Mass Effect 2 Is More Than What Meets Our Eyes

The build-up for BioWare's Mass Effect 2, still not planned for release until next year, has been one of gaming's more mysterious. Hints of Commander Shepard's possible death in trailers and demos confuse ever more. What's going on? Kotaku asked.

"We have been saying it's the dark middle act, so the tone is definitely darker," the game's lead writer, Mac Walters, told Kotaku at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle. "To draw comparisons: Much the same way you would say Empire Strikes Back is the dark middle act of Star Wars, it still felt like Star Wars. ... So you're still going to find a lot of very familiar themes, elements, and characters. It's all going to feel very Mass Effect."

We've written about Mass Effect 2's combat — and about the possible deaths of protagonist Commander Shepard. And it all seems ominous, foreboding and a little bit confusing.

"It's fair to say there's more than meets the eye to what you've seen," BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk told Kotaku during the show. "I'm not going to get too much into specifics." He remarked that this is the first sequel his company has been able to work on since Baldur's Gate 2 in 2000. "It's nice to be able to change and modify. We think it's going to be a much better game than the first one."

The publicity machine isn't kicking into gear for this one yet, Zeschuk explained. That's why so little is known. They developers will answer process questions, but are skipping content answers.

So, Walters will talk about how BioWare is writing the new game differently: On the first game, Walters was a senior writer focusing on the characters Wrex and Garrus as well as several quests. He said the writing team for the second game has been working to make dialogue more conversational and, with the benefit of a larger cinematics team involved in this project, they are attempting to craft more of the conversations as scenes rather than just moments of characters saying what they need the player to know.

But Walters won't talk about who is in the game, besides Shepard: "A lot of the main characters you're going to see them — if they're alive," he said. "You can expect to see cameos, return appearances by some people. Your decisions from the first game will matter. If, for some reason, they're dead, they're not going to come back. We listened to our fans and realized some of the characters in the sidequests are really popular. Well, we're bringing them back so you'll sometimes see the return of some of the fan favorites." That says something. But it doesn't exactly name names.

Even the spin-off Mass Effect 2 comic is shrouded in secrecy. Walters is overseeing the writing of the Dark Horse Comics mini-series, which is set to launch alongside the game. The series will be scripted by Dark Horse's writer of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comic, John Jackson Miller. Walters said the Mass Effect comic's story occurs during the timeframe of the second game, involving new locations and characters in the sequel's universe. While Mass Effect gamers have been able to play the series' lead character, Shepard, in divergent ways — renegade female soldier, paragon male biotics specialist, etc — Walters said the comic will be able to deal with that and not violate people's impressions of who Shepard is to them. How? "You're going to have to wait and see." More mysteries.

In a void of firm answers about what is likely to be a popular 2010 sequel, we'll just have to keep guessing as to what Mass Effect 2 has in store.

"A lot of people ask about, 'What are the big changes?'" Walters said. "It's actually a lot of small changes. Even just as a person who's played it a million times, I'm just like, 'Wow.' It's Mass Effect but it's such a better experience now."

I told him that solving the elevator problem — the complaint about slow, dull glorified loading screens from the first Mass Effect — is no "small change."

"Everybody I talk to is like… 'Elevators?'" Walters recalled. "I say: 'Don't worry about it.'"