Yesterday I have completed the final “suicide mission” of Mass Effect 2, concluding my first playthrough of this game. Right until before the final mission I was convinced the game was one of the best I ever played. Now that I have concluded it, my feelings are more bitter-sweet. Here’s why.

From the very beginning I would like to make one thing clear: in no way am I a professional game reviewer or even a professional gamer. While from time to time I enjoy a good challenge, I usually play games on normal or even easy difficulty and generally treat them as entertainment rather than competitive sport. This review/impression/rant – call it what you may – is simply my opinion of the game and does not adhere to any specific review procedure.

One more thing. Expect the following text to be filled with potential spoilers regarding the stories of both Mass Effect 1 and 2. If you would rather avoid them, just play the game already. It’s well worth it.

Now, ready? OK, there we go then.

Mass Effect 2: Commander Shepard and Tali’Zorah


Mass Effect 2 lets the player once again step in the shoes of savior of the galaxy, interplanetary booty-kicking badass, Commander Shepard. Having saved the Citadel in ME1, Shepard boldly pursues the new threat facing the galaxy (and humanity in particular) – the Collectors.

…but first he gets killed by them and loses two years of his life (compressed into the intro sequence) being reconstructed piece-by piece by the Cerberus organization.

Unceremoniously awaken before the reconstruction process is completed, Shepard gets hired by the Illusive Man – the brain behind Cerberus. Much like in the first Mass Effect, he must then travel the galaxy long and wide, visiting many solar systems, recruiting new members for his combat squad. Recruitment and side missions directed at gaining squad members’ loyalty constitute the bulk of the game.

Mass Effect 2: Commander Shepard 2.0 (Release Candidate 1)


On your way you will revisit some of the locales from Mass Effect 1, visit on your old crew, now gone their separate way (though you will end up recruiting a few back). You will have a chance to examine the wreck of your original ship (mission available as a free DLC), visit the Citadel and dig into the back stories of your new recruits.

There is also a mineral mining mini-game, hated by most players (personally I found the experience pretty tranquil and relaxing) and a bunch of smaller missions discovered by scanning encountered planets.

Up until this moment, the game is very strong. The story is engaging, voice acting quite convincing, characters believable and most of all – it is all very entertaining. A solid mix of dialogue, action and planet scanning resulted in good 55 hours of gameplay for me (yes, I took my time to explore every bit of land and every side mission).

And then comes the suicide mission.

Once your team is completed, loyal and geared up, once the Normandy (new one, built by Cerberus) is fully upgraded, once you collected and researched every piece of technology found scattered around the universe, you are ready to embark on mission impossible and travel where no man has gone before. Well, many have gone, but none returned. You are ready to pass through the Omega 4 relay.

Mass Effect 2: Joker at the helm of new Normandy


But let’s pause here for a moment and remember how things worked in Mass Effect 1. ME1 was pretty much a sci-fi detective story. Shepard followed the trail of Saren and his ship The Sovereign trying to figure out what the hell was going on. On his quest he encountered and befriended (or pissed off, if you played as Renegade) many species, assembled a great team, fell in love, figured out what the Reapers were all about and saved the galaxy. The whole game was a great journey and the player felt true progression as the story revealed.

In Mass Effect 2, pretty much from the get go you know there is something bad are the Collectors lurking beyond the Omega 4 relay. The only real development in the story on this side of the relay reveals that the Collectors are controlled by the Reapers (and some info on where do they come from). Naturally, I expected that beyond the infamous Omega 4 there will be some tracking and investigation to be done, where I and my awesome team can truly show our worth.

Instead I was treated to a lengthy cinematic, basically doing a checkpoint list of whether I had every ship upgrade installed (hit by a weapon for shields, collision for mass effect field, shooting baddies for weapons, etc.) followed by a 20-minute action sequence during which my teammates may or may not die regardless of my performance and depending simply on my squad selection at the beginning of the mission. Thanks to google, everyone survived the second time around. After shooting some collectors I had to fight a boss battle with a giant metal skeleton the size of a skyscraper (I shit you not) which can be won by shooting its weak spots (eyes).

Mass Effect 2: The Collector


The end.


Yes – that is it. The story curve of Mass Effect 2 can be compared to the endeavor in which a main character over the course of many months pieces together a space shuttle from scrap metal found laying around, equips it with the latest technology available, purchases fuel and trains as a space pilot only to travel two floors upstairs killing random members of his family in the process.

Yes, it was a huge letdown. While the final sequence was directed well, with great music, story and the fight as interesting as they get in this game, the whole we’re closing the lights, wrap up guys attitude caught me by surprise. The end was definitely premature, and my only hope is that over the course of time BioWare will release some free DLC expanding the story and adding some more body to the game. Until then, I am starting a new Renegade character (I played Mass Effect 2 with a Paragon Shepard imported from ME1) and playing through both of the games again.

Mass Effect 2: The Illusive Man


So what do I think in the end?

Despite its shortcomings (the ending and the mineral scanning, disliked by many) I still think that Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games out there. Sure, it suffers from the typical symptoms of being the middle part of a trilogy, but it is well worth playing nevertheless. BioWare once again proves they are the kings of interactive storytelling, action sequences are engaging, visuals and audio is amazing.

If you haven’t played it yet, I strongly recommend you give it a try. Better yet, get the full package, reading the first book Mass Effect: Revelations, then playing through Mass Effect 1 followed by the second book Mass Effect: Ascension and only then ME2. You won’t regret it! (And if you do, you can always go troll some forums).

It’s been over half a year since I have originally completed Mass Effect 2. Throughout this period, Bioware has released a number of DLC packs introducing new stories, characters, missions and planets to explore. After having played the latest episode (Lair of the Shadow Broker) I have to revise my original statement about the game feeling incomplete.

Provided you are ready to shell out quite a hefty sum and purchase all the additional content, Mass Effect 2 transform into a truly epic experience. With all the new plots and twists, the game now feels complete. I can’t wait to find some time to play through it again. Perhaps I will do that when the PS3 version arrives in 2011.