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Can a RPG have it all? All game genres have their inherent problems, but when it comes to RPGs there’s usually a separation between gameplay, story, and technical aspects. The better RPGs are usually good at two out of those, but rarely is there a game that’s great at all three. Mass Effect 2 (ME2) is in that level of quality and prestige. Its predecessor Mass Effect 1 (ME1) was very good in its own right, but ME2 is leaps and bounds better. The combat is good and just not “good for a RPG shooter”. ME2’s combat can hold its own against full-fledged 3rd person shooters. Those annoying Unreal Engine texture pop-ins, as well as frame-rate issues have been resolved.Mass Effect 2 begins shortly after the original and this time around, things start with a bang. Due to certain circumstances, Shepard is out of commission for an extended period of time. This leads the game’s overarching theme of rebuilding and reforming. However, this time it’s not with the United Nations like Alliance organization, you’re now with Cerberus. So the real world translation of them is more relatable to extreme nationalists, so it’s pretty much like Fox News has their own pro-human group in space. Cerberus has the dark past of committing murders, experiments, and other dubious behavior.
Since a significant amount of time has passed, many of your old crew-members have moved on with their lives. That fact along with the scale of the new threat requires a new team to be formed. Majority of the game revolves around you forming your team. There’s also a loyalty quest that follows each team member once they’ve joined. The coincidence of everyone having personal issues that need solving does seem a bit “gamey”. However, the missions are actually quite versatile, ranging from you being the bait for a serial killer, a mock lawyer, and of course just shooting aliens in the face. The loyalty quests also offer better insight to each character. You learn more about their past as well get to see different sides of their personality. In addition to those benefits, characters unlock a new power when they’re loyal.
Time wise, forming your team and making them become loyal is most of the game. However, the main focus of the story is investigating why human colonies are disappearing. This leads to the Reapers from ME1 as well as adds the new Collector race in the mix. As mentioned before, the gunplay in ME2 is greatly improved. The shooting is much more precise and impactful. This is partly due to damage being limb specific as well as enemy animation being better. The types of guns has been greatly increased, there’s now SMGs, heavy weapons, and heavy pistols. This of course is added on top of ME1’s weapons of assault rifle, shotgun, and sniper rifle. While the types of weapons have changed for the better, the actual amount of guns and armor is one of the few disappointing things about the game. Other than heavy weapons, which consist of grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and weaponry that is more futuristic. The other categories of gun types may only have two weapons in total. That is shockingly low for a RPG that hovers around 30 hours. The same goes for armor; some people never found any addition pieces. Armor has been separated into different pieces for each body region rather than being one piece. Like guns now, they’re also found on mission rather than buying them in store, like in ME1.
The game’s money system remains in somewhat of a limbo. Sure, it’s nice to have money, but it’s not really needed. Other than buying fuel for space exploration and the rare trips to a store, I hardly spent any money. The currency system has been supplemented with one that revolves around mining for mineral rather than using currency. This is handled brilliantly and helps make space exploration even more fun and a near requirement to play the game correctly. You’ll basically take your ship, the Normandy, to planets and scan their surface. While scanning the planet’s surface you’ll look for spikes in the radar, those show that you’re hovering above a certain mineral. From there you shoot down a pod that extracts it. Each mineral has specific upgrade properties. For example, platinum is mainly for ship upgrades or researching new types of weapons and element zero is more for upgrading biotic and tech powers.
All of the gunplay aspects being so heavily improved shows how certain RPG and story traits are lacking. For a game being touted for centering around choices you make, you don’t make very many in this game. ME1 only had about two or three galaxy reaching decisions in it, and that number is about the same for this sequel. Due to everything else being greatly amped up from ME1 to ME2, the amount of choices staying the same seems stagnate. The combat isn’t simply about guns, tech and biotic powers are nearly equals parts too depending on your class. Tech powers in ME1 were easily the worst aspect between the three major parts of combat. Tech powers are now much more useful and offensive. Biotic powers on the other hand seem lacking. They are still fun to use and to see their affect on enemies, but they’re somewhat ineffective against the harder and/or bigger enemies. In addition, just about every biotic power is a different form of telekinesis; it would be nice if they were a bit more varied.
Everything you do in the game is building towards a supposed suicide mission to an unknown part of space where the Collectors live. The problem with any game that builds towards one final mission is that the mission has to be excellent. While the suicide mission was fun, it didn’t feel very epic or grand. Another problem is that the “suicide” part seems like a great exaggeration. The mission wasn’t very hard at all. It was nice that this was the only time where it seems like the entire combat crew exists at once, just not the two people with you at the moment. You also make tactical decisions like assigning who’s leading the second team or who’s going through the vents to hack a door. Those decisions mixed with the person’s skills and loyalty can affect someone living or dying. While the suicide mission is easy, deaths can occur rather easily to your teammates. The reason why they die can sometimes feel quite arbitrary, as if “it’s the final mission, so of course someone has to die”. While that isn’t completely true, since the number of deaths can occur anywhere between zero to everyone including Shepard. However, in order for Shepard to die you have to break the game by not doing any loyalty quests, but it is a possibility.
Mass Effect 2 is quite an accomplishment, while it’s not perfect, which no game is. It offers great gameplay, an in-depth story, and interesting characters. More importantly, it innovates the RPG genre. There has been a surge in “RPG shooters” lately. While Fallout 3 had great atmosphere, the gameplay fell short and was riddled with technical problems. On the opposite side there’s Borderlands, which stretches the very meaning of RPG with no story, real characters, plot, or even a relevant level up system…. but it did have fun gameplay. Luckily, Mass Effect 2 takes both of their strengths and surpasses them greatly. Therefore, the answer to the aforementioned question of “Can a RPG have it all?” is yes. Mass Effect 2 proves that a RPG can have a great story, gameplay, and be technically impressive. All while accelerating not just its genre, but also all games in general to a higher standard of quality.