As I finished up the last few hours of the first Mass Effect, I had Mass Effect 2 downloading in the background. I was excited to import my Shepherd and my decisions into the next game. The concept of carrying over my progress into another game is certainly novel enough to warrant some attention, but Mass Effect 2 is so vastly improved from the first game that I couldn’t help but to be smitten by the game.
Mass Effect 2 is likely the most beloved game in the series, and I think that these improvements are the source of that love. Though, I doubt that anyone would have expected the epic and sprawling story from the first game to take a turn for the personal in its second act. At the beginning of the game, Shepherd dies and is resurrected. And while the Collectors do pose a major threat to the galaxy, the focus is on the inner story of Shepherd building a new team of individuals. Most of these characters are unique and interesting, which makes interacting with them really enjoyable. It’s certainly more captivating than the first Mass Effect, which is a pretty decent game. It’s a deeply personal game, and this personality adds weight to the grander, far-reaching elements of the narrative. Of course, I don’t want humanity to die, but more than that, I don’t want my friends to die. Shepherd and the crew have been through some dangerous scenarios, and those experiences have bound us—I mean them—together as a team.
Mass Effect 2 could easily stand just on the strength of its narrative, but the streamlining of the gameplay itself is just as important as any other element of this game. As much as I love RPGs, I think the RPG elements in the first Mass Effect are obtuse and made the game less enjoyable. Mass Effect 2 side steps all of that by keeping the skill system pretty simple and forgoing the inventory system altogether. The gunplay feels much more tightly executed than in the previous iteration, and that’s most of what this game consists of. This change is significant, transforming the game from a RPG with a decent shooting mechanic into a top-notch 3rd person shooter with a respectable number customizable skills.
Because both of its halves are so well crafted and executed, Mass Effect 2 feels extremely well-paced. It was always up to me to decide what to do next. If I was in the mood to interact, there were always plenty of people to talk to to, fleshing out parts of the inner and outer stories within the game. But if I felt like blowing stuff up, there was plenty of that to be done as well. From start to finish, I was completely entertained.