How do you streamline a gaming sequel? What do you leave in process of production of a game, what will you change to appeal to audience that do not know you without alienating your core audience? If you make that crucial decision and streamline your game, one of the first and vital things you should probably do is playing Mass Effect 1 and then Mass Effect 2 to see the difference and fully understand what “streamlining correctly” really means. Mass Effect 2 is one of few examples when streamlining makes sequel superior to the original.
This article is part of our Fallen Franchises Dragon Age and Mass Effect – Saga of Bioware.
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers about the main story line, read in your own discretion, so if you aren’t familiar with Mass Effect 2, I would highly recommend purchasing it and then you can read the article.
Development of Mass Effect 2 began almost immediately after the first game. One of the core elements that Bioware’s team focused on was fixing some of the issues from the first Mass Effect to make the best game possible. Players and reviewers criticized combat and Mako sections, so combat got a major update and Mako was removed from the game completely. It wasn’t just removing issues and fixing them, they also put forth some of the elements people enjoyed, like dialogues and squad-mate missions. Therefore Mass Effect 2 has much more of it and also, they are integral to the main story. Graphics got a major update and maps are smaller and more detailed.
Story, world and lore
The story of Mass Effect 2 is set a few weeks after the events of the first game, when Normandy (your ship) is attacked by an unknown vessel and destroyed. During this deadly attack Commander Shepard ends up dead alongside of many other crew-mates, but a secret organization called Cerberus use cutting edge technology to resurrect Shepard for the reason to help them fight the Collectors (mysterious insectoid species), who kidnap entire human colonies for an unknown purpose. The Mass Effect trilogy is sometimes compared towards the Star Wars original trilogy and I can say that it is a quite fair comparison. The first Star Wars is like the first Mass Effect, built an interesting universe, so the sequels are more focused on the characters that live in it. This time you leave the Citadel Space and operate mostly in Terminus System (unstable region of the galaxy), because this is where Collectors are attacking. Terminus System was only briefly mentioned in Mass Effect 1, so to set the sequel in it makes sense, therefore Galaxy becomes wider. Similarly to the first game the majority of the information is delivered in form of dialogues and codex, the world is a bit different based on your decisions from the first game and you can see what impact you have in a long run. During the game you learn some information about the main antagonist, the Reapers and also who their agents once (Collectors) were. Because of the well-established lore and world thanks to the first game, Mass Effect 2 goes deeper and more intensive, upon what you know, you always learn something new. Aside of the Collectors, there are three new races introduced in Mass Effect 2, namely Drell, Vorcha and in the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC Yagh.
In Mass Effect 1 the focus was on exploration and world-building, but in Mass Effect 2 the focus is on the characters, your squad-mates and the crew of the Normandy SR2. The final mission is multiple times referred as the “Suicide Mission” and the game forces you to complete a loyalty mission for your squad-mates. If you don’t, “Suicide Mission” might end badly for you. This might sound bad, but luckily characters in Mass Effect 2 are possibly the best in the series and quite possibly in all Bioware games ever. Two returning squad-mates form the first game are Tali’zorah vas Neema and Garrus Vakarian, others (Wrex, Liara, Ashley or Kaiden) return in respective cameos. Garrus is a fan-favorite character in the Mass Effect trilogy and I think it is because of this game. Talking to Garrus is always fun, his sense of humor, personality are on always point, one other thing I love about him is his character development from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2. Tali’zorah is another returning squad-mate from the first game and she is equally great as Garrus. There are seven new squad-mates, first two you are going to meet are Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor, the others you must recruit through missions. My personal favorite are Mordin Solus, Grunt, Legion, Jack and Thane Krios. This is something that I highly regard about Mass Effect 2 that every time you think in Mass Effect 1 about: “I would love to have Salarian or even Geth in my squad.” Mass Effect 2 will provide on that regard. Loyalty missions are greatly improved upon, they instrumental in your progress and also these missions are in all cases excellent, even if the character like Jacob Taylor, who is a bit underdeveloped, his loyalty mission is fantastic. Like in Mass Effect 1 and Dragon Age: Origins there are romance options and because this game is about characters, romance option are great and actually quite touching.
