Tuesday marks the launch of one of my most anticipated games ever: Mass Effect 2.
Normally, I'm not one to be drawn into hype all that much. For months, I've been in a "media lockout," ignoring all videos, screenshots, etc. When I started replaying the first game, I lifted the ban, and wow. I pulled up some of the Class Reveal trailers and fell in love. The one that changed the game from "anticipated" to "HOLY CRAP COME OUT NOW" was the Sentinel trailer:
It's not the class, itself. The Sentinel really doesn't do it for me. The GRAPHICS on that Tech Armor just completely blew me away. Of course, the game as a whole is mesmerizing, but that one little effect put me over the edge. Since then, I've been devouring anything I can get my hands on, as my friends and unfortunate Twitter followers can attest.
So, looking ahead, what are some features and changes of Mass Effect 2 that I'm interested in?
Not really "ammo." Like the previous game, basic weapon ammo is unlimited. There are special ammo types that you can use, much like the first game, but this time around, they actually matter. Incendiary burns through armor, Disruptor eats enemy Shields and Cryo can freeze foes. Additionally, BioWare has added in an exhaustible "clip" system. Instead of overheating and shutting down, weapons this time around will use consumable Heat Sinks. This adds a slightly more tactical approach to gameplay. These Heat Sinks will supposedly be plentiful, but still limited.
I haven't looked much into the story to avoid potential spoilers, so this is mostly conjecture. BioWare has shown that the Normandy will consume fuel this time around when exploring the galaxy. I have two theories on why. One, Shepard and crew are operating "off the grid" and want to avoid the Relay System. Two, they're operating so far outside Citadel space for some missions, that there simply are no Relays. Either way, this gives the player decisions to make. Do you go to Planet A or B? Perhaps you simply can't do both at this point in the game. What do you stand to gain/lose from your decision?
Additionally, due to fan complaints, they have scrapped the Mako. I didn't have any issues with the Mako itself the first time around. I found the designed Mako segments on the primary missions to be a fun change of pace. However, the topography of the uncharted planets made exploration in the Mako a chore. This time, you land in a shuttle directly at your objective. They have added a new exploration vehicle, the Hammerhead, which will be available, as well as several missions using it, as free DLC shortly after the game's launch. (More on this later)
BioWare is taking a very Dragon Age-ish approach to your crew. You can choose whether or not to recruit crew members. Additionally, your choices will influence their opinions of you and you will often have to choose sides between one crew member and another. The roster of potential squadmates has expanded from six to ten. (eleven counting the Free DLC character) All (living) characters from the first game return, some as recruitable, some as NPCs.
Instead of picking up new weapons and parts from fallen foes, Mass Effect 2 takes a different approach. You will have to collect designs and resources and choose which upgrades you would like to research. Again, this gives the player choices, which are the core of this game. Focus on one weapon type or upgrade across the board? You can also upgrade the Normandy, and you better if you want even the slightest chance of living through to see the third game.
Mass Effect came out in the early days of DLC. It was fun, but lacking. Mass Effect 2 jumps in feet-first. Before moving on, a word of sanity. ME2 was essentially complete several months ago. The game has taken time to pass Microsoft Certification, print, package and ship. So, Day 1 DLC is not stuff they purposely left out of the game, rather new content they've been working on since they finished it. ME2 is using a new feature called the Cerberus Network. Every new copy of the game, digital and physical, comes with a Cerberus Network Access Card. Gamers who buy pre-owned can purchase their own access for $15. This is a great way to work around the money lost through the pre-owned and pirate markets. I'm all for developers getting paid for their work. What's the big deal? All Cerberus Network DLC is FREE. This includes the already-announced Hammerhead vehicle and eleventh crew member, Zaeed. Of course, the game will also offer paid DLC, presumably in the form of additional missions and expansions.
I played through Mass Effect twice, taking wildly different paths. I'm going to break down some of the differences which may or may not carry over.
Sam Shepard was a Renegade Infiltrator. Max Shepard was a Paragon Soldier. Both played on Normal difficulty, with Sam reaching Level 50 and Max Level 52.
(Cookies to whoever gets the joke here)
**SPOILER WARNING if you're one of the three people yet to play the first game**
Squad: Sam used Wrex and Liara, while Max used Kaidan and Garrus. These decisions will likely mean nothing in ME2, though they influenced other decisions I made in the game.
Survival: Sam let Wrex live, as he was a valuable member of his squad and chose to sacrifice Kaidan. Max also let Wrex live, being a nice guy and all, and chose to sacrifice Ashley, as he was using Kaidan as an active squadmate.
Romance: Sam was too much of a jerk for the ladies, while Max charmed his way into Liara's heart.
Sidequests: Sam explored every planet in the galaxy, in an attempt to get the Asari Ally Achievement after inadvertently screwing up the early-game sequencing required. Max did everything that came his way, but didn't waste time exploring on his own. Conversely, with his slow-ass running and the jacked-up layout of the Citadel, Sam missed some of the sidequests there because of the excessive Rapid Transit use, while Max took his time and completed everything he could find.
Interactions: Sam knocked out the biased reporter, supported the Terra Firma party and ignored poor Conrad. Max put up with the reporter and got screwed, declined the Terra Firma party and was exceptionally nice to Conrad. Sam exterminated the Rachni Queen, while Max let her live. There are several other smaller decisions that escape me at the moment.
Endgame: Sam sacrificed the Council, while Max saved them. It's been so long that I forget exactly who Sam chose for the Human seat on the Council, though I believe they both chose Captain Anderson.
At the end of the day, it would appear BioWare has crafted the most engrossing storytelling experience I've ever seen. In many games, you're given decisions that affect the game, but don't have too much lasting effect. No matter how much of a jerk you are, you still end up saving the world in Dragon Age: Origins. The only difference is how you go about it. In Mass Effect 2, Shepard could fail if you make bad decisions. Crew members, even Shepard himself/herself could die, and likely will. Your choices can and will shape the story of the game.
Mass Effect 2 will likely be one of the best games of the year, and could end up being one of the best of the generation. As I've said before, I won't believe something is impossible until BioWare tells me it is.
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