Posts Tagged‘romance’

Mass Effect 3: A Dichotomy of Love and Hate.

Ah Mass Effect, a game that inspired so much fanboyism and geek lust within me that I’ve gladly parted with embarrassingly large sums of money in order to play it. My relationship with it started with an excited friend of mine breathlessly singing its praises before sending me a short video clip of it. The second the clip finished I knew this game had to be mine, no matter what the cost. This was the only reason why a Xbox360 graced my home in the first place and was so again when I upgraded to one of the new slim models to play through the final instalment. Today I will review the last chapter in Mass Effect trilogy; a review that’s been 5 years in the making.

Mass Effect 3 puts you right back into control of Commander Shepard of the Normandy. Returning back to the Alliance Navy after the events of Mass Effect 2 Shepard is placed under house arrest due to his work with Cerberus. His warnings of an impending Reaper attack have gone unnoticed and it’s not until a full Reaper invasion starts that they look back to him for help. Earth succumbs to the Reaper invasion rapidly but Shepard reluctantly escapes, only leaving so he can gather support to retake Earth back from the Reapers and hopefully drive them back for good.

First impressions of Mass Effect 3 were quite good. For Xbox360 players you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the graphics updates as there’s a noticeable improvement over Mass Effect 2. Whilst it’s not up to the same level as say Deus Ex: Humand Revolution or Skyrim they’re still quite impressive, especially if you’re playing the game on a massive TV like I was. PS3 owners won’t notice much of a difference however as Mass Effect 3 on the PS3 uses the same engine as 2 on that plaform. PC players will also be somewhat disappointed as the code for the Xbox360 version is basically the same and is unable to take advantage of any additional grunt your PC might have. It’s clear that Bioware’s target platform for this game was definitely the Xbox360 first above all others which is great for people like me, but I can understand the frustration levelled at Mass Effect 3 by gamers on other platforms.

The combat of Mass Effect 3 is just as exciting, fluid and challenging as it was back in Mass Effect 2. I was very tempted to try out yet another class as my switch from Soldier to Vanguard in Mass Effect 2 made the game that much more interesting but discussing it with my friends showed that the Vanguard was probably the most fun class out of the lot of them. With the new weapon/upgrade system the Vanguard could easily be made into an incredible weapon of destruction, one that didn’t actually need to carry any guns with him if you played your cards right.

So unlike its predecessors Mass Effect 3 gives you the choice of what weapons to equip, allowing you to carry around up to 5 different weapons. The downside is that the more weapons you carry the slower your powers will regenerate. So for weapons based classes like the Soldier you’ll probably still walk around armed with every single weapon you can carry but my Vanguard spent most of his time with only 2 weapons (later I carried 3 once I had the right upgrades), favouring the 200% buff to power recharges instead. This meant that past a certain point I was basically invulnerable as no enemy could wear down my shields before I could charge again, recharging them back to full.

Still though there were several fights that I found challenging to the point of frustration. Now I’m willing to blame this on the fact that I’m not a console gamer, the PC is my usual platform, and the many deaths I experienced early on where a combination of me not being able to aim properly and a bad talent build. However for most of the really difficult fights there was usually a heavy weapon hidden somewhere which I wouldn’t find until my 4th or 5th time attempting that particular combat scene which made the fight trivial. There are also some particular enemies that will 1 shot you from full health and shields with no way to get out of it (even with upgraded health that left me with 1 bar afterwards, I’d still die). It’s a real shame as apart from these 2 faux pas the combat is really quite enjoyable (the latter making the last couple hours annoyingly torturous).

The talent tree system received a massive revamp since Mass Effect 2 and the improvements are quite nice. Whilst it still retains the base idea of adding points into a certain ability to make it better once you get past the first 3 stages you’re then presented with choices as to how to improve the ability. In doing so you’re able to craft your character along very specific lines, much more so than you were in the previous 2 games. With a little bit of looking around its very possible to create a character that is nigh on unstoppable, but it’s the improvements that Bioware made around the talent system that are most welcome.

