Mass Effect Legendary Edition Part 2: Mass Effect 2 Review
Editor's Note: Mass Effect Legendary Edition includes each of the original Mass Effect trilogy's three games. That's a lot of game. As such we've decided to review each game separately, and score it accordingly, too. We'll let you know what our overall thoughts are at the end though. For part 1 of the review covering the first game, click here.
The evolution of the Mass Effect series brought on by Mass Effect 2 is an incredible leap — the sophomore upgrade that so many of the mid-00s biggest franchises saw. Everything from the way the game plays, to the scope of the world, and even the way it looks were improved. So whilst the Mass Effect 2 Legendary Edition is the definitive version of this bona fide classic, the remastered upgrade is more nice to have than wholly necessary.
That’s somewhat of a backhanded compliment, I suppose. However, my point remains. Mass Effect 2 isn’t even out of its teens yet and we’re seeing it get a facelift. However, it can’t be denied that it wears the upgrades well. The 4K textures do a lot to bring the world of Mass Effect closer to the modern era. Not everything here is razor sharp, but with a game so big a few things were bound to slip through the net. Characters are a slightly different story. Whilst there’s an obvious upgrade over their 2010 counterparts, the game shows its age when it comes to its particularly archaic facial animations. Still, those characters are so well written that this gripe faded into the background after a few hours with the game.
The writing and characters were where Mass Effect 2 always shone for me. My original jumping on point for the series, revisiting the likes of the Salarian scientist Morden and the stealthy assassin Thane felt like meeting old friends. Furthermore, my playthrough of the original Mass Effect — yes, my first ever — only bolstered my relationships with returning characters like Garrus, Liara and Tali. Mass Effect 2’s darker tone and murkier backdrop provides even more depth to the space opera’s lore and opportunity, should you so wish, to change everything about your Commander Shepard should you so wish. Myself, I remained a paragon but there’s definitely space left by the story for a character shift. And whilst there were important choices to be made in the original game, the writing in the sequel feels much less clear cut and added to the overall sense of intrigue. Characters, too, are more fleshed out; not just the returning characters (whose arcs naturally continue), but the combination of the really strong loyalty missions alongside a wider variety of reasons to interact with the much larger party Shepard has to accompany them.
Despite having played it before, the sense of discovery that I felt when landing on Omega for the first time came flooding back. I was caught off guard by a wave of nostalgia that I wasn’t ready for and still don’t think I am — it all still feels too recent. Hearing the chatter of NPCs and remembering just what lay ahead before I rounded each corner was amazing. I was sucked in all over again. The mysteries of Cerberus and The Illusive Man, played expertly by Martin Sheen, were now my sole focus, whilst I anticipated the epic final battle that is still one of the very best in gaming. I don’t expect this to be a unique experience for me. Returning players will get just as much out of returning to Mass Effect 2 as new players will. All of this goes to show just how good Mass Effect 2 still is.
The bulk of the game is spent with these characters too, assembling the team and building up resources for an end game scenario that consistently looms over the story. This consists of finding and recruiting team members, before optionally tackling their Loyalty Missions to unlock extra abilities. They’re all so varied, as well. Not just in their stories, which are all excellent, but from a gameplay standpoint they’re all very different. Kassumi’s heist mission remains one of my favourites for just how inventive and unlike the others that it is. It’s worth mentioning that characters like Kassumi and Zaeed, who were originally optional downloadable content, have now been properly integrated into the game. Granted, this unlocks some extra varied firepower from very early in the game, but the meetings feel very natural. On the flipside, the excellent Lair of the Shadow Broker content is now unlocked almost immediately. As such, it doesn’t quite fit into the story as neatly.
By and large, however, the integration of previously additional side content stands out as one of the best of a round of quality of life improvements found in Mass Effect 2 Legendary Edition. Equally positive are the improved loading times which make travelling between systems a dream. Those who want to scan every planet and dig into every nook and cranny of the game will also find a big improvement: planet-scanning and mining is now accompanied by a marker to show where you’ve already scanned, making a still rather boring and labour-intensive process a little bit easier than before. These are small things to pick out, but they appear to have smoothed out all the rough edges they can.
The only place this doesn’t apply is to combat. Despite arguably featuring the most balanced approach to combat in the trilogy and now being boosted by a solid 60fps frame-rate on PlayStation 5 — the same applies out of battle — it just doesn’t hold up as well as everything else here. The improvements over the first game are plain to see, however, with plenty of variety courtesy of the large roster of party members, a more diverse range of enemies and much improved AI. This final point is the most important. All too often the combat in Mass Effect felt like a roadblock on the path to more story that needed bypassing. At least there’s some challenge here and options to really mix things up. Still, I can’t deny it feels like a dated third-person shooter — something that is even more obvious in 2021.The rest of the game, however, remains a masterpiece.
Mass Effect 2 is up there with the greatest games of all time. Its story is impeccable from the very beginning, and to strengthen that with characters that you genuinely feel for and bond with gives the slow build towards the final mission (and the consequences of that mission) even more prominence. Mass Effect 2 is a game that tells you, or simply reminds you, how special it is at every turn and the addition of 4K visuals and a wave of other, smaller, improvements make that experience even better.
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