why must you constantly play the victim card? You have GOOD points and I enjoy reading your posts but I am sick, sick, SICK to death of how much you cry about people persecuting you. Also: drop the brainwashed crap. People don’t agree with me so they are brain washed? Really? Knock it off.

    • Wulf says:

      You must have a lot of time on your hands, Dante #2.

      It’s funny how all of these new names turn up in Bioware threads that I never see anywhere else. Really funny. I’ve started to pick up on that now, actually, now that I’m paying close attention to the regulars.

    • Nalano says:

      Did you just pull the “get off my lawn” card?

      Honestly, friend, that’s not the tack you wanna take. We respect your opinion, but the attitude just gots ta go.

  18. Dante says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    [Disclaimer: I LIKED ME2, so no unreasonable and irrational bouts of maul, please? Thanks.]

    Anyway, ME2 isn’t the first game to do this, quite a few have. In fact, Gann of Dreams in Mask of the Betrayer looks questionable at first. He’s a criminal, and the game has the player thinking initially that he mind rapes people, and uses his silken tongue to get out of it, that he’s a total bastard but very sly and cunning.

    The truth of it is that he has a heart of gold, but all the people around him are caught up in persecuting his race, a race which CAN perform some particularly nasty mindfucks and often does. Gann, however, does not. And if you give him the chance you get to find out just how incredibly selfless and noble he is, and all he really wants to be is an actor, a thespian, a weaver of dreams rather than a base dream rapist, hence the silken tongue.

    He’s just in a bad situation, and because no one believes in him he finds it hard to believe in himself, so that’s why when he’s first encountered he just pretends to portray the image that everyone has of him, instead of revealing his true nature. He’s a very guarded character at first, so it’s hard to know what to make of him, and people who don’t care to dig too deep will go through the game just thinking he’s really not at all that nice, and doubtlessly some people have, just as some will have with Jack.

    Yes, we get it, you like Mask of the Betrayer, I’m just not sure why that’s relevant.

    • Wulf says:

      Don’t you think that that kind of reply is just a bit dickish?

      Anyway, I imagine that I can say whatever I like, providing I’m not hurting anyone by doing so. If the RPS guys have a problem with it then I will stop, but remember, you’re not a news poster here or part of the RPS crew, therefore you’re not an admin, so don’t get ahead of your station.

      If you don’t like my posts… well, um… tough? Just ignore them, it’s snot like they’re imprinted on your retinas or anything, right? Eesh.

  19. Marty Dodge says:

    Actually ME2 is growing on me. It seems odd to me but I found ME1 easier to get into that the second one. I imported my ME1 character as well, but ME2 still didn’t click right away. Now as I get further along in the game, just finished the “blooding” for Grunt, its getting more interesting. I find the fact you have so many people to chose from interesting.

    Oddity: many people fund the whole scan for mineral tedious. I find it oddly relaxing. Its the perfect accompaniment when you are doing something else and can’t be 100% stuck to the game. Even though I don’t have to I plan to full exploit… er I mean explore every planet… filthy capitalist that I am.

    All your resources are mine!

  20. Dante says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    You must have a lot of time on your hands, Dante #2.

    It’s funny how all of these new names turn up in Bioware threads that I never see anywhere else. Really funny. I’ve started to pick up on that now, actually, now that I’m paying close attention to the regulars.

    I’m sorry, what?

    Not that it would be remotely relevant, but I’ve been around here for quite some time thanks. Click on the ‘Orc’ bit, it’ll say ‘Member since October 23, 2008′, or about a year longer than you.

    If you aren’t arguing with anyone, what are you actually saying? All you seem to be doing is rambling about how much you love Gann.

  21. Dante says:

    Lilliput King said:
    Oh, I get it. This makes much more sense. You’ve shed the rather peculiar pretence of arguing genre roles and revealed your true colours – that you think things are changing, that you’re scared, and that, well, you say it best:

    Very true.

    Change is good, you know why? Because the old stuff still sticks around and there’s good new stuff too!

