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Mass Effect 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Xbox 360)

Playing Mass Effect 2 reminded me of a few years ago, watching Spider-Man 2 in the theaters on its opening night. It just about improved on everything I loved about the first movie: the action, the thrills, the laughs and so forth. With the exception of the story, everything about Spider-Man 2 was better than the first (in my opinion, easy now). And likewise, Mass Effect 2.

ME2 takes place years after the end of the first game (here). The story kicks off with a bang as your beloved spaceship, The Normandy, is destroyed in the opening segment by an alien species called The Collectors. And like the olden days, "the captain goes down with the ship", as the returning lead, Commander Shepard is killed off in this introductory segment. But the game would be a bust if it just ended there. Through their miraculous technology, an organization called "The Cerberus" is able to revive him. Under their employment, he is charged with the task of uncovering the mystery behind the Collectors, who have been harvesting humans for unexplained reasons. But before Shepard can embark on such a perilous journey, he must recruit a team of specialists who will aid him on this mission.

The game fixes and streamlines several of the problems from the first game. Everything is made simpler and easily accessible to appeal to a broader audience. The shooting mechanic is streamlined so that the action is played out more like a conventional shooter. You have aim, you have ammo, enemies have weak spots. Also gone is your inventory space. No longer do you have to worry about picking up stacks and stacks of weapons or about emptying out the maxed out inventory space. You will still collect weapons, but they straight to a weapons locker that is only accessible in certain areas of the game. And even then, for the most part I stuck with the default weapons for most of the characters, only changing Shepard’s weapons. The focus is more on purchasing upgrade plans from shops, and then implementing them from the research area of your ship. To research your upgrades, you’re required to mine minerals from all the different planets at your disposal. The minerals are then used as a currency towards the upgrades. It can be a tedious task, and at times, can break the flow of the game. My strategy was to mine as much as I could early in the game so I wouldn’t have to worry as much later, which worked out well.

In terms of character development, you still need to distribute points to a varying list of abilities, but the list is much shorter than in the first game. And to add to that, your level cap is much lower (it sits gingerly at 20). However, if you decide to max out on a certain skill, you’re given a choice of between a pair of “ultimate” abilities that relate to that certain skill. So it gives you a ton of choice and creates an incentive to go through multiple playthroughs if you want to see all the different abilities.

Gone also are the re-used building models. In the first game, so many times you will enter a ship or a building, and the layout will be re-used over and over, albeit filled with different enemies or characters. This time around, all environments you enter are unique and specifically designed. This made for a much richer gameplay and experience.

It’s not really complaint, but the thing I enjoyed much more from the first Mass Effect was the story. In Mass Effect 2, a large portion of your time is devoted to recruiting team members and doing the related team member quests (loyalty missions, as they call it). So much time is spent in this that at times I lost focus of what the bigger mission was about. Many times I missed the forest for the trees. After every few missions they will send you back on a mission towards the main story to get you back into the loop. For me, all the back and forth with the story made the experience slightly disjointed. The story in the first game felt more seamless as you’d recruit characters along your main journey, it was never a tangent to the mission you were on.

But despite that, the gameplay is more fun and fast paced than the first, and the missions are quicker, making it easier for you to pick up and play as you see fit. Which worked for me because I started working around this time and didn’t have long periods to devote to epicly drawn out missions.

Early on the year when it was released, it was being touted as a contender for game of the year. At year’s end, it managed to hold on to that pedigree and managed to win that title, at least at a few publications. And truly it deserves it. Despite the minor setbacks mentioned above, ME2 is a really solid and polished game. This game is also on the cheap nowadays and is a worthy addition to your gaming library. Pick up the first one too if you haven’t already. Until next time, later geeks!

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