Mass Effect 2 review

  • Finely crafted story, characters and dialog
  • Ramped up action with better controls
  • Continuing your story with an imported character
  • The mining minigame is a pile of ass
  • Helmet-head intrudes on key scenes
  • Armor and equipment management is too refined

People play games for many different reasons. Some enjoy driving a car in a circle, while others prefer jumping around collecting shiny baubles. Then there are the miscreants who love nothing more than pointing and clicking on whatever they want to die. These are all admirable pastimes, and the games industry has become expert at packaging such experiences into a format best described as "cinematic." But as games have become more "cinematic," a key feature of the cinema is often left behind. Storytelling in games is usually a crude byproduct of game design necessity, an afterthought shoehorned crudely between the ice world and the sewer level. It's natural that games should look to film for help in developing meaningful narratives, but it is often the case that film's narrative devices feel overly contrived in a dynamic, interactive setting in which the player should be calling the shots. 

Canadian developer BioWare has always met the challenges and opportunities of interactive storytelling head-on, drawing inspiration from film techniques, but masterfully building upon them and integrating them into interactive experiences that propel the art of storytelling to new levels.

Mass Effect 2 is BioWare's most fully realized work to date. The hybrid shooter/RPG leaves the player feeling like they are interacting not only with polygons and physics, but with heady philosophical concepts and the very fabric of the narrative itself. It's a breath of fresh air in an industry where character development usually goes pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher. It's a rare thing for a game to build such a strong rapport with story and characters, but Mass Effect 2's unparalleled writing, sparkling graphics and top-notch voice talent make it easy to get pulled in. 

Another unique concept that pushes the narrative envelope, Mass Effect 2 allows you to import your character from the first game.  At import you can alter your appearance and class to your liking, but all your decisions remain intact. A surprising amount of unexpected baggage comes along with you. Throughout Mass Effect 2, you're accosted by a motley gaggle of minor characters whose lives you affected in the first game. You'll struggle to remember some of them, and others you'll recall after a bit of conversation. Some offer thanks, others entreat you to entertain a side-quest. In any case, you come away feeling like you've made a lasting impression on the world, something few games can actually pull off. If you haven't played through the first game, we highly recommend it as importing your character adds immensely to the enjoyment of Mass Effect 2. It isn't a prerequisite, though, as there's plenty for new players to like.

The main story arc of Mass Effect 2 revolves around attacks on several human colonies whose inhabitants have vanished without a trace. You're recruited by the pro-human splinter group Cerberus to investigate the mysterious disappearances. Along the way you recruit a team of elite operatives to take the fight to the bad guys in what increasingly looks like a suicide mission. 

Can games make you cry?

Mass Effect 2 has been described as the dark second chapter of the trilogy, the series' "Empire Strikes Back," if you will. Nowhere is this more apparent than in your squadmates' personal missions. Each new recruit has a personal quest you can tackle before setting out on the final mission. Completing a personal quest unlocks a new power and costume, and cements that character's loyalty to Shepard and the mission. Though technically optional, these diversions are the strongest part of the game and you're missing out if you don't play through all of them. They invariably contain a shocking reversal, a moral quandary of some description, and variations on gameplay that go beyond simple combat. One personal quest consists primarily of espionage and tailing a target, while another requires you to seduce your quarry in a nightclub. Be prepared to grapple with topics ranging from broken families and inhumane experimentation to robots' rights and the ethics of genetically neutering an entire race. These personal missions bring both the individual characters and the larger universe to life in a much more satisfying way than your typical RPG fetch-quests. The darkly-tinged scenarios resonate on an emotional level as you guide your squadmates through the conflict to resolution.

Above: Emo game is sad 

It's often been asked if it's possible for games to make people cry. Mass Effect 2 sidesteps the question by leaving it up to you whether you want to commiserate or smirk cynically at the pain of others. It would come across as contrived in many games, however the writing here is strong enough that it feels authentic when a character breaks down in tears. And fortunately, the drama has been leavened with a healthy dose of humor to keep things from getting too heavy. Here's one universal archetype we can all relate to:

As we recruited new characters and got to know them, we found it harder and harder to choose just two for our squad at the start of each mission. Sometimes you need a specific character on your team to trigger the right dialog options to start a mission, as in Grunt's personal quest on the Krogan homeworld. If he's not in your party, you can't ask anyone about his situation. Logical, right? Combat abilities are another important consideration. If you'll be facing Geth, you'll want an Engineer who can hack them. Also logical. But we found ourselves regretting having to leave characters behind on the ship; we wanted them to come with because we enjoyed their personalities as much as we needed their combat skills. The downside is that when people spend too much time in a cramped, chilly spaceship revealing their deepest feelings to each other, things can get a little... intense.

