Bargain Gaming – Mass Effect 2

Posted on Jan 19 2012

One of the most interesting parts of bargain gaming is looking at the way that game prices fluctuate based upon sales, popularity, availability, and whether or not sequels are coming out. Mass Effect 2 has only been out for about 2 years and is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction games ever released (as can be seen from looking at the game’s metacritic score), but because of the impending release of Mass Effect 3 you can get it for less than twenty bucks with relative ease. I’m going to cut to the chase right now and say that if you liked Mass Effect then you should definitely pick this game up. It’s a solid third person shooter as it is, and the story telling has only improved since the first game, with even more interesting character interactions and more impactful moral decisions. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that it builds off of Mass Effect, allowing the player to import their character from the first game along with the impact all of their original decisions made and some of their perks from the original game. The question really isn’t if fans of the original game should pick this game up, but if there’s enough here to bring newcomers into the series as well.

The story is an interesting place to start, as it leads off with what in most games would be a total copout for a sequel, aka killing off the main character in the first few minutes. Yet Mass Effect 2 surprised me by immediately resurrecting Shepard and using the destruction of your ship as an excuse to go out and assemble a new team, a decision I ultimately have to respect. Most of the game revolves around you assembling your team for the inevitable suicide mission against the Collectors, and it plays out beautifully as you are forced to gather up your rag tag group. Comprised of a mix of both new and old faces, this is exactly what I wanted from the original Mass Effect, as you are given the ability to explore your allies’ back stories at your leisure. The fact that all of the character’s have their own loyalty missions is another commendable aspect that I’ll touch on in a bit, but the added emphasis the game puts upon your team and the relationship you build with them throughout the game really sold this title for me.

The game also houses an impressive array of interesting NPCs for you to interact with, ranging from former teammates/love interests such as Ashley and Liara to fun cameos like a reference to the Rachni Queen from the first game and the return of the Council. But the most interesting NPC has to be the introduction of the Illusive Man. Love him or hate him, he provides a fascinating foil to Shepard, as he simultaneously represents the best and worst that humanity has to offer. It is because of him that Shepard is resurrected and is given the chance to fight back against the Reapers once again, yet at the same time you can’t shake the fact that he is a pro-human extremist who would go to any lengths in order to ensure humanity’s dominance in the galaxy. He is one of the characters I am most interested in seeing return in Mass Effect 3, as depending upon your actions in the final mission he could emerge as either a powerful ally or a vindictive enemy.

And with that we come to the story moment you’ve all been waiting for (well, Jinn’s been waiting for it at least), the game’s final mission, aptly named “The Suicide Mission”. A bit ironic really, as what with my horrible completionist gaming tendencies I went in so over prepared that I could’ve only died if I went out of my way to do so. But the way that this final mission is presented is fascinating, as there are four different factors that come into play as to who survives the endeavor. The loyalty of your crew members, how quickly you respond to the final mission, whether or not you bothered to upgrade the Normandy, and your placement of your allies throughout the mission all factor in to who lives and who dies. Come in prepared and choose your placement wisely and it’s entirely possible to come out without losing a single character. Screw up and every single one of the crew members you’ve gathered, interacted with, and grown attached to throughout the course of the game can and will end up dead; and it will be all your fault. It’s a fun conclusion that builds off a point I made in my Mass Effect review, in that your decisions in game actually have a significant outcome within the game this time around. Unfortunately I can’t go into depth without reaching massive spoiler territory (territory I fear I have probably already reached), but it is a welcome change regardless.

This change can also be seen within the game’s moral choice system, the most obvious example being the new paragon/renegade prompts that now show up in the middle of conversations. Now you can provide medical treatment to a dying civilian in the middle of a conversation or kill your opponents with a well placed shot to an exposed gas tank underneath their position, all with a click of your mouse. This added a sense of tangibility to your moral decisions, as suddenly they were having a direct impact on how interactions played out, allowing the player to feel like their decisions actually mattered. This factor is only heightened by the way the game changes how your companions interact with you depending upon your choices, allowing you to forge closer bonds with them depending upon your stance. This was a great improvement over the original game’s system, and when you combine it with the residual effects from the first game it really leaves the player with the feeling that they are making a difference. Whether or not that difference is a positive one though… well, that’s up to the player.

