As good as the Legendary version of Mass Effect 1 is, diving into Mass Effect 2 was still a huge leap forward in both visuals and gameplay. ME2 shows its age far less than ME1. The low-resolution textures I spotted last time I replayed ME2 are gone in the Legendary Edition, and of course, now you can play ME2 as the iconic Shepard if you like, obviously, I did. If you haven’t played Mass Effect 2 and still intend to, and don’t want any spoilers at all, you may want to stop here.
With my badass but mostly paragon Shepard, and a handful of rewards for importing my character, I embarked on my journey. I’m not entirely sure how many times I’d played ME2 before this, but it’s at least 4 or 5 times. Regardless, that opening scene with the Collector ship is still one of the best opening sequences of any game I’ve played, before or since. Plus, killing the protagonist in the intro is pretty bold.
A big part of what made Mass Effect 2 so memorable is your squad. There’s a number of new party members, all of whom are great, except the two DLC characters, Kasumi and Zaeed. Like other party members, Kasumi and Zaeed each have a cool loyalty mission, but that’s it. If you talk to them on the Normandy, they just cycle through a bunch of lines. You can’t even have a normal Bioware-style conversation with them. Considering a big part of the game is talking to people, this seems like a weird departure from that.
However, the rest of the game and your squadmates shine, so I can overlook a couple of lame DLC characters, especially now that they’re included in the Legendary Edition and I don’t have to buy them separately. The rest of the new crew members range from humans to salarians to krogan to drell. They each have interesting personalities and histories, making them an important part of the game. Considering you spend most of your time in ME2 involve recruiting these people and gaining their loyalty, that’s a very good thing. Besides unlocking more conversation and possibly romance options, gaining a character’s loyalty also unlocks their unique ability (which you can eventually ‘borrow’ for Shepard to use) and a recoloured outfit. And let’s be honest, costumes and special abilities are a pretty important part of an RPG.
You also come across quite a few friends from the last game, from an awkward meeting with Ashley (I abandoned Kaidan on Virmire for the first time ever) to reuniting with Liara in the excellent Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC mission. Tali and Garrus also return to join the crew, which is awesome, and Joker’s still piloting your ship, and he’s one of my favourite characters in the trilogy. I could probably rave about the crew of Normandy SR-2 for hours, but you probably get the idea.
The actual gameplay of ME2 is a huge improvement over the first game. Shepard moves faster, and there’s an excellent combat system (no more overheating weapons, thanks!). In the mid-game things started to feel a bit easy, but the later missions have tougher enemies, which kept combat challenging. Add in the impulsive actions you can take, like punching a nosy journalist, and you’ve got a winning combination. I also loved the return of your alignment affecting you physically – like in KOTOR – if you’re evil, it shows. You can end up looking like a terminator if you go full renegade.
It’s also nice that the renegade options in Mass Effect 2 aren’t totally insane the way they were in the first game. Sure, you can still do some pretty awful things, but the tone feels different. You’re making tough calls, but someone’s gotta make them. And even my paragon Shepard couldn’t resist pushing a merc through a window (much to hubby’s dismay).
Scanning planets in ME2 is not very exciting, but it’s not so bad either. The resources you collect are vital for weapon, ship and character upgrades, so it feels worthwhile. The side quests are decent too. Instead of landing on some boring planet and driving around, only to end up having a fight in the same building every time, side quests in ME2 are short, self-contained events where you land, fight, then go back to your ship. After the tedium of ME1’s side quests, these short missions were a breath of fresh air. I do miss zooming around in the Mako though.
I think one of the more disappointing aspects of ME2 for me is the lack of romance options, no matter which gender your Shepard is. I do wish they’d removed the gender restrictions on the romance options for the legendary edition. Having replayed the game so many times meant I was once again forced to choose a romance I’d already played through, in some cases (i.e. Thane), several times. I went with Garrus this time, but Thane is my bae, and his romance is great until you run out of conversation options, after which you can just repeat the same short conversation over and over. The final scene with Thane before the end is also disappointingly short. In fact, the best scene in the Thane romance is probably when Mordin gives you a whole lot of embarrassing medical advice for human-drell relations.
Then there’s that finale. You know from the start of ME2 that you’re pretty much embarking on a suicide mission. Unlike ME1, where one character must die so another can live, Mass Effect 2 takes your choices throughout the game into account. Did you gain a character’s loyalty? Did you upgrade the Normandy? During the final mission, you have to make some tough choices as you split up the group. Who will lead the second team? Who will disable the security system or shield the main team from harm? Poor choices here can have fatal consequences. I usually aim to keep everyone alive. On my previous playthrough, I lost Legion and Kasumi, the former of which I still regret. This time I’ll do right by Legion!