Above: That's our Shepard in the middle, if you were wondering 

You'll be happy to know that crew interaction is not limited to settling catfights in the corridors, though that is a nice perk of command. Ask the wrong person the wrong thing at the wrong time, and they'll open up to you in unexpected ways. You may end up learning things that you didn't want to know.

Another innovative story mechanic in Mass Effect 2 is the ability to interrupt a conversation with an action. Don't care for that Krogan's long-winded rant about his clan's schemes on galactic domination? Then shoot the exploding tank under his feet and get the action moving! These interrupts can push you more toward Paragon (good) or Renegade (evil) status, depending on context and are an exciting addition to Mass Effect 2's already robust dialog options.

It wouldn't be Mass Effect without romance, which is still present in the sequel but hopefully won't become another target for misinformed culture warriors. In Mass Effect 2, male Shepards have the opportunity to court genetic uber-frau Miranda, while female Shepards can go after hunky Jacob. Jack, aka Subject Zero, is another potential romantic interest. She's a freaky-deaky super biotic with an unbelievably dark backstory that we won't spoil for you here. Whomever you pursue, you'll get the opportunity to consummate the relationship just prior to the start of the final mission. As in the first game, once you've progressed to a certain level of intimacy with one partner the other will reject your advances.


A new romantic twist comes from Yeoman Kelly Chambers, your personal assistant aboard the Normandy, who flirts openly with you and can even be persuaded to join you for a private dinner in your quarters. The relationship stays strictly platonic, though she did offer to feed our fish for us while we were away.

Above: Fish and ships are just a few of the customization options available in the Captain's quarters   

So enough with the touchy-feely crap already!

Mass Effect 2 offers a whole menagerie of stuff for you to explode, and plenty of ways to do it. Devastating biotic powers and the addition of heavy weapons ensure that combat is never stale. Everything is controlled through two selection wheels, one for powers and one for weapons. Pulling up a wheel pauses combat while you select a new weapon or activate a biotic power. You control your squadmates' biotics too, which gives you the opportunity to unleash powerful combo attacks. Another useful update to the 360 version is the ability to easily set separate waypoints for your teammates by simply pointing and tapping on the d-pad (a feature that was in Mass Effect for PC but notably absent from the 360 version). This is especially useful as the battlefields are larger and more diverse than in Mass Effect, so assigning separate waypoints opens up new tactical opportunities. For example, you can send your Krogan charging full bore at a group of enemies while your biotic flanks and you hang back to snipe. In one mission, direct sunlight will instantly deplete your shields so squad positioning and advancement is especially important.

Mass Effect 2 also completely overhauls equipment and upgrade management, throwing out the paper doll for an almost overly streamlined spreadsheet-based system. You won't find yourself endlessly scrolling through scavenged equipment trying to decide what to equip and what to reduce to omni-gel. You pick your loadout on the ship or at conveniently placed weapons lockers, and you very rarely pick up new weapons on the battlefield. More often, you scan found weapons for upgrade data, which you can then build back on the Normandy. Built upgrades are automatically applied to the weapons of your entire team.  This might irk loot-hungry fans who love micromanaging stats and cashing in useless gear at the shops (I found 12 pistols on that mission yay!) and we'll admit we were a little off-put at first.  But as we got our head around the new paradigm, we realized that all the tweaks to loot, inventory and upgrades freed us up to focus on the fluidity of the combat and tactical decision making, which was vastly more fun than Mass Effect’s clunky item management anyway.

