Mass Effect 2 Review

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As some of you may know, I already did a review on the first “Mass Effect” game for The Comenian. In short, I thought the game was excellent but it suffered from some outdated gameplay and the ending to the story was lacking. This review will be the second of a three-part series of articles for The Comenian on the “Mass Effect” trilogy with the review for “Mass Effect 3” to be released at a later time.

2010’s “Mass Effect 2” is widely considered to be the best in the series, and not only that, but also one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. Before jumping into this game, I knew it was the fan-favorite, similar to “The Empire Strikes Back” but I still reserved judgment until I played it. 

So does this game live up to the legendary hype? Absolutely yes.

I can confidently say that this game easily lives up to all the excitement and more and is easily one of the greatest games of all time. As I write this review, it’s hard for me to muster up many criticisms because the game is just that good. This game is the best in the series and I would argue that it is the best sci-fi game of all time.

“Mass Effect 2” is where the series starts to carve out more of an identity for itself. Yes, it is still heavily inspired by the other major sci-fi franchises, like “Star Wars,” but here it gets a firm foothold within this pantheon of legendary sci-fi franchises.

The best way I can describe the difference between “Mass Effect” and “Star Wars” is that “Mass Effect” is more authentically sci-fi, whereas “Star Wars” falls more in line with the term science fantasy. “Star Wars” deals heavily with the idea of destiny, good vs evil, and of course space magic. Conversely, “Mass Effect” provides a more grounded approach where there is no true good or evil, just different agendas and the aforementioned space magic is thoroughly explained and grounded in the science of the universe rather than being a mystical presence.

Where “Star Wars” is more about good space wizards fighting evil space wizards to save the galaxy, “Mass Effect” is more about a ragtag group of soldiers, misfits, and vagabonds uniting to stop an unknown and all-encompassing galactic threat that they can’t even try to comprehend. In Star Wars, the good guys typically rise to the level of the bad guys and stop them, but in Mass Effect the good guys never do that. Throughout the whole trilogy, they are massively underpowered when compared to the threats they face.

As usual, this review will be split into four sections: soundtrack/audio, graphics/art design, gameplay, and finally story.

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Photo courtesy of

The soundtrack is really good this time around. Unlike the first game, there really isn’t that one standout track that will blow your mind, but this soundtrack is more consistently memorable than the first. It is a shame, though, that this game doesn’t have that one incredible track though because the other 2 games have some fantastic standouts like the opening theme and main theme of “Mass effect 1” and the “Leaving Earth” theme for Mass Effect 3. This gripe is only minor though so it really won’t have too much of an effect on my rating.

You may have noticed that I am covering sound design in this review and that’s because it takes a significant step up in this game. Guns sound even better than the original. Footsteps are more noticeable, and the voice acting is even better this time around. Everything this time just got a big noticeable upgrade. Things sound less static and artificial than the first game, which makes this one feel more immersive and dynamic.


Score for soundtrack/audio: 9/10


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Photo courtesy of

Graphically, this game looks significantly better than the original, even with the extensive graphical updates from the legendary edition. Texture quality is better, the lighting is more natural, and face models are significantly improved here. Though just like the first game,, this game is over a decade old so don’t go in expecting 4k textures and ray tracing.

Beyond just the purely technical stuff though, this game takes a massive leap in terms of its art design. This is a part of what I meant when I said  this is where the series starts to carve more of its own identity, because the new locations and levels look astonishingly good. The asteroid city of Omega perfectly emphasizes the city’s lawlessness with the combination of red and orange colors throughout, along with it generally looking less clean and pristine than its foil, the Citadel. The Asari city, Nos Astra, is the first major city you go to that isn’t a space station and it looks beautiful as the skyline of the city and the sunset create a beautiful looking view. This place truly looks like the pinnacle of galactic civilization which creates a nice contrast with how the place is rife with crime and corruption.

There is, of course, the iconic room of the Illusive Man, where he sits in a mostly empty and mysterious room with a multi-colored sun providing a beautiful view while also emphasizing just how mysterious he and the organization Cerberus are. Even the generic levels look much better than the first game with more colorful and distinctive designs than the first.

