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Return Of The Intergalactic Sheep Herder

It's somewhat hypocritical, considering I just finished complaining extensively about how big budget games no longer please me, that I decided this would be a good time to buy all the extra mission/companion DLC for Mass Effect 2.  After all, Bioware has fallen into creating elaborate games that tell a certain kind of story again and again: they introduce some world/universe threatening threat, a cast of interesting characters, and let you romance someone along the way.

Yet, despite the sameness of Bioware games, at least Mass Effect 2 takes place in Sci-Fi (instead of yet-another-fantasy game), and I'm not quite bored of cover-based shooters that Mass Effect 2's core mechanic apes (the genre is only really been around since 2006, when Gears of War popularized it).  In this way, I've found a way I can enjoy big budget production values... at least enough for a second run through of Mass Effect 2 with all the extra mission DLC installed this time.

Back To The Future: Mass Effect 2 Revisited

Once again, I don the boots of Commander [insert first name here] Shepard, an intergalactic troubleshooter in [his/her] determined one [man/woman] battle to prevent a race of giant machines from eating all sentient life in the universe.

I knew I was going to play a male Shepard because I like to identify with my characters (instead of ogling their luscious polygons) but, immediately after Commander Totally-Not-Jesus Shepard comes back from being killed in the intro to Mass Effect 2, I was presented with a question I had over-thunk into oblivion many times in the past: which class of Shepard shall I play this time?

I had finished the original Mass Effect at least twice.  Once as an Infiltrator (a sniper with some technical aptitude) and again as an Engineer (a full on technical character).   The first time I finished Mass Effect 2, I again went with an Engineer, who now had a helpful little combat drone.

In the current revisit of Mass Effect 2, I waffled between a Sentinel (a combination engineer/biotic who can shield himself), a Adept (a full on biotic "wizard" whose forte is ripping enemies out of cover before blowing them up or flinging them away), and an Infiltrator (still a sniper with some technical aptitude, but now he can cloak as well).

After awhile, I realized that all the classes are fairly identical.  The main diversity comes from:
  • Which powers they'll have.  Looking at the power distribution, each of the six classes get six powers, but five of them are shared from a pool of thirteen.  Each power is actually pretty generic, falling into categories of secondary ammo effects, pulling enemies out of cover, or directly damaging enemies.   This is somewhat mitigated because Shepard can earn a "bonus power" at a certain point.  Also, in execution, you can drag along two of a wide range of companions who have three powers of their own, and so whatever Shepard is capable of doing does not particularly matter.
  • Which passive stat boost power they'll have.  E.g., the Operative passive for the Infiltrator.  This is unique between classes but does little to distinguish them from each other because the adjustment is small (e.g. a 15% weapon damage boost) and much of those adjustments (such as Paragon/Renegade point boosts) are identical regardless of which class you pick.
  • Which weapons they can carry.  Everyone can use heavy pistols, sub-machine guns, and heavy weapons, but only a few classes can carry assault rifles, sniper rifles, or shotguns.  This is somewhat mitigated because, during a certain mission, you are given a choice of taking an additional one, apparently under the pretense that Shepard learns he'll need to be better armed.
  • Their "special power," such as the Infiltrator's cloak and the Sentinel's ability to summon additional shielding.   This is probably the main distinctive factor between the different classes, as your choice of class is the only way of gaining access to this power.
There are minor variations of strategy between them, but it mostly breaks down to a question of what range you feel most comfortable fighting in, and there's quite a bit of leeway there.  I would say class choice is mostly a matter of "flavor."

I'm still not completely decided.  Stylistically, I like the Infiltrator, as I like to think of my Commander Shepard as being an intergalactic man of mystery; a spy, not a brutish soldier, gear head, or symbiotic wizard.  However, I also like a "high personal involvement" character that requires frequent manual use of their powers, such as the Adept or the Sentinel.  The sniper rifle is a nice no-fuss enemy remover, but everybody can get access to one eventually.

On to the game itself...

Honestly, there's not a whole lot to say about the game itself.  If you've ever played with the Neverwinter Nights Toolset, you've done what Bioware does: build and detail a series of rooms and NPCs, ultimately building a set of scenes that are strung together to tell a story.  For the most part, Mass Effect 2 is only that, as was just about every other game Bioware made aside from the MDK series.

You spend most of the game in dialogue with an NPC but, when you're not, Mass Effect 2's core gameplay is a slightly rough-around-the-edges (and infected-with-consolitus) cover-based third-person-shooter.  It's alright; perpetually, enemies are thrown at you, and you are tested to see if you know how to maneuver Shepard and company in the right places to gun the opposition down before they do the same.  I do like the idea that certain powers can be combined for extra effect, such as combining Warp with Pull to cause an explosion.

A point could be made as to the worthless monotony of the mineral collecting mini-game, and how dodgy vehicle physics in the original Mass Effect do not excuse the omission of a vehicle section in Mass Effect 2.  I understand they added a vehicle in DLC, but that vehicle's role is completely different, an optional arcade game, and as a result does not reintroduce that sense of space that Mass Effect 2 sorely lacks.

The dressing is a large part of the appeal of the Mass Effect series.  I rather like all the effort made to make Mass Effect 2's setting come together, graphically and audibly; the presentation is top notch, as close to a proper interactive big budget movie as gaming gets!

In the end, however, the story is the thing, the goal of which everything in Mass Effect 2 supports.  I kind of like that, really, because a good story is an enjoyable activity in and of itself.  But what can a fellow say about playing that?  Not much: it's a story, so sit your butt down and play your way through it until you get to the end.  Don't forget to save often, and death is nothing more but a minor speed bump.  My, how Baldur's Gate has grown, but it's still the same old critter.

That said, I'm having a hard time committing to playing Mass Effect 2 a second time, and it's only my having freshly spent $35 on it that is bringing me to try.  Mass Effect 2 really lost something vitally organic when they ditched the vehicle sections of the first, and now it feels much more like a linear slog through prefab Bioware scenarios.  Prior to getting buying this Mass Effect 2 DLC, I was thinking of getting Mass Effect 3, but now I remember why I was not in a hurry to do so when it first released.
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