In a recent conference call, BioWare's Dr. Ray Muzyka outlined the studio's vision for the highly anticipated next installment in the Mass Effect shooter/RPG franchise. Muzyka calls Mass Effect 2 the dark second act in the trilogy. For this sequel, BioWare's primary development goal was bringing back the popular protagonist, Commander Shepard, with significant enhancements to both the shooter and RPG aspects of the game, as well as allowing for a greater range of tactical choices in combat.
Muzyka considers Mass Effect 2's primary area of innovation the synergistic marriage of shooter and RPG elements, so that these often disparate gameplay elements are seamlessly integrated with one another. In the new game, players will enjoy fantastic tactical depth and intense shooter action, coupled with a fully realized galaxy that's open to extensive exploration. The depth of exploration has the potential to influence every moment of the shooter action. The more you explore, discover and develop new technologies, the more options you'll have at your disposal in preparing for and executing the shooter segments of the game.
Though the Mass Effect trilogy has a continuing story arc that carries from the first installment into Mass Effect 2, and, as planned, on to the trilogy's conclusion, gamers who skipped Mass Effect may still have a distinct, enjoyable experience diving into this second game in the franchise. However, if you're new to the series, you may wish to at least dabble in the original title, as decisions you made in Mass Effect, even the title's endgame, will influence at least, to some degree, the story and gameplay in Mass Effect 2.
However you come to it, Mass Effect 2 reflects the obvious intent to make major improvements across the board for the series. Graphical fidelity has been substantially enhanced, frame rate is locked in all portions of the game, and shooter action and exploration, at 30 frames per second, provide, as Muzyka says, a "silky smooth" play experience. Graphics are often a major highlight of contemporary shooters, and Mass Effect 2 is designed to impress, even from this hotly contested perspective.
Further, all the game's interfaces have been redesigned from the ground up over the original title's mechanics. The inventory system remains as streamlined and easy to access as Mass Effect's system, but there are deeper options for customization at all levels. In another area, the decisions the gamer makes in preparation for combat away missions, the action portions of the game, will clearly affect how those portions of the game play out. Development of the central character, Shepard, and the choice of two squadmates for away missions, will make a real difference in how the action unfolds. However, the customization is provided on an as-you-wish basis. Those gamers who prefer to load up with stock weapons and equipment, dragging along a couple of squadmates in the most arbitrary fashion, can do so without degrading the intense shooter experience. The concept is to provide near-perfect balance between micromanaging many options — a strong component of traditional RPG gameplay — with the latitude to skip over many of those details in favor of getting straight to the action. Certainly, the more time you spend in character development, exploration and tactical customization before combat sequences, the more unique and diverse will be your experience in those sequences. In Mass Effect 2, these features are present more as inalienable rights rather than draconian requirements.
If there's a central theme for Mass Effect 2, it's integration. The BioWare team has put untold hours into developing and refining a shooter/RPG title that doesn't play favorites with either of those principal facets. As Muzyka says, "It just grabs you and doesn't let go." He's referring not only to intense combat action, but also the level of immersion obtained through the cohesive matching of player and tactical customization that relates more to the RPG model. Mass Effect 2 is scheduled for release on January 26, 2010, which is a little over a month away. Fans of the original game, and those newly intrigued by the sequel, will learn how it's all going to come out. No minor effort went into the development of this title, and there's no shortage of enthusiasm at BioWare for Mass Effect 2. The enjoyment of the series via this sequel won't end with the retail release, either; plans are already underway for a selection of quality post-release downloadable content.
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