The inclusion of a respec system in Mass Effect 3 is probably the most welcome addition. When you start off many of your talent points are allocated for you. Whilst this is a great way to introduce you to the character class it does mean that your character might not play the way you want it to. Thankfully the first respec is free and that will allow you to craft your character in the way you want. Additionally you’re able to choose 1 ability from your companions to include in your talent tree for a small sum. Yet again this allows you to augment away any of your character’s weaknesses or push them further into unstoppable territory.

The Galaxy Map remains basically unchanged from Mass Effect 2, keeping the same navigation elements whilst changing up the mini-game aspect of it significantly. Instead of going to every planet and scanning them for 5 minutes just to find the resources contained within there you instead scan around the current solar system, looking for little pockets of treasure. If one of the assets happens to be on a planet you then do the familiar scanning mini-game again but at least now it has a pointer to where it is, saving you countless pointless minutes scanning around. There’s also an indicator as to how many assets you’ve recovered so you don’t waste time looking for that one last thing.

You can’t scan around indefinitely though as scanning alerts the Reapers to your presence there. It’s supposed to make you scan smartly around, using the minimum number in order to recover all the assets. If you do alert the Reapers they’ll invade the system and try to hunt you down but they can’t really catch you unless you stay still for more than a couple seconds. Realistically you can just scan to your hearts content then exit/enter the system repeatedly to get the assets, which is what I ended up doing after alerting the Reapers for the 20th time.

WARNING: Mild plot spoilers follow. (There’s a second warning about the MASSIVE ones if you want to keep reading).

Of course where Mass Effect 3 really shines is the grand story that they’ve crafted over the past 5 years. Ever since the first Mass Effect there’s been a terrible sense of foreboding about the coming Reaper invasion and whilst there are some major plot holes (why did the Council ignore Shepards warnings after a GODDAMN REAPER ATTACKED THEM is beyond me) they’ve managed to keep the story moving through 3 games, even with the wild amount of control that the player has over the plot elements.

As always I decided to play Shepard as a Paragorn and whilst I’d agree with the way he acted about 90% of the time there were some definite moments when he’d go off the rails completely. This is mostly due to the paraphrasing that’s done in order to make the dialog wheel work, making it hard to accurately judge what he’s going say, but when the tough-as-nails by-the-book Shepard I spent the last 5 years crafting started acting out of character it really dumped me out of the game. Thankfully those moments were few and far between, but happened often enough to cause me frustration.

Now I don’t know if this was due to the choices that I had made in the previous games or not but the romantic relationships in Mass Effect 3 felt kind of…weird. In Mass Effect 1 I romanced Ashley who makes no appearance in 2 at all. In 2 I romanced Miranda and when I came face to face with both of them again I set my eyes on Ashley, her being Shepard’s first love. What got me however was the fact that Ashley seemed wholly unresponsive to my advances even though, as far as I was aware, there was no way of her knowing what I got up to during Mass Effect 2. Indeed she never confronted me on the fact, instead just giving me the cold shoulder. Miranda on the other hand was extremely responsive to the point where I basically fell into the romance scene which was a total cop out (when did Mass Effect become PG?). I mean I did feel something for Miranda but it felt kind of odd that Ashley would shut Shepard out like that, especially after the first few deep conversations.

It gets even more interesting as the token gay NPC, Steve Cortez (who’s done brilliantly by the way), ended up in a rather deep relationship with Shepard without me really trying. It could just be because it wasn’t possible to have that kind of relationship before Mass Effect 3, thus having to accelerate the emotional attachment, but it still made me think that Ashley’s behaviour was odd in comparison to everyone else. Not odd as in “Why doesn’t she like me”, more like there was something either unfinished or broken in the story line that I was playing through. I could’ve just stuffed up a critical dialogue option and not realised it, but I’m usually pretty good at noticing those kinds of things.

The rest of my relationships with the crew were just as good as the one with Cortez. Whilst towards the end there are many scenes that are pretty much “This is the last time you’ll get to see them here, better make the most of it” kinds of deals they do feel genuine. I personally found the scenes with Liara, Garrus and Legion to be especially touching, giving me the feeling of a true bond between comrades who had been through heaven and hell together.

