The sophomore Mass Effect title had a difficult job, not just as a sequel but also to improve on what had come before, as BioWare would have to surpass it in every way while keeping fans who had waited for several years satisfied. As typical with “middle” parts of a trilogy, it needed to take the story somewhere darker and more personal (hello Empire Strikes Back!) yet they also needed to expand the scope of the Mass Effect universe because there’d be no point in them making a second game in the series that is generally smaller, in the face of a cosmically apocalyptic threat at heralded at the end of the original Mass Effect game. While some time has passed since Sovereign & Saren’s destruction at the end of the original game, Mass Effect 2 opens with the Normandy patrolling cluster for Geth attacks when they are confronted by an unknown and gargantuan alien ship that dwarfs the Normandy in size, a dogfight in space ensues and it ends with Shepard burning up in the atmosphere of a nearby planet…and that is just how Mass Effect 2 BEGINS.
With Mass Effect ending with galactic civilization seemingly well aware that the Reapers, a primordial race of organic ships that hide in the dark space between galaxies for thousands of years at a time, are about to return to the Milky Way to harvest organic spacefaring life. Although no-one is quite sure what Reapers actually do with their harvest, there are also significant political figures who are happy to live in ignorance despite being present on the Citadel during Saren’s devastating attack, all to pleased to pass Sovereign off as a Geth Mothership gifted to Saren. In the months after Sovereign’s attack and destruction, Commander Shepard and the Normandy patrol clusters while on the lookout for lone wolf Geth ships and just when all seems quiet on the western front…the Collectors arrive. The Collectors are the villains for the majority of Mass Effect 2’s 30 hour campaign, and they make quite an entrance, with their massive warship nearly shearing the Normandy in two with a single shot and despite Joker and Shepard’s best attempts to dodge and evacuate the crew, Joker makes it to the final escape pod while Shepard goes down with their ship, crashing to the surface of a nearby icy planet.
It makes for a helluva introduction to the game, and it especially has added effect for those who completed Mass Effect and bring their saves into Mass Effect 2 because their Shepard, who went toe-to-toe with a Reaper and lived to tell the tale, gets killed minutes into the sequel. It helps underline the threat of the Collectors too, because this little-known alien race come out of nowhere and obliterate one of the most technologically advanced ships in the galaxy. The status quo is similar to Mass Effect, when faced with impossible odds against an overwhelming enemy what can Shepard do? Two years pass and Shepard is brought back to life through murky science by an ex-Alliance black ops group known as Cerberus, now considered something of a xenophobic and extremist terrorist organization who see the public image of Shepard as a key in the war of hearts and minds. The Illusive Man, Cerberus’ smoking man of a leader, seems to have some prior knowledge of the Reapers and wants Shepard to lead a team of the good the bad and the ugly in a guerilla war against the Collectors who have spent the last two years abducting fringe human colonies, seemingly without reason and at random. They never leave behind a trace of technology or bodies fallen in battle and Cerberus routinely gets the blame.
It’s a fine setup for the crux of the game, Shepard and his crew investigating the Collector attacks and trying to strike back against them, but after what you may have learned about Cerberus in Mass Effect 1 (that they performed horrific experiments on innocent test subjects, humans, aliens and animals alike) it feels a bit of a stretch that Shepard would join Cerberus so easily. Obviously with his newfound rebirth he owes them a debt he can never repay and there are more important things at stake but despite Shepard being able to recall Cerberus’ atrocities, there’s no option to reject The Illusive Man’s offer. Of course, if you could reject it outright then Mass Effect 2 would be an incredibly short game so I wasn’t expecting BioWare to essentially lock certain Shepard’s into a ten minute game, but I think the transition to his or her’s new status quo could have been handled more elegantly.
While much of Mass Effect 2’s narrative is devoted to character building, with a wide range of squad mates to recruit and far more detailed (but much smaller) planets than Mass Effect to visit, you can sometimes lose track of exactly where the main plot is at. The core story mission only number as about five or six, however progress for various missions is gated in relation to how many missions Shepard and his crew complete. While there is no fourth-wall breaking counter saying “You must complete X amount of missions to progress”, the story’s excuse for the relative lull in between missions is that the Normandy’s chief scientist needs time to try to counteract whatever measures the Collectors are using to take entire colonies. This works, because unless BioWare wanted to make the game ultra-linear there is really no other way for the game’s story to progress at a pace of the player’s choosing, however apart from Yeoman Kelly Chambers making remarks like “The Illusive Man is waiting for you in the Comm Room” or “Commander, you have new messages at your private terminal” there isn’t any great sense of urgency to move the story along and you may occasionally wonder “I wonder how many colonies the Collectors have harvested while I’ve been betting Galactic Credits on Skag Races on Tuchanka”…however the sense of urgency is created by how the player wants to play the game, and with no quests becoming locked off after completing the final mission (that I’m aware of, if you discount companion loyalty missions) it is hard to blame the game completely.
