The extent of my own experience with the original Mass Effect has totaled no more than an hour. After having played Mass Effect 2 at Gamescom, I now feel obligated to remedy that and revisit BioWare's sci-fi RPG.
The Mass Effect 2 demo at Gamescom began with a dialogue tree, a conversation between Commander Shepard and his Asari associate, discussing the upcoming mission he was about to undertake. It was, in the BioWare way, full of choices, packed with well written dialogue and voiced expertly. The scene was lighted beautifully, with a dim glow inside the space car hovering through a city at night. That mood-setting and gum-flapping switched to an action sequence in short order.
Shepard and his squadmates were met with heavy resistance as they attempted to work their way up a towering skyscraper, a dozen or so security bots, Asari bodyguards and missile turrets between them and their rendezvous point.
Fortunately, Mass Effect 2's combat system feels much improved—from what I recall—thanks in part to a more familiar control scheme. The game's gunplay and combat just gives one the impression that they're playing a mechanically sound third-person shooter, less of a role-playing game with some shooting action bolted on. Hopping in and out of cover, sticking to objects with A, felt natural and familiar.
Our squad felt a bit easier to control as well, with the Xbox 360 controller's D-pad remapped to make a bit more sense in that particular situation. According the controller map presented on-screen before our demo, up was set to "group attack," down set to "rally" and left and right set to squadmates one and two respectively, having them move or attack based on the current context.
The control layout is still somewhat complex, with the B button set to deliver a melee "gun butt" when tapped, with Shepard throwing a haymaker when held a bit longer. Still, it worked, after getting used to it.
After wrapping up our battle, we entered another dialogue situation. Again, the digital actors performed admirably among a gorgeous set, with moody retro sci-fi music adding a beautiful tone to the scene. Among the dialogue tree selections was an on-screen indicator that popped up for a fraction of a second, instructing us to react. Unfortunately, I missed that cue and therefore missed out on what that split-second reaction event would have done.
I won't spoil what happened during our scene, but suffice it to say, what occurred during our interaction between Shepard's crew and the individuals they were there to... deal with ended surprisingly. It also introduced one of Mass Effect 2's new characters, an alien who's visual and technical design illustrates just how talented the artists at BioWare are.
Mass Effect 2 definitely looks to improve upon the original with some of the features we saw during Gamescom. Graphically, the game looks even more spectacular. And the story segments we saw definitely had me interested in revisiting the original. I really want to know what the hell is going on.
As I told BioWare's Heather Rabatich and producer Jesse Houston after my hands-on session, it's rare that I can find the time to play the company's epic RPGs. But after my Gamescom demo, I'm finding the time.