Commander Shepard returns to command again.
Yes, that’s right, my Mass Effect journey continues with the aptly named Mass Effect 2. Honesty is always the best policy so I’ll just say it right up front: Mass Effect 2 is great but it’s not my favorite game in the trilogy. There, it feels good to get that off my chest.
Now, I can already hear, even before I’ve posted this review, the surprised gasps and outrage from all of the people who love this game. I want to assure you all that I love it too but, like I said, if I had to rank all of the games in the original Mass Effect trilogy, it would be at the bottom. And, even if it is on the bottom, I want you to know that these three games are damn near equal in my mind. As such, I hope you all will at least take a deep breath and listen to what I have to say before flying off the handle.
The reason why Mass Effect 2 would be at the bottom of my Mass Effect rankings list is because of the cumulative effect of a bunch of small yet important changes that were introduced in the game when compared with the original Mass Effect. Many of these changes were kept in Mass Effect 3 but they first appeared in Mass Effect 2 so this game has to bear the brunt of the blame. It’s only fair, after all. So, without further ado, let’s get into the list of changes.
First on my list of complaints is the fact that all weapons need ammo in order to shoot them. Now, on the face of it, it would seem that I’m the crazy one here. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, of course you need ammo for a gun! How else would you be able to shoot it?!”
You would be right in real life of course but let’s all think back to the original Mass Effect. Guns didn’t need ammo in order to work as designed. They used a form of space magic to shoot. I loved that system because it meant that I never had to worry about running out of bullets. The only concern I had was whether or not the gun I was using would overheat. That went out the window in Mass Effect 2.
For whatever reason, the fine folks at BioWare (the developer) decided that people like looking for bullets on the battlefield hence why weapons now need ammo. There were times when I would seriously have to scour the map for ammo because I had run out. I would be doing this while people were shooting at me mind you. It did not make for a fun experience.
Not only was it not fun but it also broke the logic of the universe in a way. In order to accommodate this new reality, there were times when ammo would just be sitting in piles out in the open where it didn’t make any narrative sense. For example, there were a few missions where Shepard and his crew have to fight enemies that don’t even use guns. You would be forgiven for thinking that logically there wouldn’t be many bullets lying about the place since that’s the case but you would be wrong. There were literally mounds of ammunition sitting out in the open just waiting to be taken. How does that even make sense?
Also (and this is my final point about the ammo, I promise), how lucky are we that all two dozen species in the Milky Way use the same type of ammunition for their guns. It was so convenient to fight enemies who were literally from different star systems that had ammo built for human weapons. It really made a lot of narrative sense, I’ll tell you that much. Ok, that was a lot of sarcasm but I think I’ve made my point. I miss the overheating system from the original Mass Effect is all I’m saying.
The second thing I don’t like about Mass Effect 2 is the galaxy map. Instead of simply choosing where you want to go within the galaxy (although you do have to select the star system), you have to manually pilot the Normandy to your destination. I know that flying a ship sounds good on paper but in practice it’s anything but. There’s really nothing else to do while flying around within a star system except for flying around if that makes sense. Nothing exciting ever happens while you’re doing it.
Another reason why it’s not very exciting is because you have to worry about the Normandy’s fuel gauge. That’s right, Mass Effect 2 took the concept of piloting a spaceship and turned it into the experience of driving your car around: you have to make sure to fuel it back up on a regular basis. Because that’s really fun, right? I know I had a blast doing it (sarcasm).
My theory as to why BioWare decided to include this mechanic is because they wanted to introduce the scanning feature to the series. Scanning allows you to, well, scan a planet or an asteroid to locate resources. These resources are used to upgrade your armor and weapons and to even upgrade the Normandy itself. Here’s a friendly tip: if you want everyone on your crew to survive through till the end of the game, then you should really consider upgrading the Normandy as much as you can. Just thought I would let you know. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.
Just as an aside, I didn’t really like the scanning part of the game because it was boring if I’m being honest. All it consisted of is scanning a planet until you found some resources and then you shot a probe to collect said resources. I have heard of a few people who enjoyed the scanning aspect of Mass Effect 2 but I’ve never met them in real life.
I’ll be the first to admit that this next complaint is trivial but I didn’t like the Paragon/Renegade text boxes that popped up whenever I earned more points in each category. For the uninitiated, Paragon and Renegade points are rewarded depending upon how you choose to play as Shepard. I mean, look at how small and innocuous these boxes were in the original Mass Effect. Now, compare them to how obnoxious and in-your-face they are in Mass Effect 2. Am I the only one who was bothered by this? I’m going to guess that yes, yes, I was.
Another trivial complaint I have is the cover system used in battle in this game. Cover is all well and good but I didn’t like how, if Shepard has advanced too far ahead in the heat of battle and needs to beat a hasty retreat, he would automatically snap to cover by any box or wall he came across. Even if said cover left Shepard in the direct line of fire. I had some trouble with this because I would sometimes become overzealous and get way too far ahead of my team and need to move backwards to get out of the danger zone as it were. Ok, I’ll admit that this one is probably my fault.
I will end my list of complaints on a not so trivial note. I absolutely, and I do mean absolutely, hate the hacking in Mass Effect 2. There is not one, but two hacking minigames in Mass Effect 2 and they both got old really quickly. It got to the point where I would walk up to a datapad or a locked safe, see that hacking was required and I would yell, “Nope!” and walk away. I just couldn’t be bothered to hack anything else after a certain point. I had reached my limit as it were.
