After the mission on Horizon has been completed the assignment will be added to the Journal. It indicates that there is an important message incoming from Alliance HQ, and directs the player to check Shepard's private terminal. Using the terminal for the first time after the assignment appears will initiate a communication with Admiral Hackett.
On the galaxy map this assignment is titled Rescue Dr. Kenson.
You will be on your own for the vast majority of this very long mission, so plan weapons, armor/armor components, and everything else accordingly. Before going, make sure to modify your armor to have health and shield bonuses. You’ll need them.
You will face mostly shielded enemies, along with some light armor here and there. Usually you'll fight numerous enemies at once on rooms ranging from cramped to wide, so also factor in range in configuring your crowd control abilities. In choosing bonus powers, it is advisable to have either Energy Drain or Reave, both for simultaneous survivability and offensive ploys.
Onboard the Normandy Edit
Inside the captain’s cabin, Shepard pulls up Admiral Hackett visually using the Model Ships display as a screen. Hackett will first thank the Commander for sparing time to hear him out. Hackett starts by saying that the Alliance has a deep cover operative in batarian space, Dr. Amanda Kenson, who found evidence of an imminent Reaper invasion. Shepard will ask why Hackett contacted the Commander, and Hackett will say that he learned this morning that she had been arrested and was being held on terrorism charges in a batarian prison. He asks Shepard to infiltrate the prison and get her out, as a favor to him. Hackett also asks Shepard to go in alone. You can ask him about the operation and it is advisable that you do so.
- When asking Hackett about the charges, Shepard will ask what she is really doing out there. Hackett says she’s a deep cover operative and that they only talk when they need to. He continues by saying that she was investigating a rumor of a Reaper artifact in the system and that her last report said she found it.
- You can also learn that Kenson is a top scientist and an Alliance agent that was working in batarian space. Hackett says the assignment is deadly and she is one of the few that can handle the job. He says that they go back a long time and he won’t let her rot away in a prison camp.
- You can press Hackett about the Reapers, and the official Alliance position is that they don’t exist. Shepard will say that she must have found some proof they exist. Hackett replies that she and her team found an artifact that is a possible Reaper device, and that it is proof that the Reapers are planning to invade. Hackett will conclude by saying that he’s known her for a long time and if she says she has proof, then she has proof.
- If you ask about why you are going in alone, Shepard will say that the team is strong and they won’t mind helping out. However, Hackett replies that if the batarians see a squad of armed soldiers they will kill Kenson. He says that it’s serious and that Shepard needs discretion, or not at all.
- If asked about the batarian response, which Shepard will say the batarians won’t take kindly to the Alliance breaking into a secret prison. Hackett will counter by saying that it is not an Alliance operation, it is one person going in to rescue a friend because if it was an official mission then they would be upset. As long as Shepard keeps it quiet, then there is nothing to worry about.
Finish and Hackett will say that she is being held underground at a batarian outpost on the planet Aratoht. Hackett tells Shepard he will upload the coordinates immediately. He tells Shepard that once she is secure, confirm her discovery, and that they will debrief them when they return.
Travel to the Bahak System in the Viper Nebula. It will be at the very bottom of the Galaxy Map, near the Local Cluster. Aratoht is the second planet.
At the bottom, you will encounter a Batarian War Beast (a.k.a. a varren) so take it out before it has a chance to kill you. After it is dealt with, Shepard will say that this must be where the batarians send prisoners to die and that the Commander needs to get Kenson out of there. Activating the control here activates the bridge, so head back up and across.
Note: The next two sections -- Sneaking In and Guns Blazing -- cover the same content to get to Dr. Kenson. Both sections contain similar information, but are more specific depending on which approach you plan to take. The "Sneaking In" section contains instructions that will earn you the "Covert Action" Achievement, while the "Guns Blazing" section gives instructions for going in if otherwise you don't care and/or already have the achievement. "Guns Blazing" results in a very small additional amount of credits and the opportunity to hear a couple of extra recordings.
