After finishing Mass Effect 2 for a second time
, with the stated aim of actually getting as many members of my party killed as possible, and after getting a bit more time to reflect on the game, one element of the experience appears as a clear setback when compared with the first game in the trilogy: the actual final battle.
Sure, it's got a big guy who takes a severe punishment before actually going down and there's a sense of pressure and urgency creeping in the voices of your companions as you engage in the fight with the proto Human Reaper. But there's no actual sense that the threat you are ending was significant in the large scheme of things. BioWare has not managed to up the stakes in a significant way for this second game, which was supposed to end on a dark note for humanity.
In Mass Effect 1, Saren and his Reaper ship, Sovereign, were the vanguard of the entire fleet of the mechanical genocidal creatures that would have liked nothing more than actually destroying all biological sentient life in the galaxy. Taking them down means that the Reapers need another way into the center of the galaxy and, more importantly, that there is some sort of warning for various races, which can now react.
In Mass Effect 2
, the Collectors and Harbringer, the Reaper who is guiding them around and sometimes inhabits their bodies, seem more distant and remote. They are hidden behind a strange mass relay that can be blockaded or contained. Their pro Reaper is still in its infancy and any effort to complete it would attract the full attention of the Council races and probably swift action.
Yes, it's noble of Commander Shepard and his team to take it out as soon as possible but the final cut scene makes it clear that the Reapers cannot tolerate any more setbacks in their small-step policy and are ready to move out in force, possibly as a direct result of the action the player performs in the game. This is not a darker second act, this is a reckless action, which draws the enemy in before proper defenses are in place.
And it would have been very cool to see BioWare play up the angle that Cerberus, the Illusive Man, and Shepard are acting out of turn and doing a huge disservice to the galaxy by putting together the much talked about suicide mission. But this idea only pops up in the final section of the game and briefly. The studio should have upped the stakes in Mass Effect 2 but, although they greatly improved the game, they should have paid more attention to the final 10% of the title.