Mass Effect 2
Well I just finished up ME2 last night. Overall impression, I loved it. Let's keep that in mind as I proceed to bitch about this and that for the next few thousand words. I love the game, I really do and I'm playing it a second time right now.
Carry Over - Being able to carry over your ME1 character was an awesome thing. Looking forward to taking my semi-psychotic FemShep on into the third installment, eventually. I'll be making sure to copy her save file to a few locations and flash drives just to be safe. Unfortunately while starting out at level 3 or 5 is certainly nice given the way the game handles advancement it doesn't have a huge effect past the first half of the game.
Starting Fresh - Starting fresh in ME2 is not nearly as much fun as importing a character. It's not the bonuses so much as you're stuck with certain, I guess you could call them "canon", decisions. Namely that in ME1 you let the council die, hooked up with the opposite sex human love interest and let the other die, and killed Wrex. Wanna change one of those? Gotta go replay ME1, or go to masseffectsaves.com . That's far from awful, I mean you really should have played ME1 given that these are a tightly woven trilogy and not three independent games. However it would be nice if after playing the game through entirely (ME2) or importing a character you could start a new one and influence those decisions.
Opening Cinematic - Love it. "What don't you just shoot them?" Yeah, lets go with that. No holding the idiot ball or proportional response. You stepped on the wrong toes in ME1 so BLAM. Some people have complained that you can't skip it but frankly it's so damn good even on my sixth viewing it's still better than most of what Hollywood has turned out. I can sympathize with that but its not a problem with the opening cinematic but with the opening levels and such. The first hour of the game is largely going to go down EXACTLY the same way as before with little variation. There are no significant choices to make, no fun quick time events, just the exact same start. Not really a solely ME2 problem, but it does make starting a new game a little tedious.
Character Appearance - Maybe I missed it but it seems like there are no new options in how your Shepherd looks. Seems odd to me. I'd kind of expect at least some additional options in terms of hairstyle and all. I think there are some mods out there as I've seen some Shepherds with hairstyles that simply don't exist in the stock game. I liked the readout for the visual combination you choose. There's a Mass Effect 2 faces website that is built on that. Hundreds of Shepherd faces to choose from all you have to do is find one you like, copy with code, then paste it into the bar for the exact same face. This feature got me my first male Shepherd that didn't look awful in game. Copied a Shep, tweaked a few things like hairstyle, eye color, a few other and boom. A male Shep that doesn't look like a retard. The male Shep's voice acting still sucks compared to FemShep's though.
Leveling Mechanic - Here's my biggest gripe about ME2. Everything ele is tolerable in comparison. It's RPG-Lite... and maybe not even the RPG part. Instead of specific specializations for your weapons and skills you get a couple of very broad categories. I was a solider so I had Adrenaline Rush, Cryo, Disruptor, Incendiary ammos, and General Soldier skill. That's it. While the ammo skills were useful and I actually enjoyed that mechanic in the fighting portion of things having such broad and simplistic categories took all the fun out of leveling. There's nothing that exciting about ticking up your incendiary ammo another 15% when you finally reach that next level. This sucked so much ass, I'm hoping they dump it and go back to a more detailed leveling process in 3. My gut reaction based off the little I've heard about 3 suggests to me that they aren't going to be doing that. They're apparently not changing the graphics engine or anything, just cranking on the story.
Combat - Ugh. How do you simultaneously improves something and then fuck it up so horribly? The addition of letting you choose when to go to cover was nice as it let you hug walls and such for cover without going INTO cover on them like you would in the first. Made run and gun a bit more workable. Why the need to compress the squadmate's HUDs into the tiny space under my own though? The previous HUD was great. Nice big buttons, easy to read and hit. It let you take a very quick pause, slap the right order, and get back into in a flash. Now you have to hunt on that little expanding and contracting bar. Taking a shooter is still only marginally effective now, you're still better off with a biotic and a tech if you're a soldier. Instead of Liara and Tali for 95% of the game it was Jack and Tali. Ammo, ugh the fucking ammo. Why did they change that? The overheat mechanic of the first game was different than the usual shooter and made sense given the tech. The problem is why did they half ass the ammo mechanic in this game. Why not a hybrid? You can either let your gun cool normally or you pop in a new heatsink to get right back to shooting? That just sucked and frankly the few spots I found myself hunting heatsinks in the game were a horrid fucking let down. Ammo hunting like out of run of the mill FPS, not an epic space opera.
Weapons/Inventory - Ok, ME1's inventory system, aka the big list of bleh, sucked. There's no question about that. Totally removing it though, that sucks too. One of the more fun parts of an RPG is gear whoring. No such luck here. If you're a soldier you'll pick up your end game weapon within two hours of starting the game. Yeah you find upgrades along the way but the gun you pick up right at the beginning is the gun you'll still be using as you kill the final boss. It's not even the cool assault rifle model, its the trapezoid of doom. Personally I loved the ME1 styled upgrade system and would have run with it even further. That combined with the innate ammo powers would have kicked ass. What we got, boring. Right after leveling this was my biggest gripe.
