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As an avid fan of Bioware's role-playing games, I was nonetheless awed by the masterpiece that was Mass Effect. Filled with engrossing characters, a rich universe, and a compelling storyline, the game was a momentous step toward gaming - and another triumph for sci-fi nerds who were upset at the redundancy of the genre. After playing the sequel, I must say that the wonder that the first instilled in me was sated by the sequel's wonderful improvements, stirring karma-driven plot progression, and the vivid universe that Bioware has built in this dense trilogy.

While the first was near-perfect, it also suffered from some unfortunate glitches, visual problems, and less-than-stellar exploration mechanics. Case in point? The buggy AI, which caused your squad-mates to blankly fire at walls instead of the enemy; the texture-popping that repeatedly distracted the player during a vivid cut-scene; the tedious and sloppy inventory system; the ridiculously long elevator scenes; or the annoying Mako, which made exploration a slow and clumsy nightmare. One can't forget the vanilla set pieces that brought upon the gamer a sense of deja vu whenever their Spectres charged through enemy bases during side missions. Yet, these detriments didn't mar the phenomenal script and voice acting - of the main characters of course, as more than a few NPCs sounded like bargain bin amateurs than real people.

However, Bioware refined the combat and the AI entirely, stripped away most of the RPG elements like inventory management in favor of automatic upgrades, and changed how we explore the galaxy, allowing us to pilot our new ship - the opening scenes will blow you away - with a fuel system, probes that can be used to mine planets - which can be scanned and tilted - and discover new missions, with variety to boot. Mass Effect Two also makes Shepard's relationships with his squad-mates more important, as they can decide the outcome of the final mission. Lastly, but most importantly, the choices that Shepard made in the first game will affect events in the second, only complimenting the tensions that rise. This however, is only possible if you import a saved character from the first game.

Don't be surprised if you see a crime boss you intimidated in the first doing social work; or a certain reporter you shrugged off cornering you for your choices regarding the fate of the Council in the first; these encounters will surprise - and even astonish you - in myriad ways, making the world of Mass Effect Two seem even more living and thriving. The musical score is just as enigmatic and hip as the first, and the overall presentation of the game remains top-notch. Special Loyalty missions and abilities your character can learn by gaining the trust of your squad-mates also makes the relationships that Shepard develops equally personal, and with the challenges at stake to Shepard - you are, ultimately engaging in a mission that could end with your life - everything you do is given an urgency. 

As challenging as this sequel is, I must say that I share the same qualms regarding the game's final boss, although I thought it screamed James Cameron - and no, not I'm not talking about Avatar - rather than X-Men. The mining and planet exploration also became a little tiring, but not anything remotely annoying enough to ruin my experience. Mass Effect Two draws you deeper into Shepard's story, and with its improved game play, prolific universe, and moving characters, the game is a knockout from beginning to its adrenaline-packed end- then, you can continue searching the galaxy or start your journey all over again. The choice is yours.

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