The adjective "stunning" is over-used, especially when it comes to video game criticism. Everything's stunning these days; graphics, story, characters… everything. Well, in the case of Mass Effect 2, it's the only word that even comes close to describing the experience on offer.
In Mass Effect 2, everything is stunning. The sophisticated sci-fi story is stunning at every turn. The refined, third-person cover-based combat is stunning at the turn of every corner. And the cinematic dialogue system, voice acting and facial animations are stunning in every page-turning cut scene. It all comes together to form what may well be 2010's best game, and possibly the greatest role-playing game of all time.
Mass Effect 2's brilliance shows Canadian developer BioWare is in top form. Confidence breeds confidence, and Mass Effect 2 is one of the most confident, brash, even arrogant - but in the good way people admire - games ever created. It is a masterpiece from a developer that knows it's ahead of the game in almost every department that matters, from graphics to branching storylines to… well… everything.
Taken in isolation, Mass Effect 2 stands head and shoulders above its peers. But those who played the first game will find even more to admire, because it improves not only the things that didn't work, but the things that quite clearly did. We all know about the changes that have been made to the combat - every game magazine and website, including this one, has been banging on about them for months. Only now, though, having pumped over 40 hours into this dark, second act, do we know the true extent of BioWare's commitment to bettering what's gone before.
Firstly, let's go through the obvious stuff. The cumbersome inventory system has been streamlined to the point where you don't actually have an inventory at all. Instead, you have a base set of weapons - shared by all party members - that can be upgraded through scientific research in the Normandy tech lab. Then, before embarking on a mission, you're given the opportunity to set your loadout. It's simple and effortless, like yoghurt.