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After having played Mass Effect 1 and then jumping straight into Mass Effect 2 (bought both at the same time), I was first impressed by the amazing visuals ME 2 provided.
And then the gameplay ended up being... the standard modern console shooter. To put this into perspective, Mass Effect 1 had a neat system of unlimited bullets and overheating. Choosing the right weapon and firing in controlled bursts would prevent overheating, and certain skills overheated weapons (thus, temporarily disabling them).
This system was replaced with the "thermal clip" system, which is the standard generic ammo system in every other shooter, even if it doesn't make sense in-universe. Why do heatsinks not cool down outside of battle? Why are they not reusable? Why do heatsinks contain bullets?
The second change to gameplay was the "cover" system, popularized by Gears Of War. Unfortunately, they decided to use the same key for "Sprint" and "Take cover". And the game REALLY seems to prioritize the "take cover" command, so I invariably end up sticking to walls when I don't want to. This was particularly egregious on the level where the sun is so hot it damages you- half the time when I sprint towards shade, Shepard ended up sticking her back to a nearby wall in full sunlight. The combat style also results in forcing me into a narrow play style- despite having 6 different classes, all of them have to fight the battles the same way. In ME 1, there was a massive difference between an Adept and an Infiltrator, for example. Now, everyone seems to be primarily a duck-and-cover gunner- all special skills are on the same timer, so you can only use one at a time. Your main damage will always come from firing your weapon.
Given how much emphasis there was on the universe created in ME 1, and how much additional information was available in the codex, I think it's pretty sad that they pretty much abandoned almost every gameplay element that made the Mass Effect 1 universe unique to appeal to the masses.
A few things were streamlined, like "exploring" planets and Paragon/Renegade dialogue options, which is nice. Still, there's no big surprises in the story (other than the prologue).
If not for the cover system in ME 1 (which does exist and also uses sprint and take cover as the same button), I would get riddled with bullets every time I raid a building, since I play on hard difficulty.
Finding outh the Collectors used to be the Protheans didn't surprise you? Thats surprising. I rather liked that, and the method through which Reapers invade and reproduce.
I'm going to add a bit more to my review here, because 400 words doesn't cover what I want to say.
Next up is the story and characters. I'd have to say that, in ME 1, the weakest main character was Wrex- he had little reason to keep following you after you killed Fist. Even so, many of ME 2's characters have even less reason to. Most of the reasons boil down to "You're not really with Cerberus? Okay then." Jack stands out in particular- given her past history and current distrust, i would have expected her to blow up the ship and run if it weren't for the fact that I know she was a permanent character. Samara, who has unquestioned authority (to asaris) as a Justicar, is compelled to KILL anyone who breaks the law as part of her strict moral code. This is conveniently handwaved with her oath, which nicely contains the line "Your morals are my morals" so she doesn't kill a Renegade Shepard instantly. They do have a good reason to trust you after their Loyalty missions- but since those are all sidequests, and you can outright refuse them, I wouldn't include them as reasons for their initial loyalty. At the end of the Collector Ship level, I pretty much said, "Screw it" and just continued to play the game for Min Maxing.
Lastly, this is just a nitpick, but I felt like when they decided to expand the game universe a little, they were sloppy. In game 1, there was an awesome variety of aliens. All of the main characters were humanoid- understandable, given the amount of interaction you need to do with them- Asari, Turian, and Quarians. Then there were semi-human like the Krogan, Salarians, and Volus. Lastly, there were a good variety of intelligent non-humanoids, like Elcor, Hanar, Keepers, and Rachni. In ME 2, all the new races are humanoid- I don't know if it's lack of creativity or just laziness. The Drell made me roll my eyes- okay, a reptilian from a desert planet with human nose and lips. Couldn't they have made a quadriped or something? Or an insect race? Just a little variety would be nice. I only consider this a problem because ME is really attempting to lean towards the "hard" side of Mohs Scale Of Science Fiction Hardness, or else they wouldn't have put so much detail into the codex.
sparrowhawc: The "cover" system in ME 1 was the same cover system in every "non-cover" FPS: crouching behind a crate or wall. Otherwise I didn't notice it. It wasn't a "sticky" cover system like Mass Effect 2, which gets in the way of fast-paced action. The "sticky" system works for games that naturally have lots of stop-and-go movement, like Splinter Cell. This gets in the way of action.
Thatundeadguy: Meh, not a big surprise. If the Reapers simply harvested life every 50k years just For The Evulz, I'd call that weak writing. I suspected they had a reason for it- personally I was guessing they did it simply to prevent other races from ever rising to match their power (but a full galactic genocide would be better for that than letting other life forms continue developing), or they were harvesting them for something else- say, assimilation (like the Borg).
willyolio: It's been awhile, but I've noticed these points.
It isn't reflected in her actions, but Samara says if you make her do anything violating her code, she'll kill once her her oath of fealty ends (which happens when the Collectors are defeated). As for the loyalty missions, yes you can refuse them, but then you don't earn their loyalty, can't access their bonus powers and they're more likely to die in the Suicide Mission, so I don't see your point there.
