Monday, 18 January 2010

More bullets than brain cells

Now a lot of the previous classes have had abilities that help them in battle when things get heated, after all its good to have some kind of edge over your enemies isnt it? "Screw that!" says the soldier who goes in all guns blazing, no biotics, no tech powers, just guns. Lots of guns and a hell of a lot more bullets, and grenades, and rockets, and miniature nuclear missiles.

I only tried out the soldier in ME1 untill Virmire (and that was rushing through the story) and found that it was lacking in fun. This may have been because all my aiming sucked as I put equal points into each gun type. I hardly hit anything for the campaign, with aiming reticules the size of the citadel, especially for the shotgun.

So how exactly will the soldier eviserate his enemies this time? Surely guns and bullets cant have been upgraded that much since the last game.

The enemy still has its shields up, will the soldier overload them to get them out of the way? No, he'll shoot them off. The enemy is heavilly armoured, will the soldier cast warp so that the armour will weaken? No, he'll shoot it to pieces. The enemy is close to death, will the soldier finish them with a throw? No, he will shoot them dead with a gun, a big gun, in the head and then he will dance on the enemies corpse for hours and hours, cackling madly like the pyschopath he is.

Thats right, guns. The soldier has no time for wussy powers in the heat of combat. He knows his guns and sticks to them religiously, being the only class to have access to all of the guns in the game. This includes heavy pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, assualt rifles and heavy weapons. Like Gordon Freeman in Half Life the soldier carries more guns that any one person is ever supposed to have, although in Mass Effect they've somehow managed to make them all fit on someones back. Who knows how Gordon Freeman does it, presumably by bending time and space to create a pocket dimension, with his sheer awesomeness.

Half life fanboyism out of the way (I did not make that) I'll go through each of the guns, something that I havent done in detail for the other classes but something I think fits the soldier pretty well. As more and more videos have been revealed on the mass effect website, more variants of each gun have been revealed, though not officially explained.

Heavy pistols are the bigger and badder older brother to the pistols in ME1. They fire big bullets and have only a few of these in each clip. The damage from each shot looks massive and the pistol is versatile at close to long range. They fire slow though and dont have much knockback on the enemies, leaving you open in close combat. They need to be reloaded every 6 or 8 shots as well so the shots have to count.

Another variant of the pistol briefly shown in the Vanguard video looks much smaller, but carries 16 bullets in a clip, it can then spray these out at high speed, like the cool gun the Joker had in The Dark Knight. It probably deals less damage but has a obvious advantage with the larger clip and the faster rate of fire.

Submachine guns are the step up from pistols in size but their role is completely different. They have a high rate of fire and work horrendously well at close range and okay at medium ranges. They seem to do small amounts of damage on a hit but they have a lot of hits. The knockback shuts some enemies down while you pepper them with bullets.

The shotgun is the workhorse of the close combatant. It looks tremendously powerful, but is only at all accurate at close ranges. It has a slow rate of fire but possibly the largest knockback which means the enemy will have only just recovered by the time you fire the next shot, if they survive.

The sniper rifle is the territory of the Infiltrator which the Soldier has the cheek to pick up and pretend to shoot at people while pretending to be a much better class. Never the less the soldier can also use the sniper rifle. The larger sniper rifle is effective at medium to extreme ranges and has amazing power, able to headshot pretty much any enemy. It only holds one shot per clip and has a terrible rate of fire as it needs to be reloaded every time.

Assualt rifles are exclusive to the Soldier and seem to be very powerful, with a high rate of fire, good range and good damage the assualt rifles are the well rounded gun that the Soldier needs. They also have a large clip but they burn through ammo very quickly.

Another variant of the assualt rifle is the light machine gun which is just a bigger and nastier assualt rifle, with decreased accuracy but heightened power it is meant for suppressing and shredding bad guys. It also has a massive clip of 80 rounds so plenty of "ARRRRRR!" Rambo moments are sure to be had.

