Most of the changes in Mass Effect Legendary Edition were around improving the first game. Important stuff like the graphical overhaul and reimagined combat, plus a huge list of small tweaks. Now you can skip the elevator rides in the Citadel, so if another newsletter sounds instead of some priceless Garrus / Tali jokes, you can cross out space right in front. The Mako has a boost button, which lets you zoom in on those annoying planets like Shepard inflated it for illegal street racing. The inventory limit is doubled, you can effectively shoot any weapon, regardless of your class, and all weapons have notable differences depending on their manufacturer. This Mass Effect is absolutely better than the version we got on PC in 2008.
That’s why it was surprising to launch the legendary version of Mass Effect 2, which had a much lighter remaster, and to feel a kind of whole body relief. It was like when you don’t realize you are thirsty then drink a glass of water and suddenly feel every part of your body revitalize like a PSA for the hydration benefits.
For starters, ME2’s combat is fluid and responsive. You can jump over obstacles to charge enemies as they reload rather than having to awkwardly tear yourself away from cover and go around, and playing as a vanguard, I walked through every battlefield like a pinball machine – a bundle of biotic energy slamming into clueless mercenaries, followed with a shotgun blast to their wacky quirky faces. Meanwhile, in ME1, sometimes you have to double-tap the button to take cover just for it to respond, and once you’re inside you might as well stay there.
The rest of my team also fights better in ME2, their powers expanding to hit enemies rather than hovering over a random dodging geth. I can give orders to my teammates in pause mode instead of having to do so in real time, and even when I’m not leading them, they’re smart enough to take out enemies rather than just sit there doing blow up a wall, or get locked out of peak 15 because the door closed too quickly, or grab onto one of the Mako’s wheels and trot in place.
And while I’m talking about the Mako, it still sucks to go back into this thing and find that it kind of got bogged down. You spin the wheels and hit the jump rockets with no result until you give up and head back to Normandy or the game suddenly teleports you to a random location nearby.
It’s not just the combat and controls that are better in ME2. The dialogue scenes are dynamic, with the characters more likely to walk and talk, and the mobile camera constantly refocusing them. Moral choices are more tempting, with renegade options like head-butting a krogan or destroying heretical geth which are fun or perfectly sane decisions, rather than opportunities for Shepard to abruptly turn into a xenophobe or a violent henchman.
Where the first game really hit its peak in the last set of missions, that mighty Virmire rush to Ilos and the rise of the Citadel, even the mid-sized recruiting or loyalty missions in ME2 are memorable. Some are action-packed sets, others are silent character studies, some have full bespoke systems like infiltration mechanics when you infiltrate at a party to help Kasumi retrieve the digitized memories of her deceased boyfriend.
And while the plot of the trilogy doesn’t advance much in ME2, the setting and characters are so enriched that it’s a worthwhile exchange. You meet aliens who go beyond the stereotypical example of their species and feel like individuals, whether they are a Krogan scientist or a salaryman singing songs. Returning friends like Garrus and Liara gain new dimensions and freed from the structure of the Alliance army, Shepard also becomes a believable figure. It’s ME2 who establishes Shepard to be a bad dancer and enthusiastic conductor, and while ME1 tells you Shepard is a natural leader, ME2 demonstrates it. You start the game off working for a Cerberus cell, and at the end of it, overthrow their allegiance so that they completely abandon the scheming ass of the Illusionary Man and follow you instead.
It’s not perfect, of course. The large number of returning characters, especially if you’ve done all of the side quests from the first game that make them reappear, means the galaxy ends up feeling small – you constantly meet people you know, even on planets where you do. have never been. While they’re more talkative than they were in the first game, most of your team are running out of things to say long before ME2 is over. And sometimes, in the middle of a firefight, your teammates climb over the cover instead of hiding, or even float above it.
But my list of complaints about the sequel is much smaller. I expected this remaster to tone down the differences between these games further, import my Shepard from each to the next, and continue with only minor deceleration. Instead, it was a speedbump that ended up highlighting the changes between them, cementing how much I prefer ME2.