Mass Effect 2

There’s something enigmatic about space. The darkest reaches of the void or the brightest glowing nebulas seem to balance a poetic but deadly grace. It’s because of this monolithic and mysterious backdrop that sci-fi role-playing games work. The genre has always tapped into the inexorable human desire for exploration, relying on future technologies that are fantastical, yet seemingly plausible. At the back of our minds we could envisage this actually happening sometime in the not too distant future. That grounds the sci-fi RPG experience in visceral space that other settings can’t even come close to achieving.

Mass Effect 2 is intimately aware of this. It combines role playing elements with the action of a tactical third person shooter to create an experience that is novel-like in depth and cinematic in application.

 
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The title is, unsurprisingly, situated after the events of its predecessor. To make the transition between the two games as seamless as possible Bioware has included an option to import your previously played character from Mass Effect. This nicely results in a large degree of immersive continuity between the two titles. If you haven’t played Mass Effect, don’t worry – it’s a standalone title in its own right, but you’d be doing yourself a favour by reading up on it. There’s a lot of storyline that Bioware has assumed you already know. For first time players this may be a little irksome.

The title starts by throwing you straight into the action. Commander Shepard once again is leading the famed Normandy spaceship, and is sent on a standard reconnaissance mission into the fringes of Alliance controlled space, to investigate attacks of outlying human colonies. From out of nowhere the Normandy is attacked and destroyed by an unidentified vessel. The following cut scene, interspersed by third person action, is alone worth the price of admission. The analogy to film is deliberate. This game has a definite cinematic feel. The opening action is thrilling, chaotic and strangely horrifying. Your author had some serious chills down his spine.

Without giving too much away, two years pass and Shepard finds himself in debt to the mysterious Cerebus Company – an organisation hoping to further human objectives in the Galaxy. For first time players it’s after this prologue that Shepard’s appearance may be customized to your liking. Those familiar with other Bioware RPGs will feel at home in the interface. The options are wide ranging – but there’s nothing uniquely special, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. It is here that you can choose which class to play as, and choose wisely. But don’t get too stressed, its more than likely that players will enjoy re-rolling as a different class the second (or third) time around.

Once Shepard is customized, the game gets into gear. Now working for Cerebus, Shepard must put together a squad of skilled individuals from around the galaxy to investigate and fight the Collectors – a fringe race whose existence is still very much in dispute. Selected characters from Mass Effect make reappearances and there are also some new characters to select from.

The game definitely has a novel-like narrative. There is a lot going on here, and even those who only wish to play through the main narrative are going to be impressed with the depth of story and characterization. This is achieved mostly through character dialogue and cut scenes. It’s a shame that the voice acting is such a mixed bag. There is the good; Seth Green (Joker) and Mark Meer/Jennifer Hale (Shepard) return with solid performances and the inclusion of Martin Sheen as the “illusive man” is inspired. Then there is the bad; Yvonne Strahovski grates as Miranda, and Adam Lazarre-White could have done more with Jacob. This criticism is a little on the harsh side – but for an RPG title that banks on sustained immersion, cringe-worthy Australian accents are a bit of a deal breaker.

Side missions provided by Cerebus or from your ship-mates offer another layer of gameplay beyond the main story. They serve as useful experience and resource gathering exercises, but also flesh out the storylines of individual characters. They are generally done well, and develop the role of Shepard beyond that of just a heroic grunt. There is a lot of fun to be had in investigating abandoned space stations and distress beacons from crashed starships. Bioware has found an outlet for your innermost curiosity, and within the space setting, it really works. But you don’t need to strap yourself into a transport and fire down to a rim world to go a-questing. Like Bioware’s recent title Dragon Age: Origins, romances are back. And there are un-lockable achievements for bedding the right people. That’s sure to be err… warmly received… by some gamers.

If there is one criticism to be made of major narrative it’s that once again gamers are forced into the standardized RPG formula. It’s the inept and corrupt Government versus the heroic military versus the idealistic rebels. For example, change the Council to the Landsmeet, the military to the Templar, and Cerebus to the Grey Wardens, and what do you have?

