Game of the Week 2/24/2012: Mass Effect 2

Welcome back to Game of the Week! This week, Brendan tells us all about the second part in the epic sci-fi trilogy, Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect 3 is right around the corner. We’re just a few short days from seeing the end of Commander Shepard’s saga, and his mission to save the galaxy from big, bad, mechanical super-beings. With the closure to this story imminent, I’ve recently gone back through Mass Effect 2 — one of my personal favorite games of all time.

What it is: Mass Effect 2 is the second game in a sci-fi action-RPG series from Bioware. The series is unique in that for the first time, choices made in the first game can affect the entire outcome of the series’ story arch.

The story behind this series is a high-science fiction tale centered around Commander Shepard — the first human to be instated into the Specters, a group of special agents who carry out missions around the galaxy against some of the biggest threats to all species.

In the first game, Shepard was recruited to take down a fellow Specter, Saren, who had gone rogue and was arming a race of sentient robots know as the Geth to go to war against all organic life. This all occurred after he (and Shepard) came into contact with a relic from an ancient civilization known as the Protheans, giving them strange visions of the future. Players had to race across the galaxy, recruit a team to take down Sarin and stop his attempts at galactic genocide. Many options are open to the player, giving them full control over their story, making their experience unique.

In Mass Effect 2, the ramifications of the player’s choices in the first game begin to play out. Saren is defeated, but now the true motivation behind his actions have surfaced: he was being controlled by a race of ancient machines, The Reapers. Every few millennia, the Reapers descend upon the galaxy, harvesting and devouring all organic life.

Mass Effect 2 puts Shepard in a new part of the galaxy — the Terminus systems, something of a “wild west” in the Mass Effect universe. Human colonies in these systems have been attacked and their inhabitants taken by a mysterious race of aliens called the Collectors, who seem to be working directly with the Reapers. Again, the player recruits a team, and is faced with numerous choices that can change the outcome of the game — and therefore, change the entire experience players will have in Mass effect 3.

Why I love it: The Mass Effect is probably my favorite gaming series of this generation. I love sci-fi, and Mass Effect takes the best bits of Star Trek, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Battle Star Galactica, and even Alien, and adds heaps of character and style to create a very unique scifi universe. Possibly the best sci-fi universe in decades.

The origianl Mass Effect is a great game, and when compared to mass effect 2, it’s story is a bit more cohesive, but some odd game play design choices and bugs held it back.

The reason I prefer (only slightly) Mass Effect 2 is because not only did those gameplay hitches get ironed out, but the story is a much more fleshed out web. Instead of a straight line from beginning to end, with some side quests, in Mass Effect 2 you get more bite-sized stories where you get to know each character and their motivations much better than the vast majority of videogames can accomplish. It’s such a compelling universe to be in.

Besides all this, I’ve never put so much consideration into the choices I’ve made in a video game. Where as in games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, role playing is game play mechanic (I’m gonna be a dual-sword wielding Orc who hates Hig-Elves) in the Mass Effect series the role playing is entirely story-driven. Each moral decision my Commander Shepard faced became my moral decisions to make.

In Mass Effect 1, my decisions didn’t feel  quite so important. There were some big moments where I had make some hard choices, my motivation behind those choices were contained within the game.

In Mass effect 3, the choices of both games will bring a close to a story I’ve followed for the past few years, and any decisions I make will once again be contained within the game, rather than the series.

But in Mass Effect 2, I was seeing BOTH my decisions from ME1 coming into pay, yet the reasons for doing what I did was because I was worried about what would happen in the next game. Because it’s the middle entry, it also hold the most opportunity for not only changing the ending of the series, but also for rectifying (or completely fucking up) the things you started at the beginning of the series.

So, in a nutshell, Mass Effect 2 offers more time to spend in the best sci-fi universe of the past decade, but also for the first time EVER, fans care about a series not for its gameplay, graphics, or achievements/trophies, but solely for the story. In a medium where story is (in my mind, rightfully) less important, it’s amazing to see what these games have accomplished.

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