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Mass Effect 2

E3 2009: Mass Effect 2 Preview - The E3 Climax

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There is one thing that I found peculiar about the Mass Effect 2 showing at E3 this year, and that is simply, why didn’t BioWare ask us to remove our socks before we watched the presentation? Why you ask? Well, because after 20 minutes of Mass Effect 2, I found that they had “wowed” them bad boys completely off *bad dum ching* Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Trite humour aside, with a show packed to the rafters with great games, it would have to take a special game to truly leave us reeling enough to award it our best of show and that’s what it did. In the last of the E3 write-ups, we take a look at Mass Effect 2 and roll around in its pure awesomeness.

You know what they say in Wales? You can’t keep a good Shepard down, and despite BioWare’s debut teaser hinting at his demise, the original’s main protagonist lives for the sequel. Mass Effect 2 is the dark second act of the trilogy and with the Reapers temporarily deterred; Shepard now has to face a threat on the human race as groups of humans are mysteriously going missing. Working with a shadowy pro human group – we presume Cerberus and the already confirmed Illusive Man – Shepard has to recruit the most dangerous and powerful individuals from around the galaxy to embark upon a “suicide mission.” I pose a question to those who have read the books, could this unknown enemy be the “collectors” – a mysterious race who many of the galaxy class as a myth who trade advanced technology for what we can only assume are test subjects.

Mass Effect 2 sees you visiting the darkest reaches of space – the planet Omega is already confirmed and described in the book as the “Terminus systems’ dark twisted counterpart to the Citidel” –to find them, procure their services and make them loyal to your cause. The crux of the game is assembling your team for this one suicide mission and BioWare openly talked about the real possibility that if you fail to build a loyal and strong squad, Shepard can die. So it’s up to you to get your squad to be powerful, dynamic and loyal enough to see off this new threat. We’re not talking a game over screen here either, we’re talking that being one of the game’s many endings. If you do see off the threat, Casey Hudson, Mass Effect 2 Executive Producer, stated that you can continue after the credits roll, do the side missions and “download new adventures.” I feel I must add that this final mission has nothing to do with your paragon and renegade stats either, it’s completely separate.

A quick side note about the importing of saves before we talk about the action and the improvements in the title. As widely stated, in Mass Effect 2 you can import your Mass Effect 1 saves to continue the story where it left off. First up, it should be noted that this only relates to story choices and not your levels. Secondly, you can’t change your class coming into Mass Effect 2, so if you were a Vanguard in 1, you’re a Vanguard in 2. Lastly, the option to customise the visuals of your character going into 2 will be offered before you jump into the adventure. So you’ve not played Mass Effect 1? Well do it now!!! I kid, I kid. Hudson did make a moot point that Mass Effect 2 is an “excellent entry point into the series,” so fear not. That may very well be the case, but I encourage people to experience the original anyway.

The presentation picks up with Shepard and an unknown asari, in a small spacecraft on the asari planet, Illium. Occupying the backseats of the small, almost car like spacecraft, are Miranda and Jacob – we presume the same Jacob from the upcoming iPhone game. The crew are on their way to Dante’s Towers to try and secure the services of Thane, a drell, who is the galaxy’s most dangerous assassin. It is here where we get the first glimpse of the real-time and dynamic cut scenes as Shepard and the asari discuss the upcoming mission. In Mass Effect 2 the conversations will become a dynamic part of the cinematic experience. So while in Mass Effect 1 you’d be leaning back watching the action unfold, in the sequel, you become a part of them using the conversation wheel to respond and interact.

The next scene sees Shepard and co. arrive at Dante’s Towers, where they have to lean on one of the local guards to find the whereabouts of Thane. It is at this point we see the new “interrupt conversation” trigger point. In the bottom left corner of the screen, during the conversation, an icon will flash, and if the respective button is pressed at that time, it performs an interrupt conversation action. In this case, Shepard sees the guard is of no use to him and proceeds to push him out the window – very classy. It’ll be interesting to see how BioWare weaves this aspect in with both the paragon and renegade temperaments but pretty damn awesome nevertheless. This feature was promised prior to Mass Effect 1, so hopefully we’ll actually see it this time around.

It is at this point Shepard and his squad have to fight their way up to Thane’s expected location which formed the majority of the presentation. The combat orientated section allowed BioWare to show off all the new combat improvements ... and boy were there a lot. The game’s combat has been ramped to the nth degree to give it that more “precision shooter feel.” So that includes location based damage, an improved cover system, no texture pop-up, stable frame rate, improved enemy AI, regenerative health for everyone (not just soldiers) replacing medi-gels, Shepard’s ability to mantle, and context sensitive move and attack orders for each squad member (located on the left and right d-pad buttons), to name but a few. The chance to set up real-time attacks as well like equipping incendiary ammo and concussive rounds are all available in the game’s power wheel mid combat. Other new combat tools and biotic powers are promised and we noticed a few new ones worth a mention; “heavy overload,” “crush,” and “pull.”

Mass Effect 2 adds 9 new classes of weapon into the game as well as boasting a heavy weapons system that features weapons that include, but are not limited to, homing missile launchers. According to Hudson the same principle regarding weapons from the original regarding over-heating comes back but it’s been tweaked with players able to eject a heat-sync to cool the gun down now ... that may have explained why Shepard was constantly reloading – or that’s what it looked like. It seemed like the heavy weapons carried an ammo count as well, but further details were not divulged on that.

As far as returning characters go, in the preview and the screens released of course, I think it’s safe to say that Tali, Liara and Joker return for sure. Other bit characters like Nassana from the original – an asari diplomat who deceives Shepard into assassinating her sister – made an impromptu appearance but she doesn’t really last long when Thane gets her hands on her ... which funnily enough was when the presentation ended.

BioWare had chance to address a few other key points following the walkthrough regarding major fundamental improvements. First up, they mentioned that the inventory system has been totally revamped and is completely new. Hudson also addressed the uncharted worlds and stated that each location was unique and very different. You can effectively choose where you want to land now but the specifics on how it would work went unclarified. It was mentioned that these worlds would be hand crafted and exotic, yet whilst being optional, would enhance the main story arch. In closing I asked about downloadable content for Mass Effect 1 and Hudson stated that they would “probably have an announcement pretty quick” ... although I’ve heard that one before from BioWare.

Mass Effect 2 is currently shaping up to be a pretty damn epic sequel of what is already an impressive original. Everything that seemed to hold the original back from the realms of gaming greatness has been corrected and a ton more content added on top. Of course this was only a small slice of the game in action, but the story seems to be as celebrated and immersive as the original and the new features make me wonder if I can look at the original now without bursting out in tears and shouting profanities at it ... “why can’t you be more like your younger brother!?” BioWare could easily have rested on their laurels, but I can confidently sit here and say, that’s certainly not the case. Now if anyone wants me, I’ll be locked in a room preparing a few saves for when it finally drops next year.

Mass Effect 2 will hit the Xbox 360 and PC in the early part of 2010.


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Game Info
Electronic Arts


US January 26, 2010
Europe January 29, 2010

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