Let’s be honest, it’s pretty much impossible to choose just one game from a whole decade of gaming. Ten years spent exploring new worlds, countless epic adventures and plenty of quickfire arcade action that has helped melt away even the crappiest of days. However, while there were so many games that I’d love to talk about, I’ve decided to go with my heart. And my heart remains with Mass Effect 2.
Looking back, the Mass Effect trilogy is almost custom-built for my tastes as a fan of single-player escapist gaming. It’s an epic story, taking elements from both Star Trek and Star Wars but with plenty of its own to say. A strong narrative then, but taking full advantage of the choices and interactivity that’s only possible in gaming. There’s a whole galaxy to explore, reams of lore to discover and a huge cast of interesting characters to interact with. When you want the scope and scale of an RPG, Mass Effect is there for you. When you just want some to kick some ass, you’ll find plenty of that too.
And, as the pinnacle of the trilogy, Mass Effect 2 is a simply brilliant game. A blend of exploration, role-playing and third-person shooter – the game built perfectly on the mechanics that were established in the 2007 original. Makers Bioware improved the combat, ditched the Mako missions and added so many more interesting choices for the player to shape their story. Systems from the first game were streamlined but the focus remained on delivering a rich and resolutely single-player experience. Gameplay-wise, it was the perfect sweet-spot of a special trilogy – before Mass Effect 3 took things into a slight downturn, creeping further towards being a cover-shooter and adding an unnecessary and distracting multiplayer mode.
In story terms, it was also a series high-point. Mass Effect 2, carries over the intrigue of the first title but has a kinetic energy to its tale, bookended by two explosive set pieces. On the surface, the story revolves around a simple but exciting mission to reach and use the Omega-4 Relay, also delivering a cliffhanger ending that leaves you desperate for the trilogy’s final instalment. But alongside a great main campaign, it was the optional quests that made the game so special and gave me some of my favourite gaming memories in the process. Far from being just filler, they were a key part of the experience – full of meaningful choices affecting characters that I cared for. As with the gameplay, it was a balance that Mass Effect 2 hit perfectly and which the third game (although I still really liked the post-patch version) couldn’t quite match.
But in addition to being a great game, there are a couple of other reasons why I’ve chosen Mass Effect 2 as my game of the decade. Released on the Xbox 360 all the way back in January 2010, that probably makes it the earliest truly great title that was eligible for this list. The fact that it holds up so well and has endured in the memories of so many people feels like an important thing to celebrate too. The failure of Mass Effect: Andromeda and struggles of Bioware’s Anthem both make me crave a return to form or remaster of some kind and the success of the excellent The Outer Worlds makes me think I’m far from alone.
And, if I’m honest, I don’t have to go back anywhere near 10 years to remember my time with Mass Effect 2. Though I’d owned it for some time, I didn’t actually play the game until December 2016 (via Backwards Compatibility on my Xbox One). So, as well as being a great game, Mass Effect 2 also rather neatly sums up my decade of gaming. It’s been a decade filled with so many great titles that I have found myself months or, more commonly, years behind. Although this has left me outside of the conversation in some cases, it has been an incredible and very affordable way to play. So, while I am looking forward to playing Cyberpunk 2077 and the rest of next year’s games I don’t expect to get to them for a while.
So, yes, my game of this decade is Mass Effect 2. A fantastic game, an enduring trilogy and the perfect expression of my past decade of gaming. With the 2010’s behind me, that’s now more than three decades down and with, hopefully, plenty more to come. Bring it on.