Mass Effect 2: Inside the Reviews

  • Comments: ↓ 54 user comments
  • Publish Date: January 28, 2010

One of the all-time greats?

ImageA special Effect

The second in BioWare's planned trilogy of action-RPG games set in outer space almost 200 years into the future, Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360: 96, PC: 95) finally arrived in stores this week, a little over two years after the first Mass Effect 91 captured the imagination of gamers (and sold over 2 million copies in the process).

The story-driven game revolves around the actions of the player-controlled Commander Shepard, who is sent on a mission to track down the mysterious aliens known as the Collectors, who have been causing entire human colonies to disappear. Expected to contend for the title of game of the year (despite its January release date), Mass Effect 2 is so far living up to the hype, collecting stellar reviews on the level of last year's critical darling, Modern Warfare 2 94.

What exactly is so good about Mass Effect 2? That's what we aim to explore here, as we go deeper into the reviews to highlight aspects of the title that the gamer press is excited about. First, to put the scores for ME2 in perspective, let's see where the game ranks in several different categories:

All-Time High Scores: Xbox 360
  Game Publisher Year Metascore User Score
1 Grand Theft Auto IV Rockstar 2008 98 7.9
2 BioShock 2K 2007 96 8.7
3 Mass Effect 2 Electronic Arts 2010 96 9.1
4 The Orange Box EA / Valve 2007 96 9.0
5 Gears of War Microsoft 2006 94 7.9
6 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Bethesda Softworks / 2K 2006 94 8.7
7 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Activision 2007 94 8.4
8 Halo 3 Microsoft 2007 94 7.2
9 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Activision 2009 94 6.0
10 Braid Microsoft 2008 93 8.8
All-Time High Scores: PC Games
  Game Publisher Year Metascore User Score
1 Half-Life 2 Vivendi 2004 96 9.3
2 The Orange Box EA / Valve 2007 96 9.5
3 Half-Life Sierra 1998 96 9.1
4 BioShock 2K 2007 96 8.1
5 Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn Interplay 2000 95 9.4
6 Mass Effect 2 Electronic Arts 2010 95 9.1
7 Command & Conquer Virgin Interactive 1995 94 9.0
8 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Rockstar 2003 94 8.1
9 Civilization II Microprose 1996 94 9.1
10 Quake id Software 1996 94 8.9
All-Time High Scores: Action-RPGs (Consoles Only) (Includes FPS-RPGs)
  Game Platform Publisher Year Metascore User Score
1 Mass Effect 2 Xbox 360 Electronic Arts 2010 96 9.1
2 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Xbox LucasArts 2003 94 8.9
3 Fallout 3 Xbox 360 Bethesda 2008 93 8.3
4 Mass Effect Xbox 360 Microsoft 2007 91 8.7
5 Fallout 3 PS3 Bethesda 2008 90 7.7
All-Time High Scores: Outer Space-Based Computer Games
  Game Publisher Year Metascore User Score
1 Mass Effect 2 Electronic Arts 2010 95 9.1
2 Homeworld Sierra Studios 1999 93 9.0
3 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic LucasArts 2003 93 8.9
4 System Shock 2 Electronic Arts 1999 92 9.2
5 Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Electronic Arts 1999 92 9.8

In each of the above tables, games are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. All scores are from January 28, 2010. Games with fewer than seven reviews are excluded.

Let's take a closer look at what game reviewers are saying about Mass Effect 2, to find out exactly why that Metascore is so high. (Typically, we might start with a breakdown of the individual critic scores, but since every reviewer gave the game a 90/100 or higher, that seems a tad unnecessary.)

Differences between the first and second installment

Critics have identified shooting mechanics, load times, and visuals as among the features that have been improved in the sequel. Inventory, armor upgrades and experience are simplified this time around (experience is awarded only at the end of each mission), while the first game's hated vehicular missions have been eliminated altogether. Also, the unique, emotion-driven, real-time "conversation wheel" that allowed extensive user control of dialogue in the first game is back for ME2, with some enhancements.

Pretty much everything that anybody took even the slightest issue with in Mass Effect 1 has been axed or rebuilt entirely. --IGN

Also note that while playing the first ME installment is not a prerequisite for enjoying ME2, those players who still have their save files from the original can import their character and settings into the new game. Your experiences in the first game, in turn, will have an effect on your gameplay in the sequel (including altering the events and characters you encounter), although all players will start at the same level of play and even those players who import their characters will have an opportunity to alter their appearance before diving into ME2.

While you can easily play and enjoy Mass Effect 2 without any knowledge of the original, you'd miss out on how BioWare has masterfully woven the memorable characters and story threads from the first game into this rich new tapestry. --GameSpy

Overall concept and story

While ME2 is clearly a story-driven game, critics are finding that the main plot is unexceptional if not a bit cliched. Instead, it is the characters and dialogue that elevate the title far above boilerplate science fiction and make the game so "gripping." The sequel includes over a dozen characters with detailed back stories, which gives the game "the feel of a well serialized epic" according to Team Xbox.

