To this day, I think most people will agree that Mass Effect 2 was amazing. This is true even in spite of the controversy with Mass Effect 3’s ending. In my opinion, it is in the same category as Final Fantasy VII in terms of legendary role playing games. It is Mass Effect’s The Empire Strikes Back. Mass Effect 2 is, in my opinion, an unparalleled masterpiece and there are so many reasons for this. Spoilers ahead.
Graphics, Music, Voice Acting
Let’s get the basics out of the way. At the time of release (2010) Mass Effect 2 looked amazing. It still looks amazing and holds up surprisingly well (as you can tell from the trailer). The music is great. It’s the exact kind of electronic-classical space opera-esque music you look forward to when approaching this kind of science fiction. The voice acting was also top notch and includes some familiar and experienced voice actors.
Gameplay – Combat, Character Progression
While the visual and audio elements of Mass Effect 2 were clear improvements over the first Mass Effect, whether or not the gameplay improved is debatable. The action was not original, but it didn’t need to be. It was essentially Gears of War-ish third person shooter with a similar cover system. Biotics added another element to the combat. I think most people were okay with this; the real problem was the simplified leveling. I can see how some might feel that it dumbs down the difficulty and removed strategy and planning from the game. Personally, I enjoyed the simplified stat allocations and equipment. It let me focus on the story and the action rather than the mathematics of leveling up. I can understand if some feel otherwise and desired a more complex leveling system though.
Mass Effect 2 was one of the first games which allowed a male and female protagonist in the character creation. Both the male and female protagonist were fully voiced. It was a thoughtful inclusion and greatly appreciated by many who did not want to be forced to play as a male character.
Now we get to the good stuff. Mass Effect 2’s story is essentially that of a bank heist movie. You have this big job you need to pull off (head to the center of the galaxy and defeat the Collectors) and you need to assemble a crew of multi-talented individuals to fill the roles needed to pull this job off. It is a tale that has been retold many times in mainstream media, but works wonderfully.
Every time you meet a character you’re left wondering if this person is someone who will help you or someone your gonna have to fight later on. You’re never sure. You see familiar faces from the first Mass Effect and you hope they join your crew. Some do. Some hate you and don’t. It’s a surprising story and there are many twists for who joins your crew and how they join your crew.
After you assemble your crew, then you’re encouraged — but not forced — to do a favor (a loyalty mission) for them in order to build camaraderie and morale. Additionally, the missions for each of your crew members are some of the best missions in the game.
For instance, Garrus’ (who returns from the first game) loyalty mission requires hunting down someone Garrus wants dead. Eventually, you find your target and Garrus tells you to go distract the target while Garrus sets up a sniper rifle to pick off the guy. During this sequence, you see things from the perspective of Garrus’ sniper scope and — depending on your decisions — you can convince Garrus to spare the person or let Garrus kill him. There are times during this mission where you can step in front of the sniper scope in order to block the shop and protect the target. It’s a creative and tense mission that at the same time empowers the player with the choice of killing or saving.
Mass Effect 2 is an intimate story. Very much like how the first Star Wars movie’s main accomplishment was the establishment of this vast world, so too does the first Mass Effect game. Now we get to the emotion and intimacy of the characters. Now we get The Empire Strikes Back; we figure out what makes our characters tick. Mass Effect 2 brought color to an otherwise conventional science fiction narrative.
All these elements lead to — what is in my opinion — the most monumental aspect of Mass Effect 2 and what puts it into the class of legendary games like Final Fantasy VII or Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4: the ending.
That damn, amazing ENDING. OF COURSE THERE’S SPOILERS.
So you’ve assembled your crew. You’ve upgraded your ship. You’ve gathered all the clues you needed from the main plot line and you’re ready to launch the final (and likely suicidal) assault on the Collector’s main base in the center of the galaxy and defeat them once and for all. Everything you’ve done in the entire game was for this. Save your game. This is the final mission. This is spectacular.
The final mission is broken up into multiple phases. First is your arrival. You’re ship jumps through the Warp Relay and arrives in Collector space. There is debris everywhere. You’re ship is crashing into just about everything. Turns out, the Collector’s home base, the center of the galaxy, is a space ship graveyard. Among the debris are enemies and they come to attack and board the ship.
It is here that you get your first real wake up call. A laser from an enemy fighter clips through the ship and — if you upgraded the ship armor like Jack told you those hundred times — you would be fine and you’ll survive. If you DID NOT UPGRADE THE SHIP ARMOR, then JACK WILL DIE. Permanently. All that time spent fighting/leveling along side her, bonding with her and uncovering her past, and possibly pursuing a romance with her ARE NOW OVER BECAUSE YOU DID NOT UPGRADE THE DAMN SHIP ARMOR. And now you realize, if you did not spend the time to do every damn thing that your crew has been telling you to do the entire game, someone is probably going to die for it. Someone you care about. It is a stark moment and — if Jack died — a moment you realize that everyone on this mission may very well die by the end of this game. At the very least, we know that Jack ain’t coming back for Mass Effect 3.
So we get through this. We fight off the enemies and crash land at the Collector base. Here we come up with our plan. First, we need to pick a tech specialist to climb through a vent and open an door. After watching Jack die, you now realize you need to be fracking careful and pick someone who is ACTUALLY A TECH SPECIALIST and who you’ve DONE THE LOYALTY MISSION FOR. It’s Tali or Legion. And who knows, whoever you send is probably going to die anyway. Legion it is. Next you need to divide into two squads: a diversion squad and your squad. You also need to pick leader for the diversion squad. It’s gotta be Miranda. I totally romanced the crap out of her, but she’s loyal and genetically predisposed to lead so I’ll take that risk. If Bioware decides to disintegrate the entire diversion team, so be it. I’m tired of Bioware’s crap. At least a loyal Miranda will increase the likelihood they survive. You then pick who is in each squad. Of course I pick the people I would like to live the most (I’m looking at you Tali) into my squad. I send the people I don’t care for, ironically the toughest looking guys into the diversion team and into their likely deaths. Hmm… maybe they’ll live after all. Oh well. Now we disembark and I tighten my butt cheeks for whatever comes next.