Dragon Age: Origins. That’s what.

It’s a standard narrative formula because it works, and Mass Effect 2 does it very well. There is little doubt that the formula is an enjoyable one. But Mass Effect 2 missed an opportunity to be bold, and add some new spice to an old recipe.

However, there are some notable improvements in gameplay. Mass Effect 2 is an RPG/TPS hybrid, and as such there is a simplification of both elements. The paragon v renegade morality system is back from the original – and this time has even more practical applicability. As well as unlocking new conversation choices you can now earn morality points through quick time events during cut scenes. This gives Shepard the ability to change the course of a cut scene by choosing positive or negative actions; from pushing mercenaries through windows, to stopping headstrong teenagers from signing up to certain death. These QTEs are quick; you have to have your finger on the trigger throughout all the cutscenes in case one appears, but it makes you feel like you’ve personally changed the action, which is engrossing and very rewarding.

Leveling up is also very simplistic, and thankfully you have the ability to undo choices each time you level if you’ve made a mistake. An upgrade from your research lab also allows you to completely redo Shepard’s skill points and re-assign them, which further increases the variability of your gameplay. If you can’t be bothered manually leveling your squad members (which is understandable, there are lots of them) then you can auto-level them.

Like any good RPG, the amount of places you can travel to is impressive and non-linear. The main quests are highlighted on various worlds, but you can do them in any order. The galactic map allows you to literally fly your ship around different solar systems or even through inter-stellar space to solar system’s close by. Inter-stellar travel sucks up fuel, so it’s always advisable to stock up before going exploring. As per the original, mass relays provide the means to quickly travel between star clusters. This space-faring mini-game is almost as fun as the game proper. Bioware has done a masterful job of creating an enormous galaxy filled with individually named planets within their own solar systems – each with personal back stories and lore. It’s simply stunning how much contextual information is provided to you in this title. Thankfully there is an encyclopedic codex to help you keep track of everything.

After entering the orbit of each planet (which is a little tricky, as your spaceship is slightly hard to maneuver over short distances) you can start scanning it for resources. By firing probes into the areas of high resources (as indicated by spikes on your scanner) your ship collects platinum, palladium, iridium and element zero. As well as resources, from time to time anomalies are detected on the surface – such as distress beacons or lost operatives – which you can choose to investigate. This mode is highly addictive, and your author spent literally hours trawling the planets of solar systems in order to completely pillage them of their mineral booty. It's classic RPG grinding, but Bioware has done a great job of convincing you it’s not.

The resources you collect can be used to upgrade your ship, your armour or your weaponry in the tech-lab. Prototype heavy weapons are also available to research, and pack a serious punch in combat. Unfortunately the learning curve on exactly how to upgrade your items or what process to go through is largely unexplained. Not to mention the fact that you can’t even start to upgrade anything until you have rescued a Salarian scientist and convinced him to join your crew. Unlike other RPG titles, whereby upgrades purchased at stores or found in combat can be instantly applied, Mass Effect 2 requires you to manually reconfigure your equipment back on board your vessel. This is onerous, but does serve to provide a bit of realism to the experience. There’s no way someone could retrofit an assault rifle under screeds of fire. But at least once you’ve researched a new weapon, its available to your whole squad. A vast improvement on the original title.

But one thing is certain, once you are using those new weapons they look really, really great. Mass Effect 2 does a great job of visually presenting its game play to you. PC gamers are in for a real treat - lots of detail will be lost in the transfer to console. The game runs smoothly on default settings, and those with better rigs shouldn’t be afraid of pushing their cards to take advantage of the title’s beautifully rendered environments. The different worlds and different combat environments have provided the creative team with a blank canvas to really go to town on. As a consequence there is great variability in the environments you can explore – from the sanitised and clean chambers of the Citadel to the grimy, greasy and murky ship graveyards on Korlus. However, those using Nvidia cards should update to the latest drivers as there have been reports of stuttering and freezes on outdated software versions. The combat is visceral and at times intense, and is presented well, complete with great combat audio effects. In fact the entire soundtrack is good, even the soothingly ambient backing tracks of deep space.

