Mass Effect 2 (2010) review

Rated: 2.5 / 5

Wokeness: 3 / 5

Review

Well, I guess this review has been 3 years coming. The replay of this game was more of a struggle than I expected. Not because the game is more difficult than I remember, but because it’s not as interesting as I remember. While it improves on the first game in terms of combat, and slick controls, and superior side quests, it removes the one thing that made the previous game replayable (in spite of the dull as fuck side quests): the RPG elements. Aside from some various aspects here and there, and the last act, the game is more narrow and linear compared to its predecessor in how you go through it.

This deserves a longer explanation. The problem began to arise when I figured something out about combat. After a while, it gets fucking boring, especially on a New Game+ playthrough where you’ve already unlocked everything you’re going to need. Unlike the first game which had about as much cerebral elements as it did combat elements, Mass Effect 2 is more about the combat than it is the decision-making with dialogue choices and whatnot. Not to mention the player is more encouraged/influenced/shamed into making certain decisions compared to the previous game where every action had its own set of pros and cons. Renegade didn’t necessarily mean “evil”, anymore than “paragon” necessarily meant “good”. Sometimes a renegade action of killing/punching something is called for, but sometimes the paragon action of pacifism/dialogue/compromise works out better (depending on what kind of outcome you wanted). That’s no longer the case in this game, and this issue would become amplified in the third (and final; fuck everything else that exists in this universe) entry. Each time you make a renegade action, Shepard begins to look more and more demonic. I think the games trying to go the ways of the force on you here, ala Knights of the Old Republic.

That being said, it did make characters from the previous game who were initially on the bland side (Tali, Garrus, Ashley to a lesser extent) have more, well, character. They had more of a purpose, had more aspects to their personality, and seemed more deserving of being with an elite space fighting force as opposed to someone you just pick up for the hell of it who is just along for the ride. It’s interesting to see how some characters turned out after the events of the first game, especially Garrus who will go through different trials and tribulations depending on how you handled his optional side-quest in the first game. Quite frankly, and I say this having Garrus only ever evolve from the renegade route, it seems like everyone and everything got a bit darker in this game compared to the first. Not necessarily a bad thing, given some of the subject matter, and the growing dread of the Reapers making their return, with warnings of the threat falling on deaf ears.

And now, for the bullshit stuff.

The beginning of this game is complete bullshit. Shepard getting shot into space, and burning up in the planet’s atmosphere before smashing down onto the surface. There’s no fucking way you can rebuild someone from that. It’s stupid, it’s bullshit, and I’d sooner buy the idea of cloning him from some blood sample or something rather than what they did here. Primary reason they did this is for “reconstruction”, so that you can customize the look of Shepard all over again, especially if you’re new to the franchise and want Shepard to look like something other than how he is on the cover of the game boxes (ie, make him look something other than canon).

Cerberus. At first, it was rather interesting to see how they developed from the first game. First game, radical pro-human group that was xenophobic to the point of committing attacks on various alien species just on principle. Now they’re more organized and controlled, by the Illusive Man. They’re still an organization (with plenty of financial backing) that is xenophobic and pro-human. And make no mistake, this is an allegory for racism and immigration. With Cerberus being the anti-immigration pro-segregation group. Here, in this game, they seem more rational with how they are. With various members stating that they’re pro-human, and have no desire to wipe out other alien species; they just want to be with their own kind, and ensure humanity continues to advance and become a superior force in the galaxy alongside the other alien species.

This makes me consider one of the outcomes to be had in the first game. If you decide to say fuck the council, focus all firepower on the Reaper ship, and leave the council stranded to die. This brings humans to the forefront of power, giving them primary control of the council. And if you choose the appropriate dialogue options, you can take on a stance that isn’t much different than what Cerberus is at in this game. Humanity first, aliens last. That outcome makes the most sense in this context, given how Cerberus becomes more organized, financially powerful, and less radical and fanatical overall in their purpose. They still have their haters, sure, and are still considered a terrorist organization given their past deeds and how humans also got caught up in the crossfire. But they’re more of a force to be reckoned with rather than a semi-organized group of ragtags. It makes sense they would evolve this way if the human race gained more power as the result of your actions in the last game, allowing the alien council to be killed. This line of thinking goes completely to hell in the third game, but that’s a story for another time.

Problem is, by the end of the game, even with the consideration that Cerberus isn’t entirely forthcoming with their agenda (what organization ever is?), they are still considered antagonists by the end, in spite of their goodwill, in spite of wanting humanity’s survival, being the only organization willing to take the Reaper threat seriously. But they are, overall, the more thought-provoking aspect of the game. That a xenophobic group can be right and can do some good, even if the game tries to turn that back on itself by the end. I’d rather the game kept it more ambiguous as to the morality of that organization, leaving it up to the player as to how they decide to view such an organization by the end, whether they be more good than evil, or more evil than good, or enough of a mixture of both that it depends on the current situation.

Isn’t that the point of a true RPG? To provide a realistic world that isn’t condescending to the player (unless they’re up against another NPC that’s actually a condescending character), an RPG should create a world with inhabitants who have pros and cons, good things and bad things. Imperfect, but believable. You know, like you. Every inhabitant should possess something inherent in humans themselves (even if in a fantasy sci-fi world full of aliens, robots, etc), their misdeeds, their ambitions, their triumphs, philosophies, religions, etc. Playing an RPG is about navigating through these concepts in your own way, whether blunt force, diplomatically, sneakily, magically, a combination of two or more of the above, etc.

There’s less of that in this game (and even less in the third) than there is in the first game. The first game allows for you to go the radical route, or the more pacifist route. Killing off one group to save another, or being unwilling to make such a sacrifice. The first game doesn’t ever really shame you (or really even praise you) for whichever route or decision you take. This one though, the second game, well…

One of the first examples of this game setting up a straw man scenario is when you meet up with Tali and come across the crazy quarian scientist. You can choose to take this scientist back with you, and let Cerberus have him, or you can let the quarians have him. With Tali their, putting more of an emotional angle onto this: “If our time together ever meant anything to you, please do this for me.” With the knowledge that Cerberus would do shit to him until he died. You are being ethically peer-pressured into giving the scientist to Tali and the quarians. You are never presented with the upsides to giving him over to Cerberus. Cerberus is being laid out as more of the probably bad guys and bad ethical choices compared to the quarians, who have their own bad history when it comes to creating their own source of destruction (more or less) in the past due to their experiments (but don’t consider that for this moment of the game).

“Diversity makes us great.”

— Wrex; maybe I should’ve let this patriarchy traitor fucking die in the last game.

There’s that, and then there’s the goddamn krogans. The big beefy muscular tough short-tempered hard to kill aliens who had that virus spread among them that significantly reduced their ability to reproduce. They decide to inject a pro-feminism message among this species. They want the females to be given a more forefront role in tasks and combat situations, let alone in ruling positions. The most valuable members of the species, the ones needed for reproduction. Those female krogans. They’re the ones they are willing to allow on the front lines due to feminism invading the krogan way of life. What a load of shit. Wrong for so many different reasons.

Perhaps it wasn’t consciously intended as such, but the Krogan ended up as a bait and switch. They hooked young males in with a large, muscular, manly avatar that spoke to them the same way He-Man might’ve. Then the writers used that avatar to encourage them to smash “the patriarchy” that built our civilization, by conveying that ‘you’re not a true Krogan, unless you believe in sexual equality.’ It sounds pretty absurd, I know, but that’s basically what’s going on. The writers dressed up a series of progressive and feminist narratives in a super masculine veneer. As the saying goes, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

— American Krogan

Amidst all the interesting plot developments regarding the genophage (the virus killing off their ability to reproduce 99.9% of the time), amidst the interesting crew you come up with (especially with the DLC that gets you Kasumi and Zaeed), amidst the more character-focused study, the game ends up feeling more limited despite this. Limited because of the SJW stuff sprinkled lightly here and there, but to the point where it begins to ruin stuff. The Krogans suffered the most from this. Cerberus suffers a little bit too, but not quite as much. For the former, its ruining stuff established in the first game. For the latter, it’s killing potential for this organization.

Because of the havoc the SJW stuff wrought in this game (2010, 2 years after 2008 when this started to get noticeable to me), I gotta give this a wokeness rating greater than 2.

It’s frustrating because of some of the good stuff this game brought to the universe. Like this one subtle bit that you might miss on your playthrough. It is revealed/implied through table talk at this one area on Illium – Nos Astra, where three different species, watching an Asari dance on a table in front of them, they each mention how she’s the hottest girl they’ve ever seen. But the human views her as a human, the salarian views her as a salarian, and the turian views her as a turian. Add onto the fact that Asari prefer to reproduce with other alien species rather than each other, and that they reproduce through “melding,” which isn’t the same reproduction process that other species use (though they can make them hallucinate to believe otherwise). The idea that they only appear feminine and hot because they have this strange ability to appear that way to us, to male human players (or to lesbians, which for the record is a plausible thing given that’s an option in the first game, should you choose to play as a female Shepard as roughly 18% of players do). Makes you wonder if this is a demented trick to lure you away from members of your own species. Which is why I chose Ashley in the first game, and Miranda in the 2nd game, and Ashley again in the 3rd game; though if I were to go back to it and given the choice I would choose Miranda again in the 3rd game.

Speaking of which, in spite of how scantily Jack dresses, this game really pulls its punches on the sex scenes. How? Because there’s no fucking nudity! Unlike the first game which gave us ass and side-boobs, this gives us Jack-shit! Seriously, Jack is the closest you get to full-on nudity, and it’s a constant cock-tease because you never get anything else. Shit like this made me look to the modding community to see what they had to offer (more on that in a moment). Aside from Jack, best we get in the fan service department is the number of times the camera focuses on Miranda’s ass during dialogue conversations.

