Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mass Effect 2 impressions

I've had zero time the last few weeks for much of anything, aside from
work, sleep and family issues. I leave my house in the early morning
and get home late at night.

I've struggled to squeeze in time with ME2 when I can. Sure, it cuts
into my sleep time (and boy could I use sleep time), but it also helps
get my mind off things and is a much needed and appreciated escape. So
over the last two weeks I've managed to give about 20+ hours to the

My impressions so far are very positive. Leading up to this release I
began re-playing the original ME to polish up on the storyline. That
didn't work, and I just gave up a quarter of the way through, since I
started this endeavor just days prior to ME2's release and I ended up
with the shiny new copy of the sequel staring at me every time I booted
up the original. While those few hours with the original were still
enjoyable, on a technical level, the game didn't hold up as well. The
load times, stuttering and texture pop-in, are a much bigger deal now
than they were two years ago. And the combat mechanics feel even more
stiff and rough-around-the-edges. So I just read a quick plot synopsis
on-line, re-watched the game's finale on Youtube, and I was up-to-date
on the events of the first game (it all started coming back to me

Well, onto the sequel. First, importing my character from the 1st game
was a snap. I hear that some gamers who have multiple characters are
having problems choosing the one they want to import, but since I only
had one, the import process was a simple one. Since we're on the
subject, I will say that the way they implement your choices from the
original game is very impressive. There are the big main choices of
course, which I won't spoil here, but it seems like there are a ton of
other smaller choices that carry over behind the scenes. Very cool.

On a technical level, the game engine has come a long way. No more
texture pop-in or frame-rate drops. The character's facial animations
are also improved. Movement is also improved, as just walking around
feels better. Environments and lighting are impressive, although some
of the environments "scale" is not as grand as I would have liked. It
is not the prettiest game on the 360, but it does an admiral job
considering the game's scope.

The most noticeable improvement is combat. The game's action sequences
play out much better than the original and come very close to feeling
like a dedicated 3rd person shooter during these sections. The powers
and weapons wheels return, allowing you to pause the action and plan out
your attack, but the overall feel of combat is a vast improvement. Good
thing too, since this game seems to emphasize combat more that its

A few notable changes in the sequel:

- The galaxy map works slightly different this time around. When
viewing the map within a system, you move a small version of the
Normandy around to the planets you wish to view/visit, instead of just
having the cursor toggle between them. To plot a Mass Relay jump to
another system you just head over to the nearest Mass Effect Relay and
then choose your location. There are now some systems that do not have
a Relay in them, requiring you to travel to them from the nearest system
that does. When traveling in this manner you use fuel, which you need
to replenish. This is an odd addition. Probably added for an extra
layer of realism or stratedgy (if you run of of fuel you need to burn
valuable minerals to get to the nearest fuel station) but overall it
seems like a pointless addition. Doesn't hurt the game mind you, I just
find it kinda annoying to have to buy fuel.

- No more Mako missions (which had you traversing the barren surface of
planets in search of minerals and resources). Instead you scan planets
now from orbit, using a cursor you pass over the planet's surface. I
wasn't a big fan of the Mako sections in the first game (touchy controls
and pretty bland, empty environments), but I'm not a fan of this new
system either. It is VERY time consuming (that cursor is slow as
molasses, even with the scanner upgrade), tedious, and I just feel like
I am wasting time when I could be out on a mission instead. Can't
anyone else in the Normandy's crew be taking care of planet sanning
while I am off on a mission or sleeping in my quarters? Seriously
folks, I am trying to save the galaxy here.

- You now have to manage ammo for your weapons as well. They don't
fully explain this either, since there was an actual explanation for why
you never had to reload or worry about ammo in the first game. They do
mention something about heat-sinks, to prevent over-heating, and it
being based on Geth technology, but that doesn't make much sense. It
seems like a step back to me. In the original you had unlimited ammo,
you just had to manage your fire rate so that your gun wouldn't
overload. If it did overload, you had to wait a bit for it to cool
down. This "new" Geth technology is just the regular magazines with
ammo we're using nowadays. You run out of ammo, change clips, and keep
firing. Where is the damn Geth technology? If they just wanted to add
a reload mechanic so that it can feel more like a shooter, that's fine,
come up with the heat-sink idea as a way to make you reload, but why the
limited ammo now? It just doesn't fit with the universe established in
the first game (and even discussed in the novel).

- No more loooong elevator rides. We just get load screens now. At
least the load screens are related to what is currently hapening, shown
in some animated skematic form. Or something, hard to explain.

- The Citadel is a shade of what it once was. It is just a few floors
of shops now basically (the sections you're relegated too at least, the
Citadel itself is the same, you just can't explore it anymore). I guess
a lot of gamers complained about running around in the Citadel in the
first game, but I found it impressive. Oh well.

I'm getting tired of writing, so I'll stop now. So far I have greatly
enjoyed the game and can't wait to see where it takes me. So far I've
only been recruiting team members and those missions have been a lot of
fun. I can only imagine how much better it gets when the real story
gets going. Because the main quest in the original game was phenominal
and the final mission/battle/ending was absolutely epic! Can't wait!

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