Excellent game that is worth anyone's time. For die-hard fans of RPGs however, it would be wise to temper expectations.

User Rating: 8.5 | Mass Effect 2 X360
To start off, I want to make one thing clear; this review is targeted towards true RPG fans and people who loved the previous Mass Effect. If you are more of an action or FPS fan who generally enjoys qualities games (even if they do step outside of your comfort zone), then it would behoove you to go grab and play this game right now. Compared to most of the mediocre games out there these days, this game is an absolute gem. With that said, I will now continue with the true review.

Very few sequels can be categorized as 'true sequels' in the essence that you may be playing as a different character with a different story and in some cases, a completely different universe. That is not the case with Mass Effect 2, where you once again take the role of Commander Shepard (whether you choose to be male of female) in his pursuit of the Reapers and peace across the galaxy. As an uber fan of the previous entry, I was expecting a similarly immersive experience that improved on the follies of the first entry.

Well, I have good news; Bioware listened to the critic's complaints and reworked almost everything to some degree. The bad news is that a lot of the best elements that made the first Mass Effect great got axed. As a result, ME2 (Mass Effect 2) is everything ME1 (Mass Effect 1) wasn't; it's well polished, fast paced and flashy. Unfortunately, ME2 exchanged these qualities for the depth, immersion and charm that characterized the first game. True fans of RPGs recognize that this is not a fair exchange and as such seriously tarnished the experience.

In the rest of this review, I will juxtapose everything in this game in relation to ME1. This is because, as with any true sequel, the predecessor is the game that set the standard and is the game that the sequel must live up to. So in essence, this is a review of both games. With that said, enjoy.

*** A summation of this review is provided at the bottom of the page. ***

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"The little things make all the difference in the universe."
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**Loading Screens**

ME1

Minimal and limited to when you selected a new planet or location and if I remember correctly it usually just showed you in the Citadel. Otherwise you simply walked from place to place or traveled via elevators or air lock (in and out of your ship). Transitions were seamless and provided entertaining conversations between team members and a high sense of realism.

ME2

The loading screens usually showed a flashy schematic of the ship or you presumably landing somewhere. They were aesthetic, but even that novelty wore off after seeing them a few times.

ADVANTAGE - Mass Effect 1; seamless transitions provide a greater level of immersion than loading screens. That was an innovation that should have been kept and expanded upon, not axed.

**Space Exploration**

ME1

You just used your galaxy map to click where you wanted to go.

ME2

Using an over the top view, you actually navigated your ship from galaxy to galaxy and from planet to planet. You needed fuel to bridge the gap to some outer galaxies and probes to explore planets.

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 2; This was one area where immersion and depth was actually improved, bravo.

**Outer Planet Exploration**

ME1

You used an all terrain vehicle called the Mako to explore the planets for cities, enemy bases and minerals. This process was tedious and combat in the Mako was flawed at best. It was a very 'cool' concept executed very poorly.

ME2

On story planets you just warp straight into the city via loading screen. On foreign planets you 'scan' the planet from the ship using a giant reticule and send out probes to find minerals and sometimes mission locations. An early upgrade allows you to speed up process, which effectively makes it a bit less tedious and soul sucking.

DRAW – Both of these exploration methods were flawed. Personally, I'd welcome a combination of the two in the third entry. An improved version of the Mako would be welcomed to enter bases on the story planets and provides a good change of pace. However for foreign planets I think being able to scan the entire planet with one probe would speed things up considerably.

**Inner Planet Exploration**

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 1; ME1's planets seemed much livelier and grandiose. Meaning, there were more NPCs walking around and everything was set up as an actual functioning city and ecosystem on a larger scale. In the second game, cities were much more abbreviated and robotic. There purpose for this seemed to be shortening the downtime between the fast paced story missions. They succeeded to that end, but the sacrifice in doing so was overall quality.

**Mini Games**

ME1

There was basically one quick time reaction mini game used for all hacking sections.

ME2

There a few different mini games that would show up when required to hack something. They were engaging, intelligent and actually fun…which is saying something as most the time I just find this sort of crap to just be in the way.

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 2; Big improvement here, nothing much else to say.

**Bugs and Glitches**

ME1

Almost every time you entered a new area in ME1 you could see the layers and textures dropping onto your characters and environment piece by piece. There was also numerous other random bug's and glitches and the occasional slow down in combat.

ME2

The game runs incredibly smoothly from beginning to end with few to no glitches at all. This might be a first for Bioware.

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 2; Well done Bioware, it would be nice to see this trend continue in all future games.

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"It is not the destination, but the journey that makes an experience worthwhile."
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**Story**

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 1; To be far, it is unrealistic to ever expect a sequel to contain a better story than the first entry in a trilogy; which is expected (and did so very well) to set the stage for events to come. With that said, I felt ME1's story was WAY better. Sarin was a worthy antagonist and the story contained revelation after revelation. You had to make many pivotal decisions affecting the good of the entire galaxy and, more importantly, future entries to the series. ME2 focused much more on the cast (which we'll get to in a second), it did not have an antagonist that I cared about and contained much fewer relevant story arcs.

**Characters**

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 2; While I loved the cast of the first game, this was what the second game concentrated on and they did a fabulous job in doing so. Your primary goal was to gather an elite squad with which to track down the reapers. All of the new characters are very unique, powerful and relevant. And a couple of my favorites from the first game made a triumphant return to your main party. Each character has a primary side quest associated with them, which helps flesh their back story out a bit and adds a ton of value to the game. Even the final events leading up to the games conclusion focus on its wonderful cast.

