Spoiler Warning – I will be discussing details of Mass Effect 1 as well as minor ones for Mass Effect 2 that have been made widely available in trailers and interviews. I personally feel like the statute of limitations is WAY past on that game, but proceed at your own risk.
Upon finishing the first Mass Effect I felt that participated in something truly epic. The choices that I made with my Commander Shephard had lasting consequences both on the universe as a whole and on my band of intrepid heroes. To me the defining moment of Mass Effect comes on the planet Virmire. Anyone who has played the game already knows what I am referring to. In short, the player must make a choice to leave either character or another behind to die. I even made an attempt to go back and to save the character I had left behind, but the game forces you to make your choice and stick with it. There is absolutely no way to save both. When this fact became clear it made me love and hate this game all at the same time. I have always been the kind of gamer that wants everyone to make it home when the final curtain falls. This game offers no such possibility and the information we have drip-fed thus far for the sequel indicates that this will be true yet again.
Suicide Mission. That is what the final conflict in Mass Effect 2 has been described as. A suicide to the point that is even possible for your own character Commander Shephard to die, permanently, along with any number of the other members of your suicide squad. This would not be the first game where your main character has been asked to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the world. However, it is the first game that I can readily think of where a sequel has allowed import of your character from the first game to be used again in the second, to then be used in the already planned third and final game, should they even survive. To me that is the real kicker, “if they even survive.” For players willing to invest the time for multiple plays of Mass Effect 2, surely they will be able to discover where the pivotal moments are that determine which characters live and die, but many will likely play this game once and wait for the finale to arrive. There is a sense gravity added to literally every choice a character makes. Also that if an imported character is used then choices from the first game will inform the reality of the world in the sequel. What if a seemingly trivial choice in the first game has long felt repercussions that can now not possibly be undone without going back to the first game. An almost Back to the Future element is introduced once we start thinking this way and I can only imagine the hell this must have played for the writers at Bioware during the process of creating this magnum opus.
On the gameplay side, it is clear from everything I have read that Bioware is trying to make this game play like a Gears of War style shooter on the surface, but still be an RPG at its core. This is not to say that the combat in the first game was bad, but rather that it felt like regardless of the inherent shooter skills of the player, that combat boiled down to a stats exercise of the weapons being employed by the combatants. Location based damage is now in effect, i.e. headshots matter. Also where the previous game’s weapons had only heat management to deal with and infinite ammo, the sequel introduces limited ammo as well as various specialty rounds such as ice and fire. Without having played this game yet I can’t say how it “feels” in comparison to the first game, but I fully expect the refinements to be palpable and complimentary to the experience.
This is the kind of game that on paper has everything that you look for in a Game of the Year candidate. As to whether it delivers both critically and at retail remains to be seen, but I have high hopes. Sadly given that I am travelling I will not able to get my hands on this AAA title until several days after its release but I intend to return and write up my initial impressions at that time. If you have enjoyed Bioware RPG’s in the past and are a fan of the sci fi genre you owe it to yourself to go purchase this game. I all but guarantee you will not be sorry.