Since weapon upgrades affect your entire team the only place where changing your loadout makes a difference is with Shepard's heavy weapon. Each has slightly different uses (particle beam vs missile launcher, for example) and heavy weapons are the only ones whose ammo is scarce. Access to specialty ammo has changed from the first game too; special ammo types are now available on the biotic power wheel rather than being a weapon-level modification handled in the equipment screen. Some characters can develop warp or shredder rounds, but it’s all done quickly and easily through biotics. It’s a relief after the first game’s convoluted menu screens.

There are also character specific upgrades you can develop in the lab. You can research custom biotic amps for Jack or special health tonics for Grunt, for example, or even upgrade the ship itself. It's up to you how you want to spend your hard-earned money and resources. Speaking of resources, than brings us to...

The one single thing wrong with Mass Effect 2 (OK, two things)

There's one atrocious part of Mass Effect 2 that sticks out like a sore thumb. In order to build the upgrades you find scattered throughout the universe, you'll need to gather resources. A small amount of resources are found in crates during the course of missions, but if you want to build the really rockin' stuff you'll have to play the mining minigame.

Above: That's no moon... oh, wait

The mining minigame consists of holding down the left trigger while sweeping the scanner across the surface of the planet. When you've found something, the controller vibrates and the readings on the line graph spike up. That's your cue to fire a probe and collect your resources. Conceptually, it would work if it didn't take so damn long to scan each planet. It just gets more and more irritating every time you're forced to endure it. Want to build that sweet shotgun upgrade you just found? Get ready to piss away half an hour or more sweeping the solar system for platinum. This tedious minigame is a letdown after the masterfully paced combat and story.

The other complaint we have is with Shepard's helmet

Above: Kiss me on my visor, you sexy beast

Our bittersweet reunion with our love interest from the first game was utterly ruined because we had to have that extra +5% health. Well, you never know when shooting might break out, right? On the topic of armor, upgrades and customization felt a bit sparse throughout the game, with new options coming few and far between. In contrast to the relative scarcity of new armor in the game, we couldn't help but note the diversity of armor on offer through a variety of external channels.

Above: Consumer loyalty programs: which will you succumb to?

Day-one DLC

There are two pieces of DLC that will be available on launch day by accessing the Cerberus Network with the included download code. The first is the Normandy crash site, which is a simple side-quest tasking you to collect dog-tags amidst the wreckage of the first Normandy. Search thoroughly and you can also find Shepard's original N7 helmet to keep on your desk as a memento. The second bit of DLC introduces a new character, Zaeed. He's a rough-and-tumble Cerberus mercenary who joins the crew of the Normandy. Unfortunately, Zaeed and his mission were not available to download as of press time so we can't comment much on it. But the fact that a new character and mission are ready to go on day one speaks to BioWare's commitment to fleshing out the universe with additional content.

How important the new content might be to Mass Effect 3 is anyone's guess, but we're looking forward to spending more time with Shepard and adding to the crew. We logged around 45 hours on our review playthrough, which included all the personal quests and the final mission. And honestly? We're chomping at the bit to jump in and start a new playthrough with a new character. Mass Effect 2 is the first must-have game of 2010, and we're sure we'll be playing it well into 2011.

Is it better than...?

Borderlands? Yes, with a caveat for shooter purists. While Mass Effect 2’s combat is certainly no slouch, Borderlands feels more like a red-blooded shooter experience without all those meddlesome emotions and wacky biotics getting in the way. Borderlands also does a better job of scratching the loot itch. So if you just want to hook up with some friends online and blast monsters in the face, Borderlands is your jam. Mass Effect 2 trounces Borderlands in the role-playing department, though. Mass Effect 2's story, characters and locations are much richer than those found on Pandora. We prefer the depth and variety of Mass Effect 2.
Dragon Age: Origins? Yes. Everything about Mass Effect 2 feels more polished, and not just because of the lasers and shiny spaceships. Mass Effect 2 has a better combat system, better voice acting, better dialog, better animation, better graphics... After playing Mass Effect 2, it's disconcerting to have your character remain silent during conversations. Dragon Age: Origin's multi-layered command wheel is overly complicated, and the characters seem stiff and wooden by comparison. BioWare, you've outdone yourself again.   
Fallout 3? Yes. Both are outstanding RPG/shooter hybrids with brilliantly realized worlds and memorable characters. Both test your moral fiber and do a great job of incorporating your decisions into the story. What gives Mass Effect 2 the edge is the feeling of camaraderie you develop with your squad over the course of the game. The personal quests and romantic possibilities add a layer of depth that’s missing from Fallout 3. Little touches like dynamic camera angles also make Mass Effect 2's dialog come more alive than Fallout 3's. And while Fallout 3’s apocalyptic Washington DC was an amazing setting, Mass Effect 2 offers more variety and scope in its locations. Mass Effect 2 is simply a bigger, more colorful place.

