Mass Effect 2 Preview

We were lucky enough to receive an invite from the guys at EA and Bioware to sit in on the first live demo of Mass Effect 2 at E3. Two of the developers are there to guide us through the demo, both wearing some pretty cool Mass Effect themed shirts.

The driving force behind Mass Effect 2 is the best aspects of the original improved as far as they can, we're told. We receive a similar talk on Bioware game making values as we did when we went to see Star Wars: The Old Republic. The gist of it is that ME2 will be as plot-driven and epic as the first with significant gameplay improvements too.

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The most exciting prospect for fans of the first game will be the ability to import their completed save game from the first title, meaning the choices they made in the first game will then carry over to the second in a big, big way.

In spite of this, our Bioware hosts promise that the game will still be an excellent entry point into the series for those that didn't play the first title but advise people to have that ME1 save file intact if they can - "those with a Mass Effect save will see some very cool stuff," they say, not elaborating further.

The story picks up where Mass Effect left off, and is described as a brutal, darker second act in the Mass Effect trilogy. The Bioware guys suggest that this is the 'Empire Strikes Back' of the Mass Effect universe, and hint that the ending of the game may not exactly be as happy and as successful for the cast as that of the first game.

Commander Shepard is still the first human Spectre, but is approached by a pro-human group called Cerberus (who feature briefly in ME1) to carry out a dangerous mission. From here, Shepard will uncover another dangerous threat to the galaxy and set out to put an end to the threat.

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There's a catch, though - it's seen to be a suicide mission. Shepard sets out to gather a team of the most skilled and dangerous humans and aliens alike to accompany him and support him in completing this mission. We're shown Shepard trying to recruit one such character - Thane - a deadly bounty hunter from a new race of aliens.

Here we get some fun-looking combat. Improved from the first game, the combat seems quicker and slicker, and shows off Shepard using the new heavy weapons system. Headshots now do far more damage than body shots, and improved physics mean limbs can be shot clear of their owners.

Commands for your allies can still be set up, but can now be set up in real time as well as by freezing the action like in ME1. Shepard too has more commands available immediately without stopping the action, making combat quicker, more satisfying and most of all more fun.

While the Shepard we see is a higher level, we're promised that weapons will now be accurate from the start - instead of upgrading weapon accuracy and proficiency, progression will be based around skills that characters can obtain that will open up more combat options to them, as well as 9 new weapon classes which also offer wider variety.

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In combat, it was clear that the game has been graphically improved from ME1, running more smoothly with less graphical glitches as well as some very pretty effects and environments. Combat is only half of this game though, and the improvements made to the engine become truly noticeable once you get up close and personal.

The dialogue and voice acting is as high quality as the first game as we'd expect, and the character models and presentation of these areas feel like a huge step forward from the first game, with higher quality models, better animations and best of all no more texture pop-in on characters' faces.

Cutscenes are more dynamic, too - characters no longer stand still while they talk, but move around and interact with the environment. This takes considerable time to program, the Bioware guys tell us, but is worthwhile for the effect it has on the cinematic feel of the game.

Not every dynamic action is pre-programmed, though, as we're shown. The dialogue wheel returns for dialogue choices, but players are now given an option to take a conversation down a physical route.

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When that's an option, an exclamation park will appear in the bottom left of the screen. Pulling the left trigger when this appears will cause Shepard to react to the conversation in a physical manner - in our demo, instead of continuing to interrogate another character, Shepard kills him by throwing him out of a window. Renegade points gained.

Not all physical actions in conversations will be evil, but unlike conversation choices where the paths are obvious players will have to be much more careful choosing when to physically seize conversations - it may not always result in what they want.

We quickly jump from being shown conversations as Shepard recruits Thane to being shown the Galaxy Map, used to explore. This came under heavy fire in the first game for having visitable planets boring and barren and many more only providing players with a ream of text to read - Bioware has aimed to fix this for ME2.

The map is more interactive, with "more planets full of more stuff, and more ways to scan and analyse those planets." Visitable planets will have much more to do on them, and several of the optional planets in the Galaxy will have detailed side-quests attached to them. Many such quests will reveal the pasts of some of your party members, we're told.

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As a final tease, we're shown a major story event from the game. This part contains SPOILERS, so please scroll on until you see that word again to know it’s safe.

We see the Normandy attacked by a new, unknown force - not the Geth. The Normandy is on the verge of being ripped in two, and the crew - some of whom will be familiar to ME1 players - are heading to escape pods.

The escape pods fire, and Shepard is left alone on the ship, determined to head to the cockpit and save Joker, the ship's pilot, who can't walk. Joker refuses to abandon ship initially, but Shepard forces him to an escape pod. Joker is inside the pod, but Shepard is blown clear by another blast.

The best ship in the human alliance rips in two - the Normandy is down, and Joker and Shepard's fates are unclear. Joker may be safe in the escape pod - our hosts wouldn't reveal this to us. We did see Shepard's fate, however - floating through space about to choke, air running out in his suit at every moment...

"Shepard isn't dead at the start of ME2. But we hope this segment shows you that he's not invincible and yes, he could die," our hosts tease. SPOILERS OVER.

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All in all, what we saw of Mass Effect 2 was highly impressive and a stellar showing that is a real contender for our E3 game of show. It's definitely one of the most anticipated upcoming RPGs for us at RPGSite.

Put simply Mass Effect 2 is more of the same, but bigger, better and more polished. Best of all the technical issues the first game suffered from are seemingly absent.

Only a few things held Mass Effect back from perfection, and Mass Effect 2 seems poised to fix them all.