Fans of the original will be pleased to know that the ability to tactically control your squad makes a return. Like the combat controls in general, it is simple and intuitive. Pressing the Q or E keys will direct your team mates to different directions, and the C key calls them back to you. It’s not complicated, but it works. Unfortunately it means that some more extreme tactical maneuvers such as suppression fire or flanking are a bit hit and miss, as you are relying on the AI to think like you do. The enemy AI is fairly standard, but the grunt troops don’t show much strategic brilliance. However, fighting bosses does offer a decent challenge. The HUD has been simplified, and the game can still be paused mid fight in order to chain up mass effect powers or special abilities of your team mates.

Oddly Bioware has decided to do away with the weapon cool-down system of the original, preferring instead to introduce ‘thermal clips’ – clips that can be ejected from your weapon in order to cool it down immediately. This bemusingly seems to replicate ammo clips found in all other games, and it seems odd that Bioware made the decision to rename what is essentially the same thing. Sometimes you just need to call a spade a spade. Gamers aren’t idiots. They could also probably handle some more challenging hacking mini-games than the two provided, which are refreshing and interesting bursts of fun, but are a little easy.

Unfortunately the combat sequences are still very linear. Obviously influenced by the crouch and cover style of combat now archetypical of console titles, Mass Effect 2 merely offers a series of maps filled with barriers and walls to crouch behind or around. Thankfully this is mitigated in part by your special abilities and the weapons you wield. For some classes these biotic special abilities are a little useless (it would be better if they did more damage and had longer cool down periods) but damn do they look good. If you ever wanted to fire a singularity at a bunch of droids, now’s your chance. It’s just a little frustrating they are simply held there and don’t get sucked in the maelstrom. It’s a singularity, isn’t death by gravitational suction what’s supposed to happen?

It’s a second frustration that Bioware has restricted certain weapons to certain classes. This is a game play element that’s an unfortunate hangover from the complicated RPGs of old, and doesn’t seem to fit the narrative of Mass Effect 2 at all. Commander Shepard is in charge of the galaxy's most advanced spaceship. You’d think he’d know his way around both sniper rifles and heavy pistols – even if not all that well.

There’s a reason this review is of monolithic proportions, and your author salutes you for making it this far. Good job solider, momma would be proud. That reason is the sheer depth of Mass Effect 2. You could literally spend days travelling the universe (in the metaphysical sense) that Bioware has developed for you. The attention to detail in this title is amazing, from the private messages sent to you from grateful NPCs to the ability to change the music in Shepard’s cabin.

Bioware has produced an RPG hybrid that gels really well with its setting and series. Hardcore fans of Mass Effect or even the RPG genre will not be disappointed. But going beyond that, reviewing this title was hard. Not because it’s a bad game - it’s not. It’s a very, very good one. But because it’s not a amazing one. It’s that attention to detail that is Mass Effect 2’s Achilles' heel. After a while the combat sequences (the necessary vehicle for the game's narrative), become less enjoyable, and that’s a problem. It’s not a fatal one by any stretch of the imagination, but it does highlight the title's largest flaw. There’s just so much to do, and it’s all presented with magisterial aplomb, but it comes at the expense of the bigger picture, and at the expense of some sorely needed innovation in the RPG genre.


Mass Effect 2
"Cinematically immersive, but lacking something new."
- Mass Effect 2
8.9
Great
 
Follow Own it? Rating: R13   Difficulty: Easy   Learning Curve: 1 Hour


 

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Comments Comments (24)

 
Lacurus
Posted by Lacurus
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 11:24 AM
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Can't wait to play this!!! Collector's Edition arriving on Friday!! Woohoo!!!
 
 
 
maniaclemax
Posted by maniaclemax
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 11:56 AM
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got no money at the mo but i so want this game :(
 
 
 
Omg_a_kid_with_GTA
Posted by Omg_a_kid_with_GTA
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 12:09 PM
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Great review well done.
 
