With the recent announcement of the return of Commander Shepard as part of Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Lennon McGuirk looks back on their personal favourite game from the series: Mass Effect 2.
Released in 2010, Mass Effect 2 saw a massive overhaul of the mechanics and writing of the first game. This resulted in a stripped back version of storytelling which allowed for deeply emotional plot lines that featured a previously unseen level of fully developed characters. The plot itself is ridiculously simple. You are resurrected by the human paramilitary group Cerberus and tasked with investigating and ultimately defeating a race of aliens known as the Collectors, who have been abducting humans from colonies. To do this, you must recruit a squad to go through the Omega 4 Mass Relay, a feat which, as mentioned repeatedly, is something “no ship has ever returned from”. The Collectors themselves, only take up about 10 missions in the 20-40-hour plot. What fills the rest are completely optional side-missions which fill the game with a sense of intimacy. Playing the game again reminded me of why I loved it. Playing through just minutes of the game and doing some optional side missions brought me back to a calmer time when I didn’t have finals to worry about.
The openness of ME2 also allows for some interesting options throughout, for example if you found yourself disliking a particular crewmate, by deliberately avoiding their respective missions and not upgrading certain areas of your ship they could easily be dead by the end of the game
Ignoring DLC content, there are 11 squad members to recruit throughout the game. No two are even vaguely similar in personality or design, and every single one can be killed at some point in the game. The story is ultimately about them and Bioware drip feeds you their backstories. In order to protect them fully, you’ll go on numerous adventures based around individual crewmates. Protecting the game's characters hasn’t lost its effect on me since my first playthrough on launch. This activates the game’s loyalty system - helping these characters with their own personal problems increases the overall likelihood of the final mission succeeding (Yes you can fail the final mission and get a completely different ending). It also adds to the depth of the characters and makes them feel so much more realistic. These missions vary in quality. A standout mission is the questline revolving around an assassin named Thane, who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is trying to guide his son onto a better path. The openness of ME2 also allows for some interesting options throughout, for example, if you found yourself disliking a particular crewmate, by deliberately avoiding their respective missions and not upgrading certain areas of your ship, they could easily be dead by the end of the game. Bioware meticulously makes your choices matter and offers different endings based on them. My playthrough this time may not have had the same ending as my first, but the game is still as enjoyable, if not more as I can really appreciate how well the game runs in 2020.
There are numerous dialogue options throughout every conversation and the game relies heavily on a paragon/renegade system where you can choose the morals of your character. You get complete control. Maybe you want to save a young adventurer from getting himself killed or maybe you want to push a mercenary out a window for back-chatting you. The initial Shepard that you are presented with is a completely blank canvas for you to play with. I have personally played this game fully over 20 times and there are still dialogue options that I have yet to explore. The game really allows you to feel like you are the protagonist. This is furthered by the complete customisation options of your character. Although I highly recommend choosing the female option, as Jennifer Hale really excels in her role.
The world design however is amazing. Every setting is different from the last but regardless of whether you’re in the main hub or exploring any of the colourful planets they all feel like they belong to the same universe
The gameplay itself is snappy and fast-paced. It is an easy-to-pick-up third-person cover-based shooter and it offers multiple weapons and ability load-outs to choose from. The enemies are extremely varied from planet to planet as well. At one stage you’ll find yourself fighting a Thresher Maw, a gigantic burrowing worm-like creature. Other times you’ll find yourself in more small-scale fights, or fighting a mixture of the colourful alien races in the game such as the Krogan, massive hulking brutes. The one pitfall that this game has is boss fights. They generally consist of just a normal enemy type who has been given more health and are never actually difficult to deal with. This leaves boss fights feeling underwhelmingly easy, and the only way I ever found these challenging was through playing on the hardest difficulty which again, just adds more health. The world design, however, is amazing. Every setting is different from the last, but regardless of whether you’re in the main hub or exploring any of the colourful planets, they all feel like they belong to the same universe. These colourful and exciting battles really added to my enjoyment of the game as a kid, and as a college student, they still stand the test of time fairly well.
In terms of graphics, the game still looks and runs great for a 2010 release. It’s still easily playable in its original state besides a few minor bugs that were never patched out. I cannot recommend this game enough to anyone who has not experienced what is arguably one of the best games of its generation, so make sure to pick up a copy of the remaster next Spring.