These are some of the most compelling players I've ever seen in a videogame. --IGN

BioWare’s scribes have not only created one of video games’ greatest stories with Mass Effect 2, they have redefined how stories are is told in this medium. --Game Informer

The main plot is conventional science fiction that draws to a predictable close, so the narrative wonders don't exist within the sturdy-but-safe central story; rather, they gild its periphery. --Gamespot

Many reviewers found the story satisfying, and even uncommonly emotional. More than one critic also praised the moral ambiguity present throughout ME2, with players often left uncertain whether or not they've done the "right" thing even after they've made a decision, rather than facing easy, black-or-white choices. And Wired was among the publications that found the new game incredibly involving:

You also gain an emotional connection to the characters, which pays off in spades during the game’s climax. --Wired

The writing here is strong enough that it feels authentic when a character breaks down in tears. --Games Radar

Gameplay

Virtually all reviewers -- in addition to finding the game fun to play -- have focused on shooting and combat, with many agreeing with the assessment of Official Xbox 360 Magazine that the game boasts "fluid and intuitive combat." (That word "fluid" pops up repeatedly in reviews.) However, ME2 seems much more focused on the action part of its action-RPG hybrid, with some critics griping that BioWare went too far in removing a lot of the RPG elements.

The actual game portions are slightly tarnished. ... The crunchy role-playing underpinnings of the original are almost entirely gone, replaced by a squad-based shooter that happens to have character classes and a lot of player-driven dialogue. --1UP

Most reviewers, however, echoed Gamespot, which noted that "the role-playing elements haven't been pared down as much as they've been cleaned up." Similar phrases like "streamlined," "stripped" and "lean and trim" turn up again and again in reviewer comments, with several publications applauding the elimination of standard RPG "busywork."

On one hand it's a fast-paced action game that bears little resemblance to anything we might have seen in the role playing genre previously, while on the other it's an incredibly complex narrative that requires a huge level of commitment from the player in order to fully appreciate it. -- GamePro

And virtually everyone is enjoying the part of the game that plays like a shooter (with some minor nit-picks about the cover system).

On the most-improved list, however, the combat sits right at the top. The basic movement, aiming, and shooting feel much tighter here, and I'll put them right up alongside any pure third-person shooter on the market. --Giant Bomb

The action has been refined to the point that even general fans of shooters will find a lot to like here. --IGN

It isn’t just a shooter. Various magical “biotic” powers transform vanilla gunfights into interesting combat scenarios, tweaked dramatically by player decisions. --Wired

Be forewarned, however: The action isn't nonstop in ME2; the game is certainly dialogue-heavy at times, as it spends time developing its characters' individual stories.

Critics generally praised the bigger variety of weapon types available, although some, like 1UP, lamented a "lack of variety." And, speaking of variety, more than one critic noted the sheer size of the world and cast of characters, which seem to invite repeat playing, and can pleasantly occupy hours of time even when you aren't advancing the story.

It genuinely feels possible to finish the game with a huge percentage [of the world] untouched. --Official Xbox 360 Magazine

Overall, aside from "a few rare hangups" -- including the occasional game crash or sound problems -- there are few complaints with how the game plays. One such complaint, however, is with the minigames (which are virtually a requirement to play, at times), which Game Informer finds "mind-numbingly dull" and Games Radar calls "irritating."

Graphics

It's hard to find many complaints with the look of Mass Effect 2 (whose graphics compare favorably to those of its predecessor), although Game Informer disapproves of the design of the final boss, which it deems too "X-Men."

The game looks terrific. --Team Xbox

The graphics - a jaw-dropping fusion of Star Trek lens flare, early 80s sci-fi and the best god-damn vistas your eyes ever did see - are almost too good to be true. --VideoGamer

We continue to marvel at the jaw dropping imagery and attention to detail. --Game Daily

Sound

The score and vocal acting were yet more highlights for reviewers, although it certainly helped that the dialogue was also strong.

There's nary a weak link in the tremendous voice cast. --Gamespot

Martin Sheen steals the show, even amidst all of the outstanding voice acting and music. --IGN

The most distinctive science fiction genre score of any medium in recent years. --Team Xbox

Other thoughts

What makes this sequel so rich isn't mechanics, but vision. ... This is a galaxy you want to explore that is populated with characters you are glad to know. --Gamespot

It's not just the writing that makes Mass Effect 2 work so well; It's the strong sense of atmosphere throughout. --GameSpy

You're not missing out if you've not read the books, or you haven't dug into any of the associated media, but the nature of the game's storytelling is such that it has a lot more impact if you're paying attention. --GamePro

PC vs. Xbox

The consensus on the two versions appears to be that they are remarkably similar, while the controls are slightly easier to mangage on the PC -- although not as much so as they were for the first Mass Effect.

Both versions are largely identical, though you will get a few more options for customizing hot keys and skill usage on the PC. --IGN

Your take

So far, Metacritic users appear to be on the same page as reviewers, with a whopping 91% of users giving the game (either version) a favorable rating of 7/10 or higher. Here's a more detailed breakdown of user votes for the Xbox 360 version of the game (the PC version has far fewer votes, but follows a similar breakdown).

Score # of User Votes
10 469
9 15
8 4
7 2
6 2
5 2
4 1
3 1
2 4
1 12
0 27

Of course, you can read comments submitted by Metacritic users for both the Xbox and PC versions ... or let us know in the comments section below what you think of Mass Effect 2.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (54)

  • Fabio Joaquim Teles  

    I love this game,not just because of the story but also because the way it makes us live inside of it...i mean,its a full living world,full of living characters...the story is so dense...i cant find the rigth words...good work from bioware...now i must go to the normandy cause man...its awesome...

  • Zach  

    it's only january for crissakes.

  • Adam  

    I played the first mass effect and loved its ability to tell a story. When i made choices it wasn't as if I was just choosing black or which, i enjoyed that there where Grey areas. And i have to say i agree with all the good things said about this next game in my current play through. Thanks to mass effect, kotor, and dragon age I've become a bioware fan. I look forward to their games in the future if those are any indication of what they can do.

  • Brad  

    Wow, great read. Keep 'em a comin'.

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