Why Mass Effect 2 is one of the greatest games ever made

If Mass Effect is gaming’s Star Wars then Mass Effect 2 is our Empire Strikes Back.

Few sequels have trumped the original as handily as Mass Effect 2. The first game, albeit beloved for its own reasons and remembered fondly despite itself, was full of issues that BioWare not only addressed, but completely solved when developing the sequel. Weird technical problems held it back from true greatness, and the combat simply wasn’t that engaging. And the Mako. And the space racism. And Ashley. And the elevators and the Mako again.

Mass Effect 2 improved in all of these areas, cleaning up the engine’s technical follies and expanding the already-impressive universe without sacrificing what made the series special. More importantly, it completely revamped the combat, turning the action RPG into a shooter that could stand toe-to-toe with some of the best in the genre, and one of the best games of all time.

But while the gameplay was strong enough to stand on its own (as we saw in Mass Effect 3, which managed to add in enthralling multiplayer, fueled entirely by the shooter aspect), it’s really the story and the world(s) that make Mass Effect 2 one of the greatest games ever made. In its predecessor, BioWare established the series’ backdrop as one of the most interesting sci-fi settings in or out of games, and with the sequel it uses this already fantastical canon to craft an action-packed RPG that’s second to none.

It starts with a bang (and an excuse to remake your character). The SSV Normandy is attacked in the opening scene, and like any good leader, your commander goes down with the ship. Your Commander Shepard, carried over from the first game or freshly created, was presumed dead, and for good reason: You died. But the paragon (or renegade) of the human race couldn’t be allowed to rest in peace, so the pro-human Cerberus organization found your charred remains, pumped them full of SCIENCE, and brought you back from the dead. Awesome, right?

Well, sort of. Cerberus isn’t so much “human pride” as it is “human superiority,” meaning their goals are more focused on the good of hu-mankind – the rest of the galaxy be damned. But there are bigger cuttlefish to fry: A race of ancient robots called The Reapers are coming back to wipe out all biological life in the entire universe, so that takes precedent over working out interspecies relations.

How the story plays out is really up to you. Choices are presented throughout the game, both large and small, that completely change the future of the series. What you say to different people can effect how they treat you in the future, and which characters you side with will change the galaxy’s perception of your Shepard. It’s empowering to know how much of an influence you have over the events of a game, and made us feel much more connected to the story than we may otherwise have been.

Hollander Cooper

Hollander Cooper was the Lead Features Editor of GamesRadar+ between 2011 and 2014. After that lengthy stint managing GR's editorial calendar he moved behind the curtain and into the video game industry itself, working as social media manager for EA and as a communications lead at Riot Games. Hollander is currently stationed at Apple as an organic social lead for the App Store and Apple Arcade.