January 31, 2010 12:00 PM | Simon Carless
[Our own Chris Remo analyzes the surprisingly comprehensive changes made to BioWare's much-awaited sequel Mass Effect 2, wondering if it'll serve as "template... or genre experiment" to games that follow.]
As I played the first few hours of Mass Effect 2, I found myself constantly surprised -- not by the early twist which allows for a clean break between the plot of Mass Effect and its sequel, but by how much of the game had been heavily redesigned.
Having now completed the game, I find myself wondering whether BioWare has managed to codify a genre whose relative rarity I have often found odd: the action-game-with-classes-and-dialogue, to coin a clumsy phrase.
Nearly every major player-exposed gameplay system from the first game was considerably tweaked or completely redesigned by the BioWare development team, and nearly all of these changes work to streamline or simplify the game's overall flow and system management.
The original Mass Effect was described as an action-RPG hybrid, thanks in large part to the inspiration it drew from the currently very fashionable third-person cover shooter genre. Mass Effect 2 moves much farther in the action direction.
The Big Changes
It's worth listing Mass Effect 2's noticeably altered mechanics, because direct sequels released two years later are rarely overhauled this comprehensively. They include the following: experience point gain and leveling, skill trees, mission resolution, combat and cover, squad combat control, equipment management, weapon upgrades, squadmate weapon choices, interplanetary travel, clothing and armor customization, hacking and decryption mini-games, resource management, minor planet exploration, and probably more.
In some cases, systems were effectively removed, such as the standalone inventory system and grenades. And in the PC version of the game, even many of the default key mappings were changed (I don't have an Xbox 360 version handy to compare).