*WARNING: I’m going to review this game under the assumption that you’ve beaten Mass Effect. If you haven’t, there’s a lot that you’re missing out on.*
Talk about stepping it up on every level imaginable. Bioware’s second installment in its trilogy of epic sci-fi RPG was released on January 26th, 2010, on the PC and Xbox 360 before coming home to the Playstation 3 a year later. So at the end of the first game, a few variables could have happened. In a nutshell, it was revealed that Saren Arterius was indoctrinated by a massive Reaper named Sovereign, who you beat after he unleashed an attack on the Citadel. The Reapers are a race of ancient sentient machines that purge the organic population of the Milky Way Galaxy every 50,000 years as a cycle. In the beginning of Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard has been decommissioned by the Alliance for a little while. You’re out on your mission to discover more about the Reapers when, all of a sudden, the Normandy gets destroyed and you actually die. That was one of the coolest and most cinematic intros to any game I’ve ever played. 2 years after that, Shepard is revived and recruited by Cerberus, a shadowy organization that advocates human blackened supremacy over the Galaxy. They were more or less the villains of the first game, but you work for them now because they saved you and are basically the only ones aside from your crew that do acknowledge the Reaper threat. Entire colony populations are disappearing without a trace, and you’re tasked with finding the cause. I mean it when I say they improved it over the first game in every way. To start, the gameplay was simplified to perfection. The bloated and cumbersome weapon system was fixed to accommodate for several guns, both for you and your teammates. While some of the RPG aspects are gone, I felt this added to the fun of the experience. The less time you spend micromanaging, the more you spend it doing anything else. Also, the Mako is gone, and for good reason. Now, whenever, you’re investigating a planet, you can just launch a land probe to pick up everything. The mediocre graphics from Mass Effect were significantly beefed up, so all of the planets, locations, and character models look stunning. When it comes down to the gun battles, the cover system has been improved immensely. And whenever you’re running, the over-the-shoulder camera gets shaky, adding to the realism and intensity of the moment. The Powers menu is easier to access, and the biotics to use against enemies is just so fun. In terms of storytelling, Mass Effect 2, has one of the best narratives in gaming. Again, your choices make a big difference in character interactions. Not only that, but the choices you make in Mass Effect will carry over into the next 2 games. This keeps each play-through a unique experience. The main reason why the beginning was so good is because you’re playing as Commander Shepard; he/she is the greatest soldier in the Galaxy. To see them brought down in such a humanizing way is just so astonishing. Your crew is almost entirely different than it was in the previous game. But they really grow on you, and you grow to care about them. That’s because one of the big additions to Mass Effect 2 are the loyalty missions, where each member of your team is given a chance to be fleshed out and gain your trust. My two new favorites were Mordin Solus and Thane Krios. Both of them were just fascinating characters to see, both with interesting backstories and unique story arcs. There’s one moment where Mordin is singing Gilbert and Sullivan; every time I play it, it’s just impossible not to smile. And upon all that, even the voice acting is stupendous. Considering the fact that, reportedly, 20,000 lines of dialogue were written for the game, that is an impressive feat that deserves to be commended. Veteran actor Martin Sheen voices the Illusive Man, the mysterious leader of Cerberus. The type of character that plays for both sides of the conflict, don’t ever trust this man, no matter how charismatic or smooth-talking he may appear. And the final mission in Mass Effect 2 was so intense and amazing, you almost feel exhausted. What makes it so gripping is the fact that anyone on your crew can die based on your decisions. There’s even an extreme possibility where everyone, including YOU Commander Shepard, can die during this climax. I was fortunate enough to make good calls and get all of my teammates out alive, but I shudder to think how that would affect Mass Effect 3. Never in all of my life have I been so scared for the well-being of a group of fictional characters- let alone video game characters. Slick gameplay, intelligent dialogue, intriguing characters, and a completely engrossing story come together to make Mass Effect 2 not only the best game in the trilogy, but also one of my favorite games of all time. And it is up there, in cinematic quality with any sci-fi space epic that you’ve seen. You could give away many hours reading through all the rich background of this universe in the Codex alone. There’s enough rich lore and emotion-filled moments in all 3 games to rival even that of Star Wars and Star Trek. Go out and play this game RIGHT NOW!!