WARNING: I’m going to spoil the ending here like crazy. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I’m not going to pretend that this review exists in a vacuum but I did my absolute best to avoid all the articles about Mass Effect 3’s ending prior to finishing the game for myself. All I knew before going into this is that there were people who weren’t happy with it and thanks to my information black out I figured it was just a minority. However after playing through to the ending myself, being able to get the good (read: Green) ending and choosing the Synthesis option I can unequivocally say that Bioware completely and utterly bollocks the ending up, and not just for the reasons that many others have cited already.

For starters whilst the story introduced the deus ex machina ending early on that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a deus ex machina. Granted there are few ways that such an epic story could come to an ending without resorting to this kind of plot device but it’s obvious that the entire plot wasn’t created back when Mass Effect was originally created. Indeed accounts from Bioware employees corroborate this meaning the true ending wasn’t created until just recently. This then feeds into the larger problem, the actual ending itself.

The whole idea of the Star Child, the devices to control/destroy the Reapers and the requirement of Shepard to sacrifice himself are things that don’t line up with the Mass Effect world or the characters within them. Shepard is not a tragic hero and indeed should you have been a tragic hero in Mass Effect 2 (where not enough of your team members survive) you in fact can not import that game into Mass Effect 3 as Bioware has deemed that ending non-canon. The idea then of Shepard making the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of the universe is completely out of character, as well as being completely non-sensical in terms of the Star Child’s solution. Indeed, whilst the Star Child is ostensibly of synthetic origins and thus can be assumed to be completely rational it acts in ridiculously irrational ways. I would go on but many people have dissected it better than I ever could and my sentiments echo theirs closely.

Now I wrestled with the ending for a couple days before talking to my friends about it but the conclusion I came to was always the same. I really do hate the ending of Mass Effect 3, not because it’s the ending or because its tragic (indeed I hated the ending of Red Dead Redemption, but it was good because I was grieving for the loss) but because it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the Mass Effect universe. Instead of the ending being driven heavily by your choices made throughout the game you’re instead treated to different coloured explosions with 1 of 3 endings based on your choice right at the end. For a universe that managed to incorporate so many of your choices into every aspect of the game this ending feels like it was done absent any thought for the rest of the universe and it really shows.

SPOILERS OVER

As a game Mass Effect 3 was almost everything I had come to expect from the series. The combat was fun and engaging with just enough challenge to make sure that I wasn’t powering through the game. The characters were (apart from one) believable and relatable and I felt a real connection with them. Right up until the final couple hours the plot and pacing of Mass Effect 3 was magnificent and it makes me very ashamed to say that the ending just simply didn’t stack up with the rest of the game, and the rest of the series for that matter. Still I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mass Effect 3, even if the ending left a sour taste in my mouth.

Rating: 9.0/10

Mass Effect 3 is available on Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and PC right now for $78. $78 and $99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the Xbox360 on the Hard difficulty with around 24 hours of total play time and 80% of the achievements unlocked.

 

The Witcher 2: Intense, Confusing and Deliciously Salacious.

I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to playing games in sequence. If a game comes out that has a sequel I’ll usually have to play the original first before playing any of the others, unless it’s a strategy game or something where the plot isn’t as important. It can be a real chore sometimes when the games preceding the current release have excessive amounts of play time (I’m looking at you, aptly named The Longest Journey) but I figure that should the sequel be any good than so should the original. The Witcher 2 then comes in as one of the few games where I’ve broken this rule, having not played the original game but after many recommendations I decided to give it go. What followed was definitely one of the more interesting RPG experiences I had and confirmation that my general rule for playing games in sequence is the right way to go.

You play as Geralt of Rivia, a “Witcher” which is a person who was extensively experimented on by wizards and sorceresses as a child. As such he has vivid yellow eyes and the ability to cast Signs which are in essence just spells. From what I can gather the original Witcher started off with Geralt completely losing his memory, thus forcing him to relearn all his training once again. This gives people like me a rather interesting in for being able to play the sequel without playing the first since Geralt is still recovering fragments of his memory as the game progresses. Still there are enough characters who appear to know Geralt solely from his exploits in the first game to make it look like playing the original would be worth it, even if they’re inconsequential to the overall plot.

