After a disappointing 15 hours revisiting Mass Effect 1, diving into Mass Effect 2 was a very welcome change. Now 8 years old, ME2 shows its age far less than ME1. There’s some low-resolution textures here and there, but it looks remarkably good in general. I ended up importing my Shepard straight from ME1 with no changes (the game doesn’t actually give you an option to edit an imported face), and she looked great. The best part was that I was finally able to take screenshots of my game! (Of course, now I’m sifting through a folder of 700+ screenshots to find a few for this post..)
If you haven’t played Mass Effect 2 and still intend to, and don’t want any spoilers at all, you may want to stop here.
With my badass Shepard, and a handful of rewards for importing my character, I embarked on my 40-hour journey. I’m not entirely sure how many times I’d played ME2 before this, but it’s at least 3 or 4 times. Regardless, that opening scene with the Collector ship is still one of the best opening sequences of any game I’ve played, before or since. Plus, killing the protagonist in the intro is pretty bold.
A big part of what made Mass Effect 2 so memorable is your squad. There’s a number of new party members, all of whom are great, except the two DLC characters, Kasumi and Zaeed. Like other party members, Kasumi and Zaeed each have a cool loyalty mission, but that’s it. If you talk to them on the Normandy, they just cycle through a bunch of lines. You can’t even have a normal Bioware-style conversation with them. Considering a big part of the game is talking to people, this seems like a weird departure from that. However, the rest of the game shines, so I can overlook a couple of lame DLC characters.
The rest of the new crew members range from humans to salarians to krogan to drell. They all have interesting personalities and histories, making them an important part of the game. Considering you spend most of your time in ME2 involve recruiting these people and gaining their loyalty, that’s a very good thing. Besides unlocking more conversation and possibly romance options, gaining a character’s loyalty also unlocks their unique ability and a recoloured outfit. And let’s be honest, costumes and special abilities are a pretty important part of an RPG.
You also come across quite a few friends from the last game, from an awkward meeting with Kaidan (what can I say, I couldn’t bring myself to leave him to die on Virmire) to reuniting with Liara in the excellent Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. It is a pity there’s no ‘ultimate edition’ of ME2 with all the DLC. Having to rebuy them seven years later hurt a little. Tali and Garrus also return to join the crew, which is awesome, and Joker’s still piloting your ship, and he’s one of my favourite characters in the trilogy.
I could probably rave about the crew of Normandy SR-2 for hours, but you get the idea.
The actual gameplay of ME2 is a huge improvement over the first game. Shepard moves faster, can sprint outside of combat, and there’s an excellent combat system (no more overheating weapons, thanks!). In the mid-game it started to feel a bit easy, but the later missions have tougher enemies, which kept combat challenging. Add in the impulsive actions you can take, like punching a nosy journalist, and you’ve got a winning combination. I also loved the return of your alignment affecting you physically – like in KOTOR, if you’re evil, it shows. I ended up looking like a terminator by the time I was full renegade.
And yeah, I picked up a fair few paragon points along the way, mostly through interactions with my crew – totally worth it. Also welcome was the fact that the renegade options in Mass Effect 2 aren’t totally insane the way they were in the first game. Sure, you can still do some pretty awful things, but the tone feels different. You’re making tough calls, but someone’s gotta make them. (I do kinda regret giving the Collector base to the Illusive Man though…)
Scanning planets in ME2 is not very exciting, but it’s not so bad either. The resources you collect are vital for weapon, ship and character upgrades, so it feels worthwhile. The side quests are decent too. Instead of landing on some boring planet and driving around, only to end up having a fight in the same building every time, side quests in ME2 are short, self-contained events where you land, fight, then go back to your ship. After the tedium of ME1’s side quests and the massive open world of MEA, these short missions were a breath of fresh air.
I think the one of the more disappointing aspects of ME2 for me was the Thane romance. Don’t get me wrong, Thane is my bae, and this was not the first time I’ve chosen to romance him. His romance is great until you run out of conversation options, after which you can just repeat the same short conversation over and over. The final scene with Thane before the end is also disappointingly short. In fact, the best scene in the Thane romance is probably when Mordin gives you a whole lot of embarrassing medical advice for human-drell relations.
Then there’s that finale. You know from the start of ME2 that you’re pretty much embarking on a suicide mission. Unlike ME1, where one character must die so another can live, Mass Effect 2 takes your choices throughout the game into account. Did you gain a character’s loyalty? Did you upgrade the Normandy? During the final mission, you have to make some tough choices as you split up the group. Who will lead the second team? Who will disable the security system or shield the main team from harm? Poor choices here can have fatal consequences, as I discovered this time around. In my previous playthroughs, I kept everyone alive through careful choices. This time, I assigned people to tasks on a whim, and I ended up with two casualties: Kasumi (not a great loss), and Legion, one of my favourite characters. Although I could have reloaded and tried again, I decided to stick with my casual decision making and see how things played out in Mass Effect 3.
Read part 4 of this series, my thoughts on Mass Effect 3.