 
 
ace02
Posted by ace02
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 12:21 PM
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Oh come on.
From all reviews that i read so far, everyone praised both combat and the fast paced action,something that here is your main complaint.
This is the ONLY review that gave ME2 an 8 so far.
And the only review that pointed the combat as a flaw in the game.
All the other 32 reviews gave a rating raging from 9 to 10.
(Most of them, 9.5 to 10).
If someone is stupid enough to read this review first, they probably will think that this game sucks or worse...that is boring and tedious just like you said.
If the game wasn't innovative then it wouldn't receive so much praise from the other game sites.

Don't like ME? Then go play Uncharted 2.
 
 
 
Takuyafire
Posted by Takuyafire
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 2:35 PM
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27 January 2010, 12:21 PM Reply to ace02
Oh come on.
From all reviews that i read so far, everyone praised both combat and the fast paced action,something that here is your main complaint.
This is the ONLY review that gave ME2 an 8 so far.
And the only review that pointed the combat as a flaw in the game.
All the other 32 reviews gave a rating raging from 9 to 10.
(Most of them, 9.5 to 10).
If someone is stupid enough to read this review first, they probably will think that this game sucks or worse...that is boring and tedious just like you said.
If the game wasn't innovative then it wouldn't receive so much praise from the other game sites.

Don't like ME? Then go play Uncharted 2.
Woah there cowboy! Ever heard of a little thing called Opinion?!

Anyway I'm apprehensive to get this game as the first was buggy for me so I just threw it in the "cbf" bin.

Oddly enough I didn't do the same for Kotor...go figure
 
 
 
Valsira NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by Valsira
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 2:51 PM
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@ace02: Uh? 8.9 is pretty damn close to a 9. I thought this was a good review, definately didn't give me the impression that the game sucks. In fact it's got me even more excited for the game. Bring on Friday.
 
 
 
Mr.Deflok
Posted by Mr.Deflok
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 3:02 PM
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Unfortunately most the internet will see the 8.9 and launch into a FFFFFUUUUUUUU state. NZG should generate some good traffic out of it, though, if they're the only website to rate it lower than 9.
 
 
 
Donutta
Posted by Donutta
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 4:01 PM
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In response to ace02:

Well, I had a feeling this was going to happen. I'll weigh in on the issues at hand here.

Firstly, reviews are opinions. Despite claims of objectivity, they are what a person likes and dislikes. I don't actually read many of the reviews on this site now, simply because I don't agree with the opinions of various authors. I only need to look at the byline, see who it's by, and then shrug and carry on with my day.

That said, when reviews are presented as a collected, unified voice, as this site does, there's trouble. It always used to irk me when I worked here and people would put "we" in their reviews. Speak for yourself, buddy! In some cases I actually asked to do a second opinion segment, simply because I believe the reviewer got it totally wrong. So a lack of consistency across the board suddenly makes this difficult.

I guess you've also got to take in cultures and whatnot. In New Zealand, 89% is a grade most of us would be stoked with. In America, it's B. A very good B, but a B nonetheless. So we're actually saying that Mass Effect 2 is a B-game. That's why everyone gets so worked up about the sub-9 stuff. That's the A cut-off.

I mean, it really should be about the text, but then again there's that issue of authorship. If you don't agree with the person's thinking, then a review by them is about as useful as getting an opinion from your last bowel movement.

*shrug* Whatever. This will get NZGamer some good traffic, so I'm sure they don't care. I'm not even going to bother reading the review... I just wanted to chime in on the OMG SCORE stuff.
 
 
 
Ruptunex
Posted by Ruptunex
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 5:19 PM
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Very interesting to see such a comparitavely low score.
I look forward to playing this game on friday to see if Conrad's criticisms of the game are well founded.
 
 
 
Donutta
Posted by Donutta
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 7:07 PM
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What does get me though is why review the PC version? That's like reviewing Dragon Age on the 360. :|
 
 
 
leopardsqueezy
Posted by leopardsqueezy
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 8:44 PM
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Opinions are just opinions, aren't they? Like, I hate Halo more than I can describe without using curse words. Didn't think much of DA:O either.
If the reviewer genuinely thinks it's worth 8.9, so what? It's not that far from the 9.2s and 9.3s.

ace02's comment shows that he/she is caving in to that oh-so-human condition whereby we automatically hate anyone who disagrees with us. In any case ace02, unless you're in a priveleged position, you haven't played it yet, so you're in no position to judge the game.
 
