So Mass Effect 2 biowares latest opus and middle part of the trilogy is out and I spent a good few hours playing it before I had to pack and get myself to heathrow for a business trip to LA. As a result it's going to be a while till I next play it.
Anyway as I sit here in heathrow terminal 5 stealling the wifi from the BA business lounge by sitting underneath it I thought I'd pass the time by giving you my first impressions.
Mass Effect was a land mark game in biowares already impressive line up of RPG titles, all original IP with a Sci fi twist with action and squad mechanics as well as some driving. The story was really rather good but it did have it's issues. It just threw you in at the deep end without really giving you much clue as to what to do, it's squad AI was dumb as a post and the difficulty was all over the map depending on what class you chose it was either brain smashingly hard or a complete walk over.
There was a lot of busy work side quest very repetative and often just fetch quests or scavenger hunts. The inventory management was aweful and you had to constantly swap in and out weapons to ensure you had the right setup. Like a lot of bioware games it featured a morality system, but instead of being good/evil it was paragon/renegade and occationally it would be tough to work out which was which.
For all it's fault it was a genuinely interesting game and the storytelling was top notch helped by the fact that your character was fully voiced (something I wish they'd done for dragon age).
In the sequel they've clearly put a lot of effort into fixing the problems from the first game. The action is much smoother, they have pretty much eliminated the inventory issues, they've completely redone the side missions and got rid of the mako tank so there's no more driving around for hours trying to get to the mission point only to find you lack the skill to open the thing and even when you do it'll be dog tags. They've refined their dialog system it's pretty similar to previous version but enhanced with morality interupts (so a rengade one might be pushing someone out of a window, paragon pushing a gun asside to save someone's life) they have also removed a lot of the extra skills focussing skill points exclussively on combat powers with things like persuasion done through your paragon/renegade level.
The combat engine is greatly enhanced with better location specific damage and the biotic powers have had an upgrade allowing you to bend them round obstacles and direct their effects to say throw people off a building. The squad system is much better and the squad members (so far) seem to behave in a sensible maner not getting in your way all the time or standing in plain view not taking cover like a lemon.
The graphics are as good as the first if not better but the texture pop up that marred the first game's visual pollish has been eliminated (at least as far as I can tell I've yet to see it on a day and halfs play time).
The story this time centers around the terrorist group cerberus who are trying to stop human colonies disapearing and they have gotten you to help them. You have to assemble a team of psycotic misfits and then find out what is going on. From what I've seen of it the story is layered and pretty interesting taking up from the events of the first game, it also includes the back stories of your crew and you can do special missions for them to gain their loyalty and extra powers.
One feature that's interesting is the game will allow you to load a completed mass effect save and then adjust the story to fit key events and choices in that. Since i got this on the PC and I played Mass Effect on the 360 I wasn't able to take advantage of this but there are things like databases of save games out there you can use to get a starting shepard of your choice. This system is also going to carry forward to mass effect 3 allowing for even more unique storyline changes.
It's a similar planet -> system -> galaxy map setup with a few tweaks that you now have to watch your fuel when travelling between systems. You can now prospect for materials on a planet that go into research, new weapons, and upgrades to you kit this is achieved through a little minigame where you scan the planet for various minerals and launch probes to dig it out.
It seems so far in almost every way a great improvement over mass effect correcting almost all the errors that game made and continuing to prove that bioware really know how to do narative storytelling and present it in a moving and cinematic way. If you liked the first one then you will love this and if you like RPG's at all it's well worth picking up.