Mass Effect 2 is such a big game that, to be honest, it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s so much new content and so many new features that it can all be a bit overwhelming at times, especially if you’re trying to pitch a review and can’t be sure how much of the first game people have played or still remember. Be warned then that, if you haven't already done so, you might want to play Mass Effect 1 before venturing into the second game.
In brief then, Mass Effect 2 starts almost immediately after the close of the first game, cutting straight to the action and zooming in on Commander Shepherd as his ship dodges enemy fire.
Saviour of the Galaxy and the first human to be inducted as a secret agent for the Galactic Council, Shepherd is an iconic hero in the Mass Effect universe thanks to his defeat of the Reapers and the Geth in the first game. Intelligent machines that sit beyond the edges of the galaxy and which cull all organic life once every few million years, it took all the might of the military to defeat just one Reaper last time and now Shepherd is searching for a way to defeat the rest of the race before they return in force.
Did I fire 5 pew-pew lasers, or six pew-pew lasers? Well, punk?
Not that Shepherd knew he was chasing the Reapers at the start of the game - he thought he was chasing a rogue Council spy who had some ambiguously evil plan up his sleeve. It wasn't too long before Shepherd and Co. uncovered the truth of the matter though; that the rogue Saren had been brainwashed by a Reaper which was manipulating him in an attempt to summon the rest of his race.
Shepherd's search for a weapon to use against the Reapers is tragically cut short though when he finds himself spiralling through space and slowly dying. Mass Effect 2 has barely begun - literally the intro cutscene is barely over - and already the adventure seems to be at a close.
Shepherd’s death is little more than a chance for Bioware to accelerate the plot forward a little and the action hasn’t really even started yet. Instead of succumbing to the elements, Shepherd is rescued at the last minute by the most unlikely of heroes; Cerberus. A militant and pro-human terrorist group on the absolute fringes of morality, players might have traded lasers with Cerberus in the first game and yet in Mass Effect 2 you end up in their employ.
Five. Definitely five.
Waking up two years after his supposed death, Shepherd finds that a lot has changed while he’s been asleep (and in near-constant surgery). The Galactic Council has become lost and disillusioned without his constant pestering and even the Alliance has apparently forgotten that the rest of the Reapers are still out there, plotting the annihilation of all. Instead, the events of the first game have been pinned solely on the Geth – who were nought but pawns in the whole thing – and the wider picture is being ignored.
Cerberus, eager that all it’s manipulations and plans should not come to waste and that the dominance of humanity should be assured, have coaxed Shepherd back to life with the sole goal of letting him resume his mission. Cerberus’ leader, the mysterious Illusive Man, recognises that Shepherd is the only one who can lead the assault and so asks him to assemble a crack team and start investigating. It seems entire human colonies have been slowly disappearing on the edges of civilisation and, not believing the PR spiel, Shepherd thinks it’s a good place to start.
So begins the new adventure, which gives players the dual goal of setting up a team of warriors for you to lead into the final act in the Mass Effect trilogy and of squaring off against the more immediate threat. Those colonies aren’t disappearing on their own, after all. You can infer that from the lack of a forwarding address.