Mass Effect 2 is a good game… but not quite. Good because, strictly from an entertainment standpoint, it can be recommended without hesitation, not quite because some of the good things from its predecessor were left out, while others were overly “streamlined”.
Some players will see only the flaws and the “shortcuts” taken by the developers, while others, who don’t give a damn about these details, will say that the former are just looking for something to bitch about. Two sides, with completely different philosophies, and me stuck in the middle on punching bag duty if I don’t back one of them. And like that wasn’t enough, everybody’s pretty much right. So let’s take a closer look, shall we?
To those of you who don’t know what Mass Effect is all about, I suggest a quick refresher course. If you’re too lazy (yes, don’t look at the screen like that, I’m talking to you), the really short version is this: we’re in the near future, humanity is now part of the intergalactic community, you become its Champion and stop some diabolical plans, vowing in the end to prepare for the impending Apocalypse.
But the relatively optimistic note on which the first Mass Effect ends is completely shattered by the beginning of the second, when the SSV Normandy SR-1 – the ship that was your base of operations and high-horse for saving the galaxy – is attacked and destroyed by a mysterious enemy, the fate of commander Shepard being left “hanging”. Fortunately for you, the secret pro-human organization known as Cerberus extends a helping hand, offering you all the resources available to its leader, the Illusive Man (who makes his first appearance in Mass Effect: Ascension).
Although in the previous game you fought his agents up one star system and down the other, the Illusive Man is forced to ask for your help because entire human colonies have started to go missing on the edges of explored space, the identity of the attackers being unknown (at first). And since you don’t find this kind of opponent on every street corner, the Illusive Man hands you the keys to the SSV Normandy SR-2, a substantially upgraded version of the ship you lost.
Compared to its predecessor, the SR-2 is slightly bigger in order to accommodate (among other things) the new research laboratory, the revised armory, as well as the Enhanced Defense Intelligence. As a bonus, you also get two allies – Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor, which will be the first members of a team you’ll have to put together for what looks like a suicide mission.
My name is Legion. For we are many
However, your newfound friendship with Cerberus won’t be taken too kindly by the other alien species or your former allies, and although some will understand your situation, they won’t be able to join you (not all of them anyway). Bummer if you're sentimental, but since this time you’ll have to go straight to Hell itself, you’ll need the best and the toughest specialists that the galaxy has to offer. Soldiers, scientists, biotics, assassins, engineers or mercenaries, the dossiers available will be more exotic this time around. Moreover, almost everyone will have some sort of beef with the law, so you’ll have to travel to places with a more than unfriendly “fauna” in order to recruit them.
The headline is undoubtedly held by Omega, the Citadel’s dark counterpart, where mercenary gangs fight for control over their territories, merchants blackmail one another for a few extra credits, humans are public enemy number one, and the life expectancy is shorter than a Super Bowl commercial. Kinda like the Wild West, if you will. You won’t run short on threats to your life either while on Omega, but thankfully, you won’t be limited by Citadel regulations to exercise your own brand of justice.
Recruiting these specialists is just the first step to success, because you’ll have to earn their loyalty if you want everyone to make it out alive (yes, you can die as well if you’re not adequately prepared). Each ally will have a specific mission, that once completed will ensure his or her loyalty, but on two occasions you’ll run into more serious conflicts, during which you’ll have to take sides if you don’t have the Renegade or Paragon points to choose the “neutral” approach.
However, completing the specific mission doesn’t mean that said ally will remain loyal until the end, because each one has certain problems, convictions or traumas and if you’re rubbing them the wrong way when talking to them, you’ll eventually get the cold shoulder treatment. On the flipside, companions can offer ideas for ship improvements, which range from better shields and more powerful guns to improved armor and more efficient engines. Some will just make your life easier on the galactic map, while others will determine the fate of your allies during the final mission.
Barring the ship improvements, you will also have research projects to improve various aspects of your equipment, either for yourself or the entire team. These can be bought or discovered throughout the missions and to research them you’ll need the help or Mordin Solus and resources which you’ll obtain by scanning the planets from the solar systems you explore or “borrowing” them from various containers.
Some players will be thrilled to hear that the Make is gone, along with the boring planetary exploration bits from the first ME, but now you’ll need some patience to hunt mineral deposits from orbit. Which, ironically enough, can prove just as tedious, if not even more.