It’s a flaw by default.
By their more carefully designed nature, side quests tend to be more interesting and engrossing in Mass Effect 2. Some people will dislike the lack of huge planetary surfaces to explore (no Mako in Mass Effect 2!) but the stories that the side quests tell are simply more interesting. There’s an intriguing quest line you can come across by accident involving a downed cargo ship carrying mechs, which promptly turn on the investigating Normandy crew after being infected by a virus, and after tracking the ship to it’s port of origin and then to the factory where the mechs were made you can shut down a corrupt AI which I can only assume is a reference to System Shock’s SHODAN. The fact that these locations are uniquely designed, although of course the game at large has asset repetition, helps the missions feel more unique in nature compared to Mass Effect’s endlessly recycled hallways, planetary surfaces and caves etc. You just tend to pay more notice to the stories that are being told and I think that while I miss the sheer sense of exploration the original game game, so much of the detail could get lost in the barren landscapes you explored that Mass Effect 2’s more intricately designed areas are a worthy compromise. Would they find a compromise in Mass Effect 3? (SPOILER ALERT – Nope).
Mass Effect 2 was supported by several DLC packs which add a lot of value to the story. The first of these packs is the Normandy Crash Site DLC which is incredibly short, taking no more than ten minutes or so to explore the icy wreckage of the original SSV Normandy and collect the dog tags of the fallen officers who didn’t make it when the Collectors attacked. However its story is somewhat poignant and it can be interesting to discover the datalog of Navigator Pressly who went from being, like Ashley Williams, a xenophobic racist to someone who came to trust Shepard’s alien allies and value them as friends throughout the original Mass Effect game. The next is Zaeed The Price of Revenge, which adds Zaeed Massani as an additional squad member during the main game and lets you discover his backstory filled with credits and betrayal. Zaeed is an endearing character who’s been through it all, been betrayed and lost half of his face in the process and tries to get Shepard to tag along for a revenge mission. The next pack is Kasumi Stolen Memory, where Shepard recruits the least-known and thus best thief in the Galaxy, Kasumi Goto, and tags along with her on a heist to recover a databox from a corrupt relic collector, with the encrypted databox containing information that could destroy the Alliance’s standing in the galactic community if it was uncovered. The next pack is Overlord, with Shepard sent by The Illusive Man to a Cerberus Research Post to investigate the loss of all contact with a facility dedicated to bridging the gap between organics and synthetics and allowing them to communicate in machine code and language. This is one of the story highlights of the entire series with the Cerberus Research Facility containing darker secrets than you could have imagined and coupled with some disturbing imagery, Overlord’s twists and turns will linger long in the memory.