Just for you, Metacritic!

Mass Effect 2 strikes a perfect balance between intense shooter action and gut-wrenching drama, set in a richly textured world on the brink of destruction. It's a must-own for science fiction fans, who will love exploring the depths of the galaxy and fighting to save humanity.

Jan 26, 2010

More Info

Release date: Jan 26 2010 - Xbox 360, PC (US)
Jan 29 2010 - Xbox 360, PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: BioWare
Franchise: Mass Effect
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
PEGI Rating:


  • Twitchytwitch - February 16, 2013 2:49 p.m.

    any idea if theres going to be a 4th one?
  • dontshootthereviewer - November 29, 2010 11:05 p.m.

    I was planning on waiting till I got Mass Effect to play this one but I found it for 5 bucks at target and decided why not.
  • Oney97 - July 9, 2010 6:06 a.m.

    Amazing game, recommend it, and if you import a character it looks exactle the same as the first game.
  • FNG - May 25, 2010 11:39 p.m.

    I hate you I clicked on a link on this website for the etiquette of gaming like a man and I got this Sh*t. F*ck you.
  • aktirak - March 27, 2010 3:50 a.m.

    Mass Effect2 id the perfect game for gamers like that hate dificult items management system, also love how simple is to upgrade the wapons. the only thing that might miss the mark is the armor, it doesnot matter what type of armor or attachment the player use all of them fell somewhat the same. even using the Terminus,Cerberus,Inferno,Dragon Age or Collectors armor I personaly cant tell the diference. the real kicker is the story and how the game feels so cinematic.
  • Ricochet3438 - February 16, 2010 10:09 p.m.

    i absolutey love this game! i definately think GR overreacted about the probe minigame tho. its not tht bad i wanted 2 buy new weapons for the NOrmandy and i needed like 50000 substance zero and i got it in like 10 mins. u just need 2 kno were 2 look :)
  • volrath46656 - February 13, 2010 4:43 p.m.

    I would recommend playing Bioshock 1 and/or Mass Effect 1 first, then buy the sequel based on which game you liked better.
  • CLEIP - February 13, 2010 12:51 a.m.

    Should i buy this game our bioshock 2?
  • volrath46656 - February 11, 2010 5:07 p.m.

    Thank you, ChiefLethal, for noticing and commenting on the reviewer's mistake of saying Mass Effect is better than Fallout 3. This is not the first time a GR reviewer has made a similar grievous error (Dragon Age better than KOTOR? WTF?). I have played and finished both games (ME2 and Fallout 3), and they are on totally different ends of the videogame spectrum. While both RPGs, the two are so drastically different in terms of what they offer the player that to say one game is better than the other is a pretty narrow-minded analysis. Where Fallout succeeds Mass Effect fails, and vice versa (and this is an argument that could go on for hours). The same goes for Dragon Age comparisons. While Mass Effect might be more engaging in terms of storyline presentation and originality, the universe crafted around the Grey Wardens is a much deeper gameplay experience (again, just my opinion, but I feel like tweaking with the Combat Tactics options in DA is a game within the game). I did not use my teammates in Mass Effect 2 - the Vanguard is a ridiculously overpowered class - but in Dragon Age, I couldn't pass a single boss battle without having a well-designed team to back me up. Basically, I feel like ME2 is a step forward in interactive gaming, but a step backward for traditional RPGs. The ability to import and continue a character from the first game is awesome, as is the fact that your protagonist actually speaks; and the universe crafted around the game is awesomely deep. For every awesome feature, though, one equally terrible exists (i.e. pointless minigames, dumbed-down leveling-up, limited weapon/loot options - which sucks for both shooters and RPGs). Please, PLEASE, don't jump to rash conclusions like "Mass Effect 2 is better than Dragon Age and Fallout 3!" That decision is ultimately up to the player - each of the three games is awesome in its own way. And am I the only person who misses the Mako? Upgrade it, don't scrap it!
  • AliasAce - February 7, 2010 8:43 a.m.

