Mass Effect 2 is a solidly good game. I enjoyed it a lot and didn’t really want it to end, which is pretty impressive. Nonetheless, I still don’t think that Mass Effect has completely lived up to its potential. There’s interesting decision making that’s undercut by cheap powers that let players dodge hard choices; there are really good plot missions next to surprisingly bad side mechanics. The net is good, but could be so much better. Details within.
- The narrative is good. There are lots of great characters with interesting plots and deep conflicts. The alien cultures are well-explored with complex identities. Even minor characters on the ship have stories they can tell. And there are moments where you have to make quite hard decisions about the direction of the story. Despite what I’ve said about Bioware in Dragon Age, in this game they deliver above the hype.
- The Gears of War style combat is fun. I enjoyed the basic fighting, and the losing of the complexity in equipment selection from ME1 was very welcome. Beyond this, there are variants of the missions that add some nice strategy to the game.
- There are some really nice cutscenes in the game. They are mostly clustered around arrivals and departures, but they are very evocative. The models are pretty good — a little uncanny in places but the art is solid overall.
- The references to the old game work. You feel like it’s a consistent universe. There were all of these callbacks to the last game, many of which I didn’t remember from my save game, and the story is great for them. I can’t wait to see how they use these in ME3.
- The plot feels a bit formulaic. Without spoiling, it gets really obvious how the missions are structured and the game ends earlier than you would like. It would be nice if they deviated from the formula more and if the side missions had more interesting plot to them.
- The planet scanning stuff is terrible. It’s a boring waste of time that you only do because you have a strong inkling that you have to. Here’s a simple rule for designers: if you have a power-up whose effect is to speed up a boring activity, ask yourself why you have that activity at all. Kill the scanning and just bring back the Mako with a decent set of controls please.
- The paragon/renegade thing is still wonky. The quick-time events are a very nice addition, but the paragon and renegade choices in conversation are often ways to dodge otherwise interesting and challenging choices. I really wish games would stop tying morality to powers and let me be a powerful character regardless of how I decide to roleplay. Keeping these things connected just perverts the fun of both.
Mass Effect 2 is fun. It’s definitely worth playing if you like RPGs at all, and a good buy especially if you want to play through a second time to see other plot. On the other hand, the game has so much potential that you are disappointed when it fails to rise to the heights you can see within its reach. Good writing with good combat is no small feat, but this game could have OSSIM story with great missions, and I doubt I’ll be totally satisfied until a Mass Effect reaches that. Still. you’ll have fun and get some good story, so it’s worth your time.