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Mass Effect 2 First Look

BioWare clearly hasn’t been resting on its laurels. Their team has been working hard on Mass Effect 2, and having taken all of the criticism on board, the sequel “improves nearly every aspect of the experience,” according to BioWare’s Casey Hudson, project director on Mass Effect 2. If the presentation I saw gives any indication, I’d have to say he’s right.

The following contains heavy spoilers for Mass Effect, and some minor ones for Mass Effect 2. If you don’t want to know anything about what happens, don’t read any further.

With that out of the way, Shepard is back, as if you couldn’t have guessed. Despite all of the E3 build-up and the uncertainty of the first human Spectre’s fate, Mass Effect is apparently a trilogy about Shepard. This second game is the “dark second act”; the Empire Strikes Back to the first game’s A New Hope. That’s enough film references for now.

Shepard will be investigating the sudden disappearance of humans from around the galaxy, which is widely believed to be a suicide mission. Aiming to prove them wrong, the majority of the game looks to focus around him recruiting, equipping, and gaining the loyalty of some of the most dangerous characters around – it’s a “high-action descent into the most brutal parts of the universe,” says Hudson. While doing so, Shepard’s going to be working with the mysterious Cerberus group, and there’s a new power in play in the galaxy too. On top of that the Reapers – the giant biomechanical monstrosities that almost destroyed all life in the first game – may have been defeated but are far from gone, and still exist out there. We’ve been warned not to forget this.

The big thing about Mass Effect 2 is something that hasn’t been done in games for quite some time, and to my knowledge, never to this extent: you can import your save from the first game into the sequel, which factors all of your previous decisions into this. Considering the results of some of the actions you could take, I’d say there are going to be some hefty changes in your experiences. Despite this, Hudson described Mass Effect 2 as a perfect place to bring in new players. We’re going to have to wait and see how that plays out, though.

The first half of the presentation showed off Shepard’s attempt to recruit a character called Thane, who we’ve mentioned previously. Thane is an assassin – a rather good one – and Shepard’s attempts to track him down have led to his latest target, an Asari named Nisara, and no I don’t know if that’s the proper spelling. First things first though: Shepard needs to get to her, which involves getting past the mercenaries she’s brought in to protect her.

Controllable conversations can now take place in more dynamic settings, with one on display as Shepard headed towards the building Nisara was holed up in. They’ve also got an “interrupt” button, which was shown off during a conversation with the first mercenary they encountered there. During his claims that he doesn’t know anything more and wouldn’t tell you even if he did, the interrupt prompt flashed up; tapping the left trigger caused Shepard to shove him through the window to his death and utter a Bond-esque quip.
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Combat with the rest of the mercs showed off the way that’s been changed. While it’s still much the same third-person blasting, Hudson stated specifically that they want the weapons to feel powerful from the off, with progression through levels granting more special abilities than anything else. No longer do you need to pause to use those abilities, either, as you’ll be able to map them to different buttons on your pad. As for your allies, you’ll have separate movement and control options for each of them, but it looks like you’re still limited to just two.

In terms of new features, location-based damage is in, which should please the shooter crowd. Headshots will do more damage, but dismemberment has also been included, so expect to be blasting off arms and legs. The majority of the new powers look to be focused around physics, with a Biotic Pull power yanking enemies out of cover, while another chases enemies with a concussive blast that will smash them into the floor – and then there’s inferno ammo, which sets enemies on fire. You’ve got a new slot for special heavy weapons, too, and the one shown off was a hefty homing missile launcher.

When the presentation rolled around to meeting Thane, I learned that Mass Effect’s flair for making in-game mini-cutscenes look incredibly cinematic hasn’t diminished. The conversation with Nisara and the subsequent appearance of Thane, in which he quickly and stylishly killed a lot of people, looked absolutely stunning.  As stunning as killing people could look anyway.

Two other sections were shown off. The first was rather short, focusing on the new random planet exploration, albeit without much detail. What we know is that every step of finding, scanning, and exploring a planet will be a lot more interactive, and that there will be unique planets with unique looks, with some, Hudson says, being “like a science-fiction painting brought to life.”

The other section was spoiler-ridden enough that I’m not going to ruin it here, but it emphasised that yes, characters can die. Depending on your actions, main characters can and will get killed off. So can Shepard, and not in a reload-your-last-save-game way.

That’s right: Shepard can die.  Properly.  Once-and-for-all towards the end of the game. The mission Shepard is on is apparently one of the most dangerous missions BioWare has ever written, and if you don’t build your team well enough during the game, there will be a fitting ending that isn’t entirely successful. It will be long and complete and all about how Shepard dies: a “bloodbath” to use Hudson’s description, with your party getting killed off. This isn’t a case of reloading half an hour back and making different choices, either; to fix it you’ll apparently have to go back a lot earlier and think harder about how to build the team, and “what you might be lacking.” Team loyalty was also emphasised and I’ve been paranoid ever since, but then you would be too if you worked with Tamer and Andy.

If Shepard survives then you can port your save into Mass Effect 3, as well as continue playing around in ME2, which was something requested by a lot of players of the first game due to both the DLC and the planetary exploration aspect of the title. That seems like a big “if,” though.

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