But enough about the narrative elements, let’s take a look at how the actual game play mechanics have evolved. Well, foremost in my mind is the fact that the two gripes I had from the original title, the Mako driving sections and inventory system, have been totally replaced. Not fixed mind you, but getting rid of them altogether is preferable to keeping them I suppose. You now have very limited control over your inventory, with only a handful of different weapons and armor pieces available for you to customize your character with. I suppose the upgrade system makes up for this a bit, as it allows you to actually modify your character’s stats and abilities directly, but the problem is that this upgrade system relies very heavily on the game’s new resource system.

And we can’t touch on the resource system without looking at what the developers decided to replace the Mako driving sections with, now can we? You see, in order to gather resources in any sizable quantity you have to go to random planets and scan them with your cursor, launching probes whenever you find a deposit you deem worthy of collecting. You can also discover side missions by finding transmissions on a planet’s surface and launching a probe to investigate, but this happens so infrequently that I feel that it can be safely discounted. Long story short, while I’m glad that the developers realized that the Mako sequences were some of the least popular aspects of the original game and decided to do something about it, I would’ve rather seen it overhauled or dropped completely rather than have to deal with these irritating probes. It is incredibly tedious to scan a planet for that one resource you need (cough, platinum, cough) while your ship is fit to bursting with all of the other now useless elements. The designers either needed to tweak this segment to put more of a balance on what minerals were available/necessary in order to make this acceptable (a vendor that let you exchange one material for another would’ve been nice). But at the very least it’s an optional part of the game, though if you want to pimp out your ship and characters as much as possible it’s an unfortunate necessity.

I also feel that I should touch on the game’s aesthetic elements this time around, as while Mass Effect’s graphics were solid for the time it should be no surprise that the sequel has upped the ante in terms of in game visuals. I played it on the PC, and I have to say that the different worlds and enemies were all impressive to look at, with the space battles towards the beginning and end of the game being a true joy to watch on the higher graphical settings. Add in some excellent voice acting for all of the characters and a atmospheric soundtrack and it’s clear that this game has benefited from its prequel’s success.

Finally, the third person shooter game play has also been tweaked as well, and it is this change that irritated me more than anything else. Everything else was an improvement over the original (yes, even the probes) or at least managed to maintain the status quo. But whoever decided that it was a good idea to implement an arbitrary ammo system into the game after the first game had no ammo constraints whatsoever needs to be smacked in the face. Maybe if they had addressed it with more than a passing phrase it would be more acceptable to me, but after playing the original game with one weapon I just can’t get over this. At the very least they could’ve given the player the option to choose his load out before missions (aka, I know I’m going to use my sniper rifle a lot, so I leave my heavy weapon behind in order to carry extra sniper rounds, etc.), otherwise it just feels like an arbitrary restriction. I ended up using the machine pistol a lot towards the end of the game, my least favorite of my four weapons, just because it was the only gun I had with a large quantity of ammo. But I have to admit that it does add an extra layer of tension to combat, as I needed to conserve my rifle rounds through extended fire fights if I was going to deal with the harder enemies. Even if it does feel horribly out of place.

Despite this “flaw”, my final verdict for this game should really come as no surprise. As I said in the beginning of this review, this game is a must play for any fans of the original Mass Effect. It improves upon the original game with a more dynamic story, better character interactions, and improved game play, making an already solid title into a truly amazing game. Even if you haven’t played the original Mass Effect I still highly recommend this title as the superior version, and the game is set up in such a way as to be easily accessible even to newcomers to the series what with Shepard’s death in the beginning causing you to effectively start from scratch. This game is easily one of the best third person shooters I’ve ever played, and at its current price and with the sequel right around the corner I highly recommend picking it up. If only so you can join me on the upcoming game’s four player co-op missions!

Until that time this is Bargain Gamer, logging off.

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  • Kanashimi January 19, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    I’m like one trophy away from platinum-ing this, which is really only going through it on hard and watching everyone suffer in the last mission. I haven’t gotten a chance to really, but I did like my first play through. I just felt awkward in any flirting scene.

    • Bargain Gamer January 20, 2012 at 7:13 PM

      Yeah, the romance options were a bit awkwardly simple. Just pester them occasionally and bang! true love. >.>;

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