The second of three posts regarding why I think the Mass Effect trilogy is great.

In the previous post, I discussed the first of the three games in the Mass Effect trilogy. The combination of experiment and exposition made for an edgy take on the action RPG genre and the gaming community latched on to it. Its success prompted EA to make two sequels, the first of which we’ll discuss in a moment.

First, I’m going to chat a bit about the previous game played through as a renegade character. For those of you paying attention to the previous post, I didn’t mention how I completed the game and my take on the ending. I did this intentionally to avoid specific spoilers, although, I did pretty much outline how the game’s last sequences could differ, so why not just write about all the things?

Mass Effect could’ve been a dark experience… if you played it as a Renegade.

After I finished the first game as a Romancing-Ashley Male Paragon Shepard, I replayed the title as a Non-Romancing Female Renegade Shepard. Sticking to the moral equivalent of Chaotic Neutral was not easy considering how the scenarios in the game are presented and how their completion affects the main questline. To be achieve something close to perfectionism as a Renegade character, you have to avoid certain quests which only reward Paragon points upon completion–which means that completing all the quests in a perfectionist manner isn’t really possible.

The ending of Mass Effect as a Renegade is the definition of the word ‘shady’. A stark contrast of the warm, well-lit rendezvous that decides the future of humanity’s role in the Council, the Renegade ending is written more like a illicit deal is being made, with Udina holding all the cards and Shepard being given the obvious lead out to support him over Anderson to take the lead for humanity.

That said, let’s dive into Mass Effect 2.

Losing the Normandy at the outset is one of the most cinematic moments in gaming.

More so than any other point in the game, the massive scaling-up of the game’s budget is surely realised in the first five minutes of the game. So much was put into recreating the v1 Normandy for it to be all but destroyed moments later by your new enemy, the identity of which is a proper mindfuck itself.

The fifteen to twenty seconds that Shepard spends walking through the space-exposed command room is arguably the best fifteen to twenty seconds of anything that I have played–NAY, SEEN–in the past year. I mean, the experience is about as powerful as when Josiah Bartlett walks into the final scene of the West Wing pilot episode. The transition between the environment of a state-of-the-art frigate being torn apart and the silence caused by vacuum allowing only Shepard’s breathing to be heard is heavy.

The vista is meant to weigh on the player and effectively does so using only the few moments Shepard spends navigating what remains of the main deck. Instances like this happen a handful of times in the game, but none of them are as powerful as this first moment.

The cast you can assemble to join Shepard is phenomenal.

While you can’t replace Shepard in the squad, BioWare thought far enough ahead to make the decision of who to take on missions almost impossible to make. As the first game took place in Citadel and Alliance space (for the most part), you mainly interacted with aliens of the Council races. IN this title, since your main operating area consists of the Attican Traverse and the Terminus Systems, that limitation is thrown out the window, and Shepard gets to interact with a few new-to-the-series races.

With Ashley and Kaiden out of the picture and your human companions forced upon you by the Illusive Man, Mass Effect 2’s alien cast is the strongest of the series. Garrus is considerably more cunty of a character this time around, and better fits his self-described personality as an anti-authoritative vigilante.

Liara differs from her début in the previous title, too, as she mysteriously gains the means to be intimidating. Perhaps it’s a good thing that she does not join Shepard this time around.

Samara makes up for Liara’s omission from the team, and takes things to an even greater level of emotionless communication. Other than that, she’s probably a decent rival for Garrus, but no competitive relationship is formed. Perhaps a missed opportunity?

And speaking of missed opportunities, Tali returns as a recruitable character instead of another Quarian. Perhaps a male Quarian would have allowed the player to more thoroughly explore what the race is all about, but Tali’s loyalty quest makes up for it and then some. Tali experiences loss on personal level as her father is killed by experiments gone wrong. Meanwhile, the player gets blindsided into participating in Quarian politics in a treason hearing that showcases some pretty damn good writing.

Jack is the only human cast member that matters a damn. Aside from being the only biotic that matters, her abrasive nature is a welcome change to the idea that humans everywhere need to pick a side. She’s always for herself and she has good reason to distrust everybody. I understand that there’s more details that you can learn from her if a male Shepard decides to romance her, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

Mordin becomes the first Salarian that Shepard can recruit and was a relief. The quirky dialogue more than made up for having to deal with Miranda and Jacob being forced upon you and how little they brought to the mix. Mordin’s history is important because he was one of the scientists who helped perfect the Genophage, the Krogan sterility plague.

Rounding out the important characters in the game are Thane and Legion. Drell and Geth don’t really have a lot in common, but they do present very different philosophical views (even if Legion’s are framed within a hive-mind mentality). They’re the paragon of their respective species and are definitely worth investigating as much as possible when the dialogue wheel allows.

For those of you that care, DLC characters don’t count. Nope. Not at all. Zaeed’s Blue Suns affiliation is cool for about two seconds, until you take him along with you when you interact with these mercenaries and absolutely NOTHING SPECIAL HAPPENS. The only thing I know about the other one is that she’s not worth $15 USD.

Wrex and Grunt are my favorite characters in Mass Effect 2.

The creativity of the BioWare team truly shines through with the idea of the Krogan people in the first place, but the way that they explore the society that they invent is inspired. Wrex’s return, of course, is conditional on whether you killed him on Virmire before the assault on Saren’s compound. Having him survive rewards the player with the notion that Shepard played kingmaker for the Krogan unification efforts that took place over the two years Shepard spent dead. Wrex as a statesman is a pretty weird change compared to the warrior we saw in the first game, but it’s welcome change.

Grunt, similarly with Wrex, is allowed to exist solely at Shepard’s discretion. When activated, Grunt becomes the best lens to see the Krogan culture during his loyalty quest on Tuchanka. Grunt’s ability to relate to Shepard and his unique perspective makes him an invaluable asset in the story that’s being told around him. I end up keeping him in my squad throughout most of the game because my Shepards are not Soldier-class, and he has quite the tank combined with some pretty awesome observations in certain conversations.

I’ll blend the gameplay discussion of Mass Effect 2 into the next post which will cover Mass Effect 3.

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