The penultimate piece of story DLC content is Lair of the Shadow Broker which deals with an overarching plot from Mass Effect in regards to an information broker known only as The Shadow Broker, although depending on how you performed certain quests on the Citadel you may never have heard of the Shadow Broker or met their operatives before. One of the comic-book tie ins for Mass Effect 2 details Liara T’Soni recovering Shepard’s body after the Normandy’s destruction and handing it over to Cerberus’ Lazarus Project as she believes that they could save her fallen commander, however during her adventures a companion of hers, a drell known as Feron, was captured by The Shadow Broker (who also wanted Shepard’s body). When The Illusive Man receives some information about one of The Shadow Broker’s operatives, Shepard can take it to Liara and thereon they embark on an adventure across Illium and a brand new planet to actually confront The Shadow Broker’s operatives before coming face to face with The Shadow Broker and the mission is inarguably one of the series highlights. The final piece of story DLC is “Arrival” which canonically takes place after the main game is over, although there are only a few scant references to the events of the main game. An Alliance Researcher operating in Batarian Space has been kidnapped by the Batarian Hegemony and Shepard is sent on a solo mission to rescue her and help her as she seems to have not only uncovered Reaper Artifacts but also something about the Mass Relay in Batarian space. It is a great story taking roughly 2-3 hours to complete and serves as a worthy epilogue to Mass Effect 2, leading into the war of the galaxy in Mass Effect 3…
Coming off the back of the original Mass Effect, BioWare still needed to keep the audio side of things to a high quality in Mass Effect 2 and they most certainly did. In my review of Mass Effect I mentioned that the soundtrack was quite synth-heavy and evoked a feel of 70s/80s sci-fi, which I think fitted in with the aesthetic and feel of the world presented in the original game. Mass Effect 2 moves away from this somewhat, still keeping the synth elements but incorporating more of an orchestral feel…and that may sound worrisome for some people because orchestral soundtracks feel dime a dozen in video games these days but throughout all of Mass Effect 2 they retain a variety of styles and tracks and also introduce many new tracks that become series staples in the way that the Uncharted Worlds/Galaxy Map theme from the original game did. The Suicide Mission theme, embedded above, evokes feelings of the first Mass Effect game while also providing the sonic conclusion to Mass Effect 2’s action and it goes along with the gameplay fantastically well. Other themes such as the combat theme from Lair of the Shadow Broker or the Overlord DLC gives us new and iconic themes that would be re-used in Mass Effect 3 and the change of composers, from Jack Wall and Sam Hulick to Sam Hulick and a range of others for the DLCs, explain the change in tone for the music but coupled with the darker and more personal nature of the story, I feel as if this fits the game well.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss some of the more synth-heavy tracks from the original game but to be honest not all of them would have fit into Mass Effect 2 and I think that the game still manages to have a fantastic soundtrack without repeating the same tricks over and over again.
The voice acting also retains the same high quality and is actually greatly improved. Jennifer Hale still does a great job as the female Commander Shepard, yet again nailing the emotional beats and also showing better range than in the original game. In the original Mass Effect game I felt that Mark Meer was fine as the male Commander Shepard but he just felt like second place compared to Jennifer Hale’s performance and while I still feel as if this is true in the sequel, I think the bar has been raised and the gap has been narrowed. Throughout Mass Effect 2 there are generally a wider range of emotional moments compared to the first game, moments that are happy, sad and touching, as well as some moments that are surprising or funny like Mordin’s rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan. Considering the cast of characters revolves around Commander Shepard I feel as if it is Mass Effect 2 where both voice actors really start to sound like those commanding officers that they are meant to be, with some of Shepard’s interjections or speeches near the end making everyone in the room stop and pay attention.
There seems to be a greater variety of NPC voice actors in comparison with the first game, which helps avoid repetition when wandering around the hub “world” of Mass Effect 2, Omega. While certain races like Batarians, Vorcha or Elcor talk in a similar way, it helps distinguish these races (although they look visually unique anyway) as you travel and interact with NPCs. However as with any game with a large of number of NPCs, time and budget ensure that you will hear the same voice actors voicing several different NPCs throughout the game, but I never experienced this happen in the same immediate area, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. I still remember playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (or perhaps it was Skyrim, the problem can occur in both) where two NPCs had a conversation together, while sharing the same voice actor.
After Mass Effect’s relative success, with the original game selling something approaching three million copies on PC and Xbox 360, it’s little surprise that BioWare and EA decided to try and “hollywood-ize” the game, in as much as hiring big-name TV and movie actors to voice characters in the sequel. The most obvious examples of this are Martin Sheen as The Illusive Man and Yvonne Strahovski as Miranda Lawson and while Yvonne Strahovski is not as well known a name as Martin Sheen by any means, her role as Sara Walker in Chuck certainly made her more well known than a typical video game voice actor. However, while this can often backfire and feel like glory-grabbing by the developers and publishers, they both do excellent jobs in their roles, with Martin Sheen’s performance as The Illusive Man arguably being the standout vocal performance of the series so far. As The Illusive Man he gets to play BioWare’s not-so-subtle homage to The Smoking Man from The X Files and although he presents himself as Commander Shepard’s ally, if you’ve played the original Mass Effect game and even if you have not, you are never quite sure if you are just a pawn in a larger game that he’s playing, or if he is genuine and sincere. Considering Mass Effect 2 lacks a constant villain in the way that the original game had Saren Arterius, he fills that pseudo-Omnipresent figure, with his and Cerberus’ influence being felt in every area of the game.
