The Collectors would have been out of place in the original Mass Effect. A polite space opera that, perhaps due to BioWare’s social-studies approach to world-building, never got its hands dirty, Commander Shepard’s first adventure explored a cosmos imagined with all the drama of airport terminal design. Traversing that controlled environment in a long-necked ship with an interior built from ovals, you dealt out justice which, even if you chose to go rogue, would merely wobble between frat-house nihilism and thin-lipped petulance.
So, no, the Collectors don’t fit that mould. Insectoid, chittering and repellent, they turn human colonists into zombified husks as they pursue their mysterious goals. Alongside providing a welcome jolt of chaos, they’re the gruesome core of an intriguing story that is wrapped, inevitably, in a far more familiar one. On a structural level, the SSV Normandy’s latest mission is a yarn BioWare’s spun for years: recruit a team, earn their trust, and stick it to an ancient evil by swinging through dialogue trees and fighting past carefully staged gauntlets. Overarching similarities aside, however, Mass Effect 2 is a product of glorious meddling; recalibration has turned what was once worthy into something vivid, dramatic and characterful.
Refinements are, initially, most visible in combat: cover is easier to navigate, there’s been a thorough rethink of cooldowns, and the range of ammo prods even the sleepiest players towards experimentation. Targeting has been sharpened so that when you pull out your gun, the game genuinely feels like a shooter rather than an RPG dressing up.
Some of the new weapons would stand out on any future battlefield: the Collectors’ particle beam produces a crisp sizzle as it burns through distant shields, while chewing into stragglers with the SMG is a guilty treat. The new biotics have more bite, Shockwave sending a thudding trail of explosions along the ground, while Charge steals the show as a kind of super-powered Jedi headbutt.
If the game indulges its fighting spirit a little more regularly, plenty of other elements have also benefited from careful revision. The galaxy map is now navigated via a dinky spaceship, and while exploration never approaches the highs of the combat, a little tooling around the Milky Way reveals that there are actually plenty of things worth doing this time. Scanning has become a simple yet compulsive minigame as you feel your way over the bumpy surface of planets, dowsing for anomalies, while searching for the minerals required for upgrades turns every star-crossing into a dawdling shopping trip. It also serves to remind you that, despite the flair the game now shows for action, it can still give you the things you want from an RPG if you want to turn off the auto-levelling and get stuck into tweaking.