They have good reasons. Eg: Garrus' Reason; "You were my role model in the first game, and I'm watching your back here because Cerberus is untrustworthy". Tali's Reason; "You saved my life at least twice and otherwise earned my respect and loyalty, so I'll repay that by helping you (also [for Male!Shep] I've secretly fallen in love with you)". Jack's Reason; "I'd rather die than help Cerberus, but I'll come along so I can learn about my enemy, plan revenge and attack them later". Thane's reason; "I'm dying of a deadly condition and trying to atone for a life of evil, a suicide mission against the Collectors offers Death Equals Redemption." Miranda and Jacob's reason; "We work for Cerberus and we were ordered to help you take down the Collectors."
Admittedly, Kasumi's reason was a bit weak, in it for alot of money, but everyone else had good reasons.
Some of the variety you wanted would have been nice, but there were several new aliens introduced in Mass Effect 2; Vorcha, Drell, Collectors and Yahg (the Shadow Broker's species in Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC) The Collectors were insectoid humanoids, and I think the Yahg are at the edge of semi-human. The expanded universe materials (the website) mention a semi-human, bird-like alien species, the Raloi, and a species of virtual alien embedded within technology who can download themselves into the minds of willing participants with their devices. If Bioware put in too many alien races, the setting and story would be cluttered, and they're trying to give all screen time. There's only so much data you can put on a video game disk.
As for the Reaper's reasons for a Cycle, they were somewhat like the Borg, but with a bigger goal than assimilation (expanded on in the third game, though there was another reason with a better explanation that was axed).
I think going for ammunition over thermal was a smart idea. It was always frustrating when a weapon overheated, because managing heat involved not focusing on the enemies and instead putting a lot of your attention on a small bar at the bottom of the screen.
When I've spoken to people pro-overheating, I've found they've very rarely talked about how fun it was to manage a 3-shots and wait 5 seconds shotgun and instead just talked about the end game weapons being almost impossible to overheat. To me that suggests that what people actually enjoyed was not having to care about anything at all. Maybe the best solution would have been to have clip-based unlimited ammo or just have late game weapons that didn't care about it. ME 2 didn't really seem balanced around fun experiences with ammo shortages and they tended to sprinkle the stuff absolutely everywhere.
And I would argue that classes are much more distinct in ME 2 than ME 1 (and even more distinct in ME 3). In ME 1 every class was based around a couple of guns and some sort of DPS/utility power, but outside of having different guns not much else changed.
What's the difference between a character who knows Throw, Lift, Barrier, Stasis, Decryption, Electronics and Medicine, compared to one who knows Throw, Lift, Barrier, Stasis, Singularity, Warp? Not a lot. Or what about the class which has Throw, Lift, Barrier, Warp?
Whereas in ME 2 each class is built around a unique power with it's own playstyle. A Vanguard in ME 2 has a charging power that heals their shields, the only way to survive is to jump straight into the enemy, shotgun several down and then jump to another person just in time to heal your shields before you're shot again. It's based around trying to split up the enemy group and timing your kamikaze teleports to constantly keep you on the edge of shields/no shields.
In ME 1 a Vanguard is just someone with the generic biotic powers and a shotgun.
Or take a Sentinel in ME 2. They get gifted with a special shield that absorbs all damage and stuns all enemies nearby when it's broken. The idea of the Sentinel is to abandon cover and terminator towards your enemies, and then dash back into cover when the shield brakes, holding them off until it recharges.
An infiltrator in ME 2 can turn himself invisible, an engineer in ME 2 can summon drones to divide the enemy. A soldier can slow down time and change their ammo types to set enemies on fire or freeze others. A soldier in ME 1 has a lot of weapons and can wear heavy armour.
Every time they've changed what was basically stat and weapon based class differences (this one has X more HP, this one has Y less DPS), into fundamental gameplay differences. A vanguard in ME 2 isn't 'the class with armour and a shotgun', it's the 'charge into your enemies face' class.
Of all of them the Adept is the one class that doesn't really change at all between ME 1 and ME 2, except that it's less about alphaing powers and more using them continually over time thanks to the cooldown change. Biotic explosions are fun enough, but every class with biotics can do those (I also personally found that a lot of people never fully realised how they worked. I didn't know you could create one from using lift and then throw for a long time)
I've never played Infiltrator, so I don't know how much of a gamechanger the cloak is. Maybe ME 2 is sucky for snipers.
I do agree the new aliens were boring in ME 2 (I particularly didn't enjoy the collectors), but there's a good reason why the Drell were so humanoid. Whenever you introduce a character who isn't humanoid but you interact with a lot, you double the amount of work animators need to do. This is why you never ever see Hanar or Elcor do anything in any of the games, and the Volus are almost as bad.
They wanted to try an Elcor companion, but they realised it was too tricky to manage. Keeping the Drell humanlike meant they could move around in cutscenes and fight in combat without trouble.
Sniping is WAY the hell easier in ME 2. The cloak isn't really a game-changer, because enemies still know exactly where to shoot the instant you pop out, but it does enhance the sneak-around-and-pick-them-off feel of the class. Also, the ludicrous early-game waver is gone.
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