E3 Impressions: Mass Effect 2

Those of you who listen to Played know that I adore the first game--despite it's faults--and have taken Commander Shepard through his paces more than once. Knowning how brilliant and effective Bioware is at creating entertaining experiences, my expectations for Mass Effect 2 were sky high going in to E3.

After getting two hands-off demonstrations I can mightily exclaim that Bioware has done a tremendous job at listening to it's fan base! Their plan is to advanced Mass Effect 2 in every direction possible including--one of my favorite parts of the series--the conversation system.

Being demonstrated on an X360, the first thing I immediately noticed were the graphical improvements. Gone are the annoying pop-in textures, the crosshatched creeping facial shadows, and most importantly--the feeble frame rate. It looks so fantastic in fact that I was forced to ask the project lead, Casey Hudson, if what we were watching was prerendered material. It sounds like a silly thing to ask, mainly because I knew the answer, but I had to be sure (and get it on the record).

The conversations between characters in the original, though interesting enough, mostly took place in rooms with static positions and sometimes drab perspectives. Bioware feels that that was a little too unnatural looking for the series. So in ME2 the perspectives used during conversations are more dynamic, "organic" and just overall more interesitng to watch.

In the demonstration I saw, Shepard was having a conversation with someone in a moving vehicle and the perspectives varied, moving from the back seat to close-ups and then outside of the vehicle. Though it's a small improvement, but it's one of the many little things Bioware is doing to improve the overall experience (and I don't mean to imply that every conversation will use Dutch angles) either, so please don't take it that way.

A new option has been added to the conversation system that appears to allow physical interaction with someone. It was basically a prompt--lasting only a few seconds--in the lower left-hand side of the screen to press the left trigger. When used in the demo, Shepard threw a guy out a window! I don’t know if this new prompt is always going to be an aggressive act of violence, but I'm very interested in finding out where they're going to take this addition. The original game did something similar in several instances of the game but it was interpreted through the conversation wheel—it just appears that now those instances have been defined elsewhere.

After the demo I asked the design lead about the inventory system. He wouldn’t give me specifics but he did say that they have completely scrapped the old system, from both the console and the PC versions, and are starting anew. He added that they are going for something much more practical, accessible, and useful.

I moved on to--perhaps the biggest gripe amongst us fans--the optional planetary visits and side quests. He smiled and assured me that every planet will be unique in design which quickly forced me to stopped him and press “every planet?”. Responding with another smile, “yes every planet.” In end of the demo they wrapped things up with a short video showing one off of the new planets and it was the exact opposite of what we're use to seeing in ME1. It was a lush green planet with a massive forest and rolling hills--it was exciting!

Lastly, I asked him if the same composer was returning and he said, unfortunately, that he could not talk about that.

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