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.
Above: WFT IS IT WITH DOODS NAMED JACOB???!!!?!?!?!
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.