Mass Effect 2 is a game that achieves the impossible. Typically, video game sequels seem like a retread or a pale shadow of the original.
However, Mass Effect 2 is actually much better than its predecessor — and the first Mass Effect is legendary.
And now that Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect: Andromeda have come out, it seems clear that Mass Effect 2 is the best entry in the entire series. Here’s why.
When people praise the first Mass Effect, what they are really praising is the ace storytelling and amazing vocal talent. But the actual combat in that game was slow and tedious — the worst part of playing the thing!
In Mass Effect 2, the combat is much more visceral and traditional. In fact, it’s basically Gears of War, complete with a cover system. And once you get used to balancing guns and biotic abilities, combat in this game is more than “improved:” it’s downright fun.
If this is your first Mass Effect, you may take the combat for granted. But for veteran players, this is a serious and welcome upgrade.
Moments of Choice
Like other Bioware games, Mass Effect 2 is filled with choices. And while there are some fun shades of gray thrown in there, this mostly boils down to good choices (known as “Paragon” choices) and bad choices (known as “Renegade” choices).
If you’re familiar with other classic Bioware games (such as Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire), then this system will feel very familiar. And there’s not a lot of difference between Paragon and Renegade choices and Light Side and Dark Side choices.
This game does add a fun change: you can now make Paragon or Renegade choices with the press of a button during dialogue sequences. It offers real temptation to players as well: even those who always aim for “good” characters may be tempted to give bad guys the revenge that they had coming to them.
A Standalone Experience?
Earlier, I mentioned how Mass Effect 2 might be someone’s first entry in the series. And if you’re a Playstation loyalist, you didn’t have much of a choice!
The original game came out only on PC and Xbox 360. PlayStation 3 players were out of luck, but they did get Mass Effect 2 (with some added content to bring them up to speed on the story).
However, whether by design or happy accident, Mass Effect 2 has a story that mostly stands on its own. The frame story takes Commander Shepard away from the Alliance and has her (or him) working for a shadowy and xenophobic agency. And with the exception of some holdover characters like Joker, you are mostly meeting an all-new crew.
The end result is a game that anyone can pick up and enjoy on its own. This is especially impressive considering this is the second part of a trilogy.
Earlier, I mentioned the Paragon and Renegade system. However, part of this game’s charm is that it often forces you to navigate some very murky morality.
In many cases, you will have many lives (possibly the whole galaxy) at risk, and it all comes down to the decisions you make. Will you recruit a hardened killer to your team if it saves lives? And will you compromise your own morality for the greater good?
On paper, these may sound like questions out of a Philosophy 101 textbook. However, the game does an amazing job of bringing everything to life in an engaging and effective way.
To Boldly “Meh”
No game is ever fully perfect. I already mentioned one Mass Effect 2 flaw: the morality system, fun as it is, is definitely going where Bioware has gone before. But it could be worse: you could be going nowhere.
Like its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 features exploration missions. And like before, these missions alternate between being boring and terrible.
That’s because they are not “missions” in the strictest sense. Instead of driving the main game narrative, these are chances to explore the galaxy and expand your knowledge of the lore. But really, it’s just a resource game.
There are a number of optional upgrades you can make to your ship, the Normandy. And these upgrades can literally mean the difference between life and death for your crew.
You need resources to get the upgrades, and you need to scan planets to find resources. Sometimes, you find an anomaly that can launch a fun side mission. Mostly, though, you are just strip-mining a planet for resources from orbit.
Yeah, it’s… exactly as fun as it sounds!
A True Team
But, Mass Effect 2 really shines when it comes to your crew. And boy, are they a motley crew at that!
The general premise is that you are recruiting the best of the best for what may be a suicide mission. Accordingly, you end up with characters like soldiers, killers, mad scientists, and so on.
To learn more about them, you have to stay on their good side. But that means navigating the landmine of socializing with your crew.
Play your cards right, and you might even find romance. Play them wrong, and you might drive a teammate away.
It’s a very rewarding system, and it makes striking up random conversations just as engaging as going into combat.
Ultimately, I offer Mass Effect 2 my highest recommendation. It has something for everyone: fun “run-and-gun” combat, deep storytelling, and a ton of engrossing lore.
In fact, there is only one bad thing about playing Mass Effect 2: the rest of the series will let you down after you play it!