Sneaking In Edit
Warning: From this point until you rescue Kenson, engaging a batarian will cause you to lose the "Covert Action" Achievement if you don't already have it. You can engage the two War Beasts you find, but don't shoot at the batarians. Furthermore, firing a shot at all or activating an ability (even, rather counterintuitively, an Infiltrator's Tactical Cloak) can preclude you from getting the achievement, if you're too close to a batarian.
Shepard will comment about the place being run down, even for a prison, but that’s only a bonus. Head down the hallway to the left, and as you round the corner you will see a door close and Kenson being lead into an interrogation chamber while telling the guards to get their hands off her. Don’t cross the security beams as it will activate the prison’s security systems and you will lose the Covert Action Achievement. Remember also not to fire on any batarians or you will lose the Achievement as well.
Eventually you will reach a dead end, but turn right and shoot the explosive hanging under the pipe. This will cause a small explosion and the venting gas to ignite. Note: The Geth Plasma Shotgun will not damage the explosive - you'll have to switch to a different weapon.
Going straight has a few nice things to pick up, but doing so requires that you activate both gas valves to redirect the flow — you can’t just do one — and while this blocks your access left, you can just redirect it again after you investigate the room. Inside is a personal log (see below), a locker with some credits, and a Heavy Weapon Ammo upgrade. After you've picked these up, head back out, redirect the gas again by turning both valves, and then head up the ramp. As you near the top, you’ll hear someone or something readying weapons.
Head into the next room — don’t worry no enemies... yet — and up the ramps. As you get closer, you will hear two Prison Guards talking about something. One of them says that someone wanted to crash an asteroid into a Mass Relay. The other says that it doesn't matter as they stopped them. Head through the door. Doesn't that rainy, fresh air feel good?
Once the beams are down, climb onto the truck, then onto the platform, and make your way into the structure. Inside you will find a locker containing 400 credits. Don’t open the door at the bottom of the stairs. Stay on the second floor and head to your right. When you reach a T-Junction, make a left to pick up some iridium. Don’t open the door in that structure either, as it will attract the guards attention. Once you have the iridium, go back the way you came and head down the other path, and move down and then back up the stairs. There is a credit drop that you'll have to miss because you can’t get to it without firing on the guards or attracting their attention.
When you enter the hangar, there's an announcement that a shuttle is incoming and to clear the hangar. The people in the shuttle can’t see you, but don’t cross in front of the large windows as you will attract the attention of the guards in the previous room. Head through the door on the left and into a storage bay. Inside you will hear a guard talking about how he heard there was an artifact in the asteroid belt and asks another guard if he thinks the humans found it. The other guard replies that if they did, then they probably swarmed in and planted flags all around it.
Head to the door. Inside is another locker with some credits, a security log, and another power relay. Remember not to cross the beams. Cut the power, listen to the log, and grab the credits before moving on.
In the next area there is an open door to the left with two guards inside the room. As long as you don’t open the other door in the hallway or fire at them, you will successfully get past them with no trouble. Once you are past them, head down the hallway and into the interrogation room to rescue Dr. Amanda Kenson.
Guns Blazing Edit
As you continue, you will see dead varren all over, but keep pressing on, into the side room and up the ramps. When you reach the top, there is another power relay, and another War Beast. Take the latter down before dealing with the former. Cutting the power here will disable some of the security lasers, but not all of them.
Shepard will comment about the place being run down, even for a prison, but that’s only a bonus. Head down the hallway to your left, and as you round the corner you will see a door close and Kenson being lead into an interrogation chamber, while telling the guards to get their hand off her. It is also in your best interest to be stealthy as you will encounter less varren and unaware guards.
So don’t cross the beams and head down the hallway opposite of them. Eventually you will reach a dead end, but turn right and shoot the thing hanging under the pipe. This will cause a small explosion, and gas to ignite. Note: The Geth Plasma Shotgun will not damage the explosive - you'll have to switch to a different weapon.