Miranda Lawson is the proverbial right hand of The Illusive Man, a genetically engineered agent who acts like a cold-hard bitch but of course, the truth is not quite that simple. It’s worth mentioning that these character archetypes are nothing new to BioWare games (with Miranda being something of an analogue to Morrigan from Dragon Age or Bastilla from Knights of the Old Republic) but their strength is in the characters themselves, the details that make them pop and come alive as it were, and how they can sometimes subvert these tropes to have a character that is familiar on the surface but unique once you get to know them and this is the case in Mass Effect 2. Yvonne Strahovski does very well as Miranda Lawson and her performance helps tell her story, with the “cold” conversations sounding apropos but when she starts to get to know Shepard and they becomes friends, her “true” personality sounds like it’s a weight off the VA’s shoulders. Jacob Taylor is a new character in Mass Effect 2, a Cerberus security officer whose backstory is revealed in conversation and also in a mobile game, Mass Effect Galaxy. If there is a weak link in the cast then it would be Jacob, however while his character can seem a bit plain at first, his motivations and history are interesting and worth the time conversing with him, and his Loyalty Mission includes one of the most dark and fucked up scenarios in the series. His character is a very deliberate choice by BioWare, with Shepard at one point even remarking that they appreciate that Jacob dislikes secrets and politicking, unlike Miranda and the rest of Cerberus, and his honesty makes him trustworthy and that is exactly what he is.
Subject Zero, or Jack, is a biotic prodigy who has been brutally experimented on by a supposed renegade Cerberus group since she was a little girl and she harbors a helluva grudge, only working with Commander Shepard and Cerberus to try and come to terms with her past. Her voice actress does a good job of conveying her angst and while she can occasionally see-saw with her emotions a bit and the script generally has her swearing a bit too much that she comes off as “try-hard edgy”, her story is interesting and the VA work makes it interesting to uncover that story. Mordin Solus is an eccentric Salarian scientist who harbors and immense secret in regards to his history with the STG, or the salarian Special Tasks Group. His fast-talking and inquisitive nature make it a joy to talk to him and discover his quirks and oddities all the more exciting to discover, like the aforementioned fascination with Gilbert and Sullivan. Samara is an Asari Justicar, sworn to uphold an ancient code to enact justice throughout the galaxy and she’s essentially Space-Batman, and in contrast to a character like Liara T’Soni from the original game, she comes off as a far more experienced and wiser Asari, although she’s never just cold and withdrawn and has interesting and humorous stories to tell, including a time she had a tense stand off with Nihlus from Mass Effect.
To be honest there are too many major voice characters to talk about here, but from returning characters like Tali, Garrus and Wrex, or new characters like Legion or Thane, the voice acting is always spot on. The writing and voice acting go hand in hand and if you enjoy Mass Effect then the cast of characters from Mass Effect 2 will want to make you spend time with them, get to know them and learn their stories.
The gameplay in Mass Effect 2 is much evolved from the original game, with BioWare boasting that they wanted to rival the intensity of shootouts in popular FPS games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare while retaining the depth typical in an RPG. I have previously mentioned that the original game featured combat that was slow but had a weight to it, the cooldowns on abilities were long and their impact was felt when you could finally use them to devastating effect, but this gave the game a typically slow pace, even though it was never THAT hard to have a powerful gun and shoot your way through. Mass Effect 2 rectifies this somewhat by having far shorter global cooldowns, however with your biotic and tech powers generally being significantly weaker in this game, the impact is lessened. For instance in the first game a towering Geth Juggernaut could be stomping towards your Shepard, who cowers behind cover while waiting for a cooldown to finish on a Biotic Throw power. When it does, you’d perform the action and the Juggernaut would go flying backwards, ricocheting off the environment and tumbling like a house of cards. However in Mass Effect 2 your cooldown for Throw could be very short to the point where you can practically spam it every few seconds, rather than one or two times per minute, and the impact it has is typically far weaker.
