Mass Effect 2. It’s widely regarded as one of the best games of all time, a sweeping space opera that set the standard for modern role-playing games. One of us (Ari Notis) is just now playing it for the first time, ahead of next year’s remastered trilogy. The other (Ash Parrish) basically has a PhD in all things Mass Effect. Naturally, we had a lot to discuss…
Ash Parrish: Ari, I am really excited to talk to you about Mass Effect 2, which is one of my favorite games that I forget is one of my favorite games, and then get excited about all over again when I remember it’s one of my favorite games.
Ari Notis: I’m really excited to talk to you about Mass Effect 2, because I know it’s one of your favorite games, and I’ve never played it before this weekend, so I’m hoping you can…shepherd me through what’s quickly becoming one of my favorite games as well.
Ash: So you’ve never played Mass Effect 2 before. What Mass Effect games have you played?
Ari: Never played ME or ME2 (well, before now). Played ME3. Liked it. Played Andromeda. Loved it.
Ash: Believe me when I tell you if you loved Andromeda you will love ME2. I personally think it’s the best game in the original Shepard trilogy. I love the characters and the story. It’s very much like a heist movie as a video game but instead of stealing the Declaration of Independence we’re saving the galaxy with a misfit band of mercenaries, scientists, and alien best friends. What are your thoughts on the game so far? Tell me about your Shepard?
Ari: Basically boils down to: kicking myself for not listening to everyone over the past 10 years who told me how pivotal this game is, how I need to play it, how I’m a big idiot for sleeping on it, etc. etc. They’re all right. I’ve seriously been missing out. My Shepard is—and I hope this doesn’t disappoint you—pretty basic. I went with the default look, playing FemShep, and have mostly been a goodie-two-shoes paragon. Am I doing it wrong? Should I be more of a jerk?
Ash: I think you’ll have the most fun being a paragon that makes frequent uses of renegade interrupts. From what you told me, since you’re still in the recruiting phase of the game you haven’t unlocked loyalty missions yet. For Mordin’s loyalty mission (and you will do all the loyalty missions won’t you Ari?) there’s a renegade interrupt that I won’t spoil but it’s the funniest goddamn thing you’ll ever see in your life. And I don’t think you’ll accrue too many renegade points for using them. Tl;dr: make paragon choices, do renegade interrupts
Ari: Wait, wait, you say recruiting phase. I was under the impression that recruiting everyone was the bulk of the game; the Illusive Man is, like, “Hey, go through the Omega 4 relay, but only after you recruit your team. Oh, yeah, and there’s no coming back, so make sure you’re ready.” And it’s Video Games 101 that, when a character says there’s no coming back, you’re going into the final mission. But does ME2 say the hell with that? Is there a whole lot of game after I get my team back together? (Also the Illusive Man is really cool.)
Ash: TIM is great. Martin Sheen delivers one hell of a performance. And yes! Once you recruit your team, before you go through the Omega relay they’ll start asking you to do some personal missions for them before you go. It’ll be up to you to decide whose you want to do and whose you don’t. I want to warn you without spoiling so this is the best I’ll do for you: Be timely. If you take too long to do loyalty missions while still going through the game there will be a point where your crew will be at risk. I’ll say nothing more. And don’t look it up either as that’ll spoil the surprise. I think that’s one of the things ME2 did really well in terms of making your decisions matter within the game. If you’re a procrastinator or the kind of person who’s like “the mission comes first damn the rest” the game will bear that out. Another tip: Upgrade the Normandy! Probe Uranus (and other planets), get the resources, do the research, upgrade your Normandy. (it’s kinda like the galactic readiness minigame of ME3). You will thank me later.
Ari: Okay, so I heard the probing mini-game was, like, the worst part of this game, but honestly? I’m kinda liking it so far! It feels so of its era: a short, intuitive minigame without a wrinkle of complexity. Compared to a certain bloated sci-fi game I’m playing right now that need not be named, it’s such a breath of fresh air. But I don’t have many upgrades available for the ship yet, and those that do exist are pretty expensive, so I get the sense that probing will stop being fun and start feeling like a chore later on?
