GAMING GREATS: Mass Effect 2 (2010)

R.G. travels through the dark side of the Milky Way in one of the most triumphant sequels in video games.

Who made it?: Bioware (Developer), Electronic Arts (Publisher).

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows.

Format: DVD, Blu-ray Disc, Digital Download.

Released: January 29, 2010 (Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows, UK), January 21, 2011 (PlayStation 3, UK).

After the bombastic climax of Mass Effect, you are left with an open-ending promising that there are bigger and more awesome things to come. Three years of anticipations later, Mass Effect 2 arrived and started itself off with a giant downer. In one fell swoop, your beloved Shepard character is killed, the Normandy is destroyed, and you are separated from the crew that you’ve grown to love in the previous gameAfter being miraculously revived by a shady criminal organisation, you go from a decorated hero of the galaxy to a no-nonsense mercenary, but with the same good intentions. In this follow-up, your ship’s much bigger, your crew is volatile and unpredictable, and your mission is much more dangerous. With this new, figuratively alien establishment, I knew that this would exceed my stratosphere-high expectations for a sequel to a game that I played with utmost obsession.

Mass Effect 2 is the Empire Strikes Back of the saga, and in a similar vein to the original Star Wars trilogy, it’s also the best out of the three in popular consensus. A much darker, less hopeful and more personal journey in contrast to the originalit turned the Mass Effect series from a respectable cult hit to one of the greatest works of science fiction ever conceived, and a fine example of a sequel that is unanimously superior to its predecessor. An early January release of 2010,  no other title topped it for me as the best game of that year – even in the face of amazing releases like Red Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain, or Super Mario Galaxy 2.

The story starts off a month after the events of Mass Effect. On a patrol mission to hunt GethThe Normandy is attacked by a mysterious dreadnought, which forces the crew to abandon ship and, in the process, axing off Commander ShepardHis/her body is salvaged by Cerberus, a shady pro-human organisation, and spends billions of credits resurrecting the corpseAfter being incapacitated for two years, Shepard finally wakes up and gets an induction by The Illusive Man, the group’s leader, and is tasked with a dangerous objective to stop The Collectors – a race of insect-like aliens that are harvesting humans from numerous colonies, as well as the ones responsible for killing Shepard in the first place. Armed with a new ship, the Commander travels through the darker, more unlawful sides of the galaxy to recruit the best assassins, psychopaths and mercenaries, and embark on a suicide mission to the centre of the Milky Way where The Collectors are hiding.

Mass Effect 2 was a massive technical overhaul from its predecessor. The graphics had more detail and less glitches, the combat was much more refined, and they streamlined the role-playing elements. With the gunplay, it feels closer to a quality third-person shooter – showcasing a competent cover system and ammunition-based firearms. Since the gameplay is a lot more action-oriented, the RPG is easier to manage. Unlike the original where, regardless of difficulty, you were almost unstoppable to the point where strategy is non-existent2 was heavily reliant on tactics. Thanks to the improved squad AI and a much more balanced class system, teamwork felt important, necessary and fun. It also gets rid of the original’s tendency of (unknowingly) overstuffing your inventory. Here, weapons are tightly managed from a separate storage, and they reduced the number of firearms for easier generalisation. Mass Effect was infamous for its murky detail and ugly texture pop-ins. In this entry, these issues are a rare occurrence. Not only that, the quality of its presentation screams with influences from the very best of iconic science fiction franchises. Going with ME2’s darker theme which involves organic harvesting, the aesthetics are very reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s, and in many parts, you will witness many creatively grotesque designs that really fit in with its sombre and macabre atmosphere.

The innovative dialogue wheel returns for the sequel and it’s a system that doesn’t need a lot of tweaking because it’s already well-functioned. A nice addition to the conversations is the “Interrupt QTE.” It makes the morality of the choices much more impactful, and it also gives those dialogue scenes a sense of physicality and a more cinematic feel. Because the story’s set outside the laws of The Alliance, your Shepard’s moral code is tested further than it was in the original as it deals with themes of social hierarchy, race and the blurring lines of right and wrong. Your morality is the aspect that represents your Shepard’s personality, and it also affects how your team and other NPCs react in your presence, which could lead to item discounts, extra dialogue options and altering outcomes of a friendship or romance. Much like ME1, you have the freedom to interact and bond with your squad mates. This time, however, the entire story progression revolves around it. The majority of the missions involve each individual squad member, and the purpose is to get their loyalty. The more loyal they are to you, the higher their chance of survival in the suicide mission, which will also alter what the outcome of the ending is. Every single squad mate is unique and instantly memorable, and all of their missions are fun, intriguing insights to who they are and what motivates them. Talking to these personalities rarely gets boring because they’re written with so much depth. Triggering a conversation with one can lead to diverse emotional detours that will either make you laugh, cry or both.

