Preface: I didn’t play ME1 or ME2 on the 360 or PC. This was my first experience with the universe or the game. I had some idea what to expect from what I had heard, however I had fairly low expectations as I have a history of being bored with Western style RPGs and of disliking dialogue trees. I played through twice, to experience two different story arcs, character personalities, and game choice setups. On my first playthrough, I didn’t go through the interactive comic, I just went straight into the game using the default ‘game choices’. Second playthrough, I tried to pick the opposite of what the defaults were to get the most varied experience.
The Interactive Comic – Story and Impact
The PS3 version told the story of the game through an interactive comic that you downloaded as a part of a large dlc pack. The Interactive Comic gives you a fairly good understanding of the story, and the choices contained within do make a significant impact upon the gameworld – dramatically changing certain aspects of it, but having significantly less of an impact on others. I was, overall, fairly impressed by the level of changes caused by that. That being said, there were a few less than impressive things that I noticed. The biggest one that was a huge disappointment was that Ashley and Kaiden seemed to have nearly identical personalities and reactions to you on the colony world. This just felt lazy to me since the characters were both part of your crew in the first game.
OMG There’s a Story Here?
My biggest problem with most Western RPGs is that they get so hung up on giving you choices and making their world feel alive, that they forget to make their story feel important. You end up having a ton of little stories, a really rich world to move around in, but such a terribly weak story that it just gets dry after a while for me. Luckily, Bioware didn’t make this mistake again. Mass Effect 2 has one of strongest stories I’ve seen in any Western RPG. Moments of sincere and touching humanity contrast the epic scale of an overall desperate struggle. The concept of a suicide mission allows for these small stories to still take place – people need to have their minds clear and focused if they want any chance of survival. It all comes together to allow for a very well done, truly grandiose story.
The other story related bane of Western RPGs for me is the Dialogue Tree. I’ve seen so many bad dialogue trees that a surefire way to turn me away from a game is to say it has them in it. Even Bioware’s other ‘masterwork’ Dragon Age suffered from the plague of horrible dialogue trees. Again, Mass Effect 2 has made a clear and positive distinction between it and other dialogue trees by, of all things, making it vague. You don’t pick what you want to say, you pick the tone of what you want to say. Which removes the situation I found myself running into a lot in some other games, where none of the options sounded like what I wanted.
To shoot, or not to shoot… that is the question…
Whether the enemy is deader with a bullet in his guts or fried by a grenade or disintegrated by the ‘slings and arrows’ of my biotic blasts… Okay, enough badly modified Shakespeare, onto the classes. The game gives you a pretty wide variety of classes to choose from, and the distinction between them is actually very noticable. From the one-shot one-kill mentality of the Infiltrator to the Up close and personal beatings delivered by the vanguard to the brutal biotic combinations ruthlessly unleashed by an adept, you’re left with a wide variety of playstyles to choose from that each lead to vastly different strategies for solving each problem… who am I kidding, vastly different strategies for blowing your enemies up. ’cause lets face it, thats what we all want in the end – to brutally demolish fields of enemies and hear the lamentations of the women. And each and every class has sufficient ways to do that to satisfy even the most depraved and deprived gamer.
Not to mention that the range of difficulties will allow you to customize the challenge level appropriate to you on the fly – with the ability to change difficulties at any point you find too easy or too challenging.
Despite going in with low expectations, and being prepared for serious disappointment, this game impressed me. The audio and visual integrity is thoroughly impressive, the character customization vast and intuitive, the story is touching and epic at the same time, and the combat visceral and fluid. It is, without question, the shining example that Western RPGs should strive to live up to. Nothing in the game is hugely revolutionary, but everything is refined to the point where it can absolutely set the gold standard for the genre. If you have any interest in RPGs at all and haven’t already played this, this is definitely one to pick up and the ability to get it combined with all the dlc and the interactive comic detailing the story of the first game makes the PS3 seem to be, for me at least, the logical place to start.
Review written by Sean.