Ash: I never minded probing because I’m the kind of person who enjoys reading a codex so I liked reading the little planet descriptions (and I did for the first ME too) while enjoying the “you’re getting warmer” aspect of the minigame. Also pulling the trigger on the controller to release the probe has a very satisfying, tactile feeling too. It’ll probably get tedious, never was for me. (Also go probe the planets of the Sol system if you haven’t yet.) Do you have a favorite companion, ground team yet? Also: Do you have the DLC? Mass Effect 2 DLC isn’t as good as ME3's (holy shit the Citadel DLC! BioWare was in its bag when it made Citadel for ME3 and Trespasser for Dragon Age: Inquisition) but both DLC companions are pretty cool.
Ari: We can talk all we want about favorite companions but, c’mon, we all know those roads lead to the same end: Garrus Vakarian.
Ash: One of us one of us one of us!! Yes!
Ari: I mean, he’s so cool, right?
Ash: His recruitment mission is so cool. You haven’t played ME so it’s retroactively spoiled for you, but initially I didn’t know who “Archangel” was and I squealed when I saw it was him. He’s not the best crewmate of the first ME—I think Liara has that distinction—but I was so excited to see an old crewmate again I didn’t care that he’s kind of a wet paper bag in the first game. Also I lied: ME2’s Lair of the Shadow Broker is when BioWare DLCs got really good. Please please play Lair of the Shadow Broker.
Ari: See, yeah, I’m only familiar with Garrus from ME3—where he’s a total badass. So you hear about Archangel, and all the mercs are freaking out about some dude with a sniper who’s just wrecking them, and I was, like, “This better be Garrus…” And it was! Such a good reveal. I, too, squealed. But then he gets shot, right, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s because I didn’t sabotage the gunship properly? (I took out the guy working on the ship but it still felt like I didn’t complete that task.) And was that another example of BioWare’s branching-story expertise? Is there a world in which Garrus actually dies in that mission?
Ash: No! this is not Baldur’s Gate III. He gets shot no matter what I think.
Ari: Okay, phew. It makes me sad to think of any players who wouldn’t have Garrus as part of the crew.
Ash: So Garrus is your favorite. I take it you’re gonna romance him?
Ari: Pleading the Fifth.
Ash: See you don’t wanna say no for fear of offending me. It’s okay, this is a safe place. For example: In my “canon” run of ME2 and 3 I romanced Thane.
Ari: Thane seems intriguing, I think, but I haven’t yet met him—I’m actually on his recruitment mission right now. (Side note: I love that, whenever you recruit people in this game, you always wade through a wake of destruction. Jack tearing a facility apart with biotic powers…Garrus sniping literal hundreds of mercs…Thane methodically taking down an evil corporate army…)
But to answer your question, at the risk of making you hate me, I don’t think I’m gonna romance anyone! I read Shep as, like, laser-focused on the mission, the type of person who wouldn’t let romantic distractions get in the way of a goal.
Ash: So in my canon Shepard trilogy, I romanced Kaiden then dumped him when he dumped me (that’s the guy you said looked like Elvis) then romanced Thane and then got my heart broke.
Ari: See! Those are distractions! Especially B-minus Elvis, jeez, that guy sucks.
Ash: He sucks a lot! I think if you romance him as a male Shepard in ME3 he gets better. I appreciate your dedication to roleplaying your story but you’re missing out. Did you romance anybody in ME3?
Ari: Pleading the Fifth again.
Ash: ARI NO.
Ari: The truth is that it was many years ago, and I do not recall.
Ash: OK just once, just for me you need to create a different save file in which you romance Garrus and carry that through ME3. You have to (or just idk, look up the romance scenes on YouTube or something they’re so good).
Ari: If you insist. For you, Ash, I will bang Garrus.
Ash: You won’t regret it! Promise! There’s so much even in how your crewmates talk about you hooking up with Garrus that makes the romance so deeply worth it. Gah! It’s time to go visit the Shakarian tag on AO3. Oh! Here’s a question I haven’t asked: What’s your class and why is it Vanguard?
Ari: How’d you know?!
Ash: Because Biotic Charge is the most fun ability ever created for a video game.
