GamesCom 2009: Mass Effect 2 Hands On Preview - The Great Thane
Written Wednesday, September 02, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
You’ll always find that whatever trade show you go to, at one of the behind-closed-doors meeting rooms, there is one annoying journalist that will wander into that same booth multiple times. It is with booming pride that I hold my hands up and say “that was me”... for once. Anyone care to hazard a guess at the game? Ding, ding, ding... Mass Effect 2. At GamesCom this year we managed to go hands on with the level that was on show at E3 where we met Thane for the first time, but more importantly I’d say, we got chance to ping a few (read, a lot) of questions at Associate Producer, Jesse Houston. Granted, I got a lot of “we can’t comment on that just yet” responses but that was to be expected considering some of the questions I was firing at him. Answering them would have no doubt ruined BioWare’s promotional run in of the title and that’s the last thing they want. We tried though. So we’ll keep the hands on aspect fairly short because we touched on it a lot in our E3 preview and most of this preview will revolve around the topic of conversation with Jesse Houston.
As you’ll be aware by now, the combat in Mass Effect 2 has been ramped up from a shooter perspective and whilst it controls largely the same to Mass Effect 1, there are a few subtle differences. Other than the individual squad commands, one of major changes is the fact that the RPG elements have been removed from the shooter aspect. “Yes, if you want to run and gun, we’ve really enabled that a lot more. We’ve taken out a lot of the RPG mechanics for shooting for example. So being a newbie doesn’t kill you anymore... the bullets go where you want them to go,” commented Houston.
Will this shift put off the more RPG orientated gamers though I asked Houston? “That may or may not happen. I personally think, no. And the reason I think that is because you can get this pause and deliver gameplay... I still play like the RPG style, where I’ll roll up and get into cover. “Which abilities do I want to use?” Pop out. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Roll back, you know, deal with it from a more tactical perspective. We’re really pushing towards giving you that option rather than to force it upon you, like it was in the first one.” It was apparent that this new mentality did exactly that and although I like to think of myself as a more than competent shooter, I still found myself reverting to the power wheel RPG tactics to take down enemies.
Whilst we were on the topic of the power wheel, we were intrigued to see what sort of new powers the game would be receiving; a lot more maybe? “I wouldn’t say a lot more,” Houston noted. “The original ones are still going to be there and they’ll all have changed. There’s definitely been improvements across the board, for example, a lot of what we would have put in the inventory system like disrupter ammo or inferno ammo, are now power based... allowing you to make more combat decisions in the game without having to hit the start button.”
Being a fairly old build of the game, Houston was quick to point out that the tech on show was a little behind what they were currently working on back at the BioWare HQ. For starters, “the HUD will have completely changed in the final version” and the heat displacement of the standard rifles was also “not the final version.”
Topic of conversation quickly shifted to the painfully agonising lift loading screens from Mass Effect 1 as I made my way up to meet Thane. “We have no loading elevators in the game,” said Houston, almost happier to say it than I was to hear it. “There are a couple of elevators, but they’re not load scenes. They’re where they make sense. You hop into the Normandy elevator, you go down. It doesn’t take you 5 weeks to go down anymore, it’s not the slowest elevator ever invented,” which is always good to hear.
Having seen this scene a few times before I knew what was coming and I was even quick enough to catch the left trigger renegade interrupt... that I thought did nothing. Houston was eager to point out that the interrupt actually opens up a perfect opportunity for Thane to drop in and get his kill. If I hadn’t have pulled it, the conversation may have become slightly more drawn out but it obviously didn’t have the same dramatic effect that the interrupt had at the base of the Dante Towers from the E3 demo – where Shepard pushes the guard out the window. One observation from the multiple playthroughs of the same level was that the interrupt flashed up and disappeared a little too quickly for my liking and seemed more like a QTE response than anything.
Reflecting on Thane’s superior calm, cool and collected persona I asked Houston whether there were any better characters than him that remained unrevealed. “Yeah, I can tell you for absolute certainty that this is not my favourite reveal in the game.” Oh? “There are a couple – one of which we’re hoping to show real soon.” You’re not talking about Grunt? “Oh no.”
So are we expecting similar missions for all new party members? “The way that we both reveal and get new characters is a lot more story based now... everyone is like this [the Thane reveal]... We still give you the first couple, so you have a full party though.”
Thane according to Houston is one of the middle reveals, although the game is structured really different compared to the original. “The way we structured the game is a lot more branched out. It’s not so much a first second, third, fourth... We pretty much give you a small set of characters and then we unleash you on the world and let the story progress how you want it to.”
The whole issue of squad loyalty still remains an enigma to me and even after Houston touched upon it some more, I was still at ends. “It’s not just the more you get [party members], but how you have them in your party and how loyal they are to you.” So you can have small but loyal squad and do the final mission? “Absolutely.” And the same goes the other way... large squad and no loyalty means you fail the final mission? “You may or may not be able to finish it,” was Houston’s answer. “It’s no longer just getting access to a biotic like it was in Mass 1, it’s not only about using the right characters but actually having them partake in the story a lot more.” So it’s starting to sound more like loyalty is based on how many missions the squad member goes out on with you... although that is pure speculation.