Heavy weapons are largely mysterious at this point but a few have been confirmed, these include the rocket launcher, the grenade launcher, the blackstorm which fires singularities, the cryo gun and of course the miniature nuke launcher. These should be a hell of a lot of fun to unleash but they have extremely limited ammunition making them weapons to fall back on if everything goes wrong.

Sure the soldier has powers, but they all involve guns and ammo in some way. The soldier has access to all the different types of ammunition, the incindiary ammo for soft targets, discruptor ammo to shoot through shields and destroy mechs and the cryo ammo to freeze enemies before their utter destruction.

They also have access to Concussive shot which looks like it will be useful. It effectively works like carnage in ME1 and fires an explosive shot from the gun to force enemies away from the impact and knock them over. This could let the player set up easy finishes or to reduce a well co-ordinated group of enemies to a pathetic mess that easilly be picked off by your team of highly trained killers.

Adrenaline burst is the other power and is potentially the most interesting, allowing the soldier to slow time around him for a limited duration. During this period you move and fire much faster than your enemies and deal extra damage with each shot. This allows the soldier to become a god for several seconds and tear his enemies limb from limb. It also helps you to aim faster but if anyone ever used the pause aim tactic in ME1 this shouldnt be too useful.

I'll play the soldier this time as it looks like so much fun from the video, the versatility of having that many guns should add depth to it. What will make or break the soldier in my opinion though is the gameplay mechanic for the gunfights in the game. If the gunfights are good and fun, then some of the best moments are sure to belong to the soldier class. If it falls a bit flat I'm afraid the soldier will fall back into its past role, uninteresting and repetitive.

The enemies in the mass effect universe dont stand a chance against the soldier and their best hope may be that the soldier depletes the galaxy of bullets before he reaches them. This being unlikely, I hope they've all been saying their prayers.

Next time I will finish with the best class, the almighty Infiltrator.

A child of two worlds

If an Adept and an Engineer had a baby, it would be a very ugly baby. But say they did, their baby might be something like the Sentinel. A child of two worlds and many interests, a jack of all trades but master of none of them. The Sentinel is just that, having access to some biotic powers and some tech powers as well as an above average use of firearms he has developed to compensate for his wimpy heritage.

The Sentinel class is one that lacks focus, but this may actually prove to be their greatest strength, granting the versatility that his parents lack, able to take on smaller living enemies as well as larger synthetic ones. This could prove to be a large incentive to play the Sentinel in ME2.

I know I was meant to do this yesterday but I was asleep and lazy so I'll do it now and pretend it was on time, hopefully doing the soldier in the evening. I'll try and keep it shorter as well as the last article was over 1,400 words long, but thats the problem with biotics, theres just too much to talk about.

But anyway, whats the Sentinel actually like in ME2? Having never played them in ME1 I dont know what to expect, though with Kaidan as their only ambassador, its not looking good...

Good, so not like Kaidan, who, unfortunately for Carla is still ALIVE. The randy bastard tried to get it on with my character, ha! You're not even good enough to be in the same room as her, get out! Oh well, it was my loss as I didnt bother talking to Liara either so on the way to Ilos Carla Sheperd just sat and cried in her room, alone. Maybe Kaidan will try again, and my character, in desperation will go with it, lets hope not.

The main thing that stands out about the sentinel is the tech armour, some kind of holographic armour suit that is generated on top of your shields. This increases your shield strength with +25% at level 1 and presumably +100% when maxed out. This should enable the sentinel, which is a powers class to last longer in straight combat and do more interesting things. Melee isnt out of question either, with the armour exploding in a concussive wave when depleted, knocking back the enemies that are near to you.

This will give you a second chance when fighting husks and varren but could be useless when the enemies are at longer ranges. After it explodes there is a cooldown before it can be used again but its only short, and should only become a problem when you're really in trouble. I can see this being constantly activated in the background, like a constant buff. It looks amazingly cool as well, though why the characters dont have any covering their face is odd and more than a little bit foolish.

Sentinels also get access to the throw biotic power and can toss their enemies away with a flick of the wrist. You can upgrade this to push field which works a little like shockwave but you get to control the movement of multiple enemies at the same time. This complements the sentinel at both short and long ranges and should add some interesting tactics into the fray.

