Enjoyed Mass Effect? Played it to the end? Well, chances are that you’ve bought Mass Effect 2 already. By now you’re fully aware that the sequel is an exceptional effort, improving on the original and staking a claim as one of the finest games on the 360. Don’t let us keep you, get back to it right now. Already completed it? Why not start another character and have another go? Go on, you know you want to.
Still here? Well, either you never played Mass Effect or you were one of those people who didn’t want to stick it out until the end. You probably need a little more convincing. Here we go. Mass Effect 2 takes everything that was good about the original, fixes nearly everything that was bad, and delivers a compulsive sci-fi adventure that will a) make you wish you’d finished Mass Effect and b) leave you longing for a third episode. Some of these changes are almost calculated to annoy the RPG hardcore, but the overall result is to make a Mass Effect with even greater mass appeal.
You see, if Mass Effect had Bioware experimenting with the action/RPG hybrid, then Mass Effect 2 is the next logical step down that road. While there are still traditional Bioware RPG mechanics in place – character progression, psionic powers, a party to manage, the ability to pause combat to trigger abilities, etc. – there’s no need to feel bogged down in them. Thanks to a range of player aids and automated systems, it’s perfectly possible to start Mass Effect 2 as a Soldier class character and enjoy it as a fairly straight third-person shooter with interactive cut-scenes. That’s right. If you’d rather play Gears of War than Fallout 3, you’ll still have a whale of a time.
The combat is just more satisfying this time around. The old health system has been replaced by a more conventional recharging shields and health affair, and there are now more concerns over quantities of ammo than about that ammo overheating. Commander Shepherd seems to be a decent shot from the off, and things like weapon selection, equipment and levelling have been streamlined to the point where you almost don’t need to worry about them if you don’t want to. Even the cover system now works brilliantly, with Shepherd running and ducking into cover then firing out with a grace and precision that wouldn’t disgrace a Marcus Fenix or Nathan Drake. Great stuff.
To be brutally honest, fighting in Mass Effect was frequently bland and unexciting. Not any more. All the bits that make a decent action game are now in place. Enemy AI is much improved, with your foes putting up a decent fight, even if there’s still a lot of shoot-cower-shoot stuff going on. Allied AI is every bit as good, and while you’ll still need to trot out the Unity heal ability on a regular basis, there’s very little need to micro-manage your comrades.