    Sure maybe we don’t have as many 2d turn based Tolkein rip off RPGs as we used to, but they’re still around, plus there’s all this other cool stuff.

    Embrace the change, it means something for everyone, anything else comes off as selfish.

  22. squizzerls says:

    “As is apparently a tradition at BioWare, only broken by Dragon Age, it’s crucial to begin with two really boring characters you’ll never want to bother with again once you’ve recruited some others.” Sir, I must protest. Are you implying that Minsc is a boring character? If so, GO FOR THE EYES BOO, GO FOR THE EYES YEARRGGGG

  23. Kadayi says:

    Finished it yesterday. Enjoyed the hell out of it and successfully managed to come out unscathed will all my crew and peoples. The only disappointment I really had was that I kind of expected more from what was beyond the Omega 4 relay. I was expecting there to be some systems to explore and other stuff, so it was a bit of a shock to find that it was the end game.

  24. SanguineAngel says:

    Well! I’ve held out posting on this thread for fear of even minor spoilers. Now I’ve finished it.

    Gotta say that I loved it. I’ll admit to having had a go at mass effect 1 when it first came out on PC and finding it a bit dull. However, I had another crack at it in preparation for number 2 and by golly it transported me entirely.

    I’m also going to admit right here that it’s quite rare for me to see most games through to completion these days. Partly because now I’s a full time working member of society, I don’t usually have the time for it. Also when the industry bombards me with several great titles I tend to flitter between titles and eventually lose track and interest. So I finished this and I felt fully satisfied, happy and exuberant. Although I am left wanting more.

    ANYWAY! Mass Effect 2 was brilliant. I loved the atmosphere intensely, even more than the first. And all the characters really caught me imagination. Just as importantly for me – I did every mission in the game and I was a lot more impressed by all their presentations. Clear and well presented storylines – frequently interwoven and relevant. I actually much preferred the linearity of these missions as well if I’m honest. Kept them focused and maintained immersion in the story.

    Please bear in mind that I am a bit of a die hard RPGer here, so when I am heaping praise on the game I really mean it. For me, an RPG is NOT defined by the combat system or the inventory. For me it is about character development and cause and effect. There is a larger conversation to be had here. But essentially I mean that if you as a player can actively effect the develop the person of your character and also interact with the characters and environment in a meaningful way then that would be enough.

    As far as I am concerned then, ME2 is absolutely an RPG. I was a lot more impressed with the paragon/renegade developments this time around.

    There are definitely faults with the game, there is no denying. I thought that although I really enjoyed the character interaction, and the stories they told, the mechanics were ridiculously formulaic. The “This section of the game is where you develop relationships and not much else” shocked me after it was so well integrated with the main storyline in the previous game. It also lost a lot of edge when there were virtually no pressure here. You could essentially delay indefinitely and ensure that you had completed each character’s plot line. What really did get to me here, though, was the loyalty mission trigger. I thought the introduction to each mission was extremely abrupt. It didn’t matter how little you chatted with people, they would always offer up this mission at some predetermined point, and completion of that mission (difficult to fail, although possible so that’s good) meant instant loyalty. This did disappoint me when in ME1, these missions had to be teased gradually from companions. It would have surely been a relatively simple matter to improve on that. Then you are rewarded for your interactions with characters – or punished. That would seem the more RPG way, and even the more ME way.

    I feel I am rambling so I’ll stop here.

    Just to say, it had flaws but despite them, I think it’s one of the better games and better RPG’s I’ve played for a while!

  25. SanguineAngel says:

    @ ymrar

    I think what he was driving at was that he would have preferred it if you were FORCED to make those choices. The two outcomes you describe were completely avoidable.

    I tend to agree with him – I’ve been of the opinion that choice in computer games is virtually meaningless without sacrifce. So it comes down to these so called “safe choices” ie you chose the good option because you know you won’t be punished. What if you had to give something up whichever route you took. The choice then takes on signifigance. ME1 DID have one such important choice. I’d like to have seen more of that. And hopefully we will in the final chapter.