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There was a time when role-playing games were the domain of geeked-out obsessives overly concerned with stats, percentages, and the rolling of virtual 20-sided dice--or else fans of ornate, absurdist Japanese RPGs (such as the Final Fantasy series). For the coveted mainstream gamer, it could be very unfriendly territory.

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For that reason, the original Mass Effect (EA, 2007), was something of a revelation, keeping much of the strategy and complexity of a traditional RPG, but wrapping it up in an action-packed third-person shooter, with a compelling (but digestable) storyline, and massive set pieces straight out of a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi epic.

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Developer BioWare seems to have cornered the market on this new breed of RPG, following up with the very similar Dragon Age: Origins (a sword-and-sorcery take that managed to overcome the staleness of its genre), and now Mass Effect 2--which has quickly become the first critical darling of 2010.

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