Mass Effect 2 in the test - the first hit of the year!
What is a good trilogy? The answer is simple: the first part sets out the rules. The second part breaks it. In mostly unexpected ways. And part 3? Well, the Canadian developer Bioware with Mass Effect is not yet there, but Mass Effect 2 already adheres to this principle, which is important for suspect hit series: The centerpiece of the Mass Effect trilogy is darker, more adult and considerably more action-packed, moves away so unexpected and radical of what the fans know from part 1. Despite all the breaks in tradition, Bioware's second all-adventure creates a familiar, downright cozy, nostalgic feeling just a few seconds after you click on »New Game«: Despite all the innovations, Mass Effect 2 is a true Mass Effect through and through - welcome home !
About the storyline: The developers have already had a thrilling start.
While the Normandy, your hero Commander Shepard's ship, is attacked by an unknown cruiser, we hurry to the bridge through a burning inferno, and just convince pilot Jeff "Joker" Moreau to give up the ship as a violent detonation of the hull tears up, throws Shepard into space and we have to watch how the Normandy breaks apart. As you can see, unlike its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 does not have to wait long to establish characters and begin the story. That is why you should remember the predecessor from 2008 well. This time there is again a comprehensive journal about the planets, races and social and political circumstances of the Mass Effect universe. But why which figures or alien races appear and how they react in certain situations can only be fully understood by those who have completed part 1. One cannot criticize that, because given the trilogy concept, such a narrative structure is quite legitimate.
In addition to the often surprising return of old colleagues (and opponents), it is above all the new additions to the Mass Effect line-up that add interesting nuances to the plot.
There is, for example, Miranda, which you already come across in the fast-paced tutorial and which works for the underground organization Cerberus mentioned in the previous version. What drives the self-confident and opaque woman and how she stands (or pretends to stand) to Shepard, creates an exciting basic mood, especially in the dialogues. In doing so, Bioware manages to do without typical and therefore often boring clichés. And even though you come across a wide variety of characters at every corner, everyone has an equally interesting and credible background. The result: in Mass Effect 2 you always have the feeling that you are interacting with living beings instead of a collection of polygons and AI routines.
»Watch the test video for Mass Effect 2 in the large player
As in the previous version, Shepard does not fight alone in Mass Effect 2. In order to be able to face the new threat of kidnapping alien insects, the commander has to gather around a team of ten, this time stiff with weapons.
The 45 to 60 minute recruitment jobs could hardly be more versatile. To investigate Omega, a criminal city inside an asteroid, for the salary doctor Mordin, who is chattering without a point and comma, a mysterious epidemic, to clear the way out of a high-security prison elsewhere or to search on Illium, the economic and commercial center the galaxy, after the legendary Assassin Thane. But the goal is always the same: run through hose-like levels from A to B and shoot everything up on the way. However, the atmospheric and variedly built locations as well as the well-placed dialogues more than make up for this design weakness, especially since organic goods are surprising with some twists that never appear to be artificial.
As you know from the first part, you will also spend a lot of time talking in Mass Effect 2. That sounds unspectacular, but it has an unprecedented pull effect after a short time.
As in Dragon Age Origins, the dialogues, which are consistently well written, always give you the choice of answering diplomatically, neutrally or aggressively, which not only adds depth to the game, but also often directs quests in a different direction. Overarching events or even the end cannot be influenced by this. New: You can now let the Commander start particularly effective (good and bad) attempts at convincing - indicated by a brief display. These inserts, which are lavishly animated in short cutscenes, make the already gripping word battles a good deal more dynamic and intensify the feeling of not just clicking through linear conversations. Bioware has also technically improved the intensity of the discussions. Compared to Mass Effect 1, the program chooses more exciting perspectives, cuts detail shots (such as the hands or eyes) in between and underlines the mood with suitable camera movements.
Mass Effect 2 not only talks but also shoots, and that much more often and faster than in the first part. Although you are still fighting from a shifted shoulder perspective and with two AI-controlled colleagues at your side, the search for cover and the subsequent elimination of the opponents by means of targeted bursts of fire are now more clearly in the foreground.
Two innovations increase the proportion of shooters additionally: on the one hand, Shepard heals himself when he is not being shot at, on the other hand, the opponents now have hit zones. Downside of the action-oriented game principle: You notice it in the level design. Crates, containers, or waist-high barriers placed in front of your heroine are a guarantee of a host of hostile goods that will bend just around the corner. If a room lacks such cover options, the weapon will certainly remain silent. The weak enemy AI can also be improved. Again and again the opponents afford misfires when choosing their cover or entrench themselves next to highly explosive barrels. Despite these shortcomings, the effective ball games are a lot of fun, which is due to the catchy mouse and keyboard controls and your cool colleagues, who fight largely independently, position themselves sensibly and use talents cleverly.
Fans of complex role-playing games à la Dragon Age Origins or especially Drakensang should be disturbed by the fact that the pause mode in Mass Effect 2, known from its predecessor and intended for relaxed commanding, was not only slimmed down by some tactical functions and information, it is also used less frequently.
The explanation is simple: in the relatively shallow ball games, special talents like the overloading of the biotics that deactivate the shields are really only necessary on the top two of the five levels of difficulty. The Mass Effect 2 talent system has also been thinned out. Training for certain types of weapons is missing, as are bonuses for armor values, life points or the endurance of the heroes. Instead, you only improve a handful of in-house talents, most of which (for example, the soldier's ammunition) can even be extended to the whole troop at the highest level, which pretty much softens the class system, which is cool in itself. Also, that by the end of the game you have almost fully developed every skill, this should lead to intensified discussions between the lovers of uncomplicated, action-packed adventures and the representatives of role-play teaching. While action fans surf through the final chapters on the wave of omnipotence of lavishly developed fighting talents, role players miss the brooding over the best talent combination and the variety that is forced to choose.
Whoever played the first mass effect and should name a particularly annoying element, usually gives the following answer: the elevator sequences. They had used the program to load the next level section, which often took up to a minute.
Against the feeling of paralysis that the player was gradually creeping in, even the heroes' improvised small talk or the radio reports clattering from the lift loudspeakers could not compete. Although you sometimes use elevators in Mass Effect 2 (especially on the now larger Normandy), the waiting times are now pleasantly short. Most other technical quirks, such as the piecemeal structure of the environment after loading a game, have also been fixed by Bioware. On the other hand, Mass Effect 2 is plagued by a number of noticeable bugs that did not exist in the first part. Nevertheless, the series shows positive trends in terms of technology. Especially the lighting and particle effects now look a little nicer. The characters and textures also got more details. For Mass Effect 3, we still want a new graphics framework, because the Unreal Engine 3 shows its age. But maybe Bioware is also heeding the third rule for a successful trilogy: The finale has to be popping!
You can find out more about Mass Effect 2 in the current GameStar issue 03/2010, which will be available at the kiosk from January 27th.
»Test video for Mass Effect 2
»Score box for Mass Effect 2
»Special: Character import from Mass Effect 1
»Special: Mass Effect 1 vs. Mass Effect 2
»Video: Comparison of German and English voice output
»Video: The intro to Mass Effect 2 (spoiler)