Mass Effect 2 Hands-On Impressions - New Character Reveal

We check out one of Mass Effect 2's new recruitable characters, an Asari named Samara.

The original Mass Effect proved that not every new installment in a three-part trilogy needs to conclude with an unsatisfying cliffhanger ending. With Commander Shepard and his crew having taken care of Saren and the Geth, players were able to wrap up that first chapter in a way that left them feeling as though their actions had already left a lasting mark on the galaxy. But at the same time, the galaxy in Mass Effect was a big one, and it was still easy to walk away from the game with the sense that you had only begun to scratch the surface of the world (or worlds) around you. Mass Effect 2, due out in January, will do its part to flesh out the universe and denizens that made the original story so compelling.

Our previous looks at Mass Effect 2 have included a run through the "seedy den of scum and villainy" known as Omega, as well as an introduction to the improved combat system. In our latest hands-on with Mass Effect 2, we were introduced to a new character that appears ready to add some depth to one of the galaxy's most important races. If you look back to the original game and conjure up an image of the Asari race--those mysterious blue-skinned humanoids--it's likely you'll either think of them as pure-hearted scientists (your squadmate Lisari) or biotic-wielding villains (Matriarch Benezia). In Mass Effect 2, one of the new party members is an Asari named Samara. She's essentially a lawless vigilante who operates under a strict code outside of government rule--what the game calls a justicar--and she's someone whose motivations are far more mysterious than others of her ilk.

The demo we played focused on Commander Shepard's quest to recruit Samara into his squad. As someone with a reputation for ruthless efficiency when it comes to bringing down the scum of the universe, her skills are just what Shepard needs for the task force he's assembling. Things began with Shepard arriving on the Asari homeworld of Illium, a dark planet whose sleek-but-cold look made it clear that the race inhabiting this world was among the most technologically advanced in the galaxy. Shepard began by chatting up a merchant named Pitne For, who was one of the chubby little Volus aliens that you might remember from the original game.

When asked where to find Samara, Pitne For played dumb, so Shepard quickly left this fellow in the dust and sought the assistance of a nearby Asari police detective. She referred Shepard to a nearby crime scene where Samara might be found--what with her penchant for vigilante justice and all. Shepard rolls up on the scene and finds Samara violently interrogating a member of a notorious mercenary group whose clan had just whisked off the would-be criminal on one of its ships. Things go sour and Samara winds up killing the merc, only to be apprehended by the local police.

Being the gifted conversationalist that he is, Shepard steps in to offer some assistance to the mysterious Asari he's looking to recruit. Just as in Mass Effect, conversations and dialogue play a huge role in the sequel. Facial animations during these moments seem a good deal more lifelike, while the camera angles appear to be more dynamic. The other thing we noticed here--as with the rest of the conversations in this demo--was that the lighting seemed a lot gloomier, which gave the game's conversations a much darker feel. (There's also an interesting new dialogue mechanic we'll get to in a moment.)

This Asari isn't like some of the others you know.

After offering Samara some assistance in handling her newly handcuffed situation, she told us to find out more info on the mercenary force and the aforementioned ship it used to steal away the person she was trying to find. We could have set off on our own right then, but we asked for some leads. Samara told us about a short little merchant with access to the mercenary base--a fellow named Pitne For.

Needless to say, we approached old Pitne quite angrily after finding out that he'd lied about knowing Samara. We began a heated conversation with Pitne, and after a few attempts at getting him to help us out, we were shown a quick icon on the screen during one of Pitne's evasive responses. These represent the new conversation interruption mechanic in Mass Effect 2. BioWare wants players to feel more invested in these conversations, to go beyond choosing the subject of discussion. With this interruption system, you can cut someone off midspeech and change the entire mood of the conversation. In our case, we abruptly pulled a gun on Pitne that shocked the poor little merchant into giving us a key card to the merc base. Had we missed this interruption cue (a sort of quick-time event button prompt), the conversation would have become drawn out, with Pitne weaving around our questions just as he had done before. But because Shepard was angry and unwilling to put up with all of that, the game offered us the ability to get right to the point. And we'll admit, doing that made us feel pretty damn tough.

From here, our demo shifted from dialogue-heavy plot exposition to a more action-oriented focus. These mercenaries weren't terribly happy to see us infiltrating their base, so we had to deal with them the violent way. One of the biggest changes to combat in Mass Effect 2 is the introduction of heavy-grade weapons, such as the grenade launcher--a gun with which we immediately fell in love. Using this thing to blast through groups of enemy vanguards was quite thrilling, but with its limited amount of ammo, we still had to be smart about when we used it.