Graphically the game is quite impressive. In fact this was the first game to bring my machine to its knees after turning everything to its absolute maximum, no small feat considering Crysis 2 barely made it break a sweat on the same level. However after re-tweaking the settings and jumping back into the game it wasn’t different visually so I have to assume that the one setting that said “only for high end machines” is actually just a poorly coded feature. Still the game does have some fantastically lush environments ranging from sprawling cities to deep, dark forests all of which are done exceptionally well.

The Witcher 2 is also completely voice acted with every character in the game having a range of dialogue lines. Encounters like the one above have sprawling dialogue trees enabling you to craft Geralt’s demeanour as you see fit. The voice acting is somewhat lacklustre with Geralt’s gravely voice being delivered in a constant monotone and many of the other characters echoing his performance.  The idle chatter of non-plot NPCs is unfortunately quite limited often repeating the same lines in response to the same trigger event like when Geralt enters the area. For the most part you can ignore it though except when one obnoxious NPC keeps shouting “Bite his balls!” every 20 seconds. 

Combat in The Witcher 2 starts off being extremely tedious as the game relies quite heavily on knowledge attained from the original game. This coupled with a lack of tutorials (lest you have to dive through the in game manual to find what you’re looking for) and incredibly difficult first encounters serves to make the opening scenes of The Witcher 2 rather tiresome rather that enjoyable. Indeed I never found myself playing much longer than an hour or so to begin with specifically because combat was such a chore. Talking over with my friends this doesn’t appear to be an isolated experience although apparently certain unbalanced abilities (Quen) make quite a lot of the game trivial. That’s all well and good but I wanted to play a particular play style (mage path) and using that ability precluded the use of the talents I had heavily invested in. It did get much better towards the end however as Geralt’s abilities became incredibly powerful, able to dispatch legions of enemies before running out of vigor.

Other aspects of the game had me searching for quite a while to figure out how to accomplish certain tasks. The two sword mechanic, steel for humans and silver for monsters, was only revealed after discussing the topic with friends (Of course I hadn’t noticed that the combat log was telling me this the whole time). Crafting is also a bit of a strange beast with Geralt being able to craft his own potions but not anything else, requiring the help of NPCs to craft everything else. There’s also no real indication of what items are useful and which aren’t, leading to your inventory being filled with all sorts of miscellanea that may or may not be helpful for you. I ended up installing a weight reduction mod so that all the crafting crap didn’t weigh anything, making crafting actually worth pursuing rather than a total crapshoot.

The various mini-games in The Witcher 2 serve as something to break up the long quests that the game sends you on as well as functioning as an unlimited money supply. Most of them are quite easy (like arm wrestling and the fist fights) but the dice poker game, since it involves a lot of chance, ends up being a lot more difficult. They seem to be a necessary evil as many items in the game are simply unattainable with the amount of orens you loot or are rewarded with during your stay in the game. Sure most of the best items in the game are crafted but even those require a pretty hefty orens investment, and you’d be struggling to get the required sum without playing numerous mini-games.

The Witcher 2 also takes the crown as being one of the most liberal games when it comes to Geralt getting down with the fairer sex. The opening scenes have him caressing his (naked) main love interest Triss Merigold for a good couple minutes before the plot gets underway. After that point there’s no less than 4 times when women (and demons) will throw themselves at you or, for a few orens, cheerfully take you to their bed. However, apart from some brief interludes with Triss, none of the romping really leads anywhere and for some reason Triss doesn’t seem to care how many women you get with. It then seems that sex is treated more as a reward rather than something meaningful which is unfortunate but is nothing out of the ordinary.

Where The Witcher 2 does shine though is in its action scenes. Whilst the boss fights are few and far between they are all rather intense encounters keeping your heart racing and your gaze fixed on the screen as you do battle with some really fantastical foes. There’s also many 300 inspired slow motion action scenes which whilst cheesy are pretty cool to watch. A few are also quick time events and whilst not entirely difficult (I never failed  single one) they are enough to keep you from breaking immersion when an in game cut scene is playing through.

