Posted Thu, Dec 17, 2009 by Ethec
One important change we found right off the bat was an autosave that the game performs right at the beginning of the mission, meaning that if you mess up too many hacks or burn through too much medi-gel, you'll easily be able to restart the mission with perhaps a different squad or loadout.
Lending to the game's prequel friendliness, the original classes are the same in Mass Effect 2. Soldiers can carry all weapons and can learn all of the weapon powers, the Adept controls the battlefield with biotic powers, and the Engineer makes use of the omni-tool and tech abilities. The remaining three classes are hybrids of the original three: Infiltrator (Soldier & Engineer), Sentinels (Engineer & Adept), and Vanguard (Soldier & Adept). Some classes have a twist, for example, the Adept can now do directional throws to, for example, toss enemies off a bridge. Soldiers have some new heavy weapons options, like the grenade launcher, that have limited charges but should help their squads get out of tight spots.
As with the original, your class choice matters little since you'll always have the opportunity to form a squad that complements your abilities. You can control their decisions and actions individually at any point, or sacrifice group tactics and rely on the game's more than adequate AI.
Mass Effect 2's six classes, like the Adept (left), Engineer (middle), and Sentinel, return from the original, but with a few tweaks to their powers.
Even though each class is accounted for, the character level up screen evidenced a much more streamlined progression path. Gone were the weapon specialization buy-ins in favor of more tactics-based abilities, including old favorites like the enemy-dangling Singularity. But why are weapon specs no longer part of the equation? In Mass Effect one, pulling the trigger with an enemy in your reticule was essentially a dice throw. Your weapon skill, stats, and other considerations were measured against your enemy's, and the result was either a hit, with a variable degree of damage, or a miss. In Mass Effect 2, your digital marksmanship is much more of a factor and skill, not random numbers within a discrete range, separate your headshots from your head slappers.
The power wheel is still in full effect for pausing combat and plotting strategy, and X360 controller users will especially like the new interface, whereby you can set locations for your squad mates by aiming with your reticule and hitting left trigger for one squadmate and right trigger for the other. They'll move, fire, and take cover at the locations you specify. Players will also be able to map squadmate powers to the d-pad, meaning you can have a squadmate warp or throw an enemy in your reticule in real time. All in all, these changes meant less pausing and more fighting in real time, which suited the game's more shooter-esque feel perfectly.
Having played Mass Effect 2 and the original on both PC and Xbox, the "precise aiming" change made with Mass Effect 2 made a big difference, especially on PC where the mouse and keyboard, to me, are still the only way to play a shooter. For console players, your mileage may vary, and had I tooled around with sensitivity settings and been able to scoot back to a living-room sized distance from the 42" TV I was playing on, the playability might have approached what I enjoyed on the PC. As it was, playing on the X360 controller made me feel like I was kung fu fighting inside a telephone booth - all elbows. Fortunately, my controller-inept bacon was saved by the fact that combat difficulty could be adjusted to one of six levels (from casual to insanity) in mid-fight, a nice feature that seems to have become a BioWare standard.
Other important changes include the end of the heat buildup mechanic and a return to ammo, or rather "thermal clips" which store and eject heat. All weapons of roughly the same type utilize the same thermal clips, meaning prudent players shouldn't have to do the usual FPS weapon shuffle to rebuild ammo inventories for their preferred weapons. Location based damage (headshots, dismembered limbs) are now in the game, and one of the more enjoyable aspects of combat, for me, was disarming droids (literally dis-arming) and watching them try to continue to attack before finishing them off.
Weapons, especially the sniper rifle, are much more balanced than in ME1. "Players would use [the sniper rifle] and not even think about it," noted Mass Effect writer Mac Walters. "Now we can actually make it more powerful, because there's a limit on it." Unfortunately I didn't come across a sniper rifle in the playable demo to check this out firsthand.
Two new minigames will challenge players trying to hack their way into various systems in the gameworld, and they both took a little getting used to. Both were matching games, the first being a hidden pair matching game with a pesky timer, and the second required matching three key portions of "code segments" to three scrolling columns of code that occasionally had red code that would cause players to fail. Also, choosing incorrectly three times also resulted in a fail. .
Despite its new shooter bent, don't be quick to conclude that Mass Effect 2 is moving away from its RPG roots. Casey addressed this fear: "One of the questions people have is that if the combat is so much better is it now more a shooter and less an RPG. I think you'll find that the balance is the same. You'll have a really good, interactive, cinematic story that you take wherever you want, but you have lots of exploration, a lot of character progression you develop in your skills."
The Codex, an extensive library of lore, will make its return to Mass Effect 2.
While a few hours playing part of the tutorial and Bactrian plague mission hardly got me into the meat of the story, the performance elements of the game - voiceovers, emotive NPCs, and facial expressions right down to eye movements and wandering glances as a character speaks - are much improved even as the conversations became more to-the-point. The Mass Effect moral spectrum is as present as ever (cold, hardened pragmatism earns you Renegade points, while going out of your way to act with empathy pushes you toward Paragon). But there are plenty of gray shades between those extremes, characterized by at least one WTF moment during the tutorial.