Reviewing the Mass Effect Series: Mass Effect 2

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Just like the review of Mass Effect 1, I’m assuming you have played this game and are already super-familiar with the game. Some people played this game 20+ times, so…. let’s just assume you are one of them. You know this game forwards and backwards, inside and out. Hell, if you haven’t played this game, you are missing out on what is probably the greatest game of the 7th Generation console.

This is part of a trilogy play through. It was my intention to play through the entire trilogy on the hardcore setting but ran into difficulty. While playing Garrus’ recruit mission, I had to change it back to the casual setting. The mercenaries were breaking in front the backdoor and I had to seal the three paths. One of the paths… wow. The mercenaries were entrenched. And on the hardcore setting, with an Engineer… I couldn’t do anything to them. No matter what I tried, I died and died and died. After an hour of frustration, I changed the difficulty to casual and kept it there.

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I noticed a few things about the game in this play through that I want to share.

Themes

Prevention

In the first game, the overarching theme was prevention. Shepard had to stop the Reapers from coming back into the galaxy. I imagine this is a lot of what the military does these days. They don’t fight huge wars, they do preventive strikes, taking down targets and threats before they grow too powerful. That theme was set in stone by Vigil, who said very distinctly that the Reapers were unbeatable everywhere except in dark space. The same theme was present in Mass Effect 2.

Stop the Collectors to stop the Reapers. We knew the Collectors were harvesting humans for a reason, and we knew the Reapers were involved. As long as we were able to stop and kill the Collectors, we stop the Reaper threat yet again. In the end, we do stop the Reaper threat. The Reapers have begun their invasion, beginning their construction of the dominant species in the galaxy. Destroying the Human Reaper saves humanity for the time being. Heck, look at Arrival. The Reapers were about to reach the galaxy, and destroying the Relay would stall them for potentially years. It was all about damage control, prevent the unstoppable juggernaut from arriving.

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Even at the end of the game, Shepard knew the Reapers were coming. But if you notice, Joker handed him a data pad with what looked like a Reaper on it. It was strongly implied that EDI may have downloaded information on the Reapers from the Collector Base.  Would have been nice to have seen that get implemented in the 3rd game. Or anything at all to do with prevention.

Distrust of Authority

The Illusive Man. The Council. The Quarian Generals. Councillor Udina. The Shadow Broker. Wreav (if you kill Wrex). All of them have proven to be untrustworthy over and over again. They make consistently stupid decisions and act disrespectful toward Shepard. This trend was sort of in the first game, at least with Udina and the Council. Though a lot of authority figures seemed trustworthy enough in the first game. In the 2nd game, that list of trustworthy authority figures shrinks down to Anderson and Admiral Hackett.

Mass-Effect-Illusive-Man

I don’t know if we can say power corrupts, since it didn’t corrupt everyone. We’ve seen people with power use it wisely, like Samara, Shepard, Wrex and the like. It seemed like if you were friends with Shepard, then you were somehow trustworthy and acted for the best interests of your race and the galaxy as a whole. Not that it is a bad thing, as it sets up Shepard as a galactic leader of some regard. The distrust of authority theme does carry over into the third game in some neat ways. Making peace with the Council for one. Or killing Udina for another. Both of them awesome in their own ways.

Dark Energy

Boy, this one was dropped in Mass Effect 3. I can’t even remember if there was a mention of it in that game. It played a pretty important role in the second game. The exemplar event for that is, obviously, Haestrom. Dholen was destabilizing because of dark energy. That clearly shows dark energy to be something of a galactic threat the level of the Reapers. That could easily happen to every star in the galaxy if dark energy wasn’t put in check of somehow reversed.

More than enough was said about dark energy by hundreds of different brilliant bloggers and reviewers. All I want to add is this: it would have been nice to have seen it addressed in the third game in some way. I could have accepted Shepard not doing anything about it. Hell, he was busy. But I would have liked a “gosh, we need to deal with the Reapers first, then we’ll tackle dark energy” or something.

Making the Impossible Look Easy

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Shepard did it in the first game, going fr om planet to planet and beating the hell out of hundreds of enemies and defeating Saren. Then he did it in the second game, going from planet to planet… beating the hell out of hundreds of enemies. But this time, he helped start peace between the Geth and Qurians, got a Justicar to swear an oath of loyalty to him, helped cure a disease that was ravaging thousands, went into the Omega 4 Relay, killed another Reaper and survived the suicide mission and… oh….

Come back from the dead.

Shepard also did the impossible in the third game, though this time it did not look easy in the slightest. I still have my doubts he could take a direct shot from Harbinger and survive…. he’s good, but his armor and skin aren’t tougher than a ship’s armor plating. Eh, I’ll save that for later. It’s just this theme is very important when thinking about Shepard and what he can do.  Yes, it has to do with the ending (both a criticism and defense of it) so just keep it in mind.

Gameplay

The control interface was much, much improved on in this game. BioWare managed to simplify the controls without dumbing them down. Sniping was easier. Battles felt smoother. Hell, all the powers the Engineer had actually worked! Gasp! I know, right? BioWare making sure that when my Shepard hacked a Geth, that Geth wouldn’t turn around and beat on Shepard like he owed the Geth $5. I could hack Geth after Geth, with the only limitation being that some Geth couldn’t be hacked. I could live with that. Good way to balance it out.

Oh, Overload is dominant at the end of the Overlord DLC. I played through it as a soldier before and struggled, barely surviving. With my Engineer, it was over in less than a minute. I barely moved. Didn’t have to. And it was awesome sauce. BioWare clearly corrected the bugs with the Engineer class and made it powerful in its own right.

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Everything about the game was a step up from the first game. They improved the graphics and load time, two critical components for any game franchise. The weapons all felt unique, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Honestly, all the weapons in the first game felt alike to me. So once again, nicely done BioWare. You know how to make incredible improvements on how games are played and what they feel like. And Shepard didn’t get winded like he ate an entire truckful of Twinkies. 

Random Observations

  • The Seeker Swarm was able to paralyze people who weren’t wearing armor. We never, ever saw one Seeker sting someone fully armored. Why didn’t anyone suggest seeing if just wearing a full environmental suit would be enough?
  • The Illusive Man is one giant bag of dicks.
  • Saving Miranda’s sister was enough to win her loyalty, but siding with Jack in the argument lost it. Seriously? Is this my dating life all over again?
  • Tried going to talk with my team. Everyone blew me off. Man…. way to attack my self-esteem, BioWare.
  • The banter between Liara and Shepard in Lair of the Shadow Broker was perfect. Absolutely perfect. That’s what I wanted in the third game. Old friends chatting away and joking while fighting through hell itself.
  • If Shepard was heavily drugged in Arrival, how did he wake up? There has to be a story reason for it. What was it?
  • Shepard suffocates, loses all pressure in his armor, freezes, burns up in re-entry and slams into the ground between 300 – 400 MPH (accounting for thin air resistance slowing Shepard down). I’m surprised there was enough left of Shepard to put into a matchbox.

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Concluding Thoughts

In many ways, Mass Effect 2 was superior to the original Mass Effect. The voice acting, graphics, and game play were far better.  The battle mechanic was by far better. In that respect, BioWare did a great job.

On the lone down side, the galaxy felt smaller to me. In the first game, there were dozens upon dozens of planets to have adventures on. There were lots of side-quests. I liked that. Ah well, one small blemish on what has to be one of the greatest games of its generation. That’s probably far better than most others. Do yourself a favor and replay this gem. You won’t regret it.

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