Warp is the only other biotic power that sentinels have access to and its a good choice in my opinion as it potentially complements their other skills and strategies as a sentinel. You open enemies up for attacks from other players and quickly get rid of barriers and armour that grant immunity to your other powers.

Tech powers stolen from the engineer include cryo blast, which fires a glob of ice at an enemy, hopefully freezing them solid and setting them up for being shattered or just allowing you to run away like a big sissy baby. The other power is overload which can be used to damage an enemies shields or do direct damage to mechs. Armour grants immunity against overload though so it will only be useful sometimes agains the larger mechanised enemies. Overload was a god send as the Infiltrator and should work as well for the Sentinel. Again, it adds to the controlling/ debuffing role of the Sentinel. It also seems to reveal stealthed enemies so that could be an invaluable tool for detecting hidden enemies. This also reveals a massive counter to the Infiltrator, but I'll discuss that later.

There another power seen briefly in the video (only on the power development screen) that isnt used called Slam. I can only assume this is something that improves your melee in close combat but I cant be sure, there is no information about it on the internet.

This does give me hope though that there might be extra powers for each class which are only unlocked when certain ranks in other skills have been reached. Thinking back, this is how several skills were unlocked in ME1. The team at bioware are perfectly capable of making videos with skills maxed out but some hidden so this might be what they are doing. For example, in ME1 Lift was unlocked when Throw rank 7 had been acquired. Maybe there will be stuff like this in ME2.

Sentinels, as another powers class only get access to the heavy pistol and the submachine gun, as well as the heavy weapons that everyone gets. The tech armour will make gunplay more interesting, with the sentinel being able to get much closer and in the middle of the enemies than the adept or the engineer. Tech armour will make you last longer before you have to hide and this should let you lay some bullets down and do a lot of damage.

Sentinels seem like a good choice for the indecisive player, with them having access to a fraction of the powers from the other focus classes and still being able to hold their own in a gun battle. It could be very fun to play as you'd have an answer to everything that could be thrown at you. It could also be annoying though, and the constant lack of high level powers might turn it into a bit of a grind, spamming cryo blast and throw for the entire game.

I'll play the Sentinel, but I'm trying to decide whether to play it before Engineer and Adept, or after. It would be a good introduction to tech and biotic powers but I might play the Engineer and Adept before so I get a proper experience of these classes. The only things Sentinel has going for it is the Tech Armour and the versatility granted from being what he is. I might find a place in my heart for the Sentinel and hopefully they wont just end up being the unloved child of now divorced parents, crying themselves to sleep, every night, in the future.

The final class before the amazing Infiltrator next, the hardened Soldier.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Where everything is blue and gravity is all messed up

Magic doesnt belong in a futuristic setting, not usually anyway, and many previous attempts at the fusion between magic and science have failed miserably to acheive some kind of happy compromise. If powers are done at all in the future, they're done in a vaguely sciency way. Star wars had its use of the force which was quasi-magical which worked with mixed results in the films. It was cool but when they tryed to explain it with science it was awful (see medichlorians) and ignorance was definately bliss.

The Mass Effect universe has powers too, and in mass effect they only come in one colour, blue. They do a much better job of explaining the biotic powers in mass effect than star wars did, with the science fiction behind it seeming vaguely plausible and quite interesting. The powers available are a lot like the force but with some interesting things mixed in as well.  But no force lightning I'm afraid, which is a drawback.

The adept is the master of biotic powers in mass effect and playing this class will mean that most of the damage you deal will be from using your powers, allowing you to potentially control and decimate the battlefield.

Having played the adept last time in ME1 I'm curious to see what changes have been made to the class.

Push is maybe the most obviously useful power for biotics and will likely form the backbone of combat tactics using the adept. Enemies can be forced about violently in various directions of your choosing (except for towards you) and this power looks like it does damage on the hit, and then when the enemies crash into objects, ceilings and possibly even each other. This power should be very good fun and useful for repainting space stations with the brains of mercenaries.

