Mass Effect 2: Inside the Reviews

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

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)

  • tm  

    I am directing this statement to Trevor who claims to have both consoles and is directly quoting that uncharted 2 is the only good game on ps3.Personally i think he is either a huge liar or a retarded fanboy.i own all three systems including a high end PC and i can comfortably tell u that god of war 3 and heavy rain completely obliterates everything in xbox 360 games library visually speaking, but that doesn't mean i don't respect mass effect 2 cos its a very great game .I game mostly on my PC.please try and edit your senses before u make baseless posts.thanx.

  • Justin  

    I have no clue how a game like ME2 beats Fallout 3 as an RPG...It's drastically shorter, has more annoying gimmicks in the form of mini-"games" like running your mouse over a planet for 10+ minutes trying to gather all the resources...

    Yes the graphics were amazing, sound amazing, and the actual "action" sequences are a lot of fun. But to put it higher than an RPG that had hundres of hours, side quests but still with a central storyline that you can jump back into if you get tired of doing all the side stuff...is beyond me.

  • Pavan  

    To be honest, I hate RPG games, i am hardcore action game genre person, i love the shooters, loved god of war, gears of war series (best 3rd person), i have played WoW, i must say, this game blow away the competition, the story is absolutely compelling, riveting and engrossing, the RPG are stripped down and for a person like me, it has the right amount, not too much to bore you out. The shooting elements are Ok, its not the best 3rd person shooter, i.e. i like the cover and duck elements, however some of the guns did not feel right, unlike gears of war where the feedback from the gun is awesome, that can be improved for ME3. The characters and voice acting is stellar, the graphics are awesome, it is a strong contender for the best game ever !!

  • Allen  

    The most amazing RPG-shooter ever made.

    Mass Effect was one of the best games when it came out a coupe of years ago and now Mass Effect 2 got that title.

    Voted by the gamers and the companies as one of the most amazing game of the decade and one of the most anticipated games... I agree completely.

    And I can say that if you look on vgreleases.com and see the games that are coming this year you can simply say that ME2 was the most anticipated game of 2010 and this decade.

    The action is great , the characters are fantastic and the dialogue is one of the best parts in the game.

    Being able to talk with other characters in the game and being able to learn things and discover old friends and old enemies and see the connection between ME1 and ME2 and the things you did then and now... purely amazing.

    Makes you cry sometimes and gives you the shivers. The love and the wars and the chats and the places you visit and people you get to know... amazing.

    The best world out of our real world.

    10/10 for everything.

    Well done Bioware. Well done. You outdid yourselves. Let's hope ME3 will bring much more or at least the same. 10/10.

  • Danny Groveman  

    I am taking a stab in the dark here, but please bear with me. I bought collector's edition and was looking forward to diving into, what for me was, a new game and experience. I have thus far been able to enjoy it, for two reasons. I am trying to find out if there is any answer to my problem. The writing, as it appears on my screen (non-HDTV) is unreadable-- tiny. The other question relates to the relationship of the two install disks. Why two disks? I have a slim hope that there is some way of adjusting the appearance of game on normal TV. Anyway, I would greatly appreciate any possible answers -- OR direction on how t0o get direct Bioware assistance. I have tried finding a way to directly call them, and so far no results.

  • Troy  

    I just finished second play through of me2 (after putting in 100 hours+ on me1 all classes lvl 60)and i must say that it excited me and left me empty at the same time.new graphics huge plus combat fixed but still needs work like not going into cover or leaping over cover when your trying to get into cover fixable problems expanded worlds and new ship is amazing cast of recruitable plp is nice but most are boring and semi useful. actually miss the mako and the planet scanning very boring but i found how to speed it up rapid tapping of left trigger while moving left and right thumb sticks works well.the story is cool and interesting most of the time.the new hack and bypass are welcome and take a little getting used to.the new class systems are more useful and interesting .i miss point distribution from first one and having to save points for crew after loyalty missions sucks, i will close by saying that the improvements made are welcome but please don't neuter your weapons or armor so much or locations like the citadel so much, bring back what everyone liked in the first and make me3 epic. overall 9.0

  • Mike  

    I recently completed 2 playthroughs of Mass effect 2 and find it to be amazing! I was a hardcore fan of ME1 and found ME2 to be just as good, and thank GOD for eliminating those vehicular missions! lol. imho the best sequence of me2 was the introduction the the new story plot of the game, i wont give any spoilers, but the first 20min of the game are just EPIC and set the whole scene for the game to come. 10 out of 10. me1 and me2 are the 2 best games of all time for me

  • aaa  

    how the **** are there so many 0/10's??? What a bunch of tools.

  • Anglas  

    So good ive taken sick days off work to play it ...... havent done that since i started playing WoW 3 years ago ...... totaly pulls u in and dosent let go.. if thats not a sign of a great game, then i dont know wot is !!!! Those people scoring this game low should find another hobby cause they definatly aint got a clue about great gaming ????

  • ME2player  

    mass effect 2 is the best game i have play on the 360 it so awesome and clearly need to get 10s on the reviews i thank that they needed to keep the rpg in more then the shooter part but it still great in my book

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