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"When all else fails, you can always start blowing stuff up!"
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**Battle System**

ME1

While ME1 did a great job integrating TPS action and RPG elements into a cohesive blend, the combat remained more focused on the RPG elements. You had a ton of skills and your success in battle was mostly based upon your manipulation and strategy of their execution. You could use all your skills independently and they recharged independently. There was no ammo, you simply had to make sure to not to overload your weapon by firing it too much or too fast. You are encouraged to focus your concentration on a single weapon as you have to flow experience into them to increase their accuracy, effectiveness and power up their weapon unique skills.

ME2

While still blending TPS and RPG elements, ME2 began to tip way more on the TPS end of the spectrum. Your characters have fewer skills and when you use one it forces all of your skills to recharge prior to using another. You now have ammo and no longer have to upgrade your weapons, which encourages you to use different weapons depending on the situation.

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 1; Many of the assessments I've made so far are hard to argue with, which is not the case here. Battles in ME2 are much faster paced and being encouraged to constantly switch weapons (which I did think was an improvement) provides battles with a heightened sense of intensity. I personally preferred the methodical and strategic combat of the first game though. It really irked me that you could only use one skill at a time in ME2 per character. I usually had a skill I preferred over another which meant that was the one I always used. Had I been allowed to use more than one at a time like you were able to in the first game, the battle system would have been much more satisfying.

**Customization**

ME1

There was a complex inventory system and you could customize each weapon and armor with several of its own upgrades. There were a ton of skills to upgrade which affected your battle prowess, infiltration and mediation skills. Later in the game you were able to choose a secondary specialization.

ME2

Inventory was axed, at your ship you can customize you armor with different helmets, chest plates, etcetera and even customize color and appearance. You could upgrade weapons or armor as a class amongst other things at an upgrade station. There were far less skills (4 for the main character and 3 for the secondary party members plus a skill that upgrades their stats) and there were no skills affecting outside of battle prowess. Later in the game you could choose to inherent one specialty skill from a team member.

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 1; This was a joke in my opinion. Yes, axing inventory made it easier to get back to the ever important slaughtering of enemies, but it greatly watered down a great product. And less skills means less thought, which once again waters down a great product. On a positive note, they did add a unique specific skill to each class in ME2, and for a couple of these classes, these are uber cool.

**Weapons**

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 2; I had to specify a section for this because this was a huge strength of the ME2 battle system. In the previous ME, certain weapons, such as the shotgun and sniper rifle weren't very useful because, respectively, you had to either get to close to your enemies or it was too tough to aim prior to pumping a ton of experience into the skill. Now there are powers directly associated with closing the gap between you and enemies fast and there is a much improved cover mechanic. Also, they've added power weapons and though you can only equip one at a time, the addition of rocket launchers and other powerful cool alien weapons is certainly a welcome addition.

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"In the end all that matters is value, the bang for your buck."
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**Relevant Content**

ME1

A run through of the first game could be done in about 10-15 hours if you just stuck to the main planets and played through what I like to call the 'relevant content'. That being main quests and unique side quests along the main storyline. You could significantly increase your time spent if you explored a lot of planets in what is essentially pointless and fruitless filler.

ME2

If you do all the main quests and character specific side quests you could probably spend about 30+ hours finishing this game.

ADVANTAGE – Mass Effect 2; This isn't even close, ME2 has about 2X as much relevant content as its predecessor. This is a very significant upgrade and gives ME2 a huge boost in core value over its ME1.

**Replay Value**

DRAW - There was more depth and significant decisions in the first game and though significantly shorter in duration, the quality of the time spent was much higher. I played through ME1 three times trying to perfect my Shepard and relished every play through. I couldn't even get myself to complete my renegade (evil) play through of ME2, once was enough. With that said, ME2 contains a new game+ feature, which is very cool because you can start the game with all your best skills. And class specific skills could give you added motivation to give the game a second play through. My bias shifts me in the direction of ME1, but ME2 does have some nice incentives to play again.

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"Now for a shout out to all those other elements not worth talking to death…"
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THE DRAWS

With regard to graphics, music, voice acting, conversations and anything else I didn't mention both games executed tremendously well and deserve a high grade draw. That's it, that's all I have to say on that topic ;).

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"All things must come to an end, even this review"
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The best way I can describe this game, as a true fan of RPGs, is by saying it took one step forward and two steps backward. Before I elaborate further on that, here is a list of what was improved and what was made worse.

Juxtaposed to Mass Effect 1, Mass Effect 2 had…

+a better space exploration system
+better hacking mini games
+far smoother performance (flawless really)
+a deeper and more fleshed out character cast
+much faster paced battles with a better array of useful weaponry and cover mechanic
+some cool new character and class specific powers
+a much longer main story with more relevant content
+a new game+ option absent from ME1

-a much choppier and less immersive experience due to the elimination of seamless transitions replaced by loading screens
-a method of foreign planet exploration (scanning) that was just as flawed as the Mako
-lifeless and robotic feeling planets
-a much less engaging story
-considerably much less depth in its battles and customization

The purpose of these changes was obvious in my eyes, to make this game more appealing to a larger group of gamers and to that end they succeeded mightily. Mass Effect 2 is fast paced and the downtime between battles is made short. It is smooth and has powerful, interesting and well fleshed out character cast to fight alongside you. I just wish Bioware could have made their improvement without sucking so much of the depth and charm out of the experience. I also found that the frenetic pace was a little too much for what is still an RPG. As a gamer that almost exclusively plays RPGs, I find this to still be the strongest available experience recently released. It is, however, a disconcerting step away from entertaining the true fans of the genre, the fans who they should remain faithful to beyond all else because we'll be the ones still there when everybody shuffles on to the next fad.

I can strongly recommend this game to anyone, but for the true RPG fan I would suggest waiting until the price of admission drops. It is not so special or pertinent as to warrant the extra $$$.

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