There was this guy I knew who told me that he was not into RPGs when I had asked him about Mass Effect. At the time, I did not understand what an RPG (role playing game) was and as my PC was not powerful enough to play the game, I dismissed the game from my mind. Cut to a few years later in 2014, Mass Effect had evolved into a trilogy with a lot of praise for the storytelling, particularly of Mass Effect 2 (ME3 received a lot of hate, which I am yet to catch up on as I have not yet played the game).
I played Mass Effect finally and damn, I was pulled in to this space RPG with it's intricate story and side plots. I still remember hearing about the Shadow Broker in some corner of the Citadel, saving the rachni queen from death, and chasing down a conspiracy across the galaxy to uncover the Reaper behind the destruction. Through all this, there was talk of the Illusive Man and his organization, Cerberus, which seemed like the space Illuminati, with agents all across the galaxy.
I had seen videos about the opening of Mass Effect 2 and knew of the Normandy blowing up with you in it, and yet it was amazing to see it all play out. An interesting way of the character recreation in the game; one they would find quite hard to replicate or live up to in later games. It seems this time around Cerberus was on your side and helped resurrect Shepard from death.
It seems there are these aliens called the Collectors, who are mass-kidnapping humans from the edge colonies for some unknown reason. The Illusive Man tasks that Shepard to find out the reason and put an end to the threat. The Reapers also seem to be involved in some form, but the extent of their threat is unknown. Since it has been two years, your old crew has disbanded and now you have to get a new crew together.
Miranda and Jacob are the first members of the team from Cereberus. There's the Professor and Archangel, whom you have to recruit first. The Professor, Mordin Solus, the salarian scientist, will help us deal with the Collector swarms. And then there is Archangel, a turian for which multiple gangs are gunning for. After pretending to take the contract to take him out, I made my way to him only to find in an interesting twist that it was none other than Garrus. It was good to see a familiar face and get him back on the team.
Then we got Grunt, the genetically engineered krogan super soldier and Jack, human biotic to join the team. By the second act of the game, we get a few more dossiers, including those of Samara, the asari and Thane, drell assassin, who each have interesting missions leading to their recruitment to our team.
We were also able to recruit another familiar face: Tali, the quarian on the planet with the premature dying sun. It was with her that I was able to connect with and with whom I wanted to romance. Sadly, as I was playing with the female Shepard, this option was not available.
The final member that joined my team was Legion. I almost missed him when I triggered the point of no return and found out that I had to activate him in the Normandy's AI core room. Playing the game for so long, I totally forgot where it was and since the game did not show an active marker leading to it, I skipped this part. Finally, I replayed the Reaper IFF mission and made sure to get him activated before starting the next mission. The geth served a useful insight into his species and had one of the most interesting and impactful loyalty missions in the game.
Unfortunately, as I was playing the pre-Legendary edition of Mass Effect 2 and did not have access to the DLCs, I did not get to recruit Zaeed and Kasumi.
Old school RPG
Mass Effect 2 is right out of the books of an old school RPG. Instead of marking all the available missions on the map, missions are added as we explore planets. Early on, I had thought that the planets were useful only for mining until I tripped into an anomaly. The side missions on these planets were short and sweet and provided a decent reward for me going out my way.
Sometimes, missions get added through a note on a computer or a data pad that lead me to these planets or derelict ships. Completing a couple of the side missions led me to discover the mercenary Blue Suns and the krogan Blood Pack bases. There was no mandatory quest marker to finish up these missions, but it was good to tie up loose ends. This truly was in line of the role playing genre, where curiosity is rewarded or if ignored, it doesn't impact the main story.
A landmark of the Mass Effect series are the loyalty missions. Gaining the loyalty of your team members is a few missions away, but it is always worth doing. We gain insights into our team and what drives them. Further, it also gives us a chance to give them back something in return for following us.
The loyalty missions are also not something listed directly in your quest log, but that is given to you by each member when you speak to them. Another landmark of the series is chatting with your team members in between missions to build rapport. So, instead of jumping planet to planet, you also need to make sure to pay attention to your crew and speak to them for some interesting conversations and insights on the mission you just did. Though I have to mention that as I had done a lot of main missions back to back, my dialogue options had dried up with some of the characters like Miranda and Jack while I clearing out a load of side missions.
I did not exactly sort the missions into a logical order and triggered them based on the closest to the main quest. But I should have been paying more attention as I ended up needing to do them in the right order to get the best results.
Of note among the missions were...