While the overarching villains – The Reapers – are still the antagonists here, they’re more of a side note in comparison to their involvement in Mass EffectThinking about it, the narrative for 2 feels quite small and open compared to 1 and 3’s more straightforward and bombastic set-up. It’s all about preparing for the main objective and you can do it at your own pace – even if there are certain necessities needed in order to move forward. If you get all the ship upgrades and get everyone to be loyal to you, you can charge at The Collectors and get out with no casualties. With so many options on how you want to progress the story, the ending will differ depending on the decisions that you’ve made throughout. Aside from its disappointing end boss fight, the final suicide mission is one of the most exciting and satisfying payoffs you could get for a video game ending as it acknowledges and addresses what you have learned from getting to know your squad mates, and it lets you utilise your leadership skills to decide who is the best at doing specific jobs that could make or break the mission.  

So, after inevitably defeating The Collectors, we have the downloadable content to tackle. Ignoring superficial additions like alternate costumes and extra weapons, the digital stories are fun little additions to ME2’s already expansive mythology, and some of them tie in quite well with Mass Effect 3While Kasumi – Stolen MemoryOverlord and Arrival were pretty decent adventures, the one DLC pack that really holds its own is Lair of the Shadow Broker. A narrative that involves an intriguing character study of a squad member in the previous entry, the pack has a much better end boss fight than the main game, and it also has the best-written story out of all the additional adventures. It’s considered to be one of the best downloadable contents made for a game, and from a guy who is ambivalent with the practice of DLC, I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

I rarely throw “masterpiece” around when I describe something but it’s a word that Mass Effect 2 truly deserves to be called. It has already established itself as one of the modern classics of video gaming, so singing it further praise has become repetition for me and everyone who has ever had the pleasure of experiencing this titleThe way it expands and improves upon the original is something that other video game sequels should strive for, and it took further advantage of a mythos that was already ripe for telling unforgettable stories and characters that will likely be ingrained in your brain for the rest of your life. Its RPG label may be a slight façade but it all makes up for it with a fun and strategic third-person shooter gameplay, and a balanced delivery of epic sci-fi action-adventuremeaningful morality choices and compelling interpersonal character dramaIf you haven’t checked Mass Effect 2 out yet, you will be doing yourself a huge favour if you do, especially if you’re a fan of science fiction in general. As I write this, no other Bioware release has topped ME2 as the best game in their portfolio, and I don’t think its going leaving that throne anytime soon.

Useless Trivia

(via Mass Effect Wiki and Wikipedia)
  •  Mass Effect 2 was selected as one of 80 titles from the past 40 years to be placed in the Art of Video Games exhibit in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

  • Many characters in the Mass Effect universe are voiced by actors who are known for their sci-fi roles, with Martin Sheen (The Illusive Man) being the biggest star in the cast. Examples are Tricia Helfer (EDI) and Michael Hogan (Captain Bailey) from Battlestar Galactica, Adam Baldwin (Kal Reegar) from Firefly, Lance Henriksen (Admiral Hackett) from Aliens, and Carrie-Anne Moss (Aria T’Loak) from The Matrix.

  • The title is considered to be one of the best games of the 7th Generation era, winning numerous Game of the Year awards, and top entertainment website IGN naming it #1 on its “Top 100 Modern Video Games.”

R.G. Villanueva

Contributing game and film writer for SquabbleBox. Occasional DJ and instrumentalist, amateur programmer, all-around lazy guy.

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  1. fundamentallyflawed says:

    Its been a while and I have shipped my 360 elsewhere but I remember the combat being pretty simplistic? I also found the Mass Effect games to be too big – 30 hours to complete the game taking time to explore seriously put me off repeat playthroughs

    But they were enjoyable on the one playthrough though

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