Needless to say don’t run straight into the fire, but rather turn the valve to divert the gas so you can continue. Head through the now open section and you will have two options, heading straight, and heading left, just deal with the War Beast before you make your decision.
Head into the next room, don’t worry no enemies, yet, and up the ramps. As you get closer, you will hear two Prison Guards talking about something. One of them says that someone wanted to crash an asteroid into a Mass Relay, however the other says that it doesn’t matter as they stopped them. Head through the door and doesn’t that rainy, fresh air feel good.
Keep in cover and to your left are the two guards, still talking and apparently interrogating a human is a waste of time and that it's just easier to kill her. You can either shoot them, or just bypass them, however it is better to just deal with them now. Taking them out isn’t a hard fight as they are unaware of you, allowing for a few key first shots. They either have light shields and health, or just the latter depending on difficulty level.
When they are down, remember those security beams you saw on the way down the stairs, there is a power relay that will disable them nearby, just remember that crossing them leads to problems. Don’t forget to loot the area as you will find two different credit drops, one in one of the buildings in a locker, the other just past the guards inside a junk pile. Check the other building as well for some iridium. When you are done, move on by heading to the back of the area, dropping down and heading up the steps into the next building.
Inside you will hear two more guards talking about how relays can’t be destroyed, the other saying that the humans will do anything to them, and the first then saying they need to make an example of this one, Kenson. Well we can’t let that happen so more around, keeping to the walls for cover, and on the back side of one of the walls, an open door. Take cover and then proceed to take out the two guards inside. There is however a third that you can’t see on the left, so keep an eye on him and take him down as well when you get the chance. You can also swing around the door, as the guards have their backs to you and take out the third guard, then deal with the other two. Either way take them down, listen to the personal log, grab the credits, and keep moving.
Activate the left switch to move the crane to the left. Then activate the right switch to lower the crane. Reactivate the right switch again to lift up the container. Then, head down to where the container was and you'll get an item and the Medi-Gel Capacity upgrade hidden behind the other container. Now activate the vehicle lift to continue.
When you reach the bottom, raise the lift and under it you will find a med-kit and a PDA worth some credits. When you have them, head to the door and inside is another locker with credits, a security log, and finally another power relay. Remember to not cross the beams, so cut the power, listen to the log, and grab the credits before moving on.
As you proceed down the hall, there is an open door on your left with two guards inside. There is a closed door a little further down, but take advantage of the open one to get a few shots in. They will try to run out the open door, so be ready for that. Inside is another security log, and you have a chance to listen to the interrogation. Kenson says that they are just wasting time and that the Reapers are coming, while the interrogator isn’t convinced and while torturing Kenson won’t change that, it will amuse him. Time to put a stop to this, so head around the corner and put an end to it.
Rescuing Kenson Edit
Kenson heard that the Commander was alive and that Hackett must have received her message. You can choose how to respond to that, but Shepard will release the doctor and she will respond to your comment appropriately. Either way, diplomacy is the least you have to worry about. Kenson will then tell you that if you can find a security console, then she can hack it and find an escape route. During the conversation, Shepard hands Kenson an M-4 Shuriken submachine gun.
As the conversation ends, the alarms go off and a guard will be shown walking down the hallway. Shepard says they will find a console, and Kenson after bringing her boot down on the throat of the batarian interrogator, says she’s ready.
Breaking Out Edit
First take out the guard, grab the credits from the locker in the interrogation room, then head down the stairs and on the landing, you will find a med-kit and some thermal clips, so grab them before moving on. Head down the stairs and through the door. Inside are more guards, so keep to cover, and since you have a squadmate, now make sure to use Kenson to your advantage.
When the first group of three is dealt with, move up, but keep to cover as a window will open ahead of you and show two more prison guards and an Elite Prison Guard. The elite is armed the same, but has stronger shields, and has access to Tech Armor, so keep your eye on him and remember to stay in cover. When all the guards are dealt with, head to the console they were guarding and Kenson will begin to override the system.
