While I loved the first Mass Effect, there were a handful of issues that brought the experience down. I was told that exploring the universe was hugely fun and endless. It was not. I was told that the ending was nothing short of amazing. It was not. I was told that it’s going to be a game that revolutionized RPGs. It was not. As much as it had some great things going for it, it also contained some sketchy gameplay, hugely limited exploration features, and an interesting, but shallow story. I’m certain I’m not alone with these thoughts, and luckily BioWare was listening. In creating Mass Effect 2, it address and fixes all of these things, while bringing so much more to the table, creating a game that is, dare I say, a landmark title. With its expansive universe, solid gameplay, and a hugely likeable and deep cast of characters, Mass Effect 2 is one of those sequels that outdoes the original in every aspect thinkable, making for one hell of a ride.
As things kick off, you’re back on board the Normandy, and you’re quickly swept back into the action. As Commander Shepard, you and your crew are ensuring the safety of the galaxy, but within a scant few minutes of continuing your adventure, everything goes wrong. You’re being fired upon by a titanic enemy with weapons that are far too powerful for you to even hope to defend against. The Normandy is in ruins, and as the commander of the ship, you must make sure everyone on the ship gets to the escape pods, and seconds after you do, mere feet away from safety, Commander Shepard meets a grim end. Or so it seems. We’re quickly introduced to Cerberus, a pro-human organization, led by the Illusive Man, who has rescued Shepard, but with a very specific task in mind. Combat the Collectors, a race that has been abducting hundreds of thousands of humans from colonies around the galaxy. Obviously, the Collectors are a threat to all life, but these acts of aggression against humanity has earned them the attention of Cerberus. Even though everyone involved is treating this as a suicide mission from the get-go, these attacks aren't something Cerberus can abide. The bad news is the Collectors are simply too devastating for a full-on assault. The good news is that Cerberus is going with a smaller team, led by Commander Shepard; after all, they need the best if they're going to stand a chance. So, with that in mind, you're charged with the task of assembling a team of the best in the galaxy. Every potential recruit has something unique to bring to the table, whether they're scientists, mercenaries, assassins or doctors, they're all going to help you on your mission to save the galaxy.
As far as the narrative goes, it’s certainly a step above the rest. Not because of an original, unique story (it’s not), but because of the way it’s told. The narrative is extremely engaging from start to finish, despite some hokey elements tossed in here and there, but it’s the depth of everything found in the game’s universe that makes the game nothing short of stellar. Everything is so fleshed out and so detailed, it’s extremely difficult to find something to not like about the way the story’s told. In many games, movies, or other pieces of fiction, you’ll often hear characters making reference to things going on in the periphery of the main events. Mass Effect 2 not only lets you hear about such things, but experience them for yourself through various side quests, which are a huge improvement to what was found in the original game. Though you’ll be able to explore various planets and mine for resources, you’ll also be able to investigate anomalies, which, more often than not, do an excellent job of adding to what’s happening throughout space, helping to create a hugely immersive and enthralling setting.
Along with the presentation of the narrative, this world is filled with extremely rich characters to help make things that much more engaging. There’s always much more to the different crew members, but it requires some digging; when you think you understand the motivations of one of your crew members, they often give you a deeper explanation to why they are the way they are, throwing you a complete curve ball. Mordin isn’t just some mad scientist ; Jack isn’t a mere psychopath; Miranda isn’t some snooty ice queen – they’re all so much more, and the explanations are buried just below the surface. All you need is to do a little investigation and you’ll find that what you see is just the tip of the iceberg. Though these tidbits may not make all the characters “likeable,” it absolutely makes them all compelling and extremely interesting, adding some extra flair to the game. The depth that has been folded into the characters and the narrative is something that’s hardly seen every day, and considering this sort of presentation is executed so well, it’s a hugely appreciated element.
The shooting elements found in the first Mass Effect (which are a huge component) weren't so well recieved. Yes, the game was great, but that particular ingredient didn’t work so well. With the sequel, this has been improved immensely, making for a more slick game. Naturally, this has a lot of RPG elements, so every shot (just as in the first) basically is a roll of the dice, determining how much damage is being dealt based on the stats of you and your target. However, every shot lands wherever you aim, dealing a bit of damage, making for a far more palatable experience. Along with that, your enemies will react based on where you hit. If you target limbs, it may slow down one of your enemies, or hinder their ability to defend themselves altogether, making for an easier target. Again, all your shots are based on the level, experience, and skills of your avatar, so if you, say, land a headshot, it may not necessarily be an instant kill, but it will definitely do far more damage to your target.
If you’d rather have access to a few more abilities than a mere mastery of weapons, you could focus on the character classes that feature biotic or tech abilities. Biotics are more or less the equivalent of the force from Star Wars. You can lift or throw enemies, or unleash a shockwave that will stun or even dispatch an enemy altogether. Tech abilities allow you to manipulate machines, or even conjure up a little turret that floats around the battlefield, helping you take down your adversaries along the way. There are also other classes that mix and match these abilities (weapon/biotic hybrids, stealth specialists, etc.) to help grant the player a bit more freedom in how they’d like to tackle certain scenarios. Mass Effect 2 really does a great job of catering to a huge array of play styles, and as you progress through the game, you’ll be able to further customize your character by selecting which skills you’d like to advance in, creating something that's unique and a blast to play.
Mass Effect 2 improves on the original in nearly every way. Whether it’s the core gameplay or the expansive universe that BioWare has created, it’s tough to ignore how great this game really is. Regardless of what stumbling blocks there may be in the game’s narrative (and there are a few laugh-worthy elements), they don’t come close to comparing to all that’s great about the game. While I wasn’t playing, I often found myself obsessing over the game. You’re told from the onset that the end result is a suicide mission, and I hardly wanted to go up in flames as a spectacular failure. This is my character, these are my choices and my abilities. I wanted Shepard and his entire crew to make it out of there okay and I was really motivated to make sure everyone was properly prepared for this fiasco. It’s extremely rare for a game to achieve that sort of commitment from me, but Mass Effect 2 earned it. Now that I’ve finished this second installment, I can’t wait to see what BioWare does next.
Genre: Shooter, Role-Playing, Action
Release: January 26, 2010
Available On: PC, Xbox 360
Similar Titles Played
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - Loved
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - Meh
Jade Empire - Meh
Mass Effect - Loved
Fable II - Meh
Fallout 3 - Kill it with fire