From this point onward, WAVES upon WAVES of enemies will attack you until you reach the final boss. It is endless. The level is also incredible. Platforms rise and fall and the terrain constantly changes. Harbinger, the big baddy who has been trolling you this entire time, continues to TROLL YOU by possessing a random enemy and becoming super powerful. And you have to kill all these dudes and survive the endless onslaught.
But priorities first: someone’s gotta go into that damn vent and unlock a door. So Legion gets into the vent and screw him because he’s just a walking iPhone. You fight waves of enemies and unlock valves blocking Legion and — to my surprise — Legion makes it. He gets out of that death trap of a vent and unlocks the door. As you run inside and Legion is closing the door behind you, A RANDOM ENERGY BLAST FROM NOWHERE HITS LEGION AND HE FRACKING DIES. WHAT THE HELL. He survived the vent only to get hit by some random gun blast and DIES?!?! ANYONE CAN DIE AT ANY TIME. NO ONE IS SAFE. Damn you Bioware… my anus is now perpetually clenched.
So we get through and now we split up. Diversion team holds the line while me and my team go kill the big bad boss. We say our goodbyes and I silently acknowledge that I will likely never see any members of the diversion team ever again. Goodbye Miranda. Our love was short, but at least I have Ashley/Liara still waiting for me somewhere.
We come up to room of pods with people in them and find — thank goodness — our old pal Kelly in one of the pods. Unfortunately, we can’t get her out fast enough and she GETS LIQUEFIED IN HORRIBLE AGONY. WHAT THE HELL BIOWARE. ARE YOU JUST TROLLING FOR FUN?!?! Anyways, we save half the crew while the other half dies in horrible agony. Dr. Chakwas is happy to be alive but mad at us for not saving everyone. I read somewhere later that if you came to the final mission the moment it became available, you would’ve saved everyone. FRACK. I just had to do that last side mission. Sorry Kelly.
So we send the survivors back to the ship along with one of my crew mates. I have no idea if I’m sending the surviving crew to their deaths or saving them so I send someone at random. Bye Jacob. We get to the next part and we need a biotic to put up a force field against clouds of locusts so we can progress. Thank goodness I kept Samara because if not, sending Jacob back with the crew would likely have been the death of us. We fight our way through and Samara looks drained. I’m fully expecting Samara to die even though I killed her daughter in that loyalty mission and gained her damn loyalty. Luckily, she lives. Phew. Thanks for letting someone live Bioware.
We progress through another room and meet with the diversion team. Miranda gets shot, but lives. I read somewhere later that if the leader wasn’t loyal, they would die. Further, if the biotic from the last part wasn’t loyal, the biotic (Samara in this case) wouldn’t die, but the poor bastard protecting our rear would be CARRIED OFF BY A SWARM OF LOCUSTS. Thankfully, I don’t remember anyone dying here for me.
Again, you now pick a team to hold the line while you go kill the big boss. I pick my favorites: Tali and Miranda. The rest hold the line led by my boy Jacob. Jabob’s loyal, which is the best I can do for him. Now we go and fight through waves of enemies and make it to the final boss. It is a giant human shaped Reaper. This is why Kelly was liquefied in agony; to make flesh for this giant killer robot. Which we now have to kill.
Before going further, you need to know about the M-920 Cain. The M-920 Cain is essentially a mini-nuke. It has very little ammo, can be upgraded for even more damage, and you will likely kill yourself with it. From the moment I found this baby, I have wanted to use it. However, there has never been a good time; no enemies strong enough to warrant a nuke and never enough ammo to use it haphazardly. Until now.
The moment I saw that giant human-sized reaper crawl up and into its final form, I fracking knew. I knew that I carried this piece of crap gun throughout the entire damn game just so I could use it on this bastard. I spent all my fracking minerals upgrading this ridiculous gun to maximum damage just so I could hit this guy with it. And that’s what I did. It wasn’t easy; the gun needs time to charge up and there is also the travel time of the rocket. Missing is commonplace. But somehow… I shot this baby and it landed right in between the big bosses eyes. And you need to understand, I had no idea how much damage was going to be dealt. I never fired this gun before. So when it hit, IT KILLED HIM IN ONE HIT. I freakin’ one-shotted him with a NUKE. Like David and Goliath, except I used a NUKE. Damn, it felt so good. Ecstasy.
The rest is a blissful blur. The survivors and myself run back to the ship. I read somewhere that your companions from the final fight can die as well as the protagonist. Luckily, there were no more deaths in my play through and I was grateful.
It was a massive mission and we took heavy casualties (sorry Jack, Legion, Kelly, and half the crew), but we won.
I loved, loved, loved this game. Afterwards I played through it again on New Game Plus mode and this time, everyone survived. It was a nice change to that terrifying first play through. But man oh man, what a play through that first one was. Ultimately, Mass Effect 2 is an experience I will likely remember for the rest of my days. My hope is that future Mass Effect games can in some ways replicate the tension, the fear, and the joy produced from this game.
Great job Bioware, you trolls.
Sorry for not upgrading the ship armor, Jack.