Mass Effect 2 Hands-On Preview

Posted Thu, Dec 17, 2009 by Ethec

Mass Effect 2 isn't just a sequel to the award-winning 2007 Role Playing Game (RPG) from the talented minds at BioWare, it's a continuation in every sense of the word. Recently Ten Ton Hammer had a chance to play Mass Effect 2 at BioWare's studio in Edmonton, Alberta, and learn about the game from three Mass Effect originals: Product Director Casey Hudson, Lead Designer Preston Watamaniuk, and Mass Effect writer Mac Walters.

Note: To see Mass Effect 2 in action, also check out our video Q&A with Casey Hudson, which includes over five minutes of in-game footage plus Casey's thoughts on a wide array of topics.

Persistence and Ties to Mass Effect 1

We began our demo at the beginning of the game. Well, almost. "There's some spoiler-y stuff right at the beginning, but we'll drop you in within minutes of the beginning so you can play through the tutorial and into the next level." Casey Hudson wasn't dropping any hints about what the introduction spoiler held for us, either. "Mass Effect 2 is really the only game where you can load your saved game from the end of the previous game and keep playing with all of your decisions intact and all of those things affecting the ongoing story threads. The fun of that is that is that we get to think about how all of those things can impact this story and all the interesting twists and turns. That also makes it pretty difficult for us to talk about what's going on in the story. "

That level of persistence is unknown in single-player RPGs, but BioWare has made its name off of taking story to a whole new level. And as in all great stories, not even the protagonist, is safe from death. Characters that died in your Mass Effect 1 experience aren't coming back, and Casey hinted that that's will only more true in looking ahead to Mass Effect 3. "People are going to die in the end, as the result of your decisions... it's unlikely that you'll get through the game with all your favorite players, and in some cases, if things go really bad, even your character - Commander Shephard - will die a permanent death. That's actually meaningful, because there's a post-game where you can finish the story and go back out with whoever survives and just keep playing. "

Mac Walters added, "Every death is due to a decision you made, but that decision might have been a while back. Some of those decisions are that you decided to do something, and five hours later, x dies, because you failed to prepare or you made a bad leadership call. The consequences are spelled out, it's not like we ambush you. In some cases, we were worried that we were being a little too heavy-handed, but I don't think so."

That level of grit and dynamism in the game's story means that every action and interaction - from love interests to favorite squad mates - may have sweeping implications, and because BioWare wanted some characters to survive for Mass Effect 3, some players aren't recruitable in ME2.

A few old friends will return to the series, but with ten character slots you'll meet some new recruits along the way too.

With that said, will players joining in without playing Mass Effect 1 miss out on some of the depth of the franchise? The answer seems to be yes, but not in ways new players will easily recognize. "If you haven't played Mass Effect 1, there are certain things that are canned for new players. There are certain moments that wouldn't be meaningful for them, so if we brought back a beloved character from Mass Effect 1 and your character remembers them, that wouldn't make sense for new players. So in those cases, those characters won't be there, there'll be something else in their place. But other things, as part of the introduction, through conversation and certain things you choose at character creation, that becomes your choice in how you set up the world."

Whatever choices you make, you shouldn't feel like you need to play the original game again to get a handle on what's going on in Mass Effect 2. " If you have played before, those same conversations will clue you in about what happened... We wanted to make sure we remind you of where things left off, because it does start right after Mass Effect 1. The beginning of the game is designed to dovetail everybody back into the fiction. "

The New Normandy, Captain's Cabin, and Customizability

Though the hands-on portion of the game didn't include a tour of the new Normandy, Casey demoed the ship's successor for us in a combined session. "Without explaining how it happens, there is a new Normandy. You get to walk around a new Normandy; it's very similar but we made a lot of improvements to it, mostly in usability, and it's just a much more alive place now." Joker is still at the helm, cracking comments like, "Yea, this is 98% of my job, watching buttons flash. Sometimes I press one."

Casey pointed out a number of new features on the ship culled directly from feedback to Mass Effect 1. "Part of the whole suicide mission concept is that you're building up your team and your crew, and you actually do upgrades to the Normandy as part of getting ready for the mission. It's all optional, but it really adds to the survivability in the final mission." Casey pointed out an elaborate hologram of the ship and noted that these upgrades will appear here. Another new addition is a "personal assistant" that will clue in your character to all the new interactions available before or after each mission.

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