Say what you will about Dragon Age II (here, we'll help: “dumbed-down,” “consolized,” and “ignorant argument against homosexuality” are the popular ones), but you might want to think twice before booting BioWare out of your life forever. After all, whether you liked Dragon Age II or not, the RPG powerhouse is still quite thankful that you bought it. So thankful, in fact, that its passing out free copies of its space opera opus Mass Effect 2 – no strings attached.
This year, I'm trying to do something different with game of the year awards. You can find a full explanation in part one, but the gist is this: I'm eschewing a list – because, let's face it, you've already skimmed 10,000 top-10s – in favor of writing about how these games affected their players and the specific moment that made me realize how great each game really was. Needless to say, SPOILER WARNING. Today's topic? BioWare's latest space odyssey, Mass Effect 2.
As much as I love my job, I have to admit that there's one major downside. After years of nitpicking games until their every naked flaw is flapping freely in the breeze, it's become rather difficult to separate work from play. Instead of seeing a giant battle brimming with earth-shaking violence, heartbreaking tragedy, and inspiring camaraderie, I see a highly scripted scene that'll go completely haywire if I even inch my pinky toe off the beaten path. Most people watch the puppet show; I look for the strings.
Every once in a while, though, a rare game comes along that's able to shatter my cold cynicism and spirit me away so thoroughly that – for a few magical moments – I forget I'm just some guy staring blanky at a monitor in a dimly lit room. Mass Effect 2, perhaps moreso than anything else in recent years, managed to be that game.
No one likes loose ends. They’re messy, inconclusive, and – in some cases – can potentially lead to the birth of morally questionable god babies. Fortunately, BioWare’s latest double-helping of downloadable content takes some major loose ends and ties them tight in both Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2.
First up, Dragon Age is going on a Witch Hunt, which also happens to be the last we’ll see of Ferelden until Dragon Age 2 comes out. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that a certain witchy woman’s back in the picture, and she’s up to no good. Remember that thing at the end of Origins? This might just have something to do with that.
Meanwhile, over in Mass Effect land, the Shadow Broker – who’s been a professional jerkwad and certified pain in Shepard’s ass since Mass Effect 1 – is finally (hopefully) going down in Lair of the Shadow Broker. If nothing else, though, you’ll definitely get to trash his house and continue your relationship with Liara, so we’re definitely not complaining.
Witch Hunt will run you $7.00, while Lair of the Shadow Broker comes in a bit heavier at $10.00. Both are out now, so what are you waiting for? Outer Space and Fantasy Land need saving from [SPOILERS] and [SPOILERS]! Now go [SPOILERS]!
If you're the type who likes to shoot first and ask questions later in your BioWare RPGs, then a recent job listing from the role-playing powerhouse might get your trigger finger itching something fierce. After embracing the other, more explosive meaning of the “RPG” acronym with Mass Effect 2's shooter sections, it looks like BioWare might be adding a full-blown multiplayer mode to Mass Effect 3.
BioWare Montreal – which describes itself as "working on Mass Effect, one of the industry's most beloved and acclaimed franchises, as we build our way toward becoming a fully self-sufficient BioWare studio" – is hiring multiplayer programmers, who are being asked to “take existing single player user experiences and make them multiplayer safe,” among other things.
When reached for comment, BioWare only replied that Mass Effect 3 is in the early stages of development, and refused to confirm or deny anything. Still though, the job listing seems like pretty solid evidence to us, so we're holding out hope. After all, we'll root for anything that could potentially allow us to blast Garrus in the face for each and every time he blew us off in favor of his precious “calibrations.”
Listening to many gamers and critics prattle on about Mass Effect 2 is kind of like listening to a teenager talk about their first love. The game, they say, can do no wrong. It’s a pure, perhaps even blind sort of love, and at first glance, it’s well-deserved. But no videogame – no matter how much of its dialogue is delivered in Martin Sheen’s seductively raspy warble – is perfect. Problem is, many of Mass Effect 2’s detractors are picking on the wrong “flaw.”
For Mass Effect 2, the word of the day that’s got nitpickers screaming like they’re on an episode of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is “streamlined.” Or, in many cases, its more derogatory cousin: “dumbed-down.” “Mass Effect 2’s not even an RPG anymore,” many of them hoot and holler. “It’s just a shooter with RPG elements!” Now, ignoring the fact that large chunks of Mass Effect 2 see Shepard holstering his sticks and stones in favor of words so that the player can -- you know -- play a role, streamlining the game’s combat doesn’t diminish its effect. In fact, I’d even argue that it allows for greater strategic depth. Problem is, many gamers still cling to dusty, archaic notions of what certain genres should be, which – in my opinion – is keeping those genres stuck firmly in the Stone Age.