 
 
mesmerize
Posted by mesmerize
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 9:01 PM
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I was looking for a more critical review, and finally I found one. I must say I hoped for better than this, at least where the criticism made sense. I don't know if there's a fault in your lack of explanation of what makes the combat system linear and boring, or my own fault for not realizing it by myself.

While most games have a pretty straight forward rail of facing your enemies, this game's level design gives you enough room and variation to variation to face your enemies from different angles, heights and using it effectively to flank and trick your enemies. It's sounds simple when said, but it's a fact that most games doesn't have this kind of thorough level design. The combat sequences are the opposite of linear. It's variating enough to give you several ways to reach your destination and it's clear enough to always guide you to your main goal.

I'd say the combat system is unique and refreshing. Of course it's grounded in the typical shoot-and-cover gameplay, but it's given a completely different meaning by adding the biotic powers. Of all these kinds of shooters, mass effect 2 is probably the one that brings something new to the table. It's therefore strange to see you put this, which seems to be criticism of the core gameplay, on a game that performs it best.

What this review boils down to for me is a bunch of dilettante remarks on physics. I'd like to see a more thorough and detailed explanation of where the combat suffers, and that's not asking much considering its current state. This might come off as harsh. I really tried to sympathize with the criticism.
 
 
 
The Host of Chaos NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by The Host of Chaos
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 9:25 PM
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Anyone else feeling sleepy after reading that?
 
 
 
SpawnSeekSlay NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
On Wednesday 27 Jan 2010 11:32 PM
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I completed the first, part way through last year, so certainly look forward to this... mainly for the story. Im quite a big Bioware fan, Like most of their games u play them for the story, characters, voice acting over and above the gameplay and graphics. I thought the first was great in story and character feel. Shooting and gameplay was average. Environments and graphics were probably the most redundant of any game I have ever played in the last 10 yrs lol.
But look forward to the Second in the series... just to continue the story and see how they have improved on the environments and gameplay... it could only improve right? :)
 
 
 
addicted2088
Posted by addicted2088
On Thursday 28 Jan 2010 12:17 AM
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27 January 2010, 11:32 PM Reply to SpawnSeekSlay
I completed the first, part way through last year, so certainly look forward to this... mainly for the story. Im quite a big Bioware fan, Like most of their games u play them for the story, characters, voice acting over and above the gameplay and graphics. I thought the first was great in story and character feel. Shooting and gameplay was average. Environments and graphics were probably the most redundant of any game I have ever played in the last 10 yrs lol.
But look forward to the Second in the series... just to continue the story and see how they have improved on the environments and gameplay... it could only improve right? :)
You're right. Even I play Bioware games for their stories, and the characters, which are usually very good.
But I have to say that I didn't quite like the dialogue and the voice acting in Mass Effect 1. Some of it was too cheesy. Specially the guy who voiced Shepard. He voiced most of his lines without any emotion, and Captain Anderson was way too excited all the times.
But the story was amazing, and I'm looking forward to continuing it.
Good review.......
 
 
 
Digitaldude
Posted by Digitaldude
On Thursday 28 Jan 2010 12:59 PM
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Liking the review, doesn't seem so blinded by hype for no good reason.
 
 
 
Phoenix NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Phoenix
On Thursday 28 Jan 2010 1:48 PM
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27 January 2010, 07:07 PM Reply to Donutta
What does get me though is why review the PC version? That's like reviewing Dragon Age on the 360. :|
We're reviewing the Xbox 360 version as well. Should be up in the coming days.
 
 
 
ParoxysmX
Posted by ParoxysmX
On Saturday 30 Jan 2010 2:16 AM
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TL;DR. Can't make a decision on whether to buy this.
 
 
 
uk_john
Posted by uk_john
On Saturday 30 Jan 2010 5:34 AM
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Stick to your guns and tell the truth!