Enemies consisting of three prison guards will come from the left. They will charge headlong for Kenson, and while they may shoot at you, they will not stick to cover but just go after the doctor, so kill them quickly to make sure they don’t get to her. Heavy weapons will discourage them from storming past you. Once they are down, Kenson will say that the door needs to be closed, so get to it before another group comes through.
On higher difficulties, this section can be very challenging for players who are used to fighting from cover. This can be mitigated by taking cover in the hallway closest to the doctor. The enemies should stop charging and take cover behind a nearby table, where they can be safely taken out.
You can then race toward the door without worry of running into a replacement enemy on the way. Stasis with any class can keep a replacement (or other guard) out of action long enough to get past.
Another viable tactic if you're a good shot is to take cover behind the table yourself. As the second wave starts to arrive, start to eliminate them to get the replacements spaced out from each other. Then you can slowly move forward toward the door. When you get close enough, you can activate your favorite power - Adrenaline Rush, Tactical Cloak, Stasis, or whatever, so that you can safely hit the button. The advantage of this technique is that there won't be a bunch of enemies between you and Kenson when the door goes shut.
It is also possible to destroy the enemies' shields, then use either Pull (If upgraded to Pull Field), Shockwave, or Singularity in order to buy the player some time to run to the door and close it. Be cautious though, because once the enemies recover, they will continue to attack Kenson. You can then run back to the original cover spot, quickly finishing off the original enemies before a new wave can get there. The rest of the enemies can be safely taken out from cover.
If you have the Arc Projector, then there is yet another option. Take out the first wave of 3 enemies (who take cover behind the table), then switch to the Arc Projector, rush to the door and start zapping the incoming wave with it. They run in close proximity so all of them will get hit, and the short stun effect gives you enough time to charge for another shot. Two or three shots should be enough to ensure that all four enemies are taken care of, and you should have ample time to get to the control and close the door.
When the door is finally closed, Kenson will say they are now coming up from the other side, so move it. This group, consisting of an Elite and two ordinary prison guards, will come up via an elevator, but this group will use cover, so that’s a bit of a relief. During the fight, keep an eye out as two more guards will show up. When this group finally falls, Kenson will say that she is taking down their orbital tracking network and say there are more guards coming from the other side up via more elevators, so get back and into cover.
Be warned that as soon as the cutscene ends, you will engage in a fight, but you have Kenson back as a squadmate, so get into cover and fight your way through the hangar. To survive this fight, keep to cover, and deal with the enemies as they come. There will be three waves of enemies, the first two consisting of just Prison Guards, while the last one will have two Guards and one Elite Guard. Once they are all down, and before shooting the locks on the doors, in the next area, there is a case of iridium and a datapad with a Medi-Gel capacity research project, if you didn't get them earlier. Make sure to grab both before leaving.
Editor's note: With the recent release of Mass Effect Andromeda, quite possibly BioWare's worst RPG to date, we look back to one of its best. This retrospective first appeared on Eurogamer in June 2014.
"Character is plot, plot is character," said F Scott Fitzgerald, though it's a guideline to which very few games adhere. Usually they focus on plot, either by metering it out as a series of objectives for the player to follow, or by cutting it up, mixing up the pieces and letting the player pick a handful out of a bag. Character, if it happens at all, does so somewhere down the line.
Even the mighty Mass Effect fell into this trap. Its story is all Spectres and Geth, Rachni and Thorians. It focuses on establishing a universe, and does so by laying out a complex and sometimes overwhelming buffet of lore. "The devs can't help letting you gorge on it - to a fault," wrote Tom Bramwell in his retrospective of the original. In this vast milieu of races, cultures, and organisations all at the mercy of some galaxy-eating threat, individuals got a little lost, and the game ended up feeling somewhat cold.
Mass Effect 2 changes all that. With the series' major mystery - the existence of the Reