Revisiting Mass Effect 2's incredible experience 8 years later

From Baldur's Gate to Dragon Age, role-playing games (RPGs) have always been a staple for game developer BioWare. Throughout the years, they've delivered a plethora of fantastic titles that have helped shape the genre and show the gaming industry what a truly well-made RPG is. It seems crazy to think that there's a game in their library that stands out above the rest, but if you ask, a common response from BioWare fans is that Mass Effect 2 is their magnum opus.

As BioWare now delves into creating a brand new universe with the upcoming Anthem, I think it's important for both them and us to take a look back at their most critically acclaimed game and take note of what made it so overwhelmingly successful. With the game reaching its eighth birthday yesterday, there's never been a better time than now to do so.

Story: Unparalleled writing

A big aspect of any role-playing game is the storytelling, and Mass Effect 2's couldn't be better. The plot is rather simplistic, admittedly — form a team of various specialists and species in order to take down an alien foe that threatens the Milky Way — but there's nothing wrong with a simple plot if the characters within it are well-written.

This is, arguably, one of Mass Effect 2's brightest areas. The characters in this game, both allies and enemies, are the definition of compelling and believable. Each and every one of them has a different worldview and personality, and each one will make you think about your journey through the Mass Effect universe in a different way. Thanks to a talented cast of voice actors, their dialogue is just as pleasant to the ear as it is impactful on your thoughts.

World building: Crafting a universe

The first Mass Effect game excellently created an introduction to its detailed universe, but it was Mass Effect 2 that truly went in-depth with its portrayals. The amount of effort and time that went into creating the locations seen in the game is clearly evident after walking throughout areas such as the cultural melting pot of the Citadel, or the capitalism-driven business world of Illum.

It's almost as if the game can read the questions in our minds, and actively seeks to answer them. How do all of these aliens interact with humans? Each other? What is a galaxy-wide economy like? What about cuisine? All of these things can be observed at great lengths if you take your time and see everything the title has to offer. Though the hub worlds you visit between missions may not be exceptionally large, they are extremely deep and rife with detail.

Gameplay: A step up from the original

Though the first game's mechanics were generally well-received, BioWare aimed to make it feel more grounded and satisfying with Mass Effect 2. By making the cover system more reliable, adding in several new abilities for all the classes, and introducing heavy weaponry, they succeeded in this goal, for the most part. It is true that some RPG customization elements were lost from the first Mass Effect, but the pros definitely outweigh the con.

Mass Effect 2 also introduced a special quick time event system that allowed you to choose to perform special actions in story moments that contributed to your morality standing. Kind or generous actions would earn you Paragon (good) points, while "tough love" or questionable ones would net you Renegade (controversial) points. This mechanic allowed for players to make an active difference in cutscenes, as well as allow the morality scale to impact the game in a way besides dialogue choices.

Your thoughts

What's your favorite aspect of Mass Effect 2? Do you think it's BioWare's best game? Let me know your thoughts.

Mass Effect 2 is available for $19.99 on both Steam and Xbox.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.