Stewart here… and some spoilers follow in case you asked…
As promised, this installment focuses squarely on Mass Effect 2, which went from one of my most anticipated games ever to one of my favorite games ever. I’ve talked about the issues I had with the first game, from the combat mechanics to the seemingly same kind of stronghold used in the sub-missions, but those didn’t deter me from wanting to play ME2. I loved the story, the characters, and the universe BioWare created in ME1, and wanted to see how the sequel would expand upon that. And all the trailers promised a darker story, and more reveals into the Reaper menace that was looming on the horizon.
I wanted this game so much I did something I rarely do when in comes to video games before or since: splurge on the collector’s edition. Yeah, I paid an extra twenty bucks on the day it came out for all the fancy trimmings, but it was ultimately worth it. I was going to head back into this universe with my Shepard and I took it as a given it would be all kinds of awesome. And there I was in that opening, back on the Normandy, off hunting down Geth and preparing for the Reaper invasion.
Then, the Normandy gets blown up and Shepard dies.
He gets better, obviously, because if he didn’t, that would have been an insanely short game I would have spent eighty bucks on. Shepard gets resurrected by a pro-human organization/somewhat enemy in Cerebus to investigate the abductions of human colonies on the fringes of the galaxy. The abductions are by a mysterious race known as the Collectors, and turn out to be such a strong adversary early on, it becomes necessary for Shepard to assemble a team to match the threat. And here’s where the thrust of Mass Effect 2 comes in: assembling and gaining the loyalty of this volatile mix of characters who you lead into battle with the Collectors.
But the team that’s assembled is where the balancing act that is the game works for me. Besides some return members of ME1 like Garrus and Tali, you got a nice swath of new potential squadmates to choose from. For instance, there’s your right hand woman Miranda, a loyal Cerebus operative; Mordin, a fast-talking if slightly unhinged alien scientist; and Jack, a bald tattooed biotic girl with the mouth of a trucker. Then there’s some fun in some of the squadmates you can actually elect NOT to use or activate at all in the game like the genetically modified krogan Grunt and the geth Legion.
And to the game’s pluses, none of them seem disposable allies, and once you get into their loyalty missions, you discover so much not only about the whole Mass Effect universe but put into situations that aren’t so black and white to solve. For instance, there’s Mordin’s involvement in whole Krogan genophage and how his loyalty mission calls into question his decisions in that matter. He’s one of the more likable and humorous characters of the Mass Effect series (and a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan), but he’s also committed an unconscionable act. Characters have been one of BioWare’s strong suits, and ME2 is probably the strongest example of that.
It’s a huge task to the writers for having to figure out the multiple combinations of squadmates and their interactions throughout the various missions, especially when they converse with each other during the cut-scenes and bursts of action. Adding to that is the occasional conversation that comes up with a NPC with one of your squadmates, which shows some history to your team you wouldn’t have discovered on your own. Speaking of those interactions, when not going across the universe and blowing things up, you can spend your downtime getting to talk to your team about whatever. Just be careful not to get too cozy, because that can turn into an unintentional romance with someone you really don’t want to romance (oh yeah, that happened to me).
Even with all this expansion of characters and possible side missions to take on, BioWare figured out how to refine the trip to and from missions from ME1. For one thing, the side missions no longer look like they are set in the same building over and over again. You get some diversity in the optional missions (but let’s be honest, if you want to max out your XP, and get money and minerals, they are not), and considering the cost of all the upgrades your team offers to the final mission, you may need it. That is, unless you don’t mind having random members of your team die.
Yeah, that’s right. Your lack of preparation for the suicide mission can lead to your team biting the dust, one by one. Even you aren’t immune to getting killed during this whole thing, but really, you’d have to be pretty lazy and impatient to have that happen. Its not impossible to keep all your teammates alive (and to be fair, my first runthrough only ended with two dying, namely Zaeed and sadly, Mordin), but you need to use your wits to figure out who should be handling which particular job that needs to be done (hint: picking the one team member that’s extremely good at that job is a start). And as much as some of the characters can rub you the wrong way sometimes, you kind of want to get your crew out by the very end, alive and well.
Even with all the great characters you got to take into battle with you, there was still lip service paid to the events of ME 1, especially if you let certain NPCs live after encountering them in that game. Then there was the tension of not having certain squadmates from the first game to take with you, like Ashley or Kaidan (depending on which one you sacrificed in ME 1), and Liara, which was a bummer only because she was my romance from the first game (and it wasn’t until one of the DLCs for 2 that allowed me to reconnect with her. Probably was a bad thing that it took a while for that DLC in retrospect to come out, because, sigh, I romanced Miranda in the meanwhile…awkward). They had their own reasons for not joining your Collector ass-kicking party (even if Ashley/Kaidan’s reason was they didn’t want to work with Cerebus, and in reflection, probably for good reason), but the bounty of characters you had to play with made up for that. And, you got a way cooler, and way less blown to shit new Normandy for your trouble, with an AI voiced by Six from Battlestar Galactica (and the interaction with that AI, EDI, and Joker was one of the funniest relationships in the entire game)!
And like any good sequels, ME 2 expanded the mythology of the Mass Effect universe to some surprising places, like the reveal of what the Collectors really are and why they are taking humans in the first place (short answer to both: it all has to do with the Reapers). And like any middle chapter in a trilogy, ME 2 had a lot of interesting choices layered in to make that you could feel would play a massive role in the inevitable third game. It didn’t have the pressure of starting or ending a story that 1 and 3 respectively had, but it actually turned out to be for me the most all-out enjoyable chapter of the series to date. I can remember getting to end of Mass Effect 2 just days after I started playing and just wanting to get the third game IMMEDIATELY. It would take a few years, but that savoring of a new Mass Effect game would come…but that is a story for another time…
Next time, I’ll talk about the squadmates of Mass Effect 2, along with some other reflections, such as the sometimes pivotal DLC that arrived in the interim between 2 and 3. Until then…