Villains of the game are Collectors and their overlords Reapers, so there is no titular villain like Saren or Loghain, collective antagonists like Collectors can be quite troubling, you need to make quite threatening, because if you defeat them every time you meet them and if they won’t do any progress, they seem ineffective and harmless. Collectors are luckily quite threatening, your crew is talking about their attacks and it keeps you as a player on edge.
Last character worth mentioning is The Illusive Man, leader of Cerberus, he serves a similar purpose as Council in previous game, give you quests and clues. He is also a grey eminence, his motivation isn’t really clear, even though he claims, he fights for humanity, you really don’t know. His personality is enlarged by superb voice acting provided by Martin Sheen.
Gameplay, combat and graphics
Combat in Mass Effect 2 is better than combat in Mass Effect 1. There are parts that feel a bit lacking, for example anytime you are on mission and there is more open area almost every time enemies will spawn, but that is just nitpicking. Classes and leveling up are well redesigned, you have less options, but it is for the better, so you can invest into combat abilities instead of persuasions. You also can command your squad-mates much better than in the previous game. Maps in Mass Effect 2 are smaller and more detailed, every time you go to a new location, the said location is completely different from the previous one and Mass Effect 2 still looks great. Gameplay is very similar to the previous game, but some controls are bit different, like quicksave (is F5 instead of F6), interact is the space button instead of E. For the most part the game fairly runs smoothly, but there are some crashes mainly in DLC missions (like Kasumi: Stealing Memory and Lair of the Shadow Broker) and from time to time the game crashed on Illium (planet), just sometime quicksave the game and you’ll be fine and in Kasumi: Stealing Memory restart the mission (do it at the beginning, because otherwise you will lost a lot of time).
There are three story DLCs and two-character DLCs with their own loyalty missions, I already covered Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker. Let’s start with squad-mates DLCs Zaeed – Price of Revenge and Kasumi – Stolen Memory. There are some problems I have with those DLCs mainly, because you cannot speak to those characters, you interact with them and they just answer and that’s it, so no dialogues, but their loyalty missions are quite good and Zaeed – Price of Revenge is completely free like some other minor DLCs like Normandy Crash Site, Firewalker Pack and some additional armor and weapons. Arrival DLC is the story final DLC from Mass Effect 2 and this is mainly about Reapers arrival to Milky Way galaxy and this is the point where Bioware’s writing begins to fail and point I would call where truly begins the Fall. Story elements are sometimes nonsensical and the way to temporally slowdown The Reapers creates a lot of really absurd plot threads. If you have played this DLC you know what I mean. So, this is something I have to explain, to slowdown The Reapers you have to send asteroids into the mass relay Alpha, which creates a giant explosion that wipes out the entire Batarian colony before Reapers arrive. My question is: Why not let Reapers arrive and send asteroids into the relay before they get to it? Also, Commander Shepard is under influence of Reaper artifact and he/she is not indoctrinated? This DLC is just a mess of a story. So, with that being said Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker are absolutely worth it and others well it depends, maybe you should wait for some discounts.
The last great Bioware game
Mass Effect 2 is quite possibly the last great game from Bioware, there is lot to love about this game and a lot to appreciate. Are there any problems? I have some problems with some plot elements, like why would Shepard initially agree to work with terrorist organizations like Cerberus (even if there intentions are good), especially if Shepard is the sole survivor, or why Joker (pilot) doesn’t even apologize for indirectly killing Shepard in the first place? One gaming mechanic I sometimes do not like is the fact that paragon/renegade options are now even more influential, so it really becomes good/bad response. But it can be overlooked and enjoyed for all those great parts, missions and characters. Mass Effect 2 proves that streamlined games can be excellent and if you keep the heart and soul of the game, you will get an excellent game. It is rare to see a gaming sequel that is better than the original title, rarely it can work so well and for that I give Mass Effect 2 a 9/10.
Until then keep playing Mass Effect 2!