Two years ago, the sequel to a promising action RPG was released to near universal acclaim. Mass Effect 2 solved most of the issues that plagued the first game in the series and redefined what it means to be a role-playing game. Despite earning over 70 perfect scores and winning numerous Game of the Year awards, there are still a few lost souls who have not played this game. Let me tell you why you should, and if you have played it, why you should play it again.
Yes, the gameplay is solid and the RPG systems are inventive, but the story is where it’s at. Mass Effect 2 is, at its heart, an epic story of bravery and sacrifice. You, as Commander Sheppard, the hero from the first game, must go on a suicide mission to stop a mysterious alien race from kidnapping entire human colonies in deep space. This one mission is the focus that ties every other mission together. The majority of the game involves building your team and preparing for this mission. So far, so normal. You, as the plucky player, are the only thing standing between [insert good guys here] and extermination at the hands of [insert bad guys here]. So, where does Mass Effect 2 differ? Well, rhetorical question, I’ll tell you, in the details and the presentation. The actual story has many interesting ethical eddies to navigate, and goes to some unusual and dark places. Without spoilers, one character tries to justify his work on a sterility virus, another is determined to brainwash an entire society, and then you meet a violently unstable psychic, a hitman, an accused traitor, and a merciless fanatic. I should clarify that these are all the good guys. This is where Mass Effect 2 succeeds, in nuance and shades of grey. There are truly horrific and dangerous things being done in this universe for the noblest causes, and terrible people doing great things for selfish reasons. The other striking thing about the story in Mass Effect 2 is the sense of scope. This is a big story of heroics and badassery. There are moments in this game that will make almost anybody let loose a “Hell yeah!” I have played a lot of video games in my life, and while I have beaten harder bosses and triumphed over more terrifying odds, I have rarely felt the satisfaction I have experienced while playing this game.
The defining aspect of this game is the choice given to the player. At numerous turns, you can decide whether to act as the standard storybook hero, selfless and noble, or you can be a big, fat jerk. The game does not give you the option to play as a villain, but they leave what kind of hero you want to be completely up to you. This is the smartest way to tell a story that needs to hit certain plot points but wants to give the player a great deal of choice. And, choices you have. Depending on how you play the rest of the game, the suicide mission can play out any number of different ways. Assuming the successful completion of the mission, as it is a video game, you can make it back with everyone in your squad, or none. It is possible to successfully beat the game and have the main character die. The thing here is that every play through feels like it is your game. I have had conversations with people who referenced that totally awesome part of the game, and I hadn’t seen anything like it. The result is a game that allows you to define what the story is, and who the protagonist is, in a completely satisfying way. No matter how you choose to play it, this game is well worth your time.