Patreon button  Steam curated reviews  Discord button  Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | PC | PS4 | PS5 | SWITCH | VITA | XB1 | XSX | All

Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) review

"Perhaps not perfect, but still greatly entertaining."

Mass Effect 2 is a pretty interesting game in a number of ways. While (obviously) the sequel to the first game in BioWare's Mass Effect trilogy, it changes so many aspects of the original that, at times, it feels more like another group decided to create their own game using Commander Shepard and a primarily new cast of sidekicks, with several of the old getting shunted to the side.

Long before I played this 2010 XBox 360 release, I'd heard many opinions on those changes. While Mass Effect 2 received all sorts of critical acclaim, there were rumblings by some that all those alterations weren't for the best, as they essentially simplified things from an action-RPG to a pure cover-based shooter that pays a tiny amount of lip-service to RPG fans by allowing characters to gain levels and place points into various skills. As a RPG addict, you can easily see why I might find this a bit concerning.

Fortunately, those concerns wound up being meaningless. Yes, it's simpler and no, I don't agree with every single thing BioWare did in creating this game, but I still had a great time and found myself immersed to the degree that I bought virtually every piece of DLC and made sure I did every last quest I could uncover before moving on to Mass Effect 3. Some of the more annoying things about the first game were at least improved, if not totally fixed and, after a brief period of adjustment, I found this game's combat to be more enjoyable.

As the first game ended, Shepard and pals had earned a huge victory, but knew that trouble was fast approaching. Big trouble that they needed the cooperation of the Citadel Council to unify all the diverse races of the galaxy in order to have a realistic chance to survive. Of course, this doesn't happen because obstructive bureaucrats are going to be obstructive bureaucrats. As far as some are concerned, the events of the first game were all the fault of rogue Spectre agent Saren and that's that. Shepard and the rest of the Normandy crew are left to their own devices, hoping to find something…anything that will get their attention.

Instead, Shepard finds his (or her, depending on your gender choice) personal Day of Reckoning. While out searching the outer reaches of one place or another, a gigantic ship ambushes the Normandy and overwhelms it with a brutal attack. A few members of the crew immediately perish, but Shepard's quick actions save most of the personnel. Shepard wasn't included in that "most", though. Congratulations! You've played for mere moments and already gotten your hero killed!

Mass Effect 2 screenshot Mass Effect 2 screenshot

However, an unexpected benefactor prevents this from being an extremely short game, ending with the entire galaxy overrun because the one guy capable of stopping the enemy was eliminated before the war even started in earnest. Two years later, Shepard wakes up in a Cerberus lab. That "humans-first" group had recovered his body and used all their mystical science-fiction technology to revive him to ensure humanity got the savior they needed. After a quick "shoot some stuff" mission to get acclimated to the new controls, you'll meet with the leader of Cerberus, only known as The Illusive Man, and get sent out to find a way to save everyone from a threat they're steadfastly denying exists. You'll even get a new and improved Normandy complete with a reunion with your old pilot, Joker.

"Now wait a minute!" you might exclaim. If you were a thorough player in the first Mass Effect, you probably had a few encounters with Cerberus during various side quests and they didn't exactly come across as a group of great people. Generally considered a terroristic organization, they were up to all sorts of unethical stuff, including using people as lab rats in twisted experiments. Hell, if you were like me and gave Shepard the "Sole Survivor" background, it gets even worse, as they were the group that set up your former platoon getting slaughtered by voracious Thrasher Maws on the planet Akuze. Why would they put so much energy and money into resurrecting you and, more importantly, why would you want to be associated with their not-so-good name?

The Illusive Man is a persuasive guy, though. All that horrible and unethical stuff? Well, when you're an organization spread throughout multiple solar systems, sometimes people take advantage of lax supervision and take their ideas too far. What's important is that, unlike the Council, The Illusive Man believes Shepard's warnings. What's even more important is that he has nearly unlimited funds to make sure Shepard has whatever he needs to succeed. After a quick visit along with a pair of Cerberus operatives to a human colony ravaged by a new (to players) race known as the Collectors, Shepard will be sent to find a handful of individuals in order to bring them on board. These are no normal grunts (although one is named "Grunt") either. The first one you're directed towards, Mordin, is not just the first member of the Salarian race to become a party member in this series, he is one of the premier scientific minds in the galaxy. If you played the first game, you might recall Krogan warrior Wrex talking about the Genophage turning his people from war-addicted conquerors to a nearly sterilized race struggling to simply hold on to some vestige of their former pride. Mordin developed the Genophage.

Other characters have equally impressive credentials. Cerebus operative Miranda was genetically bred to be perfect. Archangel is a crime-fighting mercenary so capable, he's able to singlehandedly hold off three powerful gangs that joined forces for the sole purpose of eliminating him. Jack was mentally tortured to the point where she's incredibly unstable, but is as powerful a biotic (sci-fi term for mage) as anyone. DLC character Kasumi might be the most skilled thief in galactic history. By the end of the game, I found myself feeling a lot of admiration for Jacob. He was just a regular soldier who defected from the Alliance to Cerberus because he felt the former was just sitting on their hands while the latter was being proactive. Still, he could hold his own with the elites forming the rest of my group.