Character designs also are significantly better than the already great ones from the first, the designs here are all distinctively different and less alike, and the designs of each character emphasize certain aspects of their personality. The copious amount of tattoos on Jack, along with her shaved head, emphasize her rebelliousness and unwillingness to conform even for casual friendships. Thane’s clean black and grey attire emphasizes how cold and calculated and how he carries himself with an almost unnerving level of confidence.

The ship designs are also just as good as before. The new and improved Normandy SR-2 looks even better than the original and is now twice as large as the original ship. The best new ship is the Shadow Brokers ship which simply looks incredible. The ship, to stay hidden, rides a constant thunderstorm and has lightning rods that conduct energy into massive capacitors. 

This game makes a massive leap forward in terms of visuals when compared to the first, which mind you, already looked good, and pushes “Mass Effect” into its own identity with new and interesting places and iconography


Score for graphics/art design: 10/10


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Photo courtesy of

From here on out I may sound like a broken record, but just like the graphics, the gameplay marks a significant improvement over the first. Everything here is a lot more refined and fine-tuned.

First off, the classes all feel way more unique and distinct and there is a lot more emphasis on using abilities as they are more useful here and also have less cooldown. This, in turn, makes the game significantly more fun to play, and experimenting with different abilities makes the game a blast to play especially for biotics. 

Furthermore, in this game, they significantly altered the availability of different weapons. In the first game, certain classes were better at some weapons than others, but here they completely lock you out of certain weapons until around two-thirds of the way through the game. I’m not particularly a fan of this change because it limits your ability to customize and create your own builds. For example, I like to start a battle by whittling down the health of stronger enemies by sniping them and then start wreaking havoc up close with a shotgun, but you simply can’t do that here for most of the game.

Another significant change is the perk tree. In the first game, you would spec into a variety of different abilities and stats, but here they streamlined it, so now you only spec into your combat abilities and a blanket increase of combat effectiveness rather than specific weapon types or armor. This change I actually didn’t mind because in the first game it doesn’t feel like you are improving with every new upgrade you get, but here the effects are a lot more tangible.

The gunplay itself feels a lot better because in the last game it felt a lot more stiff and static with little weight to it, but here every shot feels like it has an impact and the general aiming and maneuverability in battles feels smoother, whereas sometimes in the first it could feel like someone poured molasses all over your controller.

The conversation system here is about the same as the first, but this time around, the consequences to what you say are a lot higher. Depending on what you say in certain parts, entire outcomes of different storylines and characters can be changed. They also slightly updated the morality system so that if you make more aggressive renegade choices, then your Shepard will start to develop red glowing scars on their face — more on that in the story section.

Overall, the gameplay is a big step up from the original. While your options to design your own playstyle may be more limited, the abilities and general feel of combat make the changes a lot more palatable.


Score for gameplay: 9/10


Photo courtesy of AJ Minnich
Photo courtesy of AJ Minnich

The story is astonishing. Every single aspect of the story is a significant step up from the first. The writing is better with a more logical escalation of events, the pacing is better, the characters are even better than the first, and the ending, unlike the first game, is incredible.

First off, the writing is consistently better than the first game. In the original, most of the side quests were repetitive, unengaging, and frankly boring. Even some of the main quests,like the mission on the planet Feros, were tedious. Conversely, every mission in “Mass Effect 2” feels both important and engaging. They aren’t too short where they become redundant and they aren’t too long where they become boring. 

The story also has a better progression, because in the first game it felt like less of you pursuing one goal but more like you were playing a bunch of loosely connected missions until Admiral Hacket tells you to go to Virmire. In this game, it feels like every main mission is more of a significant step toward your ultimate goal.

Minor spoilers for the opening of the game ahead. Skip to the next paragraph to avoid them.

The game opens with a standard mission for the Normandy but before the Normandy can arrive at its location it is attacked by a mysterious ship. Within seconds the ship’s laser rips through the Normandy, killing numerous crew members, and within minutes the ship is destroyed, and Shepard is sent into the vacuum of space and dies. This opening is so effective because it displays the immense power the enemies that will be known as the Collectors have. We have seen the enormous feats that the crew of the Normandy have achieved while fighting the galactic threat that was Saren and Sovereign from the first game, so having the enemy completely destroy the ship and kill the main character to boot is a remarkably effective strategy to establish the primary threat of the game. Of course, Shepard doesn’t stay dead thanks to the radical organization known as Cerberus. 