Other changes to combat include the ability to swap out ammunition types from the midfight radial menu, a more responsive cover system, and added effectiveness to headshots. We were quite pleased with these changes, but there was one that struck us as a bit odd: the way you deal with an overheated gun. No longer does your gun overheat from being fired for too long without a rest. Instead, it will overheat after a set number of rounds are fired, at which point you need to pop in a cooling rod (which works on all nonheavy gun types) to lower the gun's temperature. It's a neat idea, but functionally speaking, it seemed just the same as the standard ammo-reloading system seen in most shooters out there. While there's nothing wrong with that on its own, it's a weird technological downgrade to go from infinite ammo in Mass Effect to what's essentially limited ammo in the sequel.

Small issues aside, we were very pleased with the improvements made to the combat system. The radial menu ammo switching made it worlds easier to adjust to different enemy types on the fly, while the improved hit detection made picking off enemies from afar quite thrilling. A number of these improvements coalesced at the end when we got to take on a boss using a combination of the grenade launcher and the more responsive cover system. That boss? A very angry gunship firing rockets at us. We're not sure how we did it, but we must have got lucky because our quick flurry of grenades managed to land right in the cockpit to take that thing down pretty quickly. All told, it was a pretty startling and fun boss.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Was that your neck?"

In a lot of ways, Mass Effect 2 looks like the game everyone wanted from the original. Its glaring bugs appear to have been taken care of, with texture pop-in mostly out of the picture and an inventory system that's said to have been greatly improved (here's hoping for a "mark as junk" feature like in Dragon Age). But more than that, it's a game that's going to offer a deeper look at the galactic conflicts and lingering tensions that made the original so interesting. A much darker game, Mass Effect 2 looks like it will carve out its own unique place in the series so far. We'll see how it all comes together when the game is released on January 26.

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206 comments
siarhei
siarhei

Man, I can't wait for this game :) 3 days to go!

thanatosser
thanatosser

This cooling rod sounds really dodgy, it wont stop me enjoying the game I hope, but it seems a little antiquated an idea for a game that relies so heavily on technology in its story line, why dont they just carry around an old rifle, gun powder, a bag of shot and a packing stick. I mean how would that be allowed in a universe so advanced as ME, its a total inconvenience and a liability, messing around with a cooling rod in a firefight? Why no uber heatsinks? where are the cooling add ons from the first game???

Vishant
Vishant

@ Electroban, Big rack = more money. quite simple economics considering most gamers are male, bit puerile and childish imho. The 2nd part bout fitness and brain activity. Even if u blast stuff with ur brain as you put it, there are situations where retreating is called for, therefore fitness would help.

pUrg3
pUrg3

To electroban If youve been gaming as long as people that can call themselves hardcore or even simply gamers, you should have realised by now that the only good thing about smelly fat characters that give us any sensation whatsoever is if there a dead bile spewing zombie! At the end of the day now matter how much the developer's heart is into the creation of the game the guys who finance the entire thing only care about sales! the faster you build a bridge over this small little fact of gaming life the more youl start caring for finer detail and less obvious wonders created by the the developers.

Slash_out
Slash_out

The new charactet looks nice. Not speaking physical looks, but I enjoy blind faith and obedience from slav... I mean companions :p.

sexyfunkmaster
sexyfunkmaster

to electroban do you really think that hundreds of years from now when power is green and everyone eats right that there are going to be fat people running around in pacts on the streets, let alone some in the military? (last i checked these biotic are trained military personnel at some point) and perhaps, maybe, just maybe, since it is the future and i dont know they have genetic engineering then maybe just by the slight happenstance of chance that someone somewhere might have made these people have faster metabolisms then most other people, if not, everyone. if you think about your questions, they will most likely be answered by your own deductive reasoning...

sexyfunkmaster
sexyfunkmaster

So here it is...(according to the achievement list) We have this character, thane, grunt, archangel(garrus) legion, Jacob, Myranda, tali, an unnamed slarian scientist, and subject zero. thats the full squad list at 10. there you go. The achievement list that you can now read on the xbox360 website confirms them all as "recruited" members of the team. And yes, one of them IS garrus, and the other is Legion the geth who is wearing your armor in the first teaser... Peace!

LadyRiama
LadyRiama

It is good to have another girl on the team and she looks pretty cool.

Madmanreeper
Madmanreeper

"Umm, ahhh, no, it was my cooling rod". Love to play with her on my team, nasty, nasty women.

dannyatkinson
dannyatkinson

I would like to play as one of the Alien races. Maby in ME3.

dannyatkinson
dannyatkinson

If the cooling rods are optional instead of being like an ammo reload then it will be cool. Being like an ammo reload would be stupid and lame.

mini_specs
mini_specs

To Smeaglebutcrack, They've already said that you probably won't be able to...not that I'd want to anyways. If Tali's suit comes off, The hips are mine! :D Awesome nickname, by the way :P

Fanning110
Fanning110

@electroban using biotic powers burns calories, true story. Check out the codex in ME1

Smeaglebutcrack
Smeaglebutcrack

i wonder if u can continue your sexual relationship with good old liara and ashley i want to

theafterlife
theafterlife

why is she so agro? did something happen to her in childhood?

electroban
electroban

Why is it most of these female aliens have a HUGE rack?? I mean how come theres never any fat aliens to help you out, is obessity a frowned upon thing in the mass effect galaxy? If you're a biotic why would u need to keep fit anyway u just blast stuff with your brain.

