E3 2009: The Five: Mass Effect 2
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Commander Shepard returns in Mass Effect 2, no matter how you left him at the end of Mass Effect. This time he's on a team-building mission to assemble a bunch of bad-asses to (natch) save the galaxy.
1. It's an all-new story! That's a given when it comes to pretty much any sequel, but this is BioWare, and Mass Effect. The story is what you come for, right? Here Shepard is basically building his own Dirty Dozen; the demo showed him in an attempt to recruit the galaxy's best assassin (also a member of a new alien race that debuts in this episode). They're all off on a suicide mission, and that's a very literal description -- you'll have to work very hard to survive. We also saw a spoiler that is so big that I'll let other sites ruin it for you. It's safe to say that there are big events in here that will have far-reaching implications.
2. Combat has been almost totally revamped, to create the feeling of playing a shooter with really precise controls. Cover is better implemented, the enemy artificial intelligence is smarter, and the control setup has been refined to map more actions directly to buttons. The HUD is easier to read and you don't have to pause the action to put powers into action. And damage is now localized to specific body parts, so fire away at heads and arms and watch the location-specific gibs fly.
3. Only in geek circles, where people might regularly talk about CPU interrupts and other jargon, would the notion of dialogue interrupts be so exciting. Or maybe I'm over-generalizing there. Regardless, you can now often interrupt another character in mid-thought, which makes the game's dialogue more realistic. Granted, this isn't quite like playing a Robert Altman movie, in which everyone talks over one another, but it's one step closer to the way real people (and especially closeted antisocial folks like me) actually behave. And the interrupts can be physical. Don't like a conversation? Shove the other guy off a building.
4. Imports are the backbone of a strong narrative economy. You'll be able to import original Mass Effect save data into this game, and likewise ME2 data into the promised ME3. Might not want to do that if you didn't survive, but the allure of starting from a point that takes into account all your decisions from Mass Effect, and the possible deaths of some characters, is quite strong.
5. It's BioWare's "The Empire Strikes Back." The new story is darker and features a potentially explosive ending. While the best Star Wars movie was never explicitly mentioned in the demo, it was so abundantly alluded to that not even a cinderblock would miss it. And, with the odd implications about who and what Shepard is, who among the Mass Effect faithful could pass that up?
The Crispy Forecast: Dark but enjoyably stormy. BioWare seems to have heard the justified complaints issued after the original game arrived, and crafted this title in response. It's not all-new, but much more polished.
This preview is based on a developer-driven demo of the game at E3 2009.
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