[I recently sped my way through Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 in anticipation of Andromeda’s release, and in this two-part series, I’m recapping what it was like to play through only the main stories in both games. Click here to read Part 1 and see my self-imposed rules that would govern my playthroughs.]
Having only completed the bare necessities of Mass Effect with my paragon FemShep, I couldn’t quite imagine was in store for me in Mass Effect 2. As players know, ME2 opens with what is essentially Shepard’s death (thanks to the destructive Collectors) and resurrection (thanks to the pro-human group Cerberus). Would my team even remember or care about who Shepard was? (Quick recap: On Virmire I killed Wrex and sacrificed Ashley. I also saved the Council.) After importing my character, the game started, and I was off into the mysterious world of the Illusive Man.
Completing only the main story of ME2 took a little longer than it did with the first game, clocking in somewhere around a dozen hours. Still quick by any means. I wasted no time sinking my hooks into the game’s first mission involving the human colony, Freedom’s Progress. It quickly established Shepard’s relationship with Tali and Kaiden, the latter of which was on the outs thanks to Shepard’s involvement with Cerberus. (Boy, did Kaiden not like that in the least!)
After the game’s opening mission and other tasking since the Council was still around, it was time to decide what to do about the very thing that ME2 makes the game what it is: gathering teammates and attaining their loyalties. Shepard is initially given the chance to find four teammates before the next big mission – Horizon – and then three more after that.
Now, it bears mentioning that this particular ME2 playthough marked only my third one (whereas I’ve played through ME1 more times that I care to mention). In my previous two times with the game, I gained everyone’s loyalty, gathered and applied as many upgrades as I could to my teammates and the Normandy, and I tried my best to save as many people as I could during the final suicide mission. (I’ve yet to save everyone.) But this time around, I wondered what would happen if I didn’t do all that. Could I complete the game with minimal upgrades and no loyal teammates?
The answers turned out to be “sort of” and “no.”
Regarding crew and ship upgrades, because I skipped planet scanning to gain extra resources, which allowed for purchasing more upgrades, I didn’t have much to spend generally. I gathered resources during missions only. I did manage to complete some weapons and armor upgrades, but I didn’t upgrade the ship at all. So I guess the upgrades that I performed were “minimal,” but I definitely didn’t finish the game without any upgrades.
As for the question of teammates and loyalty, first, I decided that I would compile the entire team – Mordin and Garrus first, followed by Jack and Grunt. Then, after Horizon, Samara, Tali, Thane, and eventually, Legion. Obtaining each squad member was incredibly straightforward. I had forgotten how simple those missions were in contrast to some of the more complicated side missions. In order to put a twist on things, one team task I didn’t do was release Grunt. I thought the game might force me to do that at some point, but it only gently suggested that I should. Resisting doing so was a little difficult and sad (I like Grunt), but in the end my will prevailed! (Poor Grunt.)
Now what about the issue of loyalty? As it turned out, I got to a point after gathering everyone except Legion where the game seemed to put my progress on hold. I knew the next big mission was the Collector Ship (Reaper IFF), but its waypoint was nowhere on the galactic map. Instead, Shepard’s helpful assistance, Kelly Chambers, kept insisting that she talk to some of her teammates. Ah ha! So it seemed that I did have to complete at least some of the loyalty missions before the Reaper IFF mission would be triggered. Whether or not this is a set scheme or different for everyone, I ended up having to finish four loyalty missions (I chose Mordin, Garrus, Tali, and Samara) before finally having the Collector Ship appear on my map. (After doing that mission, I also attained Legion’s loyalty, only because I realized that I had never done so before.) That left me with four non-loyal crew members – Miranda, Jacob, Thane, and Jack — and Grunt still stuck in his pod. (Sorry, Grunt).
Following my rules, I chose my two teammate with whom to complete the game: Legion and Samara. However, with the way my crew assignments went during the suicide mission, I ended up with Samara and Garrus in the final scenes. What of everyone else? Well, because I hadn’t upgraded the Normandy at all, I ended up losing Jack, Thane, and Tali (much to my surprise), during the descent from the Omega-4 relay. During the firefight on the Collector’s base, I then lost both Jacob and Miranda, but I did save a few of the Normandy’s crew, such as Dr. Chawklas. (RIP Kelly Chambers.) So in the end, I only saved Legion, Samara, Garrus, and Mordin.
(A thought: Given Mordin’s role in Mass Effect 3, can he die during the final mission?)
In the end, I found myself much more emotionally affected by speeding through Mass Effect 2 than Mass Effect. It felt wrong to loose so many teammates, and Tali’s death was a complete shock. While Shepard herself remained as stolid as ever in the face of doom and gloom, I felt quite dejected as I watched the credits role. It made me reconsider the power of ME2’s story, as well as how vital the loyalty missions really are to the game’s core experience. I also wondered how, especially with the deaths of Jack and Tali, things would play out in Mass Effect 3. Obviously (and again, sadly), Tali wouldn’t appear as a squadmate, and neither would Wrex for that matter. What would become of Jack’s school of biotics? Would Cerberus mark Jacob’s and Miranda’s deaths in some way? The game left me with a lot of questions. And they’re questions that currently remain unanswered thanks to Andromeda.
At some point (maybe after I finish Andromeda), I would like to continue my “experiment” with Mass Effect 3 – I’m simply too curious now to let it go completely. But I’m glad that I got through the first two games. The Mass Effect game have always felt like shooters first and RPGs second. Speeding through Mass Effect only heightened those feelings. But playing Mass Effect 2 in the same manner reinforced the fact that it contains an in-depth and very thoughtful RPG system. I’ll admit that I felt bad for killing Wrex in the first game – that was a choice I was willing to live with even if it was out of character for my Shepard. But feeling like I needlessly lost so many teammates in the second game really hit hard. But it only goes to show why Mass Effect 2 might stand just a little higher than the rest of the games in the series.