That’s not to say your powers are less useful because Mass Effect 2 is generally set up more tactically (more on that in a bit) so making smart use of your powers is very helpful, rather than the situational or brute force applications of them in the first game. However the removal of some powerhouse powers such as Carnage (now an enemy only move) or the addition of the overpowered Tactical Cloak (if you don’t like a firefight…just cloak and run through the area) muddy the waters in regards to the non-weapon based combat. In the first game it was quite easy to find a powerful Shotgun or something that could be fired without triggering a Heat Sink Cooldown, and blast your way through with only your squadmates using powers actively, with Shepard stepping in every now and again. While the weapon approach is still valid in Mass Effect 2, the useage of powers just feels less satisfying although their shorter cooldowns means you’ll probably end up using them far more often. Some will disagree with me on this and I can see why, because the slower-paced nature of Mass Effect 1’s combat may make the adrenaline rush of Mass Effect 2 a more satisfying prospect, but I feel that it sacrifices something of what made Mass Effect’s combat stand out from other Unreal Engine-based third person shooters such as Gears of War and the ilk.
The gunplay in Mass Effect 2 is generally miles better than the first game, with the controls feeling more responsive and less like you are dragging a mouse or analogue stick through mud and the guns sounding better than ever thanks to overhauled audio. However Mass Effect 2 ditches the stat based guns of the original game and replace them with a range of guns with fixed values and this kills the sensation of getting loot from crates or enemies as you walk around the planets of Mass Effect 2, because now all discoverable weapons have fixed locations and the lack of ability to equip modifications etc to the guns means that if you have a favourite gun that’s not statistically the best gun you can no longer use modifications to improve its accuracy or heat absorption in order to level the playing field. I assume BioWare took this aspect away to make the game more accessible to the wider audience that the Mass Effect series would now find, but as any Diablo player would know, the prospect of finding a great new piece of gear was eternally intriguing and I miss it from Mass Effect 2.
Mass Effect tried to have a cover system and failed, with cover rarely being a necessity on lower difficulties but the whole thing just generally controlled in a manner that made it cumbersome to treat every combat scenario like Rainbow Six Vegas or Gears of War. However Mass Effect 2 rectifies this, with the tap of a button sending Shepard into cover and use of the directional pad giving orders to your squadmates which makes for a more exciting combat experience as you don’t tend to find yourself thinking “I’ve forgotten what button I need to press to do this…” and there’s less time thinking about the minutiae and more about experiencing Mass Effect 2’s much improved combat. In the gameplay so far it may seem like I’ve got a lot to criticize and there’s a lot to dislike but it comes down to a matter of choice and at the end of the day I prefer Mass Effect 2’s combat over the original, and I prefer 3’s combat over both. The new and improved cover system does have drawbacks as it means if you walk into an area and you see waist-high cover you can be pretty sure that a combat scenario could unfold soon and it can hamper the level design somewhat because rooms are now required to have something to act as cover by default, although the designers generally do an excellent job of hiding this behind context-practical appearances. Any criticisms in this aspect of the level design are surely made up for in regards to the uniqueness of each area you visit, and while there are of course cases of asset repetition throughout the game, the fact that each area and planet (although with no vehicle exploration apart from some DLC they are much smaller) has been hand-made by BioWare, help each area feel worth exploring.
There’s a side quest you can do where Shepard and Co must descend into a misty valley to activate a series of satellite beacons, while keeping an eye out for the fire breathing native monsters who explode upon death. It’s a pretty short mission, taking no more than five or ten minutes, and while it culminates in a traditional battle against the Blood Pack mercenary group I couldn’t help but think that if this was a mission in the original game it could be a case of;
Land on a barren planet
Drive over some mountains in the Mako
Find the first beacon
Drive over more mountains or across a flat plain
Activate the second beacon
This would continue until the end and it wouldn’t have been very exciting. I know some people want the Mako back because even if it controlled like a stone-tired hyperactive go-kart, it did give a “sense” of exploration and the same is true of Mass Effect’s planets. That sense of exploration largely feels missing in Mass Effect 2. It’s harsh, unfair and untrue to say that it has gone completely because the many smaller worlds that are all uniquely designed help the planets stand out and there will often be vistas and backdrops that you may find yourself gazing at for some time…but I suppose that considering Mass Effect allowed you to land on the moon and gaze across to Planet Earth, eliciting a jaw-drop or “Wow” the first time you notice it…the closest Mass Effect 2 comes is probably the location of the final mission with an incredible spaceship graveyard set against nebulae and the accretion disk at the centre of the Galaxy. That said I think time, budget and technical restraints would have meant that even had BioWare kept the large planets of the first game, they simply would not have had the time or money to uniquely design every aspect of each one and I’m not sure the consoles of the time would have been able to handle it either. In that sense, I feel as if Mass Effect 2’s solution is a worthy tradeoff, but not an ultimate solution.