Ari: It really is—using the charge and then whipping out your shotgun just never stops being satisfying. I’ll say, though, that the whole class thing is something that reminds me of the fact that this game is actually a decade old. Getting rid of classes was one thing Andromeda did very, very right, where you could really customize your character to fit your play style. But, in ME2, I keep running into restrictions that you don’t usually see in modern games. I want to use a sniper rifle or a battle rifle, for instance, but I can’t, because Vanguards apparently can’t equip those? Vanguard is the best class, don’t get me wrong, but I do crave the flexibility you’d get were this game made today.
Ash: There will be some things you can unlock later on in the game that will give you access to sniper rifles. So don’t despair.
Ari: Oh! Okay, that’s something to look forward to, for sure. But random quality-of-life stuff like that has me wondering: Am I extremely stupid for playing Mass Effect 2 mere months before the upcoming Legendary Edition comes out? Are you going to replay through the revamped trilogy?
Ash: Of course you’re not stupid. Any time is a good time to see stuff you missed especially if it’s Mass Effect 2. I hope when the Legendary Edition comes out you start over from the very beginning. There are so many many many little things that are picked up in the first Mass Effect and carried through ME3 that get missed/left out playing the games out of order. Do you have any idea who Urdnot Wrex is? I don’t think you would have ever met him if you only played ME3. The fact that you can miss him completely when he is critical to one of the most important story points of the trilogy is wild to me. (And I am absolutely going to play Legendary Edition. I have to.)
Ari: Wait, he sounds familiar…He’s a krogan, right, and don’t you have to choose between him and Mordin in that decision about the genophage in the middle of ME3? Or am I misremembering? Also, I’ve heard that the story of the first game is great, but that the gameplay hasn’t aged well at all, to the point where it’s better off skipping.
Ash: Yeah he’s a krogan, depending on your choices though he can die in ME1. And I think the game defaults to killing him if you don’t import a save into ME2.
Ari: Wait what.
Ari: But he’s a party member!
Ash: Mass Effect does not give a shit and will kill your party members left and right. It will happen in ME2 if you do not take care. Take care Ari.
Ari: Is this what you were saying about companion missions? If I, say, don’t help Miranda help her sister, will Miranda die on me? (That’s the only companion mission I’ve unlocked so far.)
Ash: She might, and even if you do her loyalty mission, she still might die. Talk to your crew a lot, upgrade your Normandy, ensure a loyal crew. I’m so excited for you to do the final mission; there are so many ways that can go sideways
Ari: That’s exciting to hear—and also terrifying! If it’s anything like the endings of ME3 or Andromeda, I’m guessing shit absolutely goes down, and I’ll have to come to terms with every choice I made (good or bad) throughout the game?
Ash: It’s not comprehensive like that unfortunately but shit absolutely goes the fuck down. (Brb listening to the suicide mission song on repeat.)
Ari: Here’s one thing I’m grappling with as I approach the ending. Legendary Edition is on the way, and I, like you, am now committed to playing it. My goal is to play through at least ME2, ME3, and Andromeda before that next Mass Effect game comes out, just to be totally fresh on the universe and events and whatnot. I can’t tell if I want this current playthrough to be my canon run, or if I just want to say “fuck it,” make some rash decisions, and then do a “real” run when the remasters come out, with the DLC and shinier graphics and maybe some QoL upgrades, too. What do you suggest?
Ash: Hell yeah! Miss Frizzle that shit! Take chances, make mistakes, get messy! Then when Legendary Edition comes out you can learn from the inevitable mistakes you will make!
Ari: As long as I learn how to keep Garrus alive, I’ll be happy. And hey, thanks for talking space stuff with me.
Ash: I always have time for Mass Effect. If you ever have questions about the game let me know. Please let me know how the endgame goes.
Ari: I actually almost sent you a Slack at like 2:00 a.m. on Saturday about how amazing this game is, but then realized how late it was and how unprofessional that’d be.
Ash: Please don’t ever think slacking me about Mass Effect is unprofessional!
Ari: 2:00 a.m.! So late!
Ash: I don’t care!
Ari: Okay, okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you…