Pull works the same way it does for Vanguards, though I guess for Adepts it just adds another direction to move enemies in, apart from that it seems the same and would be good for use in conjunction with the other biotic powers. Maybe you could set up an endless loop of push and pull on the same target, allowing you to yo-yo them to death.

Shockwave is also available to adepts as well and again, works the same way as it does in vanguards. It makes a bit more sense for the adept to have this power and could be used when all of your powers have been used up and the enemy is still charging towards you.

Warp is a power that debuffs an enemies shields, barriers and armour very quickly. When cast at a target warp will weaken their armour and do damage to it over time, setting them up to be destroyed by your team mates firepower. It looks cool as well, and lights up the enemies in the usual biotic blue.

Singularity is an interesting power for the biotic and only the adept is good enough to use this skill. It generates a miniature black hole in the air and this quickly sucks in your enemies and pushes them about in its orbit. This looks most useful against melee type enemies like husks as can be seen in the video. In ME1 I rarely used this power on other enemies but it can be useful for dragging enemies out of cover, and out of combat for the duration of the singularity. I can see this being used to control the battlefield and to block off corridors of advance (or retreat) for the enemies. As with all the biotic powers it looks just as blue and just as good looking as powers should be.

But whatever happened to Lift? This amazingly effective power is conspiculously missing from ME2, I had great fun lifting an enemy into the air and then allowing my team mates to shred them up in the air, or better still lifting an enemy into the air and then blasting them away with a push. This was horrendously good fun on the final assualt on the citadel section of ME1 sending enemies out of the gravity of the station to drift away to their deaths. Many krogan battlemasters met their end that way.

I guess Lift is missing thanks to the improvements they've made to the other powers, seeing as you can control the direction of push and pull it follows that you could simply control it to force the enemies upwards into the air. I can see this being just as effective as Lift, but only with a little practice.

I've got a feeling that maybe not all of the powers for each class have been revealed. For example Barrier is missing from the Adepts skills and yet some of the screens for the game show enemies using biotic barriers on themselves.  It would be odd to give this useful power to the enemies in the game, and not give it to the characters. Stasis is also missing but I never used this so thats okay with me.

Its hard to tell exactly how the use of biotics is governed in ME2 but I think its a combination of the old system of cooldowns, and a regenerating mana type system. If you look in the video theres a little blue bar under the weapon display, this moves slightly when the character uses their powers. Some powers like Push dent the bar only a tiny bit, but Singularity looked like it took a lot out of it. This was a level 20 character in the video though, so you'll probably not have as much mana at lower levels.

The Adept is a powers class like the Engineer and as such only has access to the heavy pistol and the submachine gun. Its good to see that they havent stranded the powers classes with just the pistol in ME2 and it gives these classes at least some versatility in their use of guns. The guns give an option for backup of your powers use as well as another way to stay alive when low on powers or waiting for cooldowns. If things get really bad in combat you can always resort to your heavy weapon, if you have one. There are some situations though where I think biotics would have only limited use, and only having these wimpy guns to back you up might result in some interesting deaths.


The main problem I have with the biotic thing is that my impression of these powers from the books were that they were extremely rare. With only a tiny proportion of any races population being sensitive to biotics at all and the enormous costs involved in training and using a biotic I would have thought it would have been less common in the games. Its seems as though half the universe are biotics in ME2 with pretty much all of your team mates (the ones confirmed anyway)  having access to some of the biotic powers. I guess this kind of makes sense, seeing as you're working with the best in the galaxy but a lot of the enemies have powers as well. It kind of takes the impact out being a biotic but it also stops these characters from being overpowered at the same time. I'm sure it will only make the game more interesting and it will be great to see how the enemies will use biotic powers on the player and their team.

I played the adept all the way through on ME1 and had a great time of it so I'm hoping it will be just as fun in ME2. Last time it was cool, but had its problems, the main ones being the repetitiveness of constantly spamming the powers and the physics engine being inflexible and not allowing as much cool stuff to happen as I would have liked. In this it looks like the physics engine will allow cooler things to happen to your enemies and use of powers has an extra depth to it which may prolong the life of the adept, before it gets boring using them.

