After nearly 55 hours of shooting, exploring and chatting up aliens, I’ve finally finished Mass Effect 2. I could have finished it a lot quicker, but I was having so much damn fun that I dawdled to discover everything it had to offer. What a game.
With a few rare exceptions, such as Minerva’s Den for Bioshock 2, I don’t tend to bother with downloadable content: a statement that I’m sure will appall most game publishers. But I became so enthralled with the depth and breadth of the Mass Effect universe that I hungrily downloaded all the extra content on offer (except of course for the pointless alternative outfits, more on those in a sec). And as soon as I’d finished the game, I happily bought all the DLC for Mass Effect 3 too. Yep EA, you got me good this time.
It’s difficult to over-emphasise how much of an improvement Mass Effect 2 is over its prequel. I came away from Mass Effect 1 feeling frustrated: genuinely interesting stories and characters were buried beneath shoddy game mechanics and dull missions. So all credit to BioWare for taking the criticisms on board and completely overhauling the game for the sequel – every mission now feels meaningful, the combat is ten times better, the galaxy feels like a place worth exploring, the finnicky inventory system has been simplified… I could go on an on. And most important of all, the choices you make in the first game carry over to the second one, directly affecting the characters you meet and the stories that play out. This decision is a stroke of genius because it makes every choice meaningful – make a bad decision and you’re forced to live with the consequence of your actions. If a key character dies, they stay dead for the whole trilogy (I’m thankful to report that I managed to make it through the game with all characters and crew intact: phew).
The one thing that drove my enjoyment of the game above all else was the excellent character development. The crew roster has been greatly expanded, and it was a real joy to track down characters from the previous game and see how they’re getting on. Every character has a long and detailed back story, and I could happily spend hours running around the decks of the Normandy, simply chatting to the crew. Particularly Mordin Solus, who has quickly become my favourite character, partly due to his spirited rendition of the Pirates of Penzance. And then there’s Shepard’s complicated love life, which is practically a metagame in itself. At one point I broke things off with Jack, and now she just bellows “F**K OFF!” every time I enter the room. I think I’m better off with Tali anyway.
The only criticism I’d level at the game is that they went a little bit too far when it came to simplifying the inventory. Now Shepard and co. are limited to just one set of armour each, with an unlockable alternative colour scheme, and the array of weapons is similarly slim. Extra weapons and armour are available via downloads… but for a price, of course. This is a step too far for me: I don’t mind paying for extra missions that add story content to the game, but I draw the line at buying a few bits of clothing that should have been in the main game to start with. Very cheeky.
Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed Mass Effect 2, which is easily one of the best games of the generation. Now onto number three…