The story of The Witcher 2 is servicable but unlike other chapter based RPGs like Dragon Age 2 it does have some semblance of an over-arching goal to keep you driven throughout the entire game. I’ll be honest though at the start it’s slow going especially when the all other aspects of the game add endless amounts of tedium. Still Chapter 2 felt quite well paced (I chose Iorveth’s path) and whilst Chapter 3 was incredibly short in comparison it also felt a lot better than Chapter 1 did. The ending however was a total cock tease, foreboding to a big battle that is about to come but abruptly cutting you off before you have the chance to join it. For fans of the game this at least means they’ve got The Witcher 3 to look forward to, but I’ll never forgive games that leave plots so open like that.

Throughout The Witcher 2 I couldn’t shake the feeling that my whole experience of the game would’ve been a whole lot better had I played through its predecessor. Honestly the only reason I didn’t was because of Yahtzee’s rather scathing review of it since I hadn’t heard anything else about it (which is an oddity for me). Still on its own The Witcher 2 is a decent game and I could see myself coming back to it during a game draught to play through Roche’s path just so I could get the complete experience. If you’re a fan of the RPG genre The Witcher 2 won’t be a disappointment to you however if you’re like me and haven’t played the original I’d strongly recommend doing so as otherwise you’ll end up like me wondering why certain things are the way they are and forever googling basics of the game that its developers have assumed you already know.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Witcher 2 is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $79.99 and $89.00 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Easy difficulty with around 24 hours of total game time on a single play through.

Dragon Age II: Become The Champion.

As I’ve said previously sequels are always a tricky thing to get right. They will inevitably be compared to their predecessors and should they not be a wholesale improvement on the experience that came before them then you’re guaranteed to cop some serious flak. Still due to their almost guaranteed market potential any original game that enjoys a modicum of success is pretty much guaranteed to have a sequel, or at least a spiritual successor. Dragon Age 2 is one of these such games and since I thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, despite its flaws, it didn’t take much for me to open my wallet yet again for a Bioware RPG. Over 2 weeks and 30+ hours of playtime I managed to conclude the story of Dragon Age 2 and I’m still trying to figure out where I stand with this game, as are many who’ve done the same.

Dragon Age 2 differs quite significantly from its predecessor. Whilst Origins was your typical pick your own adventure style RPG Dragon Age 2 instead takes the Mass Effect style of game play, giving you the choice of a few character classes which you will play through the game with. This drew the ire of many RPG fans as the depth of character development you could undertake in Origins was quite significant and the switch to a Mass Effect style of game play was seen as a dumbing down of Bioware’s standards. Since I’m not usually one to replay a game (unless it’s really, really good) I didn’t take that much issue with it, but I can understand where the complaints are coming from.

You play this game as Hawke, a man/woman who fled the land of Ferelden during the blight that took place during Origins to seek safety in the land of Kirkwall a once slave nation. The game follows the trials and tribulations of Hawke attempting to regain the notoriety that his family once had and his rise to the position of “Champion of Kirkwall”, told in retrospect by one of his companions Varric. There’s a constant sense of foreboding in how the story is recounted so you always have the sense that something big is going to happen. However unlike its predecessor which had a large, overarching plot that drove you from one quest to the next Dragon Age 2 instead sort of drifts between plot points with each chapter having a different (and completely unrelated) goal. This is where Origins shone as the entire game was leading up to that one point at the end, whereas Dragon Age 2 instead switches between no less than 3 different goals, none of which build towards the final conclusion.

Satisfyingly though combat in Dragon Age 2 is really quite enjoyable. I lamented back in my Origins review that the combat, whilst feeling decidedly epic at many points in the game, was quite a bug ridden affair with my warrior constantly getting stuck on hit boxes and abilities that failed to work as advertised. Dragon Age 2 still has many of the trademark skills that its predecessor had however they all work as expected and the attributes and talents system has been completely revamped. The end result was that my warrior in Dragon Age 2 became a wrecking ball of devastation that was on par with the blood mages in Origins. He could decimate entire swaths of enemies with 2 abilities and towards the end he had practically unlimited stamina allowing all his abilities to be used to their fullest potential. This was probably the best part of Dragon Age 2 for a Mass Effect fan like myself and whilst I wasn’t able to play it like Mass Effect (I.E. without pausing the game to micro my team mates) it was still thoroughly satisfying.

