Release Date: 05/14/2021
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Mass Effect had a lot of issues when it was released and many things needed to be balanced, tweaked and changed, and BioWare listened with Mass Effect 2. You can immediately see many improvements, especially right after playing the first game, but some issues were fixed in the wrong way or weren’t quite realized enough. As a sequel, the game is bigger, more in-depth, more fun, and definitely a much tighter experience overall.
One of the first things you will notice right away is the game plays more like a traditional cover-based third-person shooter. The shooting is tighter, the weapons are more satisfying to shoot, and the cover system is a lot better. One of the first major changes in the implementation of ammo in form of thermal clips. I know in Mass Effect 1 it was said that the weapons shave off pieces of metal and each gun has a small mass effect drive, but for some reason, thermal clips are now needed. You can pick thermal clips off of dead enemies or around the levels, but you also now have more limited use of weapons in your class. Each class can use specific weapon types. The game also ditched the traditional loot system in favor of set upgrades that you acquire throughout the game for everything. Each weapon has 5 levels of damage you can upgrade to, there are biotic upgrades, but your biotic powers are now set in stone based on class. Once you pick your class your weapons, biotic powers, and even ammo type you can use are all permanent. Some people didn’t like this and felt it was the opposite direction of endless, mostly useless, loot.
I actually felt this was an improvement as BioWare went with a more traditional cover shooter system so they took out most of the RPG elements outside of adding stat points to one of your four or more powers based on your level. I chose to use any weapon type, but I couldn’t use sub-machine guns. I also had access to all ammo types which there are four of. This actually came in handy when dealing with certain enemy types as there is a wider variety of them. I used incendiary ammo for organic enemies and for Geth and mechs I used a disruptor ammo type. I felt the cryo was a bit useless, but I also had access to my two teammates’ powers as well and I could command them to use them at will. You can acquire new weapons by discovering them around areas, as mission rewards, or at shops sometimes. There aren’t many weapons in the game, so just be aware of that. At least they feel more unique instead of just a statistic change in a massive pile of crap. Shepard also moves faster in this game and the entire pace of the main missions, and side missions even are faster and more streamlined.
Another huge change is the level design. In the first game, the only unique areas were during the story missions and side missions were a boring hodgepodge of empty hallways that led to empty square rooms. At least in this game, there are more worlds to land on, about three times as many, and there are about twice as many teammates to acquire so that means more unique areas as well. Each teammate is a mission in itself to acquire them and then they each have their own mission to gain their loyalty and this is used to advance your romantic relationship with them. There just aren’t more worlds, but they feel more lived in. Sure, they’re still small and linear and cramped, but the Citadel is what it was in ME1, you’re now just on three levels of the wards and the shops. There are aliens everywhere the backdrops look gorgeous, there are more ambient sound effects, and it feels great…for the first visit. The game is still very static and I wish alien positions would switch up or more random events would happen. Nothing ever changes and every NPC is glued to that spot forever. It still feels good to be in these areas and the extra detail everywhere is really noticeable.
Side missions are now acquired during main missions or other side missions, you might find a datapad that has a mission, or you will find messages on your personal terminal. The navigation of the galaxy map has greatly improved as well. All missions are now shown on the galaxy map and there are bubbles on each nebula or cluster with the name of the mission. You can now directly control the ship on the map, but it’s honestly pointless and feels half-baked. You have fuel and probes now and fuel is used to get across solar systems in a galaxy. You still need to use a mass relay to jump around the major clusters in the galaxy. The fuel feels stupid as that’s all it’s used for and probes are the answer to taking away the MAKO and finding resources.
Yes, the MAKO is gone, Hallelujah!, but now you are stuck with another mundane chore: Scanning planets for resources. There are five resources needed for upgrades with Element Zero being the rarest. Most of your Eezo is acquired on missions in containers rather than planets. What you have to do is hold down a button to scan the planet and a bar graph will spike high when there’s a strong amount of an element in that spot. It’s incredibly tedious and feels like a chore and there’s zero fun in it. Sure, you can acquire a better scanner later, as each crew member you recruit has a major upgrade to offer the Normandy, but it doesn’t make things better. What’s more annoying are the limited probes. Why? I can only get more at a fuel depot and those are only near mass relays. So, if I’m in a system that has no depot I have to travel back on the map and fuel up. Just give me unlimited fuel and probes! This limit makes no sense. I also don’t like how there’s no zoomed-in view of each planet like there was in the first game. It’s just a small ball on a screen. At least each planet has a unique description.
While the galaxy map is slightly improved it introduces new issues, the dialogue system hasn’t changed a bit. Shepard is a little less of an ass in the Renegade options, but the binary moral system is really crippling as the game tries so hard to be extreme on either end. There are now some quick-time events during certain scenes that allow you to perform a Paragon or Renegade action that can boost that meter, but at least the smaller choices in conversations now add a little bit too. The top, middle, and bottom responses are good to evil in respective order and you will get maybe two points for responding nicely even in parts of the conversations that don’t matter. Sometimes you can win an entire dialog-driven scene by having your moral polarized more on one side, but I will give BioWare credit for their continuity. Every action you did in the first game reflects whether it’s a crew member that died to a small side mission and you just get a message about it later. I noticed every action I did in the first game unfold and take hold here and these actions also had dire consequences.
The main story is still really short with only may half a dozen missions or so. The last three crew members are optional and there is a couple of crew members attached to DLC. Sadly, these crew members don’t have any dialog trees and their characters aren’t expanded upon enough. With that said, the new characters are really likable, memorable, and well-written. The expanded lore and world feel grand despite the game’s actual limited scope. I felt I had more control over the dialog, but the binary moral system is constricting in itself and is one of the main issues I have with the whole series. The game is about as long as the first, but it feels more satisfying as you aren’t spending 10+ hours driving around in a boring MAKO. I finished almost everything in about 35 hours and it feels solid and thorough. Less filler was scrapped for more actual content.
The Legendary Edition upgrades are mostly visual and they look great. The game is several steps up over the first game visually and the voice acting has improved a bit. There are more scripted events, cut-scenes, and animations. But the same 3-second sprint still exists which is annoying. Overall, Mass Effect 2 is so much better than the first in every way. The story feels grander, and the Collector’s are a new formidable enemy, more questions are answered that you actually care about, but also more questions are raised and the game ends on a cliff-hanger. I liked having to choose teammates to do certain things on the final Suicide Mission as some might die, but you don’t know in what situation or how, sometimes it’s not even the team member you actually pick who might die, but yes team members die at the end no matter what you do, it’s just a matter of who. I loved every minute I was in the game and couldn’t put it down.