This is probably one of the series of first wave reviews for Mass Effect 2 for the PC. One of the advantages of living in a place with GMT set to +8 is that you tend to get retail copies a few hours earlier. I didn’t get ME2 through Steam for this precise reason, and yay, USD $29 USD price tag too. Still way cheaper than Steam.

After running the install, I popped in the access key to Cerberus that allowed me to download a number of things. Since I had a copy of Dragon Age: Origins, I was able to redeem the Blood Dragon Armor through a coupon. With ME2’s retail box, I was also able to download a new playable character, Zaeed into my squad and (SPOILER ALERT) …

… the crash zone map for the Normandy. We learn from the first 5 minutes of gameplay that an unknown ship ambushes and destroys the Normandy, killing Shepherd in the process who in vain tried to rescue Joker. This is where the game first shows off the cinematic quality of in-game graphics as you cover your eyes and navigate through the Normandy to see the swelling fire and decks abandoned to the calm of outer space.

Navigation and movement is very similar to the first Mass Effect, with icons, the HUD and even the sound effects for actions (the light tones of the selection screen) bringing back a nostalgic picture of a game we truly enjoyed in 2008.

What makes ME2 truly shine, and you’ve all seen this from the previews, is the engaging character customization that really differentiates each class. I’ve chosen to play as Vanguard equipped with a Biotic Charge similar to the Leap Attack of Diablo II’s Barbarian which can be leveled up to either become an area of effect charge or a really powerful direct hit “Heavy Charge.” As for weapons, ME2’s leveling system allows you to unlock ammo types such as incendiary and cryo clips which have different effects on enemies. Picking up ammo is automatic.

ME2 introduces new puzzle challenges for unlocking doors and hacking datapads. Unlocking a door requires playing a short game of “Pairs” where you need to match a series similar looking symbols that open when you highlight them and close when your mouse leaves the nodes. Once you’ve selected the first node though, the auto-highlights for choosing a the matching pair disappears. Hacking a computer is similar to matching an encrypted photo with with a series of other photo streams that continuously flood the screen.

Just like its predecessor, character abilities work as one button “omnibus” executions. Unity (healing) heals the entire party while Pull applies to the crosshair’s general direction. The Biotic Charge works the same way, depending on what level the charge is, Shepard automatically charges towards the general direction of a target within crosshair sight.

As of this review, I’ve clocked in roughly 2 hour of gameplay, most of which was spent in “gamer bliss” admiring the scenic instances and reading the Codex. I had to stop only to write down my first impressions.

Mass Effect 2 is definitely a work of art — from its all star vocal cast, well played storyline, and cliffhanger WTF moments in just the first 2 hours of gameplay.

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