I'll definately play the adept this time as well, maybe even porting my old character, erm... thingy sheperd from ME1. Much gravity will be distorted, and much 475 nm light will be emitted by my crappy little TV.

Next time I'll be forever done with blue, wobbly clouds of energy as I look at the Sentinel, the last class to have access to them.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Headbutt to victory

They say that fools rush in where angels fear to tred. Today, that means that I'll be looking at the very definition of a fool, the mighty Vanguard. Now I dont think I'm wrong when I say that rushing headlong into your enemy in a high intensity gun battle isnt a common tactic in shooters.  It certainly doesnt pay off in real life but in the strange and twisted world of the future it seems to. It worked in Halo, where the protgaonist could punch tanks to death with his bare hands, and it works here too.

The Vanguards main power allows him to charge down his enemies, smashing into them with lethal force, he focuses on up close and personal fighting, which is the polar opposite to my style. While I hide behind a barrel 10km away from the battle and snipe the vanguard is simultaneously caving in someones face with his fist and turning someone else into hamburgers with his shotgun.

Does this make me a coward? Maybe. So what else can the Vanguard do, lets find out:

First up lets looks at the Biotic Charge power. This is really hyped up in the video, and yet bizarrely, I couldnt find a single picture of it on the internet. But anyway. This power allows you to rush towards an enemy and smash into them with deadly force. You can pass through barriers and obstacles to get to your target, but I guess this doesnt apply to proper walls and corners. This power looks like a lot of fun and has the potential to be tactical, especially for a quick escape. It was cool when it was used to avoid missiles and other dangers as well and this could very easilly be useful. The problem with this is that its unclear whether you can just charge anywhere, or if you need an enemy to target to. I'm guessing you need an enemy, or else this would happen with annoying frequency (click to play).

This power seems a little bizarre for a space age shooter seeing as your character ignores all the deadly weapons hes carrying and decides to headbutt his enemies to death instead. Presumably the Vanguard loses so many brain cells during training that they dont have to worry about the severe, repeated head trauma they suffer every time they charge into an enemy. Prepare for low intelligence characters who can only articulate emotion through potentially fatal chestbumps at the end of combat.

The pull power definately looks to be a hell of a lot of fun. Any power that gives you an oppurtunity to say "Get over here" like Scorpion as many times as you like is destined for greatness. You also get to shoot the enemies faces in with a shotgun at close range, while they are powerless to resist. This power is just in there for kicks, allowing the player to toy with his enemies. It should be very useful in battle, allowing you to immobilise and eviserate a powerful enemy while his friends watch on with horror. Later on you get the ability to upgrade pull into the much cooler pull field. For those that have played Arkham Asylum, the joy of  simultaneously pulling 4 goons off of a ledge with the multi-grapple was something quite special indeed, I'm guessing pull field will be a little bit like that. It should also be extremely useful, allowing you to take out one of two in mid air and letting your team mates shoot the others down like ugly alien clay pigeons.

The Vanguards only other biotic power is a bit of an odd choice, doing the opposite thing to all the other powers he has. Shockwave allows you to force enemies away from you, sending multiple foes flying  in all directions. Considering that the Vanguard specialises in close combat shockwave seems to be suited to knocking enemies back when you get overwhelmed, allowing you to fall back and try again from a different position. This would be great to use in conjunction with another power. You could send the enemies flying only to pull one towards you for a personal finish.

The Vanguard also gets access to two of the special types of ammunition. Switching to the Incindiary ammo allows you to set enemies ablaze, dealing damage over time and generally sowing mayhem amongst your foes. The Cryo ammo has a chance of freezing your enemies solid, allowing you to shatter them into a million pieces by blasting them up close or sending them flying with a charge. Say what you will about Cryo ammo, it certainly saves on burial costs, and your enemies families will thank you for that.

Vanguards get access to heavy pistols, submachine guns and their trademark shotguns. I'm guessing that most players will barely touch the pistol and the submachine gun in lieu of the shotgun, which is deadly at close range. Due to the new reloading mechanic though it should be more tactical for shotgun users, with the gun only holding 6 or 8 shots in a clip. You dont want to have to reload while surrounded by enemies you foolishly charged into the middle of.

