RPG Monthly: Mass Effect 2
RPG Monthly is back, and for this month, I decided that we’d continue our round-up of the Mass Effect trilogy. So this month we will be looking at the second game in the trilogy, Mass Effect 2. My personal favourite in the series, as it improved upon many features of the first game. WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD FOR MASS EFFECT 2.
What I loved about the second ME is how dark it felt. The trilogy has been compared to the Star Wars Original Trilogy in story layout, and it certainly resembles it; this feels like the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy.
The design of the worlds we visit enforce this feeling. Omega, for example, a large station and the first hub planet we come across, is ripe with crime. The very reddish colouring to it, along with the alleyways being full of homeless aliens and mercenary gangs brazenly roaming the streets, gives you a sense of the kind of place this is, and a feeling of unease.
The Asari planet of Illium, while it may look sophisticated and exquisite on the surface, beneath this facade lies political corruption and organised crime syndicates. Even the Citadel, once the majestic centre of intergalactic government, loses that essence in this one, with the focus on the Lower Wards instead. While the exploration of the game may have been significantly decreased, the universe feels much more real and generally better than before. Bioware clearly intended the sequel to be darker and sleazier, and they definitely delivered.
*SPOILERS* The storyline of ME2 continues the Empire theme; after the victory against Saren and his Geth army, human colonies vanish throughout the Milky Way. With Shepard killed right in the first 5 minutes of gameplay, you’re resurrected and forced to work alongside the pro-human splinter group known as Cerberus (yep, the same ones you spent many a side quest fighting in the first Mass Effect) in order to save humanity and discover the nature of this threat.
The story is gripping and intense, with a plot twist close to rivalling that of Empire’s (close). It certainly feels like the Reaper’s taking their revenge on you for your victory in the predecessor, and the game ends with a massive force of Reapers appearing on the edge of the Milky Way, despite Shepard’s best efforts to stop them. Not only this, but ME2 stands out from ME1; whereas only a few squad members could die, in ME2 your entire team AND crew can die, based on a number of tasks.
This leads onto the new special quests, or “Loyalty missions”. As you progress through the game and talk to your beloved squadmates, they’ll come to you for help with a personal issue. Be it to help with an unresolved family issue, clear a squadmate’s name of treason, decide the fate of an entire race, or just to help get a Krogan through puberty. These quests will gain you the loyalty of your squad, which gives them a new power, a new outfit and means a higher chance of success come the suicide mission.
The new additions to the quest lineup add a unique and often relieving change from the standard gameplay throughout; helping the Asari Justicar Samara kill her evil daughter is one of my particular favourites, as well as helping the Drell Assassin Thane find his son before he kills someone, simply because they don’t rely on combat, and more on tactics and dialogue. It adds new mechanics to the game to change the pace, and really let’s you appreciate your squadmates as real people (and aliens), rather than a bunch of pixels.
The combat this time around is much more improved from the pretty dull combat of its predecessor. The cover system is much more fluent, now with a button press instead of awkwardly walking into it. Guns feel better to fire, and much stronger than before. A few differences this time are that classes are now limited to certain guns; Infiltrators get a sniper rifle, SMG and pistol, while Soldiers get all the guns, and Sentinels only get SMGs and pistols. Whereas in ME1 the guns were all available, with training in only certain ones, in ME2 the guns have been completely removed from the class if they have no training.
Players gain extra training in either assault rifles, sniper rifles or shotguns about halfway through, but it does feel kinda limiting. Another difference is that grenades are now gone, and guns use “thermal clips” (essentially ammo) instead of overheating. Personally, I preferred the overheating mechanic, because when you’re in the middle of a firefight and suddenly the ammo runs out because you haven’t found any in ages, it can spell the end. Other than that, the combat is much smoother and easier to handle.
The dialogue works similarly to ME1, with the dialogue wheel and coloured responses based on your moral alignment. But it has a new feature – interrupts. These are trigger options that sometimes pop up in the middle of a cutscene or dialogue, prompting the player to perform either a selfless Paragon action, or an often merciless Renegade option. These can change outcomes of quests and ultimately affect your alignment; one recruitment quest offers you the chance to kill a mechanic working on a gunship. Kill him and later you’ll fight a weakened ship; leave him and he’ll finish repairs, leading to you fighting a fully prepared and deadly gunship. The interrupts add a new way for players to engage with the characters, and is definitely a welcome addition.
Overall, Mass Effect 2 improved on the first game in many ways, from dialogue to combat to the feel of the in-game universe. A dark and seedy space opera of twists and turns, Mass Effect 2 is absolutely worth picking up. Next month will conclude our Mass Effect roundup with the final game in the trilogy – Mass Effect 3.