20 Hours of Mass Effect 2

By Garnett Lee, Jan 26, 2010 7:00pm PST The Mass Effect 2 rush kicked into high gear today with reviews popping up everywhere at the stroke of 12:01am and a flurry of posts as people played the first hours of the game. I've gotten in over 20 hours since receiving our review copy late last week and while not finished, and thereby ready to "review," I have had time to get to know the game.

Technical improvements and refinement of the combat to bring it up to shooter standards got the most attention during pre-release showings of the game and with good cause. Particularly on the Xbox 360 version the differences make playing the game a more comfortable experience than its predecessor. It's much easier to get caught up in the moment without the interruption caused by the action on the screen uncomfortably stuttering or graphical limitations causing pieces of the environment to pop into the scene.

Similarly, thanks to work put into the controls, the action in Mass Effect 2 now feels like a solid third-person shooter. And therein lies the first sign of an identity crisis for the game that continues to build the more I play it. Mass Effect 2 hits its stride at a quicker pace than usually associated with RPG's. Orchestrating my two squad mates and coordinating the use of our combined assortment of powers fits smoothly into the flow of the fight. Outside of battle, the streamlined conversation system does its part to keep things moving as well.

In an odd twist, it's the holdovers of more traditional RPGs that break Mass Effect 2's spell. Page upon page of written details about anything and everything in the world drag me down like quicksand. I love the lengths to which they've gone to create a complete world and can't help myself from reading it, but not a moment goes by that I'm not wishing I was back getting on with the game. The new planetary exploration system is an even worse offender. Ploddingly scanning planets one grid space at a time to find mineral deposits I need for various upgrades siphons off my enthusiasm in no time at all.

For as much as their explanation of the Bioware definition of RPG opened the door to a broader view of the genre, Mass Effect 2 illustrates the difficulties in turning that into a game. It seems caught up somewhere between the ideal of what this action/adventure/RPG style could evolve into and the practicalities of creating a game with an engine and systems that you know how to work with. So far I've been completely enthralled by the story and characters -- the heart of what I love about role-playing. Conversely, those old trappings of the genre feel outmoded here. I'm looking forward to playing the rest and gaining the perspective to look back at the game as a whole.

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21 Threads | 86 Comments

  • First off, I have been playing Borderlands for months. Second I'm talking about Mass Effect 1 because I have trouble buying a sequel when I haven't played enough of the previous game(s) in the series. Makes me doubt whether or not I'd play the sequel enough or possibly have outgrown that game series. Third, I'm on the 360 here. I rarely buy pc games any more...

    I never finished Mass Effect so I went back and discovered that I was only 3 hours in (and it has been almost a year since I touched the save). So I started over with a new character because I couldn't remember enough of the plot/goals/etc...

    I spent 30 minutes just customizing the look of my character. It was interesting and addictive. I probably didn't spend as much effort on the face the last time.

    Anyhow. I started the game with my new character and got into the first action level. There really isn't enough guidance as you play. I would have appreciated a sort of tutorial. "you got your first armor/weapon upgrade. here is how you use it". I figured out the armor upgrades and such because the interface is pretty good, but I didn't really feel like I knew which weapon was equipped. And I didn't know which button to hit to switch weapons. I have the game manual and such so I could have checked, but I almost never look at those anymore.

    So, I opened up chests and found goodies but I started to feel a little overwhelmed thinking about the stats and items for all my characters. Thank god I put the other guys on autolevel at least. Still, on items alone I felt like I had to really spend a lot more time than I was willing to spend to maximize my team's effectiveness. Or they will start dieing I guess as I proceed.

    I ran across the locked rooms you need to decrypt. Again, tutorial would have been nice. The decryption "mini-game" is sort of a simon says thing, which I find immensely irritating! I would have rather seen it handled Deus Ex or Fallout 3 style. Or just a random chance to succeed based on how hard the lock is and how good your character is.

    The auto-aiming started to bother me but I found I couldn't turn it off. Maybe I'm too used to Borderlands or Fallout 3. Also I don't like using energy weapons in games anymore. (besides doom's plasma and bfg of course) I hate the alien weapons in Halo 3, for example.

    I think what I would prefer overall is an option to play it "halo-style". I would still choose the conversation paths but I wouldn't have to deal with so many equipment choices. Perhaps the weapons would be borderlands style and not much other equipment to deal with. Simplified. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the simplicity and fun of Borderlands. Maybe I'm just not in the mood for something that detailed. Perhaps I outgrew highly detailed RPG games. Maybe I don't want to deal with managing the whole team. Don't know. But I guess I won't be finishing Mass Effect 1 any time soon. I went back to Left 4 dead 2 and Borderlands.

    Maybe I'll rent Mass Effect 2 some time but I have a feeling I wouldn't dig it.

  • One of the best games I've played this year. More polished. More action-oriented, certainly. The mining can be a drag. But hot-damn, what an amazing effort. I really, sincerely, feel entertained. There's a distinction between being entertained and occupying your time with a pleasant diversion with games, in my opinion. Halflife, for example, is a pinnacle of entertainment. I can count on my hand the the amount of times that has happened.

    A lot of people's concerns are legit, but frankly I really don't mind the change. The pacing is amazing. "Action-RPG" in the purest sense.

    Bravo BioWare, bravo.

  • I must be both old and in the minority, as the RPG elements are what draw me to Bioware RPGs. I could care less about the combat, and would skip it if I could. With the removal of experience and the addition of limited ammunition, it feels completely pointless, like they've tacked on a twitch-shooter.

    I'm not happy with the combat changes and the removal of most of the RPG complexity. I think it's a huge step backward. I'd have wanted the combat to take on a more tactical, less twitchy tone.

    That having been said, the actual RPG parts are very well done, as I'd expect from Bioware. Dialogue is excellent. Voice acting is excellent. Production values are excellent. The conversation system is still awesome. I like the addition of the Paragon/Renegade "interruptions". I like that there have been, even early on, many opportunities to use Charm/Intimidate-based options.

    I do think there's a huge lack of party interactions. Dragon Age nailed this. ME2 party members are mostly silent while on missions. While understandable for some characters, others who are *extremely* chatty in-between missions seem uncharacteristically silent during them.

    I'm really hoping the combat doesn't become a huge problem for me. In the first, it felt like a slog between the good parts - in this, it's basically a chore.

  • Bioware took everything remotely unique from the first game (not having to worry about ammo, rewarding combat, in-depth character builds), which I've completed 3 or 4 times (between PC and 360) and threw it away. They then played through Gears of War, which I hated so bad I traded it in at EB for $20 a few days after receiving it as a gift, and decided to copy that.

    The 'character' screen is a complete disappointment, they dumbed it down so much I'm not even sure if you could really call it an RPG any more. It's like some sort of dialog driven Gears of War clone, and in my opinion at least, that's not a good thing.