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Best of the Decade: Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

Platforms: Xbox 360, Windows

Release Date: January 26, 2010

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Bioware

Mass Effect was a terrifically ambitious experiment. Mixing RPG elements with other genres of gameplay has become commonplace, but with this epic title, Bioware approached the gameplay from the other direction, choosing to mix an action game into an RPG. The end result was imperfect, but fascinating on a number of levels. 

It wasn’t until early this year when the potential for the series truly became apparent. Mass Effect introduced many of the concepts its sequel would polish into a fine sheen, but Mass Effect 2 sold me on why this series could be one of the most important and influential the industry has seen. 

Simply put, it’s not just iteration and polish that makes Mass Effect 2 important. To be sure, streamlining the experience, cutting the fat, and improving the interface go a long way toward making the sequel a vastly better game than the original. Focusing on action over inventory, on excitement over menu diving, improves the pace and turns the clunky mechanics of the original into a truly enjoyable action game. But what sets it apart is the story.

Mass Effect 2 is the only game I’ve ever played where it felt like my story. I felt as if my decisions were making an impact and actually changing the way things played out. What’s more exciting was that this wasn’t just over the course of a single game. My choices from the first game came back and had a noticeable impact on the second. The result was a phenomenal feeling of ownership over the story. Within the necessary basic framework the game had to set up to keep things structured and moving forward, there are countless little ways in which players could forge their own path.

The potential for this carrying into the third installment coming next year is hard to even express. If Bioware can pull this off, they could end up with one of the most meaningful game endings of all time because players will have been so personally invested in it for so long.

No pressure guys.

Honestly, I’ve talked about Mass Effect so much this year, both with friends and on this web site and elsewhere, that I don’t feel the need to drone on about it too much longer. It feels unnecessary. I don’t think too much more needs to be said. Mass Effect 2 is a masterpiece both from a gameplay and story standpoint. It has also managed to set up one of the most compelling game universes ever created. I’ve heard others say, and said it myself, that Mass Effect could become gaming’s equivalent of Star Wars. I, for one, can only hope we’ll be so lucky. Even long after the adventures of Commander Shepard are concluded, I would love to return to the universe Bioware has created and see more of it. Every aspect of it is thrilling and intriguing. Hopefully Bioware capitalize on this and let the universe live on. At the very least, I hope they adequately capitalize on the thrilling story they’ve set up and finish this trilogy, whether or not it’s the last we’ll ever see of this universe, in a fashion worthy of the immense potential they have built up.

I can’t wait to find out what happens.

I’ve been hesitant to include too many games from this year on my Best of the Decade list. I’m well aware of my bias toward new things over old and freshness alone is not enough to be considered among the best the decade has to offer. That requires time and reflection so as to compare to what has come before. After nearly a year of thinking, talking, and obsessing over Mass Effect with my friends, thanks primarily to this second installment, I have no doubt that there is no better game to conclude my list of the best games of the last decade.

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