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2010’s Game of the Year is…

Come on now, what else did you expect? All the other nominees for Game of the Year are very good in their own right and are no less deserving of your attention. However, Mass Effect 2 was chosen Game of the Year for several reasons. Bioware has trimmed the fat off of the  series’ first outing and got back to what made the Mass Effect franchise great. Not simply because it’s a wonderful experience from beginning to end, but because it is quite possibly the most important game of this generation so far.

What makes Mass Effect 2 so special? How can this game be confidently declared Game of the Year? Without spoiling too much, it’s the perfect marriage between RPGs and shooters. It is not an RPG disguised as a shooter. There’s no shoddy dice-roll business happening behind the scenes in the combat. It has a great tactile feel and plays pretty much like most other third-person shooters on the market. Clever button-mapping and hotkeys will allow players to put down baddies and unleash biotics in no time. Squad management is a manner of deciding which teammate uses what power on the highlighted opposition. The menu system slows down the action around you and lets you get in and out without any fuss. This allows for fluid continuous action. Did I mention that this is also an RPG?

It looks and plays like a shooter but it's also a RPG?! Madness.

Mass Effect 2 has ridden itself of the massive inventory that plagued the first title. It vouched for a simple upgrade system that involves recovering the research needed to upgrade your weapons, abilities, armor, and tech. Powering up your character and party is a hallmark of good role-playing design. The customization of the RPG genre is largely intact without the unnecessary congestion. These are merely gameplay aesthetics that pave the way towards the larger experience that is Mass Effect 2.

Want character creation and customization? You got it. You can also carry over your character from Mass Effect 1 if you so desire.

Role-playing games have always maintained strong story elements and characters. Bioware has fused those long-standing traditions of the RPG genre successfully into a shooter. The world, no, the galaxy that the team at Bioware has put together is rich in mythos. Imagine yourself staring at a single planet, pulling the view out to the solar system it’s a part of, pulling back further to reveal the larger nebulae, and then opening up to the view of the entire Milky Way galaxy. The galaxy is for you to explore and the immensity of the characters that populate it are there for you to interact with. The sheer scale of it all is simply mind-blowing. Not only is the universe memorable, but so are the characters.

The characters that you meet along the way are some of the most well-developed. Ironically enough, humanizing at times.

The alien and humanoid melting pot provides excellent social commentary. There’s an underlying intrigue between races that link all of them together in one way or another. They all have deep-rooted history. It provides an interesting contrast to our own world (ya know, the real one?)  Some alien races have prejudices against other species. Your character being human gets the brunt of this and makes for an interesting experience when face to face with other-worldly species that don’t exactly think highly of your standing. But how other races view you is dictated by the player’s choices. Players can choose to be a humble ambassador on behalf of humanity or they can just shove the business end of a gun in everyone’s faces. The narrative is player-driven, so decisions may impact you in a good way or may come back to haunt you later.

Conversations are never boring in Mass Effect 2. Especially with Mordin.

What’s a role-playing game without an excellent cast of characters to occupy your party? Nothing. The personalities you’ll be recruiting to your cause are well-crafted and the drama that surrounds them pulls you in and doesn’t let go. BioWare has pulled out all the stops by creating some of the best characters in the industry. Period. They all have tribulations they’re trying to overcome and you’re in the position to help them in order to earn their loyalty. This is a clever set up that allows the player to further their rapport with their virtual comrade. And they become truly that; a comrade. Nearing Mass Effect 2’s endgame, the very characters you’ve become so acquainted with are ultimately at risk.

Martin Sheen...er the Illusive Man likes to tell you how it is.

Humanity is on the brink of extinction and a race known only as the Reapers is systematically eliminating human colonies around the galaxy. This ancient threat lies beyond the Milky Way and the effort you’ve placed into gathering your team will be put to the test on the enemy’s doorstep. Yes; the team you’ve formulated and bonded with in 25+ hours is now putting their life on the line. Literally. Any of your team members can perish on this epic suicide mission. You will have to play to your squad’s strengths and you’re the one calling the shots.

Deciding who to bring and who you're willing to risk is only a small part of what makes Mass Effect 2 great.

Tough choices aplenty, the success of missions (and sentient life as we know it) weighs on the shoulders of the player him/herself. It’s quite daring of BioWare to have the players risk the very personalities that makes the game so rich. But it is this very design aesthetic that forces players into realizing what is on the line. It’s genuinely stirring to see a member of your party bite the dust. The ending to Mass Effect 2 is epic as epic can get and is worth the price of admission alone. Plus, the sum of your choices and the actions you’ve taken during the course of Mass Effect 2 will go on to affect the events of the sequel. Awesome. Simply awesome.

Remember that high-level, super-upgraded character you'd totally grab a beer with? Well he or she could die... sorry. Not to mention it would be your fault no less.

Mass Effect 2 cannot be praised enough. It improved upon everything that made the first Mass Effect great. It removed all the unnecessary contrivances that slowed down the first title and made it immensely playable. The explosive and frenetic combat easily compares to other third-person shooters and simultaneously maintains it’s RPG roots. Not only does it run smoothly and looks damn good, but the story and it’s characters are memorable and ranks among the best in 2010. It is a lengthy and deep adventure that will suck you into additional playthroughs. Bioware has created a sweeping sci-fi saga that not only elevates the Mass Effect franchise, but role-playing games in general. The experience is completely fueled by the player’s actions and in-actions. Hands down it is the complete package. Gone are the days of dice-rolls, inventory management, and number crunching. Bioware throws the middle finger at all those dated elements and allowed the experience to take over instead of statistical algorithms.

Mass Effect 2 is the harbinger of great things to come in the role-playing genre. BioWare boldly takes the action-RPG genre to new heights. Undeniably it is a gaming experience that shouldn’t be missed. Without a doubt, Game of the Year. Do yourself a favor and buy this game.

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