Mass Effect 2 is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive games that I have ever had the pleasure of playing. The fidelity of the graphics engine, the cinematic story telling and the rich universe that BioWare has created are light years ahead of anything else on the market today. However, as I play Mass Effect 2, I can’t help but question whether I am witnessing the evolution of the modern roleplaying game or the modern shooter. It’s an identity crisis that continually jolts me from my immersion in the story and makes me concerned about the homogenization of one of my favorite gaming genres.
One of the staples of the “Western RPG” is the blending of traditional roleplaying mechanics with modern story telling and gaming controls. Games like Mass Effect 1, Fallout 3 and Borderlands have been the most recent examples of this wonderful gaming genre. All three games play as smoothly as any in the dual analog shooter genre while maintaining the statistics based gameplay customization that is typically associated with the roleplaying genre. It is this gameplay customization that sets the RPG genre apart from the shooter genre and it is the lack of that customization that has me so confused while playing Mass Effect 2.
I’m not trying to say that Mass Effect 2 doesn’t allow you to upgrade your skill set within a leveling system, because it does. What I’m trying to articulate is that, unlike it’s predecessors, Mass Effect 2 narrows your gameplay customization to a point where you feel like you’re only upgrading what they want you to upgrade — a trait more closely associated with shooters than RPGs.
When all is said and done, Mass Effect 2 is the closest to a perfect game that I have ever played. One of the greatest aspects of the game is that it allows you to import your character from the first Mass Effect, which makes the second storyline unique to you. Relationships, whether characters lived or died and your general temperament are all carried over from that first save file. It is precisely that level of story customization, however, that makes me wonder why the gameplay feels so predetermined.
Mass Effect 2 is an enormous game that will take several play-throughs to fully appreciate all of it’s intricacies. As far as first impressions are concerned, I am extremely happy with this sequel, despite whatever nagging RPG vs. shooter questions that I may have. Perhaps I just need more time with this wonderful space drama to understand BioWare’s genre-bending sci-fi epic.