You'll spend a lot of time with these folk, too, as Mass Effect 2 revolves around them to the degree that the whole "stop the Collectors; save the universe" thing plays second fiddle for most of its duration. There are only a handful of quests involving the Collectors and their assaults on human colonies, but you'll undergo numerous recruitment quests and also have the option to do loyalty quests for every single sidekick in order to improve your chances in the game's final mission. While it might be a bit disconcerting to realize just how many of the super-soldiers in your crew have emotionally-crippling family issues, putting the focus on them does give this game a surprisingly intimate vibe. Sure, you're traveling all over the galaxy, visiting dozens of planets in an attempt to fight back against an unimaginable threat, but you're also trying to ensure that when the stakes are at their highest, your team is going to be watching your back.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot Mass Effect 2 screenshot

While a lot of the content in this game is optional, that doesn't mean it should be skipped. While most of the game seems to go by at a laid-back pace, things escalate quickly as you approach the end, setting up a grueling finale where loyalty (and good decision-making on your part) plays a huge role in how celebratory your mood will be as the credits roll. While only two members of your party can join Shepard on any given quest, all of them have a potential role to play in the game's final battles.

Speaking of characters, unlike the first game, where I pretty much relied on Ashley and Garrus for the entirety, I found myself using everyone repeatedly here, oftentimes switching members on a quest-by-quest basis. A Krogan like Grunt was extremely durable, while characters such as Jack and Samara were proficient at using their biotic powers to incapacitate foes. It was a lot of fun trying different combinations to see what pairs worked best together. Meanwhile, as a Vanguard, I spent a decent amount of time skulking behind cover and shooting stuff, but as I got more and more into the game, I found myself getting out into the open and using my Charge ability to steamroll hapless foes. That's another strength of this game. Sure, it's a cover-based shooter and any time you enter a room and see all sorts of waist-high barriers, you know you're in for a scrap, but thanks to the various abilities you can obtain, you can handle combat in many different ways. I found that I loved working with teammates with the Pull ability, as they could cause enemies to helpless levitate in the air as I filled them with round after round. Very therapeutic, that!

While talking about other positives, I should mention both side quests and DLC. The former are implemented in a far better manner than they were in the first game. There's no puttering around generic, mountainous planets in a clunky vehicle to find some base that looks just like the last one you went through. Now, you simply scan planets for upgrade-purchasing minerals until you find one housing a quest and then automatically go to your destination. These quests don't all blend together after a while, either, as there is a good bit of diversity. The only real complaint is that a couple of them are real clunkers -- I have no fond memories of one snooze-fest where I had to repeatedly power up a mech to plow through rock walls while fighting off…virtually nothing.

Also, after not playing any of the first game's DLC, I decided to take the plunge with this game and found it to be mostly enjoyable. You can obtain a pair of new characters and their loyalty quests, you can get a more nimble transport vehicle and embark upon a number of entertaining jaunts with it and you can play through a trio of longer missions ranging from the utterly awesome Lair of the Shadow Broker and its pair of great boss fights to the decent, but somewhat forgettable, Arrival.

While I wouldn't call Mass Effect 2 a perfect game, as I would have liked a bit more emphasis upon the Collectors and their galaxy-threatening antics and a bit less on various party members' "daddy issues", it's impossible for me to deny I had a blast playing through it. If there are any missions I didn't complete, it was because I never discovered them, not due to personal choice. Nowadays, I find myself trying to zip through a lot of games, oftentimes eschewing unnecessary content because I have an obscenely large backlog of games. Not here; instead I found myself doing what I could to extend my time with this game before immediately moving on to the third installment. There's just something addictive about it, due to a combination of fun shooting action and immersive story-telling, to the degree where I'm expecting to feel a "gaming void" in my soul after putting the finishing touches on the trilogy.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (May 24, 2017)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

More Reviews by overdrive [+]
Realms of Ancient War (PlayStation 3) artwork
Realms of Ancient War (PlayStation 3)

Diablo minus ambition, creativity and quality world-building.
Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty (PlayStation 3) artwork
Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty (PlayStation 3)

I think I've played through levels longer than the entirety of this game.
Lords of the Fallen (PlayStation 4) artwork
Lords of the Fallen (PlayStation 4)

Dollar store Dark Souls


If you enjoyed this Mass Effect 2 review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

User Help | Contact | Ethics | Sponsor Guide | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998-2021 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Mass Effect 2 is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Mass Effect 2, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors. Staff and freelance reviews are typically written based on time spent with a retail review copy or review key for the game that is provided by its publisher.