Thankfully the default behavior of your team mates has also been vastly improved. In Origins should you neglect to look at the tactics screen you’d be running with a party that had almost no idea what to do apart from auto-attack everything that you attacked. Whilst I had to make a few minor adjustments to the default settings I don’t think I spent anymore than 15 minutes configuring my party’s behavior before they were adequately fulfilling the roles I had chosen for them. Sure they’re still not able to position themselves automatically but apart from that they were far more capable then their counter-parts in Origins, something which I was very thankful for.

Many other parts of Dragon Age 2 have also been streamlined or revamped to take some of the grind out of the game. Crafting has been redone so that instead of having to level through it in order to get better potions/runes/posions you simply find the recipes around the world. In order to make them however you have to find resources which aren’t depleted when you use them. For someone like me who really doesn’t have an interest in leveling tradeskills in a single player game this was a welcome change and something that made me far more interested in hunting down ingredients and recipes. Old school RPGers will probably say that this takes away from the value of crafted items since you don’t have to really do a lot for them but in the end I’d rather not waste another 10 hours in the game just so I could upgrade my armor or weapon a little more.

Loot in the game is almost too plentiful with my character often having multiple sets of armor after a single dungeon run. Initially it all seems kind of pointless since there’s little to spend gold on and you’ll end up having well over 100 gold after the first chapter ends. However the final few chapters took their toll on my gold reserves thanks to many difficult encounters and full sets of armor that were just begging for rune upgrades. This also extends to your companions who, unlike Origins where you could dress them as you felt, will also require upgrades which can be found at vendors all over Kirkwall and its surrounding regions. Some fights these small additional upgrades can be the difference between winning and losing, as I painfully found out several times over.

The relationship Hawke develops with his companions is one of the better aspects of Dragon Age 2. Unlike Origins where romancing someone was a game of playing their friendship right with gifts and certain dialog options Dragon Age 2 simplifies the idea considerably since the conversation wheel alerts you to the romantic option. Gifts are still around (and form part of the romance should you pursue it) but there’s no longer a myriad of things you can lavish on your potential lover. As the above screenshot shows I had a real soft spot for Merrill and thankfully the relationship didn’t end after a single session of bonking (unlike with Isabella). Whilst I didn’t feel as emotionally involved with the characters as I did with say Heavy Rain I still genuinely cared for them, especially Merrill. It seemed some of them also cared for me as well, with Isabella leaving me and then returning later on in the game.

There are however some extremely visible issues with Dragon Age 2 that need to be pointed out. Not least of which is the repeating environments and asset reuse that is seen throughout the entirety of the game. All caves are the same cave save for doors being open/closed or done backwards and all slaver hideouts, mansions and underground passageways are completely identical. Additionally many in game items are direct copies from Origins which would be fine if they referenced some lore about it but many are just straight up ported from the game’s predecessor. This made the game somewhat predictable in parts since all the encounters happened at the same place, diminishing the replay value significantly.

There’s also a couple issues with difficulty pacing within the game. Whilst there were many times I’d make it through by the skin of my teeth the fights were always controllable and I never felt like I was fighting against a brick wall. The end of Act 2 however brought one fight (I’ll avoid the spoilers for now) that was in essence, impossible. Now I’d usually chalk this up to me going through the game too quickly and not taking the time to level. However all the other fights felt more like ones with mechanics that punished you for getting things wrong. The fight in question however punished you regardless, stretching out the encounter to abysmally long lengths. Talking with my friends reveals that a critical dialog option wasn’t available to me, putting me in the rather unenviable position of having to use the dev console to get past this roadblock. Thankfully this only happened once (the other time was due to me attempting a fight before I was capable of completing it) but it still felt highly out of place when I wasn’t struggling with the game up to this point.

The lack of an over-arching plot was something that Origins did magnificently which Dragon Age 2 simply fails to accomplish. Whilst I can understand the reasoning behind it (Origins took place over 2 years, Dragon Age 2 took 10) the fact that there’s really no goal for Hawke in Kirkwall means that during the various side quests you get a feeling you’re just doing them for the sake of it, rather than building towards the ultimate end. Plus amidst the cacophony of other things you’re doing in the game the main plot line can seem to be nothing more than a footnote until one character tells you “Hey, this could take a while are you sure you’ve done everything?”. With some parts of Dragon Age 2’s story being really satisfying this lack of direction really detracted from the experience.

