Following my playthrough of Mass Effect, I noted that while the game told an intriguing story, its gameplay was clunky and needed to be streamlined and smoothed out for a sequel. Luckily, Mass Effect 2 achieves exactly that. The gameplay of Mass Effect 2 greatly improves upon its predecessor by cutting out filler and creating a more fulfilling experience. That being said, there were still a few minor issues in Mass Effect 2, some gameplay related, others story related.
By far and away the largest improvement in Mass Effect 2 was the improvement of the side missions. In the original Mass Effect, most side missions consisted of dropping down to a desolate planet, driving the frustrating-to-control Mako around for a while, and then clearing out a copy-and-pasted base of enemies that must have been reused a dozen times for these side missions. Luckily in Mass Effect 2, the Mako has been removed completely and each side mission is individually crafted for a more unique and engaging experience. Some other gameplay improvements include weapon upgrades, squad power usage, better level design, smoothing out the movement, and the switch to an ammo system. All of these functions serve to make combat far more entertaining than the original game when it comes to combat.
The weapon and upgrade system in the original Mass Effect was clunky and required a lot of time just navigating the hundreds of upgrades that the player would acquire. There were a ton of different guns and upgrades that the player had to sift through to find what they would want, and a limited inventory meant that you had to frequently throw out many of these items just to keep clear space for new upgrades. In Mass Effect 2, this process has been streamlined so you no longer have to navigate menus for long intervals to pick out upgrades for you and your squad. Another big change was the switch from guns having a heat system to guns having ammo. I mostly enjoyed this change, as the heat system further increased how long you had to sit behind cover for weapons to cooldown. Ammo on the other hand lets you stay shooting for longer, and a reload is quick than waiting for your gun to cooldown.
All those improvements in mind, one design choice is particularly baffling. In Mass Effect 2, the player must pilot their ship through space to land on the different planets. What is strange is the decision that the player must constantly purchase fuel. Fuel is remarkably cheap in this game so I really don’t understand the purpose of including it. It doesn’t gate the player using money or anything, all it serves to do is waste your time by making you visit a refueling station once in a while. The other bizarre addition was the method for collecting resources. In order to upgrade your weapons, armor, and ship, you must collect a few different types of resources. There are minute amounts bit of these resources lying around for you to collect when you’re on a planet and exploring on foot, but the vast majority of these elements are found by probing planets. Essentially, you must buy probes, fly to a planet, slowly move your scanner across the surface, and launch a probe whenever it detects an abundance of resources. Similarly, to the fuel, the probes are incredibly inexpensive, so this system only serves to waste time. If you need any resources to upgrade your equipment you essentially have an infinite amount, you just have to painstakingly probe planets to get those resources.
These minor complaints aside, Mass Effect 2 massively improved upon Mass Effect in every way. The only exception to that was that I personally enjoyed the original’s story better. The bulk of the main missions in Mass Effect 2 were recruiting your squad and doing their loyalty missions. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed recruiting all the different characters and then doing another mission to make them loyal. There were all interesting from both a gameplay and a narrative perspective. However, I have two main issues with this system. The first issue is that it felt completely disconnected from the main plot. In the original game, most companions were recruited organically through the main plot. You would be doing a mission and meet these characters naturally. In Mass Effect 2, the game outright tells you “Go here and recruit this character”. This feels far more artificial than original, and to make it worse, most of the characters are disconnected from the main plot entirely. In the original game, characters often felt more invested in the plot and just felt more connected. In Mass Effect 2, I felt like only two or three of the characters impacted the plot in a significant manner. The rest just felt glued on and just served to help the player in combat. The second issue with making so much of the game reliant on the squad missions is that the actual main plot of the game is ridiculously short. There are only five main story missions (six if you count the introduction). I think the developers counted each of the self-contained squad missions as main missions, leaving the central plot very short. That being said, all of the subplots and even the main plots itself were strong, I just wish there was more if it.
My final issue with Mass Effect 2 is coincidentally with the final mission in the game. Without spoiling anything, you essentially assign your squad mates to different tasks throughout the mission. For example, you have to pick a technological expert to do a certain task. I thought this was an intelligent design decision, as it rewards players who learned their partner’s strengths and did the additional mission to make them loyal. If you pick incorrectly or your squad is not loyal, there is a chance that one of your squad members will die. Again, I quite enjoyed figuring out who is best for what role, but the final “selection” does not sit well with me. Mostly because it is not communicated to be a selection at all. Instead, you pick your standard two squad mates to go and fight the final boss, and the rest of the squad is left behind to watch your back. If you bring two of your best fighters to take on the boss, one of your other squad mates who you left behind to watch your back will perish. To me this felt incredibly cheap, if it were properly communicated that you should leave behind strong members, this would have been completely fine. Furthermore, the game kills off an important squadmate rather unceremoniously and when it happened to me I was confused as to what had just happened. Overall, this final selection was just poorly implemented and need to be better communicated to the player.
All in all, Mass Effect 2 is a strong entry to the series, and a definite improvement over the original game. While the episodic short stories that were told throughout the squad missions were engaging, the main plot felt a bit lacking. However, massive improvements made to the gameplay elevated Mass Effect 2 above the original. As a whole, Mass Effect 2 has solidified itself as a classic sci-fi RPG, worthy of the praise that it has received.