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The Mission’s Not Over Yet

July 20, 2010

The original Mass Effect was a pleasant little surprise of a game.  It was a lot better than it initially looked, and it had a nice RPG/shooter fusion that made it less uncomfortable for someone like me, who hasn’t really played shooters and doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with them.  The main problem with the game was that, unlike Bioware’s other major series, Dragon Age, it didn’t have that great of characters.  Even if they were great, they weren’t explored that much.  So along came Mass Effect 2.  How does the game begin?  Commander Shepherd, the playable character, dies.  That’s right, he dies.  He’s killed when the Normandy is attacked by some mysterious giant ship with a massive laser while out on a mission. But the mysterious human organization from the first game, Cerberus, and its leader, the Illusive Man, decides that Shepherd is too valuable to the galaxy, and more importantly, humanity, to die.  So they gather up what meat is left of him, and they bring him back to life.  Two years later, Shepherd awakens when the space station he is on is under attack.  He meets two Cerberus operatives, Jacob Taylor and Miranda Lawson, and after they stop the attack, they meet the Illusive Man.  The Illusive Man wants Shepherd to continue his mission against the Reapers, and he believes that the disappearances of many human colonies may be related.  So Shepherd has to go investigate these disappearances and how they relate to the Reaper threat while gathering a team that can take on the Collectors, the mysterious aliens behind the disappearances.  He makes all sorts of new friends and meets the survivors from his old crew, bringing back Joker, Dr. Chakwas, Garrus Vakarian, and Tali’Zorah vas Neema (later vas Normandy) and adding new team members Grunt, Mordin Solus, Thane Krios, Jack, Samara, and Legion (and potentially Morinth, Zaeed Massani, and Kasumi Goto, depending on DLCs and in-game decisions).  And, as with before, the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.

Well, Bioware fixed the main problem with Mass Effect.  Mass Effect 2 has an absolutely superb cast of characters, some of whom are as interesting as the best party members of Dragon Age: Origins.  The result is that less interesting characters (Grunt, Jacob, Zaeed) stand out.  But characters like Miranda, Legion, Samara, Jack, Thane, Mordin, and Kasumi are awesome.  I wouldn’t know about Morinth, since I never chose to get her.  But they’re a great cast, many of whom are really nuanced in their feelings and their interpretations of right and wrong (Mordin).  Plus, there are more romantic options, and the romances can be adorable.  The major character problem is that Mark Meer, the voice actor for male Shepherd, makes sad or romantic situations awkward and annoying.  Plus, for some reason, the writers came up with some pretty silly dialogue for him.  So that can worsen some of the best, sweetest moments.  But he’s actually the weakest character.  Of course, female Shepherd, voiced by veteran voice actress Jennifer Hale, is great.  So long as you don’t pick the most butch option.  Then she just sounds ridiculous.  Not her fault.  Anyway, the gameplay is even better than the first game.  The battle menus are streamlined, and switching weapons is really easy.  Plus, there are even more weapon options.  You don’t need to worry constantly about buying up-to-date armor and those obnoxious customizable upgrades.  You just get upgrades through finding bits of research on various worlds, then you research them with resources that you find.  And finding resources doesn’t require that you run around in that stupid Mako on random, boring worlds.  Instead, you survey them from orbit.  It’s also a lot easier to have a lot of money, so you don’t have to worry about running out.

The graphics are a step up from the previous game as well.  Not so much that it looks significantly different, but enough that it just looks… smoother.  All of the aliens just look awesome, and the humans look realistic enough that you actually feel like you’re looking at humans.  A bit more facial variety would be nice in the human’s designs (and the turians’ too), but that’s not too big a deal.  The soundtrack is sufficiently epic, but it’s never that exciting that you really remember it.  Dragon Age is definitely superior in that respect.  The main plot problem with the movie would be that it’s just not quite as exciting.  The ending definitely isn’t as crazy as with the original, with the battle on the Citadel, but it never feels quite as galaxy-threatening.  I’d say that’s “middle game syndrome,” but everything else was so much better than the first game that the plot just didn’t catch up.  But the characters are so truly awesome that it doesn’t matter.  It’s so much fun just finding out what they’re thinking.  And the game still does have a few great plot twists.  And depending on how much you do, the plot can radically change.  You can even die again, and the whole crew can die.  So be careful.  And keep your save file from the first game, so you can use the configuration tool to bring all of the decisions you made back then over.  The voice acting is great all around (save only for Mark Meer, as I already said).  So really, if a character isn’t interesting, it’s the fault of the writing, not the acting.  There’s also a few awesome random voice actors, like Chris Metzen, Claudia Black, and Simon Templeton, who make cameos.  It was especially cool to hear Chris Metzen chew out Michael Dorn.  Bet Metzen geeked out when he got to do that.  So yes, this was a great game.  Some people have complained that it took away some of the great, complex RPG elements from the first game, but I felt that those detracted from the overall experience.  This is definitely the superior game, and it makes me really excited for the last game.  Let’s just hope that everyone survives…

Story: 9.4      Gameplay: 9.4      Presentation: 9.2      Soundtrack: 8.0      Acting: 9.4      Overall: 9.4

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