Why 'Mass Effect 2' Was the Series' Pinnacle, and What to Learn from It

In late 2009, Casey Hudson told a studio-wide meeting at BioWare’s Edmonton, Canada base that Mass Effect 2 would be the company’s best game yet and, quite possibly, the greatest videogame ever made, according to one developer present at the time. Few people would put it top of an all-time list, but you wouldn’t be laughed at for arguing it was BioWare at its peak.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/g5x5ey/why-mass-effect-2-was-the-series-pinnacle-and-what-to-learn-from-it

Great article!

Mass Effect 2 is definitely one of my top games of all time. I remember where I was in life and how I felt playing it for the first time so clearly. I also remember the moment when I the realized the structure of the game, “Wait, so you’re telling me this game is only companion quest??? YES.”

I was so excited to play a game that was an anthology of short stories. It distilled everything I love about Bioware games (characters, interpersonal relationships, interesting back stories) and spoon fed it to me directly. I really hope Bioware takes inspiration from it for future games.


I always liked the small personal stories of ME2 rather than the big Reaper plot. I wanted to live and react in that pre-established world, not save it from destruction and risk having it fractured from what it was.

I also loved how they changed Shep in ME2 from how they were in 1. I felt like Shep had more of a personality, the small choices we made in dialogue leading to a more emotional protagonist. I distinctly remember the car ride with Garrus on his quest for revenge, and how different Shep was compared to their original military gusto.


(Reading so much about Mass Effect and only seeing Shep referred to as “he” is never anything less than baffling to me tbh)

In my original trilogy playthrough, especially 2 and 3, I got to the point where I didn’t want to play to the end because I didn’t want to interrupt the time and world I had with my crewmates. I would have killed for an episodic “Commander Shepard and Her Pals Go On Adventures and Help People” game where there wasn’t an over-arching galaxy-ending cataclysm or anything else and Shep just flew around in her ship and went on Star Trek-style adventures w/ interesting stories and smooched Liara and drank w/ Tali and shot the shit with Kasumi in her downtime.

I doubt The Gamers and The Gaming Industry, being what they are, would ever allow such a thing, but a girl can dream.

(The non-Fate Of The Entire World missions were also my fav part of Andromeda and one reason why I think more fondly of that game than most.)


The “pods” they described in there sound exactly like the “action block” sequences that Respawn did when they were assembling Titanfall 2. They focused on making something cool and then duct-taped it together later.


I loved that aspect, too! I also suspect the reason that I liked Fallout 4 more than most is that its structure is very similar. The main quest is mostly a scaffolding to get you to meet companions and do their personal quests.


Yessss “anthology of short stories” captures so well what I loved about this game. It’s such a good fit for ensemble cast games, too. I recently read Hyperion for the first time and I love that it’s sneakily a sci-fi anthology, I think it would really work as a Telltale-like.

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The article touches on something I specifically loved about Mass Effect 2 and indeed 3 which was the episodic feel to the quests. Most missions could be done and dusted in under half an hour which gave me a sense of accomplishment in a nice time frame and I could go play something else which is great for my cùrsed attention span.


I’m writing a book on the ME trilogy (and the four novels and I guess that one anime movie) and yeah, 2 is the best one as a total package. 3 is better than people say, but suffers from the ridiculously monotonous Citadel wandering you have to do to get war assets. The side content was poorly handled and became suffocating because it was all localized to one boring location and the dumb pinging galaxies minigame.

2’s missions have a good length, not too long or short, and have strong narrative reward compared to 3’s constant preparing to fight da reapers plot (though I do like doing side missions that open up during larger operations greatly affects what happens at the end of a chapter). Having twelve party members was also way more engaging than two interesting new characters, four old friends, and James I guess. They’re not as fleshed out mechanically, but the large number of them and their different reactions to each mission makes replay pretty fun.

2 took more from episodic TV sci-fi and benefited greatly from it.


I always lamented the tone and gameplay shift from 1 to 2 but going back to it with fresh eyes around the time Mass Alex got to it made me recall and appreciate its strengths more.
I’ll always love the overarching story and the compelling villain of ME1, not to mention some terrific moments, but 2 leaned into the personal, got closer to characters and exposed their vulnerabilities.

I wanna dive back into 3 at some point because while I remember liking it quite a bit, but having only played it once I can’t seem to recall much of its narrative or character moments.

Also it’s wild to be how it took them till 3 to even consider a reversible cover with femShep on it, because as far as I’m concerned that’s the canon character.

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I know I’ve read criticism about the overarching plot line in ME2 and ME3 (which I’m sure is justified), but I will just echo the past comments and say I remember the individual characters more than any sinister convoluted plot from the main story.

Even though ME1 had the tighter overall story, the characters felt a little flat. ME2 is really where I remember Garrus and Tali come into their own as real characters. By the end of ME3 they felt larger than life. It’s only logical they were the romantic picks for my Sheps as well.

Shame Wrex didn’t stay with the group.

If I were to pick a lesson here for writers/devs, it’s that story can mean bite-sized pieces of good writing. Overall coherency tends to be less important if you are playing a game that takes days or weeks (or longer). It’s those hour-long episodes that really stick in your mind.


Can I say that I cannot stand ME2 and, in fact, it was the only ME game that I played once?

This for one simple reason: it’s basically a SIMS game. ME started with a bang: an interesting investigative plot! It dropped you in the middle of an urgent under-explained situation and poked at your curiosity to discover more, there were responsibility to approach, a world to discover and conspirators to undercover.

Then comes ME2 that’s basically an errand boy simulation: do chores for an obvious bad guy (come on… “Illusive Man”? Who thought that was a good idea?).
So now you have to ping in a never-spoken-before fringe region and have to recruit a bunch of people that ALL HAVE THE SAME BACKSTORY (Conflict with a “fatherly” figure… Except for Thane whose conflict is not being a sufficiently good fatherly figure) and, while you are there, be nice so you pork them (the camera placement of every Miranda interaction… Aaaargh!).

Tali in ME1 was a young curious explorer with personality and confidence… In ME2 they “damseled” her so much that she said it out loud at the first encounter… And don’t make me start on Ash!

I’m sorry but for a “Series Pinnacle” the only thing to learn how NOT to write plots and characters. But since ME it’s a massive Kirk Power Fantasy for sex-obsessed Gamers then yeah! Best game ever!

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