I've finally started playing through Mass Effect 2 for the first time, and if it keeps up the level of quality I've seen in the first 90 minutes, I understand why people think it's one of the best RPGs of all time. In fact, that opening is better than anything I saw during my playthrough of the first game.
It's obvious from the first moments that the sequel is going bigger and bolder. First, you get the cutscene between Miranda and the Illusive Man and, while this bit is difficult to follow given that you don't yet know who Miranda and the Illusive Man are, it sets up two interesting characters with excellent vocal performances. Saren was fine, if a little ill-defined, as a villain, but the Illusive Man instantly stands out thanks to Martin Sheen's performance. Yvonne Strahovski similarly gives Miranda a sexy roguishness that makes her immediately intriguing.
Then, 30 seconds into the action, the Normandy is being attacked in a well-directed, pulse-pounding bit of action. That BioWare goes for it and actually blows up the ship where almost all of the important developments in Shepard's relationship with their crew happened is indicative of its broader determination to blow up the party you spent all game getting to know.
All of this sets Mass Effect 2 up as a bold sequel within the first five minutes. But better yet, bringing Shepard back two years later gives the game a narrative hook that is immediately exciting. Though Project Lazarus resurrecting them and putting them back in a near-identical version of the Normandy might feel, at first, like the game is attempting to reestablish the status quo, BioWare doesn't give you enough familiarity to feel completely comfortable. Having Shepard work for Cerberus — which after speaking with Miranda for any time at all, we feel we probably can't trust — immediately imbues the game with tension.
There's a bit of sadness because you can't work with your old crew, and that comes to a head when you briefly reunite with Tali while on the mission to Freedom's Progress. But that sadness is shot through with anticipation because we feel sure that we're going to reunite the crew eventually. "Getting the gang back together" is a trope movie sequels frequently employ — see: Ghostbusters 2 and Anchorman 2 — but it's rarer to see it in games. And it works! I'm stoked to see Shepard reunite her crew. Plus, I just gained access to the remade Normandy and it feels like it's set up to be a better, more homey space to return to between missions when I do, eventually, get my pals back.
The combat is immediately better and clearer. Having to press into a wall to take cover was always a little unclear, and pressing X is a much better solution. The graphics are better, too, which is weird given that I'm playing ME2 in the Legendary Edition and you typically expect developers to homogenize visuals across the board in a collection like this. But nope, Mass Effect 2 is a major improvement over the first. Characters have a wider range of expressions, cut scenes are better directed, and environments are more detailed.
All of this is there in the first 90 minutes or so (and that's including the time I took to watch the Dark Horse comic recap of the first game, which ended up being a helpful way to clarify the things I was unsure about during my initial playthrough). It's been a while since a game's opening had me this invested. You all were right. Mass Effect 2 is, indeed, good.
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