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Game of the Generation: Mass Effect 2

Mass Harder!

I remember the first time I laid eyes on Mass Effect in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly. That was the day the Xbox 360 justified its $400 price tag. I remember the day I bought Mass Effect. That was the day I bought my Xbox 360. I remember my worry that Mass Effect 2 had lost the first game’s identity through its changing too many things. Then, Archangel took off his helmet and all those fears went away. I remember counting down the days until Mass Effect 3, the bittersweet feeling that the trilogy would end soon, the depression* from the ending, the nostalgia from the Citadel DLC, and how the console generation felt empty knowing there was no more Mass Effect.

Mass Effect was not just my favorite series of the seventh console generation-Mass Effect was the seventh console generation. Mass Effect provided me with something no other console generation had: a trilogy planned from the start with a bold idea to let the player’s choices carry over between games. These choices gave me an attachment both to the series and my version of Commander Shepard that I have never felt with any other character or universe.

What is remarkable about the trilogy is that each game ended up offering mechanics which were not only vastly different from the last entry, but fit the story remarkably well. Take the combat for instance: In the first game, aim is dictated by Shepard’s stat tree, which makes sense as it was a story about Shepard’s first big mission. Mass Effect 2’s better controls, more impactful powers, and improved aiming felt right because you were more experienced and preparing for a suicide mission. Mass Effect 3 then polished the controls even further and gave powers nifty perks, which was fitting since you had become a legendary solider going against a seemingly invincible threat.

Every design choice invoked this sensation, where I felt like what was new and different didn’t just make a better game, but blended flawlessly with the story. It’s obvious how much BioWare thought out everything that happened both in terms of story and gameplay.

Forced to pick my favorite out of the three, I would have to go with the popular option and choose Mass Effect 2. Considering that it offers weaker non-combat elements than the first game and weaker combat than the final chapter, this may seem strange. While Mass Effect 2 does have some hindrances, there is one reason that it is my favorite in the series: How the game is set up as a heist in space.

All three games are, at their most basic level, about preventing a race of hyper advanced synthetics known as Reapers from eliminating all life in the universe. However, each game has a different approach in how it does so. Mass Effect 1 focuses on gathering clues to take down a rogue agent trying to bring the Reapers back from dark space-while 3 is an all-out war against the Reapers- both pretty common sci-fi setups.

Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, took a story that is as similar to Ocean’s Eleven as it is to Star Wars. While the bulk of the game is spent gathering a team (with an occasional detour to take out a race of aliens kidnapping humans known as the Collectors), the focus is always on the final mission. The people you gather are not simply a part of the team for extra firepower; Shepard’s squad has a diverse list of abilities necessary for the suicide mission.

Including (but not limited to) old friends, genetic experiments, a sociopathic criminal, and a mad scientist, the crew is colorful, creative, and fun to talk to. Yet they also have their own flaws and insecurities which we see during “loyalty missions.” These missions have Shepard do them a favor- to resolve family troubles, to enact revenge-which makes the character completely loyal to Shepard. These missions also ensure that each character gets a momentary spotlight, which makes every character feel well developed.

Each loyalty mission also presents a choice. Some decisions feel black and white, like talking a squad mate out of wanting pointless revenge. Others feel like there is no right answer, where either side feels like some sort of sacrifice has to be made. Then there are choices that made me want to thoughtlessly kill someone for no reason other than I felt the guy deserved it.

Mass Effect 2 is not only about making choices, however, but also about seeing the impact of choices made in the first game. Most consequences are little more than Easter eggs- a character you helped or hurt would approach you or send an email- sometimes offering a side mission. No matter what they offer, it makes the universe feel alive in a way no other game ever has before.

While the shooting in the middle entry was not as solid as Mass Effect 3’s and at times feels like an RPG developer clumsily trying to make a shooter, I still found myself enjoying it more than many polished shooters. My enjoyment was primarily due to the powers- many having a purpose dependent on whether an enemy has armor, energy shields, or a biotic barrier to add extra protection. Add in upgrades to ammo and armor makes coordinating power usage between Shepard and my squad feel very tactical, where my plan is as important as my aim.

The final suicide mission may be my favorite level of all time. Everything until that point felt like it was leading to that moment, where I saw the effects of every upgrade I made to my ship, the Normandy. Though the mission played out like a heist, I still felt more like a commander than ever before. I needed to know each of my squad mates’ abilities and who would be best suited to break through security or lead a second squad.

Failing would not make the mission harder, but cause the death of a squad member. Choose the wrong person or neglect earning the right squad member’s loyalty and someone would die. Every section of suicide mission has creative story and gameplay, which made me feel like I really accomplished something when it was all over.

I have played Mass Effect 2 countless times and am sure I will replay it many more times in the future. Every second spent in its universe is a pure joy, whether spent wandering a city, shooting a mercenary, or just talking to one of my crew members. I cannot imagine a game in the new console generation having the same impact on me as any Mass Effect game did. Not just on its own merits, but in how it defined an entire console generation to in a wholly unique way.

Also: FemShep for life!

*Yes, depression. Be very glad you did not see me mid-March 2012.




03/16/2015 at 02:45 PM

Good write-up! I'm nearing the end of my 2nd playthrough and the game still holds up beautifully.


03/16/2015 at 03:20 PM

I played Mass Effect 2 30+ times. 


03/17/2015 at 11:45 AM

Think I'll finally get this during the next Steam sale. I was going to wait until I do a 100% playthrough of ME1 so I can transfer the data, but I don't feel like finishing it a third time, so I'll just deal with what I have saved, which is about 85% of all the quests in the game.

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/17/2015 at 03:29 PM

Awesome. Makes me feel like I've done my job as a writer.


03/17/2015 at 10:54 PM

Well, I like the character designs too. Art is sometimes enough to get me into a game. Plus, while I would have preferred for them to double down on the RPG complexity instead of streamlining, I like when sequels do different things.


03/17/2015 at 02:55 PM

I just noticed that Tali and Jacob are missing from the group picture.  What's up with that? 

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/17/2015 at 03:29 PM

It was just a piece of artwork I found. I didn't make it, but thought it would go well with the article.


03/24/2015 at 08:01 AM

Same here, I felt Mass 2 was the high point in the series. The whole trilogy is awesome but #2 made some huge improvements that I was disappointed were left out of Mass 3.


11/06/2015 at 11:56 AM

Writing wise I felt the game took a step backwards, the first Mass Effect was intriguing, the second asks for too many logic jumps and forgot about the intriguing stuff about the reapers. And Mass Effect 2 had no fem shep walk animations/run animation, it almost killed the game for me. But I must say, the renegade options became pretty badass in 2.

Don't get me wrong, the game was good but I like the first more, maybe cause of nostalgia and some amount of prejudice I had for the second game.

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