They say that things change but people stay the same. An adage that the, now legendary, writers at Bioware have incorporated perfectly in their second outing within the Mass Effect universe. Those who played the original instalment in this epic trilogy will remember well the various real world issues that Bioware addressed throughout the game play, from political frustration and tough moral calls, right down to xeno racism and even requiring you to choose which of your closest team-mates should die on Virmire. This kind of story telling is what really pulled you into the game and wouldn’t let you back out again until you were falling asleep at the XBOX or PC.
Mass Effect 2 takes these issues and decisions to a whole new level. Emotionally, it’s the most intense game I have ever had the pleasure of playing. You can feel your anger build up inside of you as you hear of the atrocities of certain protagonists, laugh out loud as Joker and EDI banter back and forth, feel a tear well up in your eye at the heartache of your fellow team members and feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins as you struggle desperately to survive the Suicide Mission. There were even times where I would have to stop and stare at the screen for several minutes as I debated the potential ramification of a decision I had to make. This game really does hook you completely, from beginning to the end just on the basis of it’s character development and story telling.
In regards to the game play, expect a few changes, some of which may not be well received at first. If your playing on the PC, the first thing you will notice is that you no longer have the ‘combat wheel’ during the fight scenes. Instead, when paused, you will see a small bar at the bottom of the screen with expandable menus and a quick slot bar near the top of where you can bind certain abilities to certain keys. I have been informed that the XBOX version retains the ‘combat wheel’ though, so no worries for you console gamers. While not a huge issue, it was a harbinger of other changes to be noticed.
The biggest change for me was the implementation of a single key for pretty much everything, from ducking behind crates, pressing flat up against walls, ‘storming’ and acting as a ‘use’ key for pretty much everything from activating doors to talking to npc’s. Initially I felt this was an unnecessary change to the system, but after the first couple of combat encounters, I was glad of the simplified system. Another change is the levelling system. Gone are the rows upon rows of weapon training and abilities, now it’s just ability enhancements and ‘evolutions’. You are automatically trained fully in whatever weapon types you class allows (Sniper Rifle, Heavy Pistol and Sub-Machine Pistol for my ME1 imported Infiltrator), and your perfectly accurate with each, a nice touch considering that your Sheppard was probably a crack shot by the end of ME1.Each ability has four increment levels with the fourth being a specialisation (making your biotic warp AOE or increased damage to a single target for example.
The final major change is the lack of the MAKO ground vehicle, perhaps the one thing I miss the most. Instead you land on every planet in a shuttle cut-scene. None of the changes affect the overall feel of the game, and after the first hour you will quite happily accept them and carry on enjoying the game to it’s fullest.
Combat is intense. Don’t expect the same kind of AI you fought against in ME1, and don’t expect your shields and health to hold up longer than a few seconds if your not in cover. The AI will outflank you with terrifying speed an efficiency, using everything at their disposal to ruin your lovingly customized armour (yes you can change the colour, style and patterning throughout the game). Your special abilities have far more impact on a situation than in the original, and it is virtually impossible to run through a level without them. The learning curve can be quite viscous if your expecting ME1 style combat.
All in all the game is a blast. Well worth every penny you pay for it, with some extra downloadable content to boot. The changes can make you frown at first, but you will soon have a massive smile on your face as you keep playing, and maybe even shed a few tears towards the end. Whatever your opinion you have to admit that once again Bioware have lived up their name as one of the greatest RPG gaming companies to ever have existed.