Having received my copy of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition back at launch, I’m taking my second journey through the series at a slower pace than I’m sure most people are. I finished Mass Effect 1 back in May and found that a game that I was very down on back in 2012 when I was 17-years-old is actually a breath of fresh air whilst in the middle of the modern RPG atmosphere. There was a simplicity to its gameplay—thankfully over-hauled a smidge by the team doing the remaster of the game—and a high-energy focus to it’s story that I have found lacking in many of the long, overstuffed, and frankly boring RPGs of today.
Fast forward to this past week, and I am once again feeling that breath—more like a blast, mind you—of fresh air replaying Mass Effect 2. Before I started Mass Effect 2, I was slogging my way through the first of The Outer Worlds two DLC’s: Peril on Gorgon. Halfway through my playthrough I realized something that doesn’t usually stray me from finishing a game: I simply wasn’t having fun. I just wasn’t. I put down the game, deleted it from my PS5 hard-drive, and perused what was next on my backlog. That game was Mass Effect 2, and I never looked back. I was hooked, more than I could have ever been back at the wee age of 17 (granted I was playing that trilogy back-to-back and was more than a little burnt out by the time of credits, not to mention the credits of Mass Effect 3).
Much of what I commended Mass Effect 1 doing in the RPG sphere, I was commending Mass Effect 2 of doing. The third-person shooting, the use of biotics and weapons, the commanding of teammates, and of course the dialogue trees is done so expertly even by today’s standards. The fact that really, the main story isn’t very long and mainly only about gathering a team and then taking on the Collector homeworld, is absurdly simple, but handled so very well. Mass Effect 2’s story isn’t so much about the ending—though it does serve as the preamble to the Reaper battle in Mass Effect 3—but about the journey there, and the friends you make along the way. For the first time, I finished every teammate’s side story and had a blast doing each one. Sure, some are more exciting than others, but each was infinitely interesting from Jacob’s discovery of his father’s betrayal to his crew, to Grunt’s determination to be accepted by the Krogan despite being bred in a lab.
Mass Effect 2 doesn’t bog you down in laborious upgrade systems, or entice you with picking up f*cking random pieces of trash like The Outer Worlds, and it’s inspiration series Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, do. The game respects player’s time, and that was my biggest takeaway of this gem. There is no inventory to fiddle with and delete crap you never looked at and will never look at, and no need to overwhelm the player with statistics and percentages that ultimately never matter. You have your teammates, your upgrades, their upgrades, and weapon upgrades if you so desire. You can even outfit each member with whatever gun you want them to have, but it doesn’t matter as it really has no bearing on battles. Mass Effect 2 doesn’t waste time with these arbitrary items and numbers and gets right down to the storytelling and exciting moment-to-moment gunplay.
I also appreciate the fact that Mass Effect 2 was able to keep my attention for 50 hours which is no small feat in today’s gaming landscape. That is of course attributed to it’s marvelous story that grips you with the destruction of the Normandy in literally the first 10 minutes all the way to the attack on the Collector homeworld. This was peak BioWare back in 2009 and we can only hope that they will at the very least attempt to reach the same heights with Mass Effect 5.
As far as the bloat of Mass Effect 2, there really is none, especially compared to the the side-quest laden RPGs and open worlds of today that usually amount to nothing more than busy work. There is a sublime simplicity to the game that, frankly, I wish we could return to in 2021. There is care put into characters that I wish we could return to in 2021. There is a real focus on narrative that doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of side activities that I wish we could return to in 2021. Mass Effect 2 does the RPG genre some real good, and now, after 9 long years, I fully appreciate the amount of care BioWare took in not just going bigger and better, but more concise and polished as well. This is officially a call to developers to adopt the less-is-more approach for their upcoming RPG’s, to take us back to a time when true, main plot narrative came first.
Mass Effect 2 is akin to what happened in high school when you turned in an A-rough draft, and your teacher gave you the corrections to make it an A+ paper. More of that A+ paper BioWare and you will once again take the genre to new heights.