Jacob's where we had to respond to a distress call, which was supposedly from his father, who had went missing 10 years ago. On landing on the planet, we discover a cult has been formed, which was headed by Jacob's father, who was using the local plant life to control his crew and use them to his wish. It was an example of how self serving humans still exist even in the far reaches of space.
Tali, whom we have to help stand trial for being accused of bringing geth technology onto the quarian flotilla and endangering the lives of many. This mission glitched majorly for me and I skipped the entire first portion of the trial and was taken directly to the part where I had to explore Tali's father's ship and find evidence to exonerate her.
It was only because I felt I did not choose the right decision in the end and reloaded the mission all over that I discovered that I had missed a major section of the mission. Having set that right, I was able to get Tali exonerated. Even at this point, my paragon points were not high enough to get an easy resolution.
Legion's, where we had to help clear the threat of brainwashing by finding the source and stopping the signal being transmitted. In this mission, we are faced with a critical choice of killing millions of geth or rewriting their code to save them. It is a choice that I did not make lightly and am still worried on the impact of saving the geth in Mass Effect 3.
The Paragon and Renegade system comes into dominant play with the loyalty of your teammates, particularly when you have to take sides between your team mates. I found this the hard way when I did Jack's loyalty mission and triggered the fight between Jack and Miranda. My paragon points were not high enough, so I wasn't able to diffuse the fight without taking sides and I ended up losing Miranda's loyalty. That is when I reloaded to an older save and worked to get my paragon points up before attempting Jack's mission again.
Working to rake up paragon points became a task after that. I had played the game so far on a whim making choices that felt right to my character, not caring if it was paragon or renegade. Also I really liked the scars on my face and didn't want to lose them by going full paragon. I realized that that was a mistake as I tried to make every right decision in the loyalty missions.
In the end, I even re-speced my character to up my points and got it to almost 90% of the gauge. But it was of no use. In the critical moment to settle the argument between Jack and Miranda, I had to choose a side again and chose to go with Jack ending my chances at a relationship with Miranda (which I was not so keen about) and losing her loyalty. Till the end, I never got a chance to fix it as my paragon gauge got high enough until the end game.
In the case of Legion and Tali's disagreement, however, I was able to settle it down amicably without the need to take sides.
Identifying the threat
As with most RPGs, getting diverted from the main quests is the norm. In this case, it was all the more necessary as I was looking for the best ending. But finally, when I did come back to resume the main quest, it was a thrilling ride as I traverse the Omega-4 relay to get to the Collectors' Base using the Reaper IFF. However, in this process, my crew gets kidnapped and taken to the enemy's base.
Doing the loyalty missions may seem, at first, to only serve to get your team closer and increase their chances of survival, but these missions also help in unlocking upgrades for the ships better defenses. These defenses kick in when we race our way through the debris field surrounding the Collectors' Base, keeping my team safe.
After I landed in the Collector Base, I was given the option to plan my infiltration in. Choosing the right team members would help me get to my crew and rescue them. It was a critical decision in part and with a bit of help, I was able to make the right choices. I had worked so hard to keep my team together that I did not want to lose any team member at any cost. I did not have Miranda's loyalty. So, I just had to keep her away from the main battle and not give her any key positions.
Making my way through the base, I learned more of the plans the Collectors had for the humans. Turns out the Collectors were actually Protheans, the ancient alien race predating 50,000 years ago, who were subjected to extensive genetic experimentation and implanted them with cybernetics. The Reapers directed the Collectors to build a human Reaper, which serves as the end game boss for us.
Another persistent enemy that challenges us is the Harbinger, a sentient force that takes possession of Collector Sentinels on the field and provide a relentless attack. In the end, we get a hint that the Harbinger is possibly a Reaper, who controlled the Collectors from a distance and now had given up hope on them to do the task. He abandons the Collectors to their fate during the destruction of the Collector Base.
It seems that the kett, the main antagonist species of Mass Effect Andromeda were inspired from the Reapers in the creation of the species. The kett reproduced by capturing other species and converting them into kett through an artificial process called exaltation. I see this as a parallel to the older games and maybe a hidden connection across galaxies. It seems strange how the antagonists in the Mass Effect series seem hellbent on conquering another species, enslaving them and then consuming them to create a new form of their own.
Mass Effect 2 is a game that lives up to it's hype. By the end, I was rewarded for the time I had spent doing the loyalty missions and building a strong rapport in my team. The game sets up a proper villain in the Reapers and ends with an attack on human civilization, making me look forward to and actually boot up the next game.