Mass Effect 2 is a game that completely revolutionized the way games are perceived in our culture, single-handedly proved that video games are indeed an art form, and in my opinion, is one of the best games ever made. The beautifully crafted story, the well polished gameplay, unforgettable characters, the atmosphere, on top of one-hundred other things make this game the marvel that it is. Whether you’ve played this game yourself and had the one-of-a-kind experience, or you’ve only heard about how awesome it really is, this game is legendary. I cannot wait to start this review.
Story and Presentation – 10,000,000/10 (9/10)
This is where the game truly shines. I’m going to get it off my chest right now, the only reason the story and presentation isn’t actually rated ten-million out of ten, is because the game is best experienced with prior knowledge of the series, preferably via the first game, Mass Effect. Why is this a bad thing? Because Mass Effect 1 is NOT the best game ever made. It is a very hard to love game with bittersweet features. You can read my review of that here too. When I originally got into Mass Effect, I started on Mass Effect 2, knowing nothing about the series, and look at me now. A rabid fanboy. There is a great intro cutscene that immerses you into the game instantly, that will give you some knowledge so you’re not totally in the dark. And there is cheap DLC (downloadable content) to help with this problem as well. But that is IT. That is the ONLY existing problem.
Now, the good parts. EVERYTHING.
You once more play as Commander Shepard. Shepard is entirely customizable, from his or her looks, to his or her skills, to yes, his or her gender. You start the game on the Normandy, Shepard ’s prized space ship, as the Commander and his/her crew drift in space on a mission to inspect recently reported disappearances of ships. All is quiet and serene, until an unknown ship warps near the Normandy and launches an assault. Catching the crew by surprise, the relentless gunfire tears the ship apart, and everyone is forced to evacuate. Shepard ’s love interest (Ashley Williams if male, Kaiden Alenko if female, Liara T’soni if you have the retelling DLC, or whoever you chose in your first game if you imported your save file) struggles to get the crew out, and you gain control of Shepard during the attack as you rush to get Joker, the helmsman, out in time. Shepard convinces Joker to evacuate via the speech tree, where you can be heroic or a douchebag, but no matter what, Shepard gets Joker to safety at the cost of going down with the ship himself. The cinematics die down, all goes quiet, and you watch as Shepard drifts into space, slowly dying.
All of this happens within the first few moments of the game, before the game actually “starts”. I will avoid spoilers at all costs, but Shepard ’s remains are found, his/her… fleshy meat is pumped into tubes and put back into the form of a human being. The terrorist organization Cerberus, a group dedicated to human supremacy in the galaxy, and their leader, The Illusive Man, are the ones in charge of the resurrection. In exchange for your life back, The Illusive Man has a job for you. The Reapers, the synthetic, alien race behind Saren Arterius, the Geth attack, and the assault on the Normandy, are threatening to return and eliminate the many intelligent races from the galaxy. The disappearances of the human colonies are rumored to be caused by The Reapers. You must once more assemble a crew and traverse the galaxy for clues, upgrade your ship, gain the loyalty of old and new friends, and prepare your team as much as possible for your inevitable strike back against The Reapers, properly called the “Suicide Mission”.
The shoot-from-cover mechanics from the first game return, with a whole bottle of polish thrown over-top of it. Combat is executed using tactically placed cover to duck behind, and choosing your shots accordingly to navigate through the mission. RPG elements return as well via the class system, and leveling up with new and exciting special powers such as the Biotic Shockwave, a powerful burst of energy that blows through all enemies in front of you, and the Biotic Charge, a teleportation skill that launches your character across the screen and violently tackling a targeted enemy. Classic skills return as well, such as the famous Pull and Throw skills. You navigate the overworld hub, the entire galaxy, in the SR2 – Normandy, a Cerberus remodel of the original Normandy with some new features, in search of missions and new additions to your colorful squad of humans and aliens. Firearm choices range from standard classics such as the Heavy Pistol and Assault Rifles, to new additions in the form of special weapons, such as Flamethrowers, an ice gun, even a badass laser.
Between each mission, Shepard is given the option to travel around within his/her own ship and converse with the team, engaging them in rewarding, intelligent, entertaining conversations, and if you try hard enough, even deep romances. Conversation is executed via the famous speech tree, where once more, you are given a heroic “Paragon” speech option, a neutral option, and an antiheroic “Renegade” option. Your choice in words and in many cases, your actions, have detrimental effects on the living and breathing worlds around you, and every second of the game, you really feel that same dire importance, as if lives hang in the balance of how you decide to handle a problem.
Gameplay, overall, has very few flaws. If you are not a fan of the Gears of War series, the series that pretty much defined 3rd person cover-shooters, then you may not have as much fun as you could with this game, but even then that is no excuse to pass it up. The powers and the deep environments -alone- are enough to make this game a collector staple on your gaming rack.
Overall – 9/10
To explain the depth of this game in less than several thousand words is impossible but take my word for it, this is a cannot-miss experience that leaves me breathless with each and every playthrough. The best part about the game is just exactly how immersed you can get in this universe. How much there is to learn, how colorful the characters are and how deep their backstories stem. It excites you to see old faces return, and you welcome the new faces as they become part of your virtual family. You look forward to watching them develop – this game just has this magic about it that makes you always feel like you’re playing a real, amazing game, even during cutscenes and lengthy conversations.
Why only 9? Because there is no “perfect” game; if there were, all games developed would be exactly the same. If one developer created the perfect game, all others would strive to copy it, and ride that perfection into success. But Mass Effect 2, get’s pretty damn close to perfect. Start to finish, you won’t find a single thing to complain about. There’s beautiful graphics, there’s awesome achievement support, great DLC with additional characters and missions. But this game only gets a 9, and not a 10, because in my opinion, you NEED to play Mass Effect 1. No matter how grueling the task, and irritating the game sometimes, the Mass Effect 2, and even the Mass Effect 3 experience is NOT the same without a completed save file of Mass Effect 1. Even if you just drop the extra few dollars on the DLC that explains it all, and helps you make vital decisions, instead of forcing you through Mass Effect 1. I did both. Beat Mass Effect 1, if only once, for the experience, and get the DLC to go back and walk different paths, making different decisions to get different endings.
Just… Just.. Look at this. I’m done.