This summer I’ve been playing a few video games, on and off. They’re a welcome break from the chaos in the world this year, as well as a diversion when I’m tired from a long week of writing, teaching prep, and chores. One game that is bringing me a lot of joy is Mass Effect 2.
Some of you may know that I’m a huge Mass Effect fan. So this is obviously a replay for me. I used to play the games regularly, and since Mass Effect 2 is my favorite in the series, I’ve played it a handful of times. It’s been years, so I can’t remember the exact count. But going back to it after a long break is giving me a fresh perspective on a game that, for so long, I’ve named as an all-time favorite. It’s crazy to me that ME2 first came out in 2010. While other games have not aged very well, ME2 does not feel or look like a 10 year old game to me!
Since ME2, there have been numerous action games, sci-fi shooters, and RPGs that have garnered my love and attention, including The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dishonored, Horizon Zero Dawn, Destiny, and even the Gears of War series. I’ve learned to appreciate tight storylines and epic campaigns, vast vistas waiting to be explored and fictional planets filled with danger. All these new things have almost made me forget what it really felt like to play Mass Effect 2. Going back to it now, I’m pleasantly surprised by several features, so I thought I’d share them as a little inspiration. (Like, I hope that someday more games do these things!)
Before a new mission in Mass Effect 2, I’m able to choose two squadmates to accompany me. This is similar to what many other games too, most notably the 2019 RPG The Outer Worlds. But what’s unique about ME2 is that I get to enjoy tons of unique dialogue from my crew members while we’re out exploring. Garrus may make a sarcastic comment about the danger we’re facing; Samara may have an opinion on an upcoming decision; Tali may share a memory from a previous adventure. (These are made-up examples, by the way.)
Best of all, some of these conversations are partially scripted. The game will cut away for a moment to show my Commander Shepard standing with her two squadmates in the field, chatting away with dialogue options available to respond. I love these moments. The fact that the conversation depends, at least in part, on which characters I’ve brought with me, and that I get to engage in the conversation as Shepard, just makes the whole experience feel unique and important.
I forgot how much fun the Paragon and Renegade choices are in Mass Effect 2. Basically, in different conversations and decisions throughout the game, you get to choose kind, diplomatic responses or rude, aggressive responses. According to polls, more than 90% of players chose to the Paragon route. Apparently, I am one of the few who has mostly gone Renegade in past playthroughs, and I have loved it.
Here’s the thing about playing as a Renegade in Mass Effect: You are a badass. You get the job done. You may ruffle some feathers along the way (or punch some reporters), but you know your mission is to save the galaxy. And Shepard can be very funny in some of her exchanges, like when she’s driving a hard bargain at a Citadel shop through intimidation, shutting down an obnoxious journalist, or playing bad cop to Thane’s good cop when she needs information from someone.
My favorite thing is how Renegade Shepard flirts. Although in ME2, she doesn’t get much screen time with Kaidan Alenko (a romantic partner option from the first and third games), in the original game her Renegade dialogue options with him are surprisingly flirtatious. She teases him, calls him out, and surprises him at every turn — and Kaidan is all about it. I think he likes how a Renegade Shepard challenges him.
Meanwhile, in ME2 Garrus is a perfect fit for a Rengade Shepard. He’s a lot like a Renegade himself: tough, sarcastic, impatient, and incredibly driven. In that sense, I feel like the two of them just get each other, and I enjoy listening to their verbal sparring matches.
That being said, I still like to choose a few Paragon options for my squadmates. I play my Renegade Sheps as a hardass with a soft spot for her friends. And that’s exactly where I’m getting into trouble now! For the first time ever, I don’t have enough Renegade points to complete certain objectives in the game. I have two squadmates who are mad at me after their Loyalty missions. (As you choose Paragon or Renegade options, you accrue those respective points, and certain key decisions in the game require a number of points to succeed.) I believe this is a sign that I’m becoming a softie in my 30s. The last time I played this game, I was in my 20s and loved role-playing as a badass. But as I age, I think I’m starting to back off of the harder choices, acting a little kinder even to my fictional friends. Maybe I should try a Paragon playthrough next…
Another thing I forgot was how fun it is to combo abilities with squadmates during battle. Each crew member has a unique set of abilities, such as Tali’s Combat Drone or Jack’s biotic Shockwave. As you proceed through a battle, you only truly control your Shepard — shooting enemies and activating your own abilities — but you can also tap into the Combat Wheel to command your squad to engage in specific actions. This lets you set up combos, weakening enemies with one character’s ability and then taking them down with another’s. I have yet to find another game that makes these squad powers so easy and fun to unleash.
Clear, Structured Missions
This may sound strange, but after years of open world games, it’s so comforting to go back to a game that has a very strict mission structure. I have to be very specific about clicking to begin a mission, which commences with a rumbling cutscene as Shepard and her companions land on a new planet or dock at the Citadel, for example. At the end of the mission, I’m usually prompted to return to my ship, at which point a screen appears with some music telling me all the rewards I receive for my success. Then I’m back on the Normandy, Shepard’s ship, where I can explore a few floors to chat with my crew at will, check my emails, and feed my fish.
It’s very clean cut compared to games today, and I think that is where the game feels a little old. Yet I love it. I appreciate a game with such a straightforward structure; after all, I still have the freedom to choose which mission I take on next and where in the galaxy I want to explore.
There are so many other things I love about Mass Effect 2, but these are my favorite features so far. I’d love to hear what you enjoy about the game too!