The dialogue choices are a bit better this time, although there is more of a feeling that the game wants you to pick Paragon or Renegade rather than walk a grey line, but the interruptions are a great new addition, with Shepard feeling more of a “person of action” rather than a talker, although they obviously do plenty of that too. The biggest change in gameplay for Mass Effect 2 is arguably the weapons now having ammunition as opposed to the Heat Sink system of the original game, which is an easy to understand change considering one of BioWare’s aims was faster paced and more intense combat and with that in mind it certainly works. The addition of new Heavy Weapons, with the idea of limited ammo but devastating firepower, make for interesting additions to the game with the Cain (basically a miniature nuke) making one late-game mission turn from a reasonably tough stand off to laughably easy one-shot scenario. However as is the case with the Biotic and Tech Powers, the addition of ammunition and a move towards faster paced combat simply takes away from the impact of the guns. As I said earlier, they handle far better (to compensate for no statistic based accuracy etc) but in that sense there’s much less of a sense of “BOOM” when you fire a shotgun in Mass Effect 2, compared to the sensation in the original game.
For the gameplay style I can understand why BioWare changed it, but I do miss the impact from the original.
Levelling up is also quite different in Mass Effect 2. I already mentioned that there are no longer any weapon tiers and that stats of weapons have been removed for Mass Effect 2, but when you level up some stats have also been removed as well. Things like your health increase a certain amount as you level up and passive skills can increase both it and your shields (as well as your Paragon or Renegade scores and things like Power Cooldowns or Power Damage Bonuses) but there are no weapon skills so you can get so accurate with a Shotgun that it can become a mid-range sniper rifle. This lack of customization, coupled with no weapon mods, is a little disappointing but the ability to choose a branching path for each skill when fully upgraded is a nice touch and can hugely affect how the skill works in combat. This is something that would be majorly improved upon in Mass Effect 3 although I miss the additional skills from the original game.
Mass Effect 2 is a huge step up from the original game in the graphics department. Apart from higher resolution textures, increased polycount on models and a much improved lighting system it also runs much better. I remember while ME2 was downloading on Steam I was listening to a podcast involving one of the people from the development team at BioWare and he said it “just runs so much better” and it really does.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t occasionally have its problems, because it does, but in general you get a solidly performing game that also looks great. In Mass Effect 1 people were in awe at the detail and character on Wrex’s face and in Mass Effect 2 BioWare really improved, giving the universe a more detailed look.
There are caveats however. While the middle installments in trilogies are often the darker one, to make things look bleak and hopeless before the heroic victory, Mass Effect 2 looks decidedly less retro sci fi and bright than the original game. Now on its own this wouldn’t be a problem because the story BioWare tell in this game is altogether darker and a bit murkier and they deal with more themes that go to darker places…but it was an art change that largely stayed around in ME3.
Characters don’t quite look granite-bulky like a Gears of War character model but they don’t look a million miles off with space-suits and armor being less sleek and more plated and militarized. It works for some characters to accentuate their physically imposing presence but for others it makes their outfits look too busy rather than the relative sleekness of ME1.
It’s a shame but if the choice was between an arguably preferable art style or a better performing game…I’d pick the frame rate every time. The better fidelity and frame rate help ME2’s combat pop more and you don’t get that frequent slowdown when you cast off biotic powers left right and center. The PC version doesn’t look massively better than the console versions as neither ME2 or ME3 got any sort of HD texture pack from BioWare and fan-made texture packs look amazing but generally come with a significant problem of loooooong initial startup times.
I have no idea if they’ve found a way around that but I hope so.
Edit: An amazing texture mod over at Moddb solves this problem for ME1 but the author says he’s waiting on approval from people for ME2/ME3 versions. That said I’ve just started an ME1 game with it installed and it looks great! Check it out here!
ME2 is a fantastic sequel to an intriguing original game. It does a great job of fleshing out the darker corners of the Mass Effect universe, but doesn’t advance the overall plot of the trilogy too much, however it adds a ton of new characters and locales that make up for it. The gameplay is better, the rpg mechanics are lighter (sad panda) but ultimately BioWare have crafted a sequel that is better in nearly every way and definetley deserves a slot as one of the best games of all time.