You Are What You Choose
I reveled in the freedom of the first Mass Effect, and its sequel takes this concept so much further. Huge steps in storytelling were made in ME's intimidate, charm, and causality the first time around. Now, your actions are even more enhanced with the ability to interrupt in the middle of conversations. At specific times, if you don't like where a discussion is going or you want to make a point, Shepard can interject and change the course of words. This is a huge improvement over the already spectacular story telling. Speaking of which...
Story telling is also improved in ME 2, with better graphics, virtually zero textural pop ups, and incredibly cinematic camera angles. I never knew that a normal conversation could be so enthralling. On top of these are outstanding cut scenes that are some of the best ever created. Along with these benefits are sometimes very long load times, some pushing half a minute. But at least you're not looking at people ride an elevator anymore.
Playing With Guns
Holding all of these things together is one of the greatest voice-acting casts ever assembled. Every single voice, even down to the most minor, are knocked out of the ball park. Absolutely amazing.
The combat system of ME2 has been heavily changed for this outing. No longer do weapons have unlimited ammo, no more vast choices in weaponry and upgrades (though there are several), and aiming has been very refined. Without a doubt, this aspect of the game is an improvement over Mass Effect, but I would still like to know why they got rid of infinite ammo. In the original I was able to construct an assault rifle that never overheated, even if you kept you finger to the trigger for ten minutes. A plausible explanation of why weapons like that were replaced would have been nice. Further, I don't understand why upgrades were almost completely phased out. ME's upgrade system needed refinement, but not expulsion.
But I have good news for everyone: NPCs no longer blindly shoot the walls in front of them. This time your crew members are valuable assets; gone are the days of single-handedly defeating a horde of geth.
Changes Aren't Always Good
While the shooting and NPC mechanics of Mass Effect 2 are mostly good, the elimination of many RPG elements take away some joy of playing. Killing enemies will no longer bring you XP; instead, you get a lump sum of experience when you end a mission or assignment. There are two major problems with this set up, unfortunately. First, after completing a main story mission, such as ones concerning loyalty or recruitment, you get a large amount of XP. This is an okay set up, but when completing assignments, you mainly receive paltry amounts of experience. As a result, I found that I lacked a drive to finish every assignment. Second, at the end of every mission, you get a screen that reviews what you did on your mission. How much experience you received, what upgrades you found, and so on. At times, this severely disrupts the flow of gameplay and destroys suspension of disbelief.
Compounding the problems with lump sum XP is the bare bones leveling system. If you do not earn the loyalty of your crew, they only have three attributes to increase, and even after loyalty is gained, you only have four. This almost makes leveling up seem pointless; more options are desperately needed.
Characters and Plot
There is no mistaking it: this saga has one of the best plots in the history of video games. Added to the mix are more crew members and loyalty missions, making ME2 even more character driven. While the concept is outstanding, the execution in ME2 is less than perfect.
Some characters in Mass Effect 2 are exceedingly interesting, most notably Thane, Tali, Mordin, and Miranda. Unfortunately, other characters either need more fleshing out to be interesting (Jacob), or are throw away generic characters, like the downloadable Zaeed, the mercenary with a bloody past, but who proves himself a hero.
Second, because of the less compelling plot, more missions dealing with it were needed. Instead, recruitment and loyalty missions get in the way of the main plot. Unfortunately, in many cases the loyalty and recruitment missions consist of: be dropped at the beginning of level, move linearly to group of surprising information, finish mission. This is not to say that all such missions were indeed bad, for example Tali's loyalty mission is excellent, but that some opportunities were squandered.
In the End...
Honestly, with several bad flaws in the game, the revelations and the ending make it all worth while. But is Mass Effect 2 as good as Mass Effect? No, it is not. ME2 desperately needed some of the RPG elements that it lost and a visible enemy to hate. While plot and characters are mainly great in this saga, the leveling system needs improvement for the coming Mass Effect 3. I trust that BioWare will do a good job; they just need to take the good from the first and second and combine them.
The Final Verdict: 8/10, Good
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