Mass Effect 2 boasts deep role-playing roots but they belie the game's more action-oriented up-tempo pace. It winds up in a design limbo somewhere between the two, held there by vestiges of traditional design that suddenly feel out of place. The worst of these disrupts the natural ramp up in the urge to see what happens next with a time-consuming process of scanning planets for resources needed to upgrade your crews' equipment.
The story also gets torn in two directions right as it comes up to speed. After a riveting first few hours, saving the universe takes a backseat to gathering a crew and making them happy. Like taking time out to go on a mining expedition, it's hard to figure out why you're going off on personal errands in the face of the end of civilization. There's little time to savor the fruits of that labor either; once you're ready, the central story arc rushes the team to the conclusion. And all of that to culminate in a clichéd video game final encounter that ends the game at its lowest point.
These flaws stand out in large part because Mass Effect 2 creates such a completely engrossing experience. Every element of the universe Bioware has created clicks. You develop a natural sense for the places, races, how they all fit together, and their interplay with the characters and story of the game. And no game has incorporated a malleable character better than Mass Effect 2's Commander Shepard. Never has choosing the darker side -- in this case more of being self-serving and expedient than truly evil -- felt so liberating. And because it does, going that extra mile to be the good guy feels that much more heroic. That's why the decisions made to make the game more accessible were right on target. Some will still want to wring every drop of content from a playthrough; others will revel in playing in the moment and following the story where it takes them; but however you play it, Mass Effect 2 is a game everyone should experience.