Overall though, in spite of the woke factor, the game is still enjoyable, but it doesn’t hold up well to repeated plays, especially on New Game+. The more combat-focused aspect substituting the more RPG-focused aspect ended up being a detriment to this game in the long term. Which frustrates me to no end, because it’s the exact opposite problem in the first game. If only the first game had less monotonous side-quests, touched up the combat system just a little bit, and had more erotic sex scenes that showed a little more nudity (or hell, even offered an option for a three way between you, Ashley, and Liara), then it would be the perfect game. Mass Effect 2 though, aside from the subtle (but no less destructive) woke shit, ended up being a one step forward two steps back affair. The emphasis on characters is great and all, but again, the less RPG nature allows for less diversity of options and outcomes with these characters and the overall plot. Sure, you can make drastic decisions during the last act that will cost the lives of your team mates (or you could get them all out alive if you do things well enough). But that last act is all the game has for diversity of outcomes, and all of them are more character focused than plot focused (as opposed to the first game which had both, more-so on the latter in my opinion). As much as I’m shocked to admit this when doing a replay, Mass Effect 2 doesn’t hold up as well as the first on repeated plays (skip most of the bullshit side quests in the first game, and it’s solid).

I blame EA for this, who started to get their tentacles into Bioware during this time and begin the companies creative destruction. Mass Effect 1 was so massive in it’s consequences and outcomes, that it would be a tremendous task to continue them in the 2nd game. So the 2nd game relegates itself to picking up the small potatoes from the first game, the lesser mini side quests which don’t hold much weight in the overall scheme of things. Sure, some characters will pop up here and there from the first that do carry a little more weight regarding your actions from the first, but it’s no Witcher 3 carrying on the consequences from Witcher 2.

Mass Effect 2 is worth one, maybe two playthroughs after completing the first game. And then there’s Mass Effect 3, which I am scared to get into again. I’m not sure if I will, given how bad Mass Effect 2 has aged for me, the rising level of wokeness, and that bullshit ending. Then again, the modding community for Mass Effect 3 is more passionate and hard-working when it came to fixing the problems with that game. The modding community is what made me purchase 2 and 3 in the first place. That may end up being what gets me to finally revisit the 3rd one again, some day.

gifs mass effect glitches miranda - 8397046016
This is wrong! Time to spaz out!

Speaking of mods…

Mods

When it comes to modding these Mass Effect games, generally speaking, it’s a good idea to do gameplay mods first, and graphic/texture mods last.  So with that in mind, when I played this a while back (when I first initially intended to review it before getting sidetracked… for 3 years), I tried a couple things, but there wasn’t anything all that significant.  Any graphics mods there were didn’t seem to make that much of a difference for me to want to dabble with them (including the famous ALOT mod, which has plenty of love for those who want to kick the graphics up by a tiny notch).

Mass Effect 2 Save Editor

This mod is a lifesaver for someone like me who doesn’t really want to go back to playing the first Mass Effect game (main reason being because the side missions suck; and don’t give me any of that shit about them being optional when this sequel leans heavily on the idea of the decisions you made in the side missions having a narrative effect throughout this game).  You can go through the checklist of what you did in which side quest, how they turned out, what decisions you made in the main quest, who you romanced, blah blah blah.  Obviously it helps if you’ve played through the first game and know what side quests are being mentioned, because this simple archaic mod is very abstract about the whole thing.  Plus you can use it anytime during your playthrough, if you feel like cheating, to boost your stats and minerals/money and stuff.

No MiniGames

Thank fuck I can easily speed through probing planets.  Don’t get me wrong, this is an improvement over the first game’s side quests.  But it still gets tedious after a while.  So it’s good that there exists a mod to skip it (along with the other unlocking/hacking minigames).

ME2Recalibrated

Now this is something I was waiting for when it came to revisiting the game.  And the author of this mod, moho25, did something similar (and in a more ambitious fashion) with Mass Effect 3.  He also did one for Mass Effect 1, but whatever.  This mod acts as a lore correction.  One of those instances where the fans know more than the creators apparently.  Restoring some content, “correcting” some content, fixes some bugs (something I don’t recall ever encountering in my initial playthroughs, which must mean this guy played the shit out of the game).  This is the main mod that got me to revisit this game.  And apparently, it’s not the last/final version of it as of this review. Unfortunately, I don’t see this ever addressing the SJW stuff. That would be too controversial (and likely impossible to pull off).

Nude Dancers

Let’s face it, these dancers should be strippers.

And I’d be lying if I said I was completely satisfied with all this.  Mainly because I wanted a mod that made Miranda and Jack nude, with a more explicit sex scene.  I want my goddamn romances properly consummated in a sci-fi fantasy setting!  And believe me, I looked.  And each texture mod I’ve seen that makes these chicks naked absolutely sucks.  Guess the only way to get any satisfaction out of that is by doing it outside the game.  Thank God for rule 34 and the talented horndogs.

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