While there are still people around who cannot forgive Bioware’s move from “hardcore” cRPG oriented productions like Baldur’s Gate to the lighter realms of more action oriented “RPG-themed” titles, one cannot deny their commercial success. Mass Effect 2 seems destined to follow the long line of victories for the company no matter what the reviewers might say, but this time the praise really seems to be deserved.
Gameplay in Mass Effect 2
In its heart Mass Effect 2 is a Third Person Shooter with slight RPG mechanics, bundled neatly into an “Action-RPG”. This might be the first shock for people who pick it up, while the first installment of the game “pretended” to have more RPG-elements, the second installment does away with most statistics:
- Weapon related skills are gone completely, what weapon a character can choose are pre-determined by his class. The main character can choose to expand his arsenal at a certain point in the storyline but that is it.
- Conversation related skills have been tied into the Paragon/Renegade system completely – a higher score in either allows the player more options in being good or not-so-good.
- The inventory system has been scrapped completely, it is possible to find better guns, armor parts and upgrades during the adventure, but they are not managed by a “real” inventory system and only the main character’s armor is customizable to some extent.
The planet exploration system has been removed as well, getting a lot of criticism, especially from PC gamers, replaced by an orbital scanning system. Once a planet is approached the player has the option of scanning its surface for the four resources used in the games research system and side-quests. Once something interesting is found, the player launches a probe and is informed of what it found, be it resources or side missions.
The mentioned upgrade system uses said resources for various shield, armor, weapon and ship upgrades, increasing the player’s odds of surviving the final mission of the game, appropriately called a “suicide mission”. If the player chooses to ignore this element completely, he might end up dead once he tries to reach the final dungeon, however, the game offers enough resources and planets to explore for it not to become tedious.
As an effect, fighting in the game is much more dynamic and quick, the “medi-gel” from the previous game is also removed, replaced by the well-known health regeneration system – staying in cover and not taking damage heals the player rather quickly. Ammo has been introduced, however, but is plentiful enough for the player not to “starve”, however switching to another weapon due to lack of ammo might be necessary sometimes.
Story elements in Mass Effect 2
The writing is considerably better than the first installment, Bioware finally breaking away from their established “four main quests then final dungeon” structure to a more varied quest line. The main ship itself is much more varied and all the companions usually have something interesting to offer conversation wise. The reduced stats do not mean that the story-telling aspect has been abandoned, on the contrary, it was as focused on as the construction on the levels.
Conversation interrupts are a new added feature, at certain times during conversations the player has an option of using a Paragon or Renegade “interrupt”, which usually means doing something unexpected that might benefit the player – like grabbing the gun of a comrade when he is about to kill somebody in cold blood, or on the other side of the spectrum, pushing somebody out the window.
The game also allows players to import their Mass Effect save games and characters, drawing heavily from their choices in the first game. While most of those decisions usually just limit to in game emails stating what happened in the two year break between the first and second games, some major ones influence the events in the sequel, like for example the decision to reason with or kill Undrot Wrex, whom if alive establishes himself in a position of power and is able to help the player on his quest in the sequel.
Finally, the outcome of the game itself is dependent on what the player does during it – the endings ranging from anything from a total bloodbath, through a victory with heavy casualties, to a total victory when everybody comes back alive from what seems to be a suicide mission.
In conclusion – while some “RPG” elements of Mass Effect were removed in the sequel, the game does not seem to suffer at all from it – the storyline element is much stronger than the prequel, benefiting from superior writing and the design decision to make the games combat more “action” than “RPG” was pulled off quite nicely and does not hurt the outcome. Defiantly the best Bioware game so far, Mass Effect 2 certainly deserves high praise.