Monday, March 22, 2010

What I'm Playing: Mass Effect 2

Alright, I had a lot of stress lately with my real life and the duties for my studies, so in fact I didn't have had the time to play Mass Effect 2 earlier and I'm better not mentioning all the problems with the week long delay until I had the game in hands. However, lately I finally found myself the time to sit down and play the game.

Propably you know that the first Mass Effect is one of my all time favorites and Mass Effect 2 has to live up to a big hype to satisfy me. But there was not one moment I doubted Bioware's skills. And what should I say after over 20 hours in the game? I am completely amazed of how awesome this game is.
Mass Effect 2 plays two years after the events of the first game. Shepard is on a standard top secret Alliance mission when his space ship, the Normandy, is attacked by a far superior vessel. Unfortunatly the Normandy gets destroyed, but not until every important crew member saves himself into an escape pod. Everybody but Shepard who's blasted into the darkness and dies.

Two years later Shepard awakes in a secret research lab. Cerberus, the infamous crime syndicate from Mass Effect stitched him up again. While escaping the under attack facility, he meets Miranda and Jacob. She's a scientist and responsible for the Lazarus project which lead to Shepards resurrection and he is a high ranked Cerberus soldier. They work together, escape and Shepard is introduced to the Illusive Man, the mysterious boss behind the radical pro human organisation. Humanity is under attack and Shepard is the only one to save the galaxy once again.

That's the prologue for a massive space opera which's scale mustn't hide behind a sci fi legend like Star Wars. In fact, one could say that Mass Effect is the Star Wars for the internet generation with it's deep and complex universe, the real life parallels to the diplomatic ties of the greatly worked out species or the decision - consequence concept. The game in many way shows reflections of the world we live in, which clearly underlines it's aim for a mature audience. If there are really still people (conservative journalists without any clues of gaming most likely) out demanding for a game with a storyline that emancipates the video game culture from childish sorry storielines like Super Mario or whatever, here it is!

The thing that impresses me most about this game are of course the emphasis on the brilliantly worked out characters. You immediatly begin to care about them (okay, for anybody but Zaeed), chat with them about the latest events and storyline progressions or about their personal histories. And that's where a new Mass Effect 2 feature comes in: Loyality. Everybody of your crew has his personal dark past and problem's that demand solving. Do you care or don't you? It's, as always in the series, your decision. For example: I did the loyalty mission for Garrus, who needs to assassinate someone responsible for killing all of his spec ops team. While Shepard lures the target in shooting range, you can decide to either warn the target or get him killed. Of course all this has consequences and if the target person is shot dead you can't expect to cross his or her path again in Mass Effect 3.

Continuity plays a big role in Mass Effect 2 and that is a very rewarding feeling that no other game has achieved until now. When I read about the secret Mass Effect save game containing 4 or 5 decisions, I thought okay... is it not important how I dealt with the Rachni queen in the first game? To save it and give the species a last and new chance or to bug spray her to death and seal the Rachni's fate? And then I met an agent of the Rachni queen on the Asari planet Illium, who secretly delivered a thank you message. And there are lots of meeting old NPCs in the game, each based on your behavior in the first game. In total there are about 700 decisions of the first game that found their way into Mass Effect 2 - that is very impressive. It's the extreme amount of detail that fascinates me: Everything is so polished and well done. As said: The dialogues combined with the character animation give you the close to perfect illusion of really talking with a living being. And that's how Bioware managed to establish a bond between player and characters: The game consumes you, not the other way round.

Of course as die hard Mass Effect fan I am not lucky with all decisions: I've gotten used to the strict and linear mission design. Turns out that for the new action oriented playstyle it fit's good. But I really don't like that you don't have an inventory this time and are forced to change your gear at so called weapon stashes. And you can't buy any weapons or armors, you'll have to find them during missions. There are extremly few new armors (accessible via Cerberus Network, the in game DLC pipe line for first buyers), but you can upgrade your standard armor with new parts during the game. A great new edition is the customization of the the armor. Shepard really appears in every cut scene exactly as you dress him - that's an ideal other game's still need to reach. After completing loyalty missions every character gets a second dress, which is nice, but doesn't appease me about the loss of all great armors of the first game. But those points are nothing more but small scratches on a masterpiece. I am very happy, that the game is finally out and playable. I am looking forward to play it a long time from now, because the DLC support is going to be Dragon Age: Origins like and I am planing to get every story driven addition for this fantastic game. I hyped Mass Effect 2 up as the best game that'll ever be made. Propably it is.

Check out my tribute to the game:

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