Despite these faults however I really did enjoy my time with Dragon Age 2. Whilst I would sigh at the repetitive dungeons and lament the fact I had little direction apart from the issue du jour the engrossing combat and reduction of miscellaneous crap  made me forget all my troubles almost instantly. I found the conversations a lot more interesting now that my character actually had a voice, even if the choice options didn’t always align with what I thought they were. Initially I was going to say this game didn’t stand up to its predecessor due to the problems that came from the rushed development cycle but in all honesty Dragon Age 2 is a much better game overall. Given the same amount of time to develop Dragon Age 2 as they did Origins I’m sure it would have come out as a game that both delighted fans of the IP and newcomers alike. It’s good enough that I’m considering a second playthrough and possibly ponying up for the DLC, something which I rarely do even for my most cherished of games.

Rating: 8.5/10

Dragon Age 2 is available right now on PC, XBox 360 and Playstation 3 for $69, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played entirely on Hard difficulty with approximately 31 hours of play time and my character reaching level 21 by the end.

Review scandal: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/03/dragon-age-ii-dev-rates-his-own-game-on-metacritic/

Mass Effect 2: Devastatingly Good.

Mass Effect will always have a very special place on my shelf of games. Way back in the day I remember reading a couple previews of it and being semi-interested but no more than I was in say Bayonetta (which is currently gathering dust, but more on that another day). Then I saw a video of the game play and was instantly captivated. I spent a good couple hours scrounging up every single shred of detail that I could find, becoming ever more entranced in the Mass Effect universe. It got to the point where I said that right before Mass Effect came out I would buy a Xb0x 360 just to play it. My friends told me I was silly for doing so as the game would eventually be out on PC. For me however the 70+ hours that I got out of the game many months before they got to play it was worth every dollar I had spent on purchasing an entire console for just one game. I still do not regret it to this day.

I knew from the start that Mass Effect was destined for a trilogy and immediately after finishing the first I was anxious for the second. Bioware was very tight lipped on the subject for quite a long time and the ravenous sci-fi RPG’er in me was quelled until rumours starting popping up again. For the most part I steered clear of them, not wanting to spoil the narrative that I would soak myself in. So when the day finally came for me to walk into my local EB Games and pre-order the collector’s edition you can imagine how excited I was, which was only matched by the day I picked it up.

Mass Effect, just like Dragon Age: Origins, let you alter your appearance in such detail that you could almost recreate any face in the game. My initial attempts to recreate myself were a bit of a failure, that was until my wife and ex-room mate took it upon themselves to do it for me. It was a decent representation and made for some fun moments when Shepard was doing the horizontal mambo with his various alien conquests. For most of Mass Effect 2 however he looked as he does above since this was the best armor available (part of a pre-order deal with EB). I would’ve liked the ability to turn the helmets off on any armour and not just the default, but it seems it was not to be. Still there were some amusing scenes with Shepard attempting to be comforting in a rather evil looking set of armour.

From the very first scenes of Mass Effect 2 you’re thrown into an increasingly tangled web of loss and sacrifice. The opening scene was heart wrenching to see as all you built up in Mass Effect was destroyed in front of your eyes, including your rendition of Shepard. His resurrection is far from a glorious rise from the ashes where upon he is thrust into the fray instantly upon awakening met with both suprise and cold disdain. This sets the scene for the rest of the game as you struggle with the fact that 2 years of Shepards life have disappeared and everyone you once knew has moved on.

To be honest I was angry with the opening scene for a good while as it felt like a cheap Modern Warfare 2-esque attempt to inspire feelings of shock and loss. However I came to realise that, apart from it setting the scene for your love-hate relationship with your new employer Cerberus, it gave the developers a good “in” to make some much needed upgrades to the layout of your base camp (The Normandy) and to make room for the expanded crew size. Additionally it allowed them to rework and evolve many of Shepard’s past companions without having to do it painfully throughout the game. It’s much easier than the usual attempt of having a screen saying “2 years later” and then everyone has a moustache or another time-has-past telltale sign.