    This game sucks horribly! So much reading and small words plus this game is slow! I didn't like the 1st one and the second one just sucks even more! I give it a 5 for it's graphics. I already traded mine back in and got back 20.00! What a waste of a DVD ROM and my cash!!
  • sprog - February 5, 2010 3:02 p.m.

    This game IS amazing. All I'll say is they had better make the romantic decisions you made in this one actually MATTER in ME3!! Still, this was an emotional rollercoaster. I've never been so hesitant in embarking on a final mission in my life.
  • ChrithGame - February 4, 2010 10:51 p.m.

    I want the game it looks awsome
  • Morethan3words - February 3, 2010 7:13 p.m.

    Overall I love the game, but improvements for ME3: the _systems_ customization of your character(s) are pretty good, but sorely lake in depth. I love that we could change our casual appearance, but only 4 costumes? Actually, I would say that overall variety of appearances, whether they be main characters or random NPCs, was sorely lacking. I mean, why does every stripper in the galaxy look exactly the same? I never once saw someone wearing red clothing, or yellow, or purple, or green. We go to bustling cities and the capital of the galaxy and everyone is wearing some combination of blue, black, brown and white. I actually think that they should bring back some of the free-form style of exploration that we had in ME1. I mean, I think ship travel in ME2 is a lot more fun and does a better job of conveying how remote some places are, but the on-planet side-missions don't feel remote. Driving around on the mako, while annoying because of the controls, did a much better job of showing us how this tiny little outpost was literally the only thing on that planet, which made it look and feel a lot more remote than just showing up on top of the outpost and leaving straight from it. More customization of our party members, especially in appearance. Two costumes per character? Not enough, I would like to see both casual and armor customization for all the party members. You've already got us buying fish, model ships and hampsters, would it be so crazy to give us a few clothing stores to peruse? Overall the stores were a little disappointing, in the first one I could run to each one and pick the one or two things from each store I wanted, and buy those. But in ME2 I felt like I needed to buy every single item in every single store, which made it so I didn't even look at what I was buying, I just ran to each store and hit A a lot. In general these are minor issues, but I think could be huge improvements for either DLCs and/or ME3.
  • Ashermeister - February 3, 2010 1:39 a.m.

    As much as i loved this game, i couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed. Mass effect was known for it's incredible story telling, but faltered in the gameplay elements in some places (combat and mako). Luckly in mass effect 2 the mako parts have been taken out and the combat has been massively upped in scale. But i felt the story was much much weaker than the first and felt rather cheated by the end level. Don't get me wrong, i enjoyed doing the personal missions and everything, just it didn't add a whole lot onto the story as i had hoped. Maybe i was looking foward to it to much.
  • WalrusFromHell - February 2, 2010 5:15 a.m.

    needs more guns and armor
  • Jasonp107 - January 31, 2010 6:16 p.m.

    In case anyone here DOESN'T already own Mass Effect 2, you can win a copy (for whatever system you use) from now through the next two weeks over at
  • Smeggs - January 31, 2010 5:45 a.m.

    From The Citadel to Tuchanka in order categorical. :P
  • GrandMoffBubbles - January 30, 2010 10:11 p.m.

    I deleted my 1st play thru (lvl 40) and played again up to lvl 50 and was surprised to see that both were there to import. As long as you finished the main quest line the game will remember that you played it regardless whether you think you deleted the 1st playthrough or not. Pretty smart game.
  • GrandMoffBubbles - January 30, 2010 9:40 p.m.

    The "Chuck" babe is soooooo awesome for not only lending her sweet voice to the game but her likeness as well. I've always had a weakness for the lovely ladies with Aussie accents. Now my favorite game coincides with my dream girl. Woo Hoo!
  • Samael - January 30, 2010 4:56 a.m.

    @Just96 It enhances certain side-quests, but there are no new quests made because of them. @maynardj You're talking about Mass Effect 1. While I loved it and disagree with your opinion on it, ME2 is a completely different game. You don't need to worry about micromanaging equipment and the combat is completely overhauled.

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