I don’t have much to say about Mass Effect 2, except to say that it’s good. Very good. ME2 continues Shepard’s story from the first game. The bench of characters is larger this time around and more diverse. Throughout the game, there are specific missions tied to each character (loyalty missions) where you explore that character’s past or help them make a difficult decision. The ending, rightly praised as one of the best in video game history, ingeniously changes based on the player’s relationship with each character.Mass Effect 2 does suffer a bit from “middle-child syndrome.” The first game has a streamlined story, while the third game provides the epic conclusion. Compared to the loyalty missions, the primary plot of Mass Effect 2 seems like filler. Commander Shepard and crew have to track down a group of aliens known as the Collectors kidnapping human colonists. Initially, the Collectors seem like a trivial threat compared to the Reapers from the first game.
Although the enemy aren’t particularly interesting, Shepard’s allies are. In this game, Shepard is no longer working for the interstellar government, but rather joins a rogue organization that seeks to protect Earth from alien influences such as the Collectors (think militiamen in Arizona). This inevitably pushes the story into darker territory. To what extent does Shepard compromise with these unsavory characters in order to defeat the Reapers? Does he accept xenophobia amongst his crew or strive to instill higher ideals?
Overall, Mass Effect 2 is a model of how to tell smart science fiction stories in the video game medium. It’s not just a good game, it’s a good story with compelling characters.