I’m a few loose ends away from wrapping up Mass Effect 2, and that terrifies me.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t be so frightened. I’ve turned the galaxy upside-down, shaking loose its roughest, toughest customers and sweeping them right onto my ship. My crew and I have fought back-to-back time and time again, leaving robots, aliens, and entire mercenary organizations battered and bloody in our wakes. But it’s not my crew I’m worried about. It’s me.
I mean, let’s be honest here: the term “suicide mission” doesn’t inspire much optimism. And here we are, betting the whole space farm on those abysmal odds anyway. But whatever, right? Mass Effect 3’s already been announced. Unless the game’s actually a bouquet of colorful Game Over screens, I’m pretty sure we’ve got this one in the bag. We may as well be running a victory lap at this point.
However, we’ve got one more major factor working against us – one that not even the great, no-longer-late Shepard has taken into account: I, the player, am not reloading a previous save if things go awry.
In some ways, Mass Effect 2 is the anti-Dragon Age. Whereas Bioware’s other RPG is an overwhelmingly expansive epic that consumes serious role-players, this sci-fi sequel (part two of a planned trilogy) is a cinematic adventure that propels players through its character-driven story with a sense of urgency. In that sense, it never feels like the same game Bioware released only two months ago, and surpasses the original Mass Effect in its ability to draw you into its mythology.
Like the first game, Mass Effect 2 is equal parts Roddenberry and Lucas—a space saga that combines the interplanetary politics and heroic adventuring of Star Trek with the gritty personality and blaster-duels of Star Wars.
The original Mass Effect rocked our socks. Its DLC, though? Not so much. Fortunately, if a Microsoft Expert Zone retailer quiz is to be believed, BioWare’s making up for Mass Effect’s DLC deficiency in a big way with Mass Effect 2.
According to the quiz, planned content includes “episodic combat via DLC, weapon and armor packs, new downloadable characters for the campaign experience, new downloadable worlds, as well as full campaign expansions for download.”
Here’s hoping that BioWare doesn’t also take the EA Renegade route and peddle things like cheat codes and cosmetic upgrades for exorbitant prices.”Exorbitant,” in this case, meaning “anything other than free.”
BioWare’s finally pegged Mass Effect 2 with a concrete release date and, well, early 2010’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Joining games like BioShock 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Max Payne 3, ME2 has relocated from the twilight of 2009 to the dawn of 2010. More specifically, the game’s dropping on January 26.
BioWare and EA have also decided to sweeten the pot with some particularly potent preorder bonuses. Preorder from GameStop and you’ll score two in-game items, the Terminus Armor and the M-90 Blackstorm Heavy Weapon. Or, if you put down money on ME2 at any other brick-and-mortar outlets, the Inferno Armor is yours to keep.
The one thing we can’t procure by preordering, though? More time. Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare’s latest 100-hour jaunt into the realm of swords ‘n’ sorcery, is coming out in November. With Mass Effect 2 now making landfall in January, that’s two BioWare RPGs within three months. What to do? Hmmm.
Guess we’ll just have to spend even more time playing videogames. What a shame.
After launching to much fanfare on the Xbox 360, the original Mass Effect disengaged its warp drive and sort of just floated over the PC. Granted, we were given a nice, long laundry list of improvements for our troubles, but still, we’d rather have gotten our shiny new game when it was still shiny and new. Fortunately, though, Mass Effect 2’s PC edition is launching day-and-date with its Xbox counterpart, BioWare said in an interview with VG247.
“This time round, doing it at the same time for a [simultaneous-ship], we can control the differences much more smoothly because it’s the same team building it now,” said Mass Effect 2 associate producer Jesse Houston.
“We learned a lot from building the PC version before, and having built it six months later there was a big difference. So we actually took what we learned from PC and put it back into 360. Fundamentally, we want you to have the same gameplay experience, but just with the difference in controls.”
Both versions of Mass Effect 2 launch this spring. Which is a shame for Microsoft, really, because we would’ve bought 360 Xbox 360s if it meant being able to play this game. Oh well, we're sure they’ll catch us the next time we’re willing to spend $72,000 on a single game. Yep. No biggie.