One of my all time favourite games is Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR), a Star Wars role-playing game. Ever since we got our PlayStation 3 I was looking for a similar game for this console. After reading several favourable reviews about Mass Effect 2 I decided to give it a try.
The splash screen revealed the first pleasant surprise: Mass Effect 2 was created by BioWare, the very same company that published KotOR many years ago. And the game cannot deny its origins. Mass Effect 2 features a lot of the qualities that made KotOR such an excellent game:
- The game tells a fascinating story. It takes place two years after the events in Mass Effect. Its plot is full of action, mystery and twists. It combines elements of various Science Fiction books, movies and TV series like Babylon 5 (also one of my all time favourites) into a gripping tale. Frequent cut scenes help to bring the story to life.
- The game features a lot of very well written and excellently voiced characters. They all have a history, particular quirks and frequently a hidden agenda. They interact not only with your protagonist, Commander Shepard, but also with each other. Some of the resulting conflicts can even jeopardise the mission and you have to deal with them carefully.
- At various points you are faced with different choices. It is not always obvious what the right thing to do is. You have to consider your actions carefully because there will be consequences. Some of these choices will even influence the events in Mass Effect 3.
This concept was already available in KotOR. But Mass Effect 2 leaves you much more freedom and the outcome is much less predictable.
Overall it feels like you are playing an interactive Science Fiction movie. While the plot is mostly predetermined the game still leaves you a lot of freedom and you don’t feel restricted.
The gameplay looks similar to KotOR on a quick glance. You control a party of up to three characters which moves through a three dimensional landscape . Your party collects items, talks to other people and has to solve puzzles. But when you get into your first fight you noticed a big difference.
KotOR is a turn-based AD&D role-playing game. You have full control over all three members of your party and you can plan their actions multiple turns in advance. At any point of time you can pause a fight and change your tactic. If one of your characters gets incapacitated you can use the other two to revive her or him. You only get defeated if all three characters are knocked out at the same time.
Mass Effect 2 on the other hand is a third person shooter with elements of a role-playing game. Fights happen in real time, they just pause while you select weapons or special powers. You can only fully control your main character, and if he or she gets overwhelmed you have lost the fight. While your two companions in arms will fight alongside you autonomously the game allows you to give commands to influence their behaviour. You can e.g. tell them to use certain weapons or powers, focus on a particular enemy or to take up a defensive position. While this appears to be a bit limiting initially it makes the game feel more realistic. Giving the right commands at the right time is often challenging but crucial for the success of your mission. The wrong decision can even get one of your squad members killed. Between fights you can acquire better weapons, shields and other technology which will help you during your next conflict. Successful missions contribute to your characters experience levels allowing you to develop their powers.
Mass Effect 2 has a lot going for it: story, characters, gameplay, atmosphere, graphics, sound and much more. If you like Science Fiction role-play games you should definitely have a look. Mass Effect 2 is also as close as you can get to a Babylon5 computer game. I’m really looking forward to Mass Effect 3.