Mass Effect 2 summed up: Fixing and improving upon almost every aspect of the first game. Caveat: Like Alan Wake, this was played for me; I was unable to try the new combat systems for myself. Hit the jump for full impressions. (This is one of the few E3 things I have left to post. I now see the problem in posting all the Nintendo-related stuff as soon as possible, and saving all the other stuff for later.)
The demo was rather out of context, so I was not able to gather much info on the plot, but it is a substantial amount of time after the end of the original Mass Effect. The Reapers are still a threat, and Shepard (not dead yet!) is gathering his party before venturing forth toward what the Bioware guy kept emphasizing was an extremely dangerous mission. During the demo, Shepard was on the way to attempt to recruit some sort of assassin character.
It started in a space car! Liara and Shepard are cruising along through Futuretown and despite the fact that you are watching a very slickly produced cinematic, you can choose the mood of Shepard’s responses without disrupting the flow of the scene. Later in the demo, there was a standard dudes-standing-around conversation sequence, but it made sense for the situation, and it seems like this allows Bioware the ability to extend dialogue choices further into the game’s narrative.
This addition also was amusing, because before landing you have a chance to ask why you can’t do the mission in a different way: “Why can’t we just land at the top? I don’t wanna land at the bottom of the tower and shoot a bunch of dudes on my way up!” “Anti aircraft guns.” “Oh. Well, let’s get on with it.” (Disclaimer: conversation paraphrased.)
There was one other addition to the combat system – basically a “punch dude in the face” button is one way you can end a conversation at this point. During the demo, Bioware guy ended one particularly tense exchange by shoving a dude out of a window. Some spectacularly cheesy dialogue followed, including one of your new squad members asking, “Well, when are we going to read him his rights?”
The flow of combat seemed to be quite improved no matter which way you approach it, action game or RPG. The ability to bind biotics to controller buttons enabled the player to play the game as a straight action game while still playing a caster or hybrid character. They also added locational damage – headshots obviously do more damage, and certain enemies can have limbs or bits damaged or shot off. The cover system and general feel seemed to stand up quite well to pure third person shooters like Gears of War. They also showed off a new rocket launcher, and promised nine new weapon classes in the final product.
Conversely, the RPG side of battle seemed far more developed. You have the ability to pause battle, look around and cast spells in a far less clunky manner than the first game. The Bioware guy didn’t demonstrate it, but he also said that the ability to give squad members more specific orders has made it onto the Xbox 360 after being added to post-release the PC port of the original game. It seems like Bioware has made an effort to please both player sects, and has done so with a deft hand, improving for one side without alienating the other.
Mass Effect 2 looks like a great sequel that addresses all the problems in the original, along with adding plenty of improvements.