The combat and inventory in Mass Effect 2 is a great evolution of the system that they had in the original Mass Effect. In the original it was very much closer to a traditional RPG with countless items, upgrades and stats to choose from. If you’d played any other Bioware RPGs before the interface would’ve been familiar enough to get around it without too much hassle. Still when playing on a console item management easily became quite a chore and gearing up your party before you left could take quite some time. Combat still retained a lot of RPG elements with the ability to pause the game to queue up abilities, Medi-Gel being the health potion and special abilities having separate cool downs.

Mass Effect 2 on the other hand has taken cues from other great console games on the Xbox 360 like Gears of War, replacing theold health bar with the typical unlimited health so long as you take cover when your damaged system. This then changed the focus of combat quite significantly as it put a much higher value on cover than it did in the previous version. That also had the effect of giving you a pretty good indication when a fight was coming up, since there would usually be boxes or crates strewn across the level for you to hide behind. One thing that I can’t remember if it was present in Mass Effect 1 or not was the mapping of abilities to buttons so they could be used in real time. After discovering that (through the in-game tips section) the game took on a much faster and thrilling pace.

My first play through with this character on  the original was a soldier built to run up to people and smash them into the ground with his bare fists. Not being able to find the melee button for quite a while (it’s B on the Xbox) I had thought they took melee out. After rediscovering it my new Shepard, who was a Vanguard, became an iron fist of destruction, charging any enemy he could and punching them into submission. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to punch Harbinger into submission time and time again, as well as any minion who would dare get in melee range.

It wouldn’t be Mass Effect (or a Bioware RPG) if there wasn’t a chance to get intimate with your crew mates. From the start I had my heart set on Miranda as her cold disdain towards me only served to get me more interested. It seemed that over time she began to trust me with more and more information about her personal life. The scenes with her remembering stories of her childhood and father are heart wrenching, and her loyalty mission only served to cement the bond that I wished to share with her. Of course Shepard got what he wanted and whilst, in true Mass Effect style, there’s little opportunity to talk with your new found lover afterwards before sending yourself on a suicide mission it was still a romantic scene. I’m looking forward to seeing how this relationship develops in Mass Effect 3 (and really, how it will go down with Ashley who was my conquest in Mass Effect) but the effect of these relationships always seems a bit secondary and doesn’t really influence the rest of the game. It could be that they’re playing directly into the hands of the majority of gamers out there (I mean really, the majority of them are just going to go after them for the doink scene, nothing more) but the characters always seem more emotionally involved with each other up until the point where they consummate their relationship, where it usually takes the turn to back to normality. I can understand this level of depth is hard to achieve in a game like Mass Effect (I’m looking forward to Heavy Rain’s take on this issue) but I think the medium and the majority of consumers are mature enough to handle it.

I was hoping to give Mass Effect 2 the coveted perfect 10/10 as the original was one of my favourite games of all time. However I can’t let my inner fan boy override the reality that there are some points of this game that could do with a lot of improvement. The mineral scanning is one of the worst time sink aspects of the game and while I can understand that they have to make the upgrades mean something but wasting the player’s time really isn’t a good way to go about it. Adding in the ability to buy and sell minerals would’ve alleviated this somewhat, as would have say a scanner that would do a radar like sweep across the planet highlighting resource points.

In my 32 hours playing through as my the Vanguard Paragon Shepard I struggled to find times where I had had enough of the game and wanted a break from it. The story was infinitely captivating, the combat engaging and thrilling and the ultimate end was a climatic ending that has me begging for more and eyeing my second Renegade playthrough save with a keen eye. As with any Bioware RPG I can see myself discussing this game at length with all my friends for a while to come as we revel in the little differences that made our playthroughs unique. It is this which is what makes Mass Effect 2 one of the greatest games to grace us as gamers and I can’t recommend it enough to everyone out there.

Rating: 9.75/10

Mass Effect 2 is available for Xbox360 and PC right now for $AU108 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the Xbox 360 on Hard difficulty with around 32 hours of playtime total. Majority of the decisions where along the Paragon lines with the occasional Renegade snap decision.