Well, my time with Mass Effect 2 has drawn to a close (at least until substantive DLC comes out) as I’ve now beaten the game twice over and sunk over forty hours into the thing in less than two weeks. What have I found? Bioware listened to nearly everything I said, and only through my mistrust of their ability to right their own wrongs were certain aspects of gameplay screwed up for me.
This article is going to contain some obvious spoilers, but I feel it’s pretty important to discuss the ending of the game. If you have not been able to crank out a completion or two of the game in the past two weeks, I suggest you turn back now and revisit this post later.
In a way, Mass Effect 2’s success relied entirely on the end for me. I was deathly afraid of another “hard” ending, and the promise of a “second playthrough” seemed to only reinforce my suspicions that this would be the case. Therefore, before I headed into the Omega relay, I took some time and explored every single system and did every single side-mission in preparation for the fact that I wouldn’t be able to do it later.
It’s kind of hard to take these guys seriously when their guns and ships look like they’re all made of poop.
It wasn’t until my second playthrough with a different character that I learned that had I not waited, and headed directly to the Relay, I would have arrived in time to save my missing crew, something ironically I only did as my Renegade, as my Paragon now roams around on a mostly empty ship, the rest of the crew liquefied into a Reaper protein shake. In order to right this wrong and get my crew back, I need to reload a previous save and replay about five hours of side missions, a prospect that is too exhausting to consider at the moment. I can’t really blame the game for this, but it is rather sneaky in slipping in important decisions disguised as trivial dialogue choices.
So yes, Bioware listened to all the hate, and I think the way they set up the end of the game was perfect. You can either keep playing with your current character, doing all those side-missions I didn’t want to risk putting off, or you can play through again, either with your current character, a different ME1 character, or an entirely new creation. But the second go-round you get extra XP and bonus powers, something that makes another adventure almost worth it.
As for the last mission itself, I was happy to learn that yes, my gathering of an all-star crew was indeed important to the plot, as every character you’ve collected is in some way important in the finale. More or less. The first time through, it’s a bit of a mindf*** choosing crew assignments and squad leaders, because you have no idea who you’re probably sending to their doom. In my Paragon game, I ended up sacrificing the never-used Jacob (please, hold your “black guy dies” jokes), but in my Renegade playthrough, the simple act of not dropping a few minerals on ship upgrades lost me Jack, Thane and Legion in the initial Collector assault, in addition to Tali taking Jacob’s bullet in this alternate universe. I could have reloaded and rebought the parts I needed, but I think it suits my Renegade’s personality to have half her crew die due to gross negligence.
I didn’t realize until right this second that Jacob is the guy you play as in the Mass Effect iPhone game. They look nothing alike!
In both playthroughs, one big issue I had with the game was the whole Paragon/Renegade alignment system, which I’ve decided is far too black and white for my tastes. If you want to max out as a Paragon, you are quite the space-pussy, and a very illogical one at that. You’ll spend twenty minutes tearing through legions of mercenaries, but once you get to their leader? Oh yeah, we better spare him because he’s totally learned his lesson. Contrastingly, as a Renegade, you’re a complete dick to anyone and everyone, and if you push yourself to the “evil” limit, your scars won’t heal and your eyes literally start glowing red. What the **** is this? Fable? Why not throw in some horns and buzzing flies while you’re at it? Can’t I just be a badass without a physical transformation into the devil himself?
The problem is, there is no middle road if you want certain plot options. For example, in my speed-playthrough using my Renegade, I wanted to kill Samara and recruit the evil Morinth for my team. However, I hadn’t pushed my Renegade points far enough yet, so when the time came, I wasn’t even given the option of doing this evil deed. If you stay generally in the middle of the road and act how you want to act given each individual situation, you are penalized by a lack of dialogue options that require to you be extreme one way or the other, which can end up having drastic consequences on the plot.
Unlike this male Shepard, my female Renegade Shepard was dismayed to learn that Jack isn’t into that “girl’s club stuff.” OH COME ON!
I may hate Bioware’s Dragon Age on a lot of levels, but I heartily believe in their lack of a character alignment system. A character can make good, bad or neutral decisions, and instead of racking of “karma points,” all we see are the consequences. For example, I may be a pretty good guy, but given the chance to kill a warlord responsible for the deaths of thousands, I don’t want to be forced to show mercy toward him just because I really want that +20 Paragon bonus. It takes away the feeling of control to be put in a little box like that, and knowing that Bioware listens to its critics, I would hope they would seriously reconsider that system in the next game.
But is Mass Effect 2 a worthy sequel to one of my favorite games of all time? Yes, though I would stop short of saying it surpasses it. It’s an uneasy feeling, having to second guess yourself anytime you make even a small decision in the Mass Effect universe, but that lingering doubt is what makes it a great game, because you actually CARE about your character and the consequences their decisions have on the virtual friends you’ve grown close to in-game. No other game even comes close to the type of immersion and depth that Mass Effect has, and I hope other companies start following Bioware’s lead by putting story first.
5 out of 5 stars
My happy ending.