Where Mass Effect 2 really differs from the original though is in the types of environments it lets you explore and in way it broaches the main themes, rather than the themes themselves.
The original Mass Effect was a great game, but for all it’s fancy plotwork and absolute refusal to be as raunchy as non-gamers expected it suffered from something we’ve quietly dubbed ‘Star Trek Syndrome’.
Nearly everywhere you went looked like it was built from the same beige bricks and sterile side-panels, while many of the characters were channelling an almost bovine sense of bliss. Characters who swore or who got frustrated and acted it were few, just like in Star Trek.
Mass Effect 2 however delves into the disgusting bowels of Mass Effect’s fiction, letting players immerse themselves in a proper hive of scum and villainy. That’s a Star Trek quote, right? Right? We’ve been playing Mass Effect so much all the other sci-fi stalwarts have started to run together into a samey, chalky paste.
Tali and Thane wouldn't say it, but both knew that it was Shepherd who had farted
This descent into the world of quote-unquote ‘gritty sequel’ does mean that Mass Effect 2 treads a fine line at times and there are points where you have to wonder if the writers aren’t just spinning a few swears and bits of cleavage into the game just to excite the masses into a froth. On the whole though the writing and new look at how Mass Effect’s fiction fits together works remarkably well and there are a fair few characters who stand out as particularly inspired.
Our personal favourite is one of the first team mates to be introduced and one that Mass Effect fans will already know from the iPhone spin-off game, Jacob. A biotic soldier who was formerly in the employ of the Alliance, Jacob acts as a clever mirror to a Paragon Shepherd might be – deeply conflicted about his place in CEREBUS, but sure it’s the best way to get results. If players have trod the slightly more evil path in the first game though then they come out being much more similar to Miranda – a Cerberus agent with no qualms whatsoever.
The Illusive Man - lover of colourful views, hater of tables
That assumes you’re carrying a character forward from the first game anyway, which is easily done through the character creation system. If you elect to start the game with a brand new Shepherd then Mass Effect 2 leaves you pretty much neutral in terms of the Paragon/Renegade dynamic and enforces an imagined past on you from the previous game. It’s far better to import a character and doing so can net you a series of bonuses too – extra money if your ME1 Shepherd was rich, extra XP if you were a high level, and so on.
Mass Effect 2 can tweak elements of the plot to match story choices you made in the first game too, such as whether Kaidan or Ashley survived and what your priorities were in the climactic battle. Mostly these only really affect extra lines of dialogue, though there are some much more involved exceptions for you to discover.
Either way, importing a character from the original makes Mass Effect 2 a much more personal experience and provides a unique chance to see ramifications of decisions you’ve made. It’s something we very much recommend doing, even if you have to play the first game again. Which is something else we’d recommend doing.