When it comes to getting close and personal the Vanguard is probably the best choice. I wouldnt usually play a class like this but maybe its time I experienced things from the front of the battlefield, rather than at its back. This looks to be fun and I know at least one Spectre who will be shaking things up as a Vanguard. With such power and ruthlessness in combat the Vanguard seems to be a good bet for saving the universe. Providing his brains dont leak out of his skull before hes finished.

Next its the Adepts turn, and time for a major gripe of mine

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Its almost here, Mass Effect 2

So I've been working myself up into a frenzy the last few weeks waiting for this game to come out. I loved the first game, despite the many issues with the gameplay and cant wait to dive into what looks like a vastly improved world and system.

Now of course I'll be playing first time round with my amazing Infiltrator Carla Sheperd but looking at the videos posted on the website it looks like I might actually try this game with all the classes, they each look fun in their own special way, whether you like spamming biotics untill everybody on the battlefield is in orbit or blowing the top of someones head off with a sniper rifle there seems to be something there for you.

In an attempt to let out my excitement in managable chunks I've decided to run through each of the classes one by one and weigh up just how fun they are going to be. I'm saving the mighty Infiltrator for last of course but thats not to say the others are unworthy, Carla is going to have plenty of good competition in the spectre market.

First up, I've decided to look at something that I shy away from but am strangely connected to as an Infiltrator, the lowly Engineer. Oh whats he going to do? Hit the enemies with his wrench? What an idiot. But remember, the engineer in TF2 was one of the deadliest things on the battlefield with all those turrets of his, and the guy in Dead Space was an engineer as well. Hang on, I'm starting to get pretty intimidated by all of this.

So how do the Engineer's in Mass Effect 2 measure up compared to those badasses, lets find out...

So pretty damn awesome then it seems. If you're an synthetic enemy, you obviously dont want to meet an engineer. It looks as though the engineer, who played a largely supportive role in ME1 is now quite a badass, able to get in much closer (okay, so only a little bit closer) and do some damage (well maybe not so much damage).

First off is the combat drone, which looks pretty impressive. I can see it being used to distract enemies and draw aggro rather than being used as an offensive weapon but its good all the same. It effectivly adds another member to the team that doesnt mind getting shot at and this has its obvious uses in a warzone. Oh, did you see it blow up when it dies as well, that was cool. I can see myself sending a lot of combat drones martyrs to heaven during the course of the game. I would spawn them just as suicide bombers and let them go to work.

Next AI hacking is another skill that adds a member to your team for a short time and could potentially turn the tides of battle rather quickly. You could start difficult fights by using enemies to soak damage for you or try and hack the big boss like in the video with that Geth Prime. It only works on AI's though but there looks to be lots of those in the game, and not just Geth. The problem with hacking though is that it can be easilly resisted by stronger enemies so I dont think hacking Geth Primes and YMIR mechs is going to be easy, still though the Engineer has a much better chance of it than the Infiltrator, who fortunately also gets access to AI hacking as well. Now just imagine how cool it would be to hack this mean bastard, the YMIR mech:

The other abilites seem pretty standard, damage dealers, debuffs and anti shield powers like overload, which I have to say saved Carla's life on multiple occasions in ME1, Incinerate and Cryo Blast which are like biotic versions of the ammo powers that the other clases have access to.

The gunplay options for engineers are limited to only the submachine gun and the heavy pistol which I think would get boring for me after a while (I got sick of using the pistol on everything in ME1) but I guess this is okay. The pistols are so much beefier in ME2 and the submachine gun looks like it shreds opponents at close range. These could be good, but of course, its no sniper rifle. They also get heavy weapons but every class gets these so no biggie.

I can definately see myself giving the Engineer a good old go. It looks tactical enough to stay interesting and the ability to turn enemies on one another at the critical moment never gets old. With strong team mates backing him up I can see the Engineer winning a lot more battles than he used to. He can also fix the toilet on the Normandy, and thats good too.

Next up, the close combat awesomeness of the Vanguard