Phallass
Phallass

Burn the land and boil the sea, You can't take the sky from me.

snbatman
snbatman

Really don't like the cooling rod idea *grrrrr*

kingsi7e
kingsi7e

EPIC. I wonder how Liara reacts to her...

thisisreallybor
thisisreallybor

who the f*&$ cares about MW2. mass effect 2 is gonna ROCK that crap

Shishio817
Shishio817

Oh man oh man I can't wait for this!

pop_can
pop_can

@01-cannon-mpc Yes, but even Kamikazi missions are planned out, and so far, the only people who look like they can plan more than "Kill dudes" are Tali and yourself. And maybe Samara, since she's kind of a bounty hunter, and they generally need to investigate and plan. But I'm still skeptical. @deigo You choose which save file to use.

deigo
deigo

what happens if u have more than 1 save file?? which one does masseffect 2 choose?

shooters125
shooters125

Actually the cooling thing I hear is more of a side option. I mean you don't need the cooling thing but you can use it if you dont want to wait for you gun to cool down.

SavoyPrime
SavoyPrime

Well, the cooling rod aspect is a bit disappointing. But oh well. Won't stop me from playing the game.

DeadlyOnez
DeadlyOnez

look like she can be on the level of the villian bonazzia or whatever her name was on part one. She look like a elite asari. Like a matriarch. I know im spelling it wrong.

si-lurino
si-lurino

you know ... i think i'd like the mass effect guns better than the ones in the mass effect 2. jamming a cooling rod in the middle of a gunfight looks and feels rather ...absurd [for the lack of better words]

01-cannon-mpc
01-cannon-mpc

@pop_can Well Thay ARE going on a Kamikazi mission so it helps having a crew of badass soldiers of difernet sorts to make sure the jobb gets done. And i do hope thay relese more races to play as in the game. I wanna play as a Biotic race like Liara and Samara. I just forgot that dam name. =P

GodMin
GodMin

epic side bo.... nvm >.>

josip2
josip2

uhuhuhuhu freakin awesome !!!

Cardigan1
Cardigan1

its gonna be sweet! and its Liara T'soni not lisari

lindallison
lindallison

I hope in Mass Effect 3 they break down and give the biotics swords and call them jedi.

tom_bleaker
tom_bleaker

I'm pretty excited about ME:2. I just hope, since the focus of this game is Omega and environs that the Citadel doesn't get drastically reduced. I'd love to see how things are going and what has changed there since the epic battle at the end of ME:1.

firehawk998
firehawk998

This game and the next final fantasy 2010 come early.

1_2_3lion
1_2_3lion

I want to tell u all something Very Important, maybe some people Know, but others dont Know AT ALL, Every Action U Made With Ur Shepard Will be Built on(If u still have the save of course), Example: Decisions made in Mass Effect will impact its sequel, most notably those made on a personal level, but also seemingly minor assignments and choices. Casey Hudson has recommended keeping saved games from the original Mass Effect. Events confirmed to affect your save file include: * The decision to save either Kaidan or Ashley.[3] * Whether or not the player kills Wrex on Virmire.[4] * Whether or not the player decides to save the Citadel Council at the end of Mass Effect.[5] * The player's choice of love interest.[6] * Whether the player spares or destroys the Rachni Queen at Peak 15.[7] * The player's treatment of Conrad Verner.[8] * Whether or not the player completed the UNC: Asari Diplomacy sidequest. That WHAT WAS SAID IN MASS EFFECT WIKI If u dont belive me, Go to : http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Mass_Effect_2

tayunz
tayunz

Can't wait to kill me some Reapers!

Zahxia
Zahxia

Must. Keep. Pants. On.

shenron43
shenron43

other than the ammo issue this game is looking to be sweet.

lawfrye
lawfrye

This guy gets all the hot chicks!

pidow
pidow

This one seems much better than the first...can't wait to play it.

TheGreyArea
TheGreyArea

@Buffalodude :) You know!!! It's almost encouraging me to replay the first game, AGAIN, and sculpt one seriously unpleasant mofolio version of Shepard like, there should be an additional conversation tree in the Ashley "love-scene", ... where, instead of getting it on with her, you can simply demand that she goes and fixes you a hamburger and a beer! NOW! THAT'S the kind of Shepard that's going to do well to hang-out with the new squad :)