Mass Effect was a fantastic game, one I personally enjoyed immensely, but it was not without its shortcomings, a fact of which BioWare is acutely aware. So while the development team is feeling pretty damn good about its sequel - Ray Muzyka calls it "our best game" - they went into its creation process knowing that they had some repairs to make. "It's very much the same kind of game," says executive producer Casey Hudson, "but we've improved every aspect as much as we could."
I got to play a small portion of Mass Effect 2 about a month ago, and it definitely still looks and feels like a Mass Effect game should. But it's also clear that BioWare has been listening to its audience and tweaked the game in some necessary areas, including:
1. The Combat - Remember how awesome the combat was in Mass Effect? Probably not, because it wasn't. Though not actually broken, it was frequently frustrating and many players found it to be highly unsatisfying. Hudson lays the blame for that unfortunate truth squarely at BioWare's feet. "There just wasn't enough tutorial to explain the potential of the game," he says. "We just threw you in without a full explanation of how things worked." The result, according to Hudson, was that most players finished the game without ever really understanding or realizing the full depth of the combat.
Combat is still a very large part of Mass Effect 2's gameplay, but it's been refined so that those portions of the game play more like a traditional shooter. The goal was to enhance the "pick up and play"ability, so that someone more used to, say, a Gears of War or Halo would be able to dive right in and enjoy themselves.
I hated the combat in Mass Effect and viewed it as a necessary chore that I had to endure in order to get to the fun parts of the game. Conversely, I played through several combat-heavy sequences in Mass Effect 2 and thoroughly enjoyed all of them, even though some of them were fairly difficult. Controls for you and your squadmates can either be accessed via the power wheel, which pauses the game, or by mapping them to the controller. Once you've mapped your favorites, you can go through fight sequences without once bringing up the wheel, which keeps the action fast and fluid. I usually just worried about my own firepower and abilities, leaving my companions up to the AI, which seemed to work just fine. The fighting feels less unique than it used to, but the more fast-paced, less frustrating experience is worth it.
To help balance the weapons a little better, guns now use "thermal clips" to keep them from overheating. Each clip has a limited amount of use - it might cool off 20 shots from a pistol, but just one from a sniper rifle. Clips are universal and can be used in any weapon, but you're still going to have a finite number at your disposal, so you'll have to think hard about how you choose to arm yourself going into a fight.
By the way, if you're concerned that BioWare has turned your beloved Mass Effect into some kind of generic shooter, don't be - all the RPG elements you loved from the first game are still there in the sequel, I promise.