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Critical Reception: Electronic Arts/BioWare's  Mass Effect 2

Critical Reception: Electronic Arts/BioWare's Mass Effect 2

January 27, 2010 | By Danny Cowan

January 27, 2010 | By Danny Cowan
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More: Console/PC, Columns



This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to BioWare's sci-fi RPG sequel Mass Effect 2, which reviews describe as "vivid, dramatic and characterful." Mass Effect 2 currently earns a score of 96 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

Game Informer's Andrew Reiner rates Mass Effect 2 at 9.75 out of 10, describing the experience as a satisfying follow-up. "The second chapter in the Mass Effect trilogy is more of an enigma than the first, weaving enough moral ambiguity, ghost-like images, and misleading plot twists to make the writers of the TV show Lost take note," he says.

Reiner continues: "In Mass Effect 2, the scribes at BioWare slowly pull the curtain away to reveal the answers you seek. By the time the credits roll, most questions are addressed, Commander Shepard's role in the universe is cemented, and the last image that appears on screen makes the wait for Mass Effect 3 seem unfair."

The narrative also benefits greatly from a feature that allows players to import previously created character data. "If you import your save file from the first game, the connection you have with this adventure is heightened to the point that you're doing yourself a disservice if you create a new character," Reiner explains.

"The save transfer retains your character likeness, remembers all of the decisions you made, and ultimately delivers the sensation that you are sculpting the story and are not a passenger on a prescripted ride."

Mass Effect's RPG elements have been toned down in the sequel, however. "You cannot apply individual upgrades to the firearms like you could in the first game," Reiner notes. "All upgrades (of which there are few) are automatically applied to every weapon in the same class. Likewise, the inventory system has been removed in favor of a similar armor upgrade system. Since this is all automatic, you no longer have to deal with making sure your team is outfitted with the latest gear."

"The loss of RPG elements may hit some people hard," Reiner admits, "and the repetition in minigames may lead to yawns and tired eyes, but none of these faults hold Mass Effect 2 back from being a work of bold ambition, and one of gaming's most exciting sequels."

Jeremy Parish at 1UP.com gives Mass Effect 2 a grade of A-. "World-building -- or, more properly, galaxy-building -- is truly Mass Effect 2's forte," he praises. "BioWare has constructed an interesting universe for the series; one largely populated by common sci-fi tropes, it's true, but it pulls off even the tritest cliches thanks to the impact of your actions. (The solid writing and exceptional voice acting certainly don't hurt.)"

"The actual details of how that story plays out vary from person to person, and impressively so," Parish notes. "I've had fun comparing notes with people who imported a Renegade character from the first game, because they experienced a host of different events in ME2 than my Paragon did."

Parish cites several examples: "I chose to spare the Rachni race from genocide, so I saw an event in ME2 that someone who exterminated them would have missed. People I protected in the original game have sent me emails to thank me for my help or to rant at me for teaming up with Cerberus, the shadowy organization whose unethical work I was constantly undermining throughout the course of ME's periphery missions. Minor characters whom I didn't kill in cold, Renegade blood returned for new bit roles, and each of Shepard's former teammates had a part to play as well.

"Whether as text files, side quests, or asides in key plot scenes, ME2 has done a damn fine job of building on the decisions that Shepard -- my Shepard -- made on her last mission."

Other elements aren't as successful, however. "BioWare based the design of the sequel on player feedback," Parish writes, "but they may have gone too far in cleaning up the action; where ME was an RPG that looked like a shooter, ME2 is more of a shooter that has vestigial RPG components. The crunchy role-playing underpinnings of the original are almost entirely gone, replaced by a squad-based shooter that happens to have character classes and a lot of player-driven dialogue."

"ME2 is a step back from the original game in a number of ways," Parish observes. "It's also a step forward in many others, though, and I don't doubt that it will appeal far more to the average gamer than the original game did -- and for the exact same reasons it feels a little underwhelming to an RPG fan like myself. When Mass Effect 3 rolls around to bring this tale to its finale, I'd really like to see BioWare strike some sort of happy medium between the clumsily executed RPG mechanics of the first game and the stripped-down shooter feel of this sequel."

Edge Magazine scores Mass Effect 2 at 9 out of 10. "Mass Effect 2 is a product of glorious meddling," the review notes. "Recalibration has turned what was once worthy into something vivid, dramatic and characterful."

"Refinements are, initially, most visible in combat," Edge continues. "Cover is easier to navigate, there's been a thorough rethink of cooldowns, and the range of ammo prods even the sleepiest players towards experimentation. Targeting has been sharpened so that when you pull out your gun, the game genuinely feels like a shooter rather than an RPG dressing up."

The sequel also benefits from various interface tweaks and revised mechanics. "The galaxy map is now navigated via a dinky spaceship, and while exploration never approaches the highs of the combat, a little tooling around the Milky Way reveals that there are actually plenty of things worth doing this time," Edge notes. "Scanning has become a simple yet compulsive minigame as you feel your way over the bumpy surface of planets, dowsing for anomalies, while searching for the minerals required for upgrades turns every star-crossing into a dawdling shopping trip."

The new elements work together to build a solid second entry in the series. "Shepard's first outing was, more than anything, let down by inane side-quests which couldn't hide the thin central plot," Edge says. "Here, extra-curricular elements are a great enhancement, good enough to turn a decent game into an excellent one, as the richer cast combines with sly storytelling to provide the kind of meaty intricacies that were previously banished to the codex menu."

"Ultimately," Edge's staff concludes, "Mass Effect 2's greatest strength is in tying its disparate pieces together, binding the gunplay and conversation systems into something that meshes, while creating an action-RPG that knows stats should be there, but that they should never get in the way of a good headshot. The result is a game that's grown into its obvious potential."


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