Paragon/Renegade - They definitely moved away from the upright shining example of all that's right vs. the chaotic stupid asshole vibe of the first game. I don't think it's 100% there just yet but it was a lot more cowboy cop and a lot less total douche to be a Renegade and the Paragon occasionally got his hands dirty. Certainly made it easier to rack up Renegade points without being a total idiot. The problem is that to go total Renegade you have to do something rather dense. I'll get into it more later but your squad has issues. Not in the vein of "I didn't get hugged enough as a kid," and more in the vein of, "My childhood was constant agony as uncaring butchers carved me up and raped my brain. The only respite I had was to be let out for gladiatorial games to kill other children and amuse the guards." They are seriously fucked up people. The obvious solution to this to encourage teamwork and focus on the mission would be to try and get them to come to grips with these issues in a peaceful controlled manner that promotes healing instead of psychosis. Unless you're a renegade, then its apparently some how helpful to encourage psychotic and anti-social tendencies in a group you really need as a balanced and focused team. If you choose not to turn your people into absolute psychos then there's no way you're going deep Renegade.
Teammates - Aka, amateur psychologist. The people you will be working with are messed up. I mean the least messed up person you've got on board is the damn Krogan who was genetically bred to be perfect, the savior of his race, except his creator forgot to give any why to him. So you've got an over educated, hyper aggressive, maladjusted Krogan on board who's own society wants nothing to do with him. And he's the least fucked up. From there it just goes up through abandonment issues, betrayals, obsessive revenge fantasies, slavery, and eventually to Jack, aka seven year old girl tortured and torn up for her entire childhood then treated like shit by everyone she meets. A good half the game is the aforementioned attempts to rectify some of the fucked-upness of your squad which being Bioware is either a conciliatory hug and assurance that it'll be better, or you put a bullet in daddy's head. Either/or. That said the cast is relatively interesting but only in a few small places. Unlike your old squadmates who chattered or made the elevator rides amusing these ones just follow you around like puppy dogs not saying much of anything. Some random back and forth would have been great especially since I usually used combos like Miranda/Jack and Legion/Tali who should bicker and bitch back and forth but don't, ever. Samara and Jacob make me wish I could tweak circumstances in the final mission to get them to both eat a bullet. That to me would be the perfect ending, get those two killed so they don't even exist in ME3. Jack on the other hand was just awesome and her recruitment mission had me thinking, "I love this crazy bitch!"
Romance - FUCK YOU BIOWARE. So in the first ME you've got the gay option, at least as a FemShep. ME2 is frustratingly straight. Nope, not Jack who admits to having been in a relationship with a man AND a woman before with strong implications that she wasn't just with the woman but knew her... biblicly. Not Tali who's not even human. Admittedly they pulled discount lesbians last time with Liara being an Asari but look at the Asari and try and tell me they aren't chicks. Sorry, my FemShep is at least bi even if Liara was an alien. Not even with Ms. Asking for it herself Miranda. I have to be fair and admit that you can get Kelly but it in no way counts, for the game at least, as a romance. I suspect that in ME3 even though Kelly spent a LONG time up in FemShep's cabin it'll still count her as being faithful to Liara. In other news I almost found myself hooking up with Jacob just because I asked one too many questions. Should have a [HELL NO] option on the dialogue wheel. Yeah, some kind of DLC to open up some more romance options would be nice, or add on some more complicated dialogue.
Supporting Cast - Joker is back and better than ever. His riffing with EDI was a highlight of the game. Talking to him about the squad gives you some interesting insights on how others might percieve your squad. As a group of blood thirsty psychopaths instead of big damn heros. Chakwas is back and her part is expanded a bit and more interesting. She's also a bit of a lush apparently. I don't understand the hate directed at Kelly by some people. She's as interesting to talk to as most of your squad, isn't psychotic (which in this group is actually notable), and from a game perspective keeps me from having to feed my fish constantly or check my messages obsessively lest I miss something. That and she's a bit of a slut. Omni-sexual would be the term as she admits to not really caring about the sex of her partner much less the species.
Normandy SR2 - Ya know, this felt a touch odd. Mostly that it was for all intents just a supersized Normandy SR1. Really felt they should have done more with it.
Galaxy Map Navigation/Scanning - Once more in the vein of "What the hell were they thinking," you no longer click on a planet to have a look then click "Land" or "Scan" if you want to have a gander. Now you have to physically fly a 3D Normandy around a 2D map to get to it. Also, no more one button scan for something interesting you have to run the cursor all over it looking for something interesting which in the early going can take quite a while. Researching upgrades takes various kinds of minerals. You find them by scanning. This isn't awful until you realize just how time you spend scanning in order to collect enough minerals to do everything. Hint, it's a lot, a fucking lot. Also travel between systems now requires fuel. This adds nothing to the game but a pain in the ass and a very slight money sink. Picking things up you scan requires probes. Probes cost a pittance but your supply is limited. In the early going this can be a real pain in the ass as you'd fly to an outlying system, scan and mine, then run out of probes, spend time flying back, refuel, buy more probes, then fly back. Nothing complicated or interesting just a weak, weak time and money sink that adds nothing to the game.
Story - The story of the game was pretty good overall. I think it was a good middle of the road step between the introduction of the Reapers in ME1 to the full on invasion of ME3. The Collectors were interesting, all the story was interesting and engaging. I never really felt like yawning and plowing through something just to end it. Between Liara giving me the uber cold shoulder on Illium and getting bitched out by Ashely on Horizon there were some real gut shots. It's like Liara didn't realize I was alive and kept speaking like I was still dead and Ashley... well excuse me for being dead. See if I save your ass from the next nuke.
On the whole the basics were still present and still strong, story characters, scenery, but there were some issues, mostly a bad case of console-itis I think. 8/10