Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles If you've been excited to play Mass Effect 2, you probably want me to just cut to the chase and let you know one thing: how great is it? The answer? Really great. It's certainly improves a lot of things over the original. It boasts a vastly superior art design, better shooting mechanics, and a better cast of characters. The vehicle known as the Mako is gone, as are the cookie cutter side missions that all took place in the same boring warehouse. Mass Effect 2 is leaner and meaner, but it's also apt to stick with you and occupy your mind even when you aren't playing it. And that is the kind of mark only a fantastic game can make on you. The exciting opening sequence and the first few hours of the game make Mass Effect 2's shift of focus clear early on: it is more about action than before. The shooting has been cleaned up a good deal, making the game feel a lot more feasible as a third-person cover shooter. As before, two teammates accompany you, and you can give them basic squad orders. And of course, you can pause the action to perform specific powers. However, it's a lot more fun to play Mass Effect 2 as a shooter than it was before. Teammate AI isn't perfect but it's better than in the original, and getting in and out of cover is much slicker. And the level design is much better, giving you plenty of opportunities to move from cover spot to cover spot. Health and ammo are also treated as they are in a standard shooter. Health and shields regenerate now, and you pick up ammo from the battlefield. Medi-gel is used differently... It now powers the unity skill that lets you revive your teammates. The cover system can get glitchy from time to time, and watching your teammates do stupid things like standing up on crates rather than take cover behind them can get a little frustrating. But if you wanted combat that stands up better as a third person shooter, you got it. The RPG elements have also been reworked. If you hated the clunky inventory management of Mass Effect 1, you'll be happy to know it's been taken care of in the sequel... But maybe not in the way you imagined. Traditional inventory has been abandoned completely, and many other elements have been either stripped away or restructured. So rather than find or buy new weapons, you might find new weapon technology instead. Then, that weapon is available at the weapons locker on your ship, where you select your arsenal before going into battle. Weapons can be upgraded in your tech lab, and you can also buy things like model ships for your personal quarters. Even the selection of skills available to you as you level up is a bit more limited... As are the levels themselves. You could do a pretty thorough play-through and not even hit level 30. So between the better shooting and the leaner loot, Mass Effect 2 is balanced differently than Mass Effect 1. You get into the action much quicker than before, and there's less fiddling with the interface and skill points. And yet this rebalancing in favor of shooting over character management works incredibly well. Why? Because Mass Effect 2 is paced faster, and is darker and more violent in tone. You still play as Shepard, the hero from Mass Effect, but now you're working with Cerberus, a pro-human organization with a less than reputable past. Cerberus is headed by the chain smoking illusive man, though it's not always easy to back up your mysterious boss and his questionable moral fiber. The game's fantastic art design also adds to the grittier atmosphere. The color palette is more intense, and strong lighting and deep shadows cast a certain darkness over your adventure. The technical problems of Mass Effect are gone for the most part. There's a lot more artistry and originality to appreciate, and fewer technical oddities to distract you from those things. But just because there's more emphasis on the action doesn't mean that Mass Effect 2 skimps on story and character. The plot involves the threat of the collectors, a swarm of creepy robot locust things. The main plot lets loose a few surprises, but it's fairly straightforward. It's the characters that join you that make this adventure so worthwhile. Yes, you will run into people you knew from the original game, and no, I am not going to tell you who they are and what role they play in your new adventure. But I can say that the cast of crew members and outsiders is larger and richer. Each available member of your team also sends you off on a personal quest. These quests are easily the storytelling highlights of the game, and characters that don't seem that interesting at first gain depth and seem much more fascinating once you pursue these missions. Some of the new characters include a Krogan named Grunt, a sexy Cerberus operative named Miranda, and a cool and collected Asari called Samara. The best addition, however, is a Salarian scientist called Mordin. His fast-talking logical delivery makes him stand out, and he will both move you and have you in stitches. And as fans of the original expect, you'll be talking to a lot of otherworldly beings in Mass Effect 2. Some dialogue choices nudge you towards either the Paragon or Renegade sides of the moral spectrum. As you fill up the meters that represent each side of your ethical makeup, new dialogue options will become available. You'll also be presented with dialogue interruption possibilities from time to time that are classified as either paragon or renegade actions. The basic system still works the same basic way it did in the original Mass Effect, so don't expect to see as many complexities as you would in something like Dragon Age. But it's still an impressive dialogue system, and you're presented with some tough choices towards the end of the game. Also impressive are the number of variables at work should you import your Mass Effect character into the sequel. A lot of consequential decisions you made in the original manifest themselves in extraordinary ways. And if you play a second time as a brand new character, you'll really appreciate the amazing creativity that went into applying those choices to Mass Effect 2. When you aren't shooting or engaging in conversation, you'll be flying about space, scanning planets and dropping probes, which is how you earn most of the resources you need to upgrade your weapons. This isn't bad by any stretch, but even after the scanner is upgraded, scanning is a slow process that eventually gets tedious and mucks with the otherwise remarkably intense pace. But really, what this game nails is everything that's most important. A few small issues and bugs aside, Mass Effect 2 is a far more engaging experience than its predecessor. It feels like its own universe now, which speaks largely to a much improved art design. It tugs at your heartstrings in unexpected ways while letting you be as virtuous or as mean spirited as you want to be. In other words, it's time to get lost in another galaxy, where it is once again up to you to save humanity for annihilation. And don't forget to buy a space hamster during your visit.