I know that you, dear reader, may have gotten the impression so far that I hated Mass Effect 2 but I want to assure you that nothing could be farther from the truth. And do you want to know the reason why? It’s because I love being in the Mass Effect universe. I’m trying to remember the last time I was so taken in by a gaming world as much as with Mass Effect. The answer would probably be the Witcher universe but that’s a topic for another time.
As I was saying, I love being in and exploring the Mass Effect universe. And by exploring, I mean going to new places and talking to the people in said places. This also includes talking to the crew members of the Normandy who join Commander Shepard on his journey. Luckily for me, there are a bunch of crew members in Mass Effect 2.
A whole cast of wild and colorful characters join Shepard this time around. I mean, just look at the companion selection screen before going into a mission. That’s a lot of people. Without spoiling too much, the group is split between returning characters and entirely new ones. Even more impressive than the number of characters is the fact that BioWare had to write lines for all the characters for each mission because we the players could choose to bring any of these characters with us on any given mission. I find that to be astounding. That’s a lot of dialogue that has to be written.
On that note, I was always impressed when a seemingly (I mean, I can’t prove that it is) rare or unique dialogue was triggered by my choices. One example is if you bring Garrus with you during the finale of the Lair of the Shadow Broker mission. Another is if you talk to a lady named Yeoman Chambers on the Normandy. She’s in charge of monitoring the crew in case they have any issues that need addressing. If you talk to her and she says that one of the crew members was looking for Shepard and then you go and talk to said crew member, Shepard will mention that Chambers said he should talk to them. I love stuff like that in video games. I know it’s a lot of work to write a game like that and I want anyone who has ever put in said work to know that I greatly appreciate it. I can’t get enough of things like that.
As I said, I liked whatever the crew members had to say whenever they were on missions. My only complaint is that a few members of the crew were oddly silent sometimes. I would take a few of them on missions just to see what they had to say and they would remain mum much to my surprise. This even happened between missions where certain characters would run out of dialogue way too fast in my opinion. The one that comes to mind is Garrus who I acknowledge had a lot to say in the first game but I wish he had more to say in Mass Effect 2. Why won’t you talk to me, Garrus?! This was also true of a few other characters but I won’t bore you with a full list here. Just know that the list doesn’t include Zaeed who always had something to say.
There are some really cool locations in Mass Effect 2. My favorite part of the whole game was seeing what other locations within the galaxy looked like. My favorite, by far, was the planet of Illium. The best missions and the best character interactions were on that planet. It is the pinnacle of what Mass Effect has to offer as far as I’m concerned. I’m starting to suspect that I have a thing for corporate-run planets because my favorite planet in the original game was Noveria which was also a corporate stronghold.
To bring the conversation back around to Illium, my favorite part about it were some of the characters who show up there based on some of the choices I made in the first game. If I remember correctly, BioWare sold this series on the premise of the player’s choices affecting later parts of the trilogy. I think Illium is the perfect encapsulation of that sales pitch as several scenes appeared there as a direct result of my choices. I wish I could talk about them here but alas I don’t want to spoil anything for all two of you out there who haven’t played this magnificent series.
The story this time around revolves around Commander Shepard trying to discover what the (spoiler alert for those who haven’t played the first game) Reapers are up to while actively trying to stop them. After going through what we’ll call an ordeal, Shepard begins working with an organization by the name of Cerberus to achieve this goal. Herein lies one of my problems with the story of Mass Effect 2.
My problem is that Commander Shepard has dealt with Cerberus before. If you can recall, they showed up several times in the original Mass Effect. Based on what they did in that game, I don’t think Shepard would ever work with them in any capacity whatsoever. I mean, they killed Admiral Kahoku, damnit! Anyways, I guess that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Desperate times call for desperate measures and Shepard must work with anyone who opposes the Reapers even if that someone isn’t entirely trustworthy. It did make for an interesting story in that I didn’t ever trust the people I worked for.
One thing I really liked about the story is that it introduces a character who will play an important role throughout the rest of the trilogy (I know because I have finished Mass Effect 3 now as well). He is a mysterious figure, some would say illusive, and the best way I can think of to describe him is to relate an anecdote to you all. I was discussing the Mass Effect trilogy with a friend of mine after I had finished the first game and I remarked that I really liked Saren as a villain. My friend replied “Once you play Mass Effect 2, you’ll forget all about Saren. Trust me.” I can only conclude that my friend had this new character in mind when he said that. Although I have not entirely forgotten about Saren, I must agree with my friend’s sentiment.
Some of you may think that I hated Mass Effect 2 based on all of the complaints I listed about the game in the beginning of this review. I want to say again that nothing could be further from the truth. Still don’t believe me? Ok, then what if I told you that I played through the game twice? Do you believe me now? The funny thing is that most of the complaints listed here today didn’t really bother me during my second playthrough. I just wanted to convey my feelings on the game based off of my initial playthrough. Well, I lied. The whole weapons needing ammo thing bothered me a little. And the hacking still really bothered me. Oh, and the…
Thank you for reading! The only thing I’ll say here is that you should all get out there and play some Mass Effect! Especially if you haven’t played it before. You all know who you are!