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E3 2009: Mass Effect 2 Impressions

Fans went into a frenzy when Mass Effect 2 was announced, and E3 2009 provided the perfect opportunity for BioWare to let them know about the fate of Commander Shepard in the upcoming sequel. Players can look forward to a more action-oriented game in comparison to its predecessor, so the game will play very much like a third-person shooter, complete with location based damage. That means headshots will matter and aiming for the legs can maim or cripple foes. Physics will also see some modification so that some of the biotic powers like telekinesis will be showier when lifting enemies off the ground. Players of the previous game can import their saved characters and continue the story using high level skills and gear, but the story is written so that those just entering the series will have no problem getting a sense of what's going on.

Mass Effect 2 deals with a much darker story in comparison to its predecessor. A group of humans go missing on the fringes of space but the newly formed government council refuses to become involved in the matter. Of course it's up to Shepard to do what needs to be done, and in this case, it means exploring the dark interstellar underbelly and dealing with criminals to investigate what's going on. Oh yeah, at some point, a professional assassin is assigned to kill Shepard, so the Spectre clearly has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, the sequel will bring in all new weapon classes, including a heavy weapons category, to blast enemies away.

As great as the combat looks, it makes up only a portion of the overall game. Players will be free to explore the galaxy in search of action, building up points toward being a Paragon or Renegade while fighting off a power that threatens the galaxy. One major change that players will see is an even stronger emphasis on creating a near cinematic experience. Dialogue choices will show up right in the middle of interactive cut scenes instead of being limited to when the player initiates a conversation with an NPC. As expected, characters will treat Shepard differently according to how he handles certain situations.

However, the biggest shocker comes with how far BioWare is willing to push the envelope with this role-playing narrative. The developers want players to feel the full weight of the decisions they make. Therefore, certain sacrifices will have to be made, and important characters will die... and we don't mean the "dead for now, come back later" kind of death. We're talking permadeath from which there's no return.

As a warning, the next part of this article contains spoilers.

During the presentation, we were shown a sequence where the Normandy comes under heavy attack and faces imminent destruction. Although the ship is breaking apart, the crew is loath to abandon their posts, especially Joker, who thinks he can somehow hold everything together. During this sequence, the player will face a number of choices, including who gets shoved into an escape pod against their will. Shepard makes his way to the cockpit and steps has to step out into vacuum to get there, showing the full extent of the damage the Normandy has sustained. From there, he tries to reason with Joker but ultimately forces him out of his seat and into a pod. However, an explosion prevents the captain from getting in too. The final scenes end with Shepard floating helplessly out into deep space with a leaking oxygen tank. So, there you have it... all bets are off with Mass Effect 2. No character is safe, including Shepard himself. This is one of many different endings, but we're guessing that the majority of them would involve a similarly painful sacrifice. Players that manage to keep Shepard alive will be able to import him into Mass Effect 3, but no hints were given as to who might fill his shoes should he die.

It probably comes as no surprise, but the presentation proved that Mass Effect 2 is one of the top role-playing games to keep an eye on. Between this and the fantasy themed Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare will be a dominating force in the role-playing scene in the months to come. The game is currently expected to release in 2010.

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