I said soon after the release of Mass Effect that the quests were cookie-cutter and repetitive. I got flamed over and over for that view. Gamespot's video review of Mass Effect 2 (9.1 given to the first Mass Effect) talks outright about the 'cookie-cutter quests and boring gameplay' in Mass Effect.

From this I would say that when it comes to the major titles from the big publishers, generally you get the review one title behind. Hence Gamespot telling the truth about Mass Effect that must have been evident when they played the first game, and yet never mentioned and having no effect on the review score at the time, and yet openly mentioned in the review for Mass Effect 2!

I feel sure that in Gamespot's review for Mass Effect 3 they will mention some of the negatives you have brought up here.

I see you as the kid who had to tell the crowd that the King had no clothes. I think you are much better being that kid who sees the truth of a situation than the masses who blindly follow the crowd!

So well done, and as far as I see, this score raises my estimation of this site. Carry on going your own way and be honest to yourself. The truth will always come out in the end and I am sure you will be vindicated!
 
 
 
Mr.Deflok
Posted by Mr.Deflok
On Saturday 30 Jan 2010 9:17 AM
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30 January 2010, 05:34 AM Reply to uk_john
Stick to your guns and tell the truth!

I said soon after the release of Mass Effect that the quests were cookie-cutter and repetitive. I got flamed over and over for that view. Gamespot's video review of Mass Effect 2 (9.1 given to the first Mass Effect) talks outright about the 'cookie-cutter quests and boring gameplay' in Mass Effect.

From this I would say that when it comes to the major titles from the big publishers, generally you get the review one title behind. Hence Gamespot telling the truth about Mass Effect that must have been evident when they played the first game, and yet never mentioned and having no effect on the review score at the time, and yet openly mentioned in the review for Mass Effect 2!

I feel sure that in Gamespot's review for Mass Effect 3 they will mention some of the negatives you have brought up here.

I see you as the kid who had to tell the crowd that the King had no clothes. I think you are much better being that kid who sees the truth of a situation than the masses who blindly follow the crowd!

So well done, and as far as I see, this score raises my estimation of this site. Carry on going your own way and be honest to yourself. The truth will always come out in the end and I am sure you will be vindicated!
Dude, it's just a review, not an advance to incite a coup.
 
 
 
GayMan3000
Posted by GayMan3000
On Tuesday 2 Feb 2010 9:09 PM
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I disagree with this review. The complaint on thermal clips was pathetic.
 
 
 
Boilrig
Posted by Boilrig
On Wednesday 10 Feb 2010 10:51 PM
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One of the best games of the year.
 
 
 
uk_john
Posted by uk_john
On Tuesday 16 Feb 2010 11:24 PM
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This, quite simply, is no longer an RPG! If it doesn't look like a duck any more, if it doesn't walk like a duck any more, is it still a duck?

Bioware call this game an Action-RPG, but it has so much action now, it's become an action-adventure. After all, what makes games like Tomb Raider an action-adventure and Mass Effect an Action- RPG? IN TR you get to decide on what weapons to have, you decide the route you take, the story is excellent but the game hangs on the action. I would say a game with a great story but then hangs on the action-hook at it's core is an action-adventure. A game that has lots of action (action) and a great conversation system (adventure), also shows it to be an action-adventure.

Given the amount of roleplaying features that have been dropped by the second Mass Effect, I can only believe the third one will have even more action and less roleplaying!

There is a confusion amongst both gamers and the media over what makes an RPG nowadays, because of how games like this 'muddy the waters'. I know there is media confusion when Gamespot, next to the review of Mass Effect, under 'Other games you might be interested in' listed titles like The Witcher and STALKER! Now isn't The Witcher a hardcore RPG and isn't STALKER a shooter?

This will be a good seller, but at least on PC, I doubt it will match the original Mass Effect's sales, due to the RPG elements dropped and the increase in action. And the original Mass Effect, on PC, for example, didn't sell as many copies as STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl, for example.
 
 
 
africannig
Posted by africannig
On Friday 26 Feb 2010 5:19 PM
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27 January 2010, 09:25 PM Reply to The Host of Chaos
Anyone else feeling sleepy after reading that?
Haha