What the opening establishes so effectively and is carried throughout the story is that you are facing an unknown threat. Yes, you learn more about the Collectors as the story progresses, but almost every main mission sets you into unknown and dangerous situations up until the final mission. 

For the entire game, the final mission is simply branded as the “suicide mission” which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the game. You are stepping into the unknown and only hoping to find a way out. The writers make this abundantly clear that this is a highly dangerous mission. This buildup to the inevitable “suicide mission” gives a very clear and set goal for the player to achieve. In the first game, it feels more like the player is just going with the flow of the story, but here, the vast majority of the game is spent preparing for the final mission.

This also makes the final mission feel so much more exciting. We have a clear end goal in mind for the majority of this 40-50 hour game, which makes the inevitable final mission feel much more significant. While I’m on that topic, the final mission is astounding and excellently compounds everything you have done in this game up to this point. 

It makes everything you’ve done up until to now feel impactful and makes your choices matter. The game allows you to just do the main required missions to get to the end, but to be prepared for the final mission, you actually need to prepare more than just buying new armor or something, like you might do in other games; here, you have to prepare both your ship and crew for the suicide mission.

You need to build relationships with all your crew members to make them loyal and confident in your leadership. If not, there is a high chance that they will end up biting the bullet in the final mission. These aren’t one-off characters either, because every one of them is in the third game and most of them play a significant role in the story. In my first playthrough, only one of my squadmates died on the suicide mission and as a result, I lost out on one of the most emotional and impactful scenes in the third game.

This final mission also shows where “Mass Effect” differs a bit from “Star Wars” because it highlights how your main character cannot survive alone. “Star Wars” typically separates the main cast by the final act and has the main hero save the day by themselves, but “Mass Effect 2” emphasizes the importance of having your friends and comrades by your side to complete your mission because if all your squadmates die, then Shepard will end up dying in the final moments of the mission and you will be barred from carrying over your “Mass Effect 2” save over to the third.

The game also has you assign certain allies for different roles within the final mission, but you have to pick ones that fit those roles or else other squadmates will die. This forces the player to know every one of the squadmates so that they can determine the person that fits each situation, further adding another layer of depth to the final mission.

This final mission is significantly better than the original and feels more well thought out and complete and I’d argue it’s one of the best in all of gaming. It truly feels like the ultimate finale for this incredible game.

This finale would mean nothing if it didn’t have well-written characters, and thankfully this game delivers in spades. Every character feels unique and well defined with interesting backstories, cool introductions, and excellent side plots. In this game, they feel less like set dressing and more like real people with more dynamic interactions. For example, in the first game, Garrus has a side mission, but the mission itself is less than 10 minutes and is less than stellar. 

Comparatively, in this game, he gets an entire mission to reintroduce him and a loyalty mission later in the game. His introduction mission involves trying to find a vigilante named Archangel, who is currently under siege by a conglomerate of mercenary groups. You sign up with them in order to get close to him and betray them while on your way to his hideout. Once you get there, they reveal that this mysterious vigilante was Garrus, and you and your squadmates help him hold off the mercenary invasion.

This kind of dedication isn’t mutually exclusive to Garrus though. Almost every squadmate gets a main mission to introduce them and an optional loyalty mission that fleshes out the characters and builds trust between Shepard and them. Because this game has you build these relationships more naturally, it makes it feel like you build a much deeper connection with your crew that was somewhat missing in the first.

I won’t spoil anything, but every one of the loyalty has these characters confront something about their past and to an extent, every one of these characters are not in a good state by the start of the game. Jack deals with her traumatizing childhood, Legion confronts the idea of what truly constitutes life and consciousness, and Grunt struggles to feel like he has a purpose and meaning in his life. By doing this, it makes the events of the story and specifically the ending feel more weighty and impactful as it feels like there is a deeper connection to this world and these characters 

Overall, this story is magnificent and builds upon everything the first game set and more. For me, this is the gold standard for sci-fi storytelling.


Score for story: 10/10


The fact that I rambled on for almost 3,000 words should show how highly I think of this game. Everything from the story to the gameplay is great, and I legitimately have a hard time finding significant criticisms. In my opinion, this is one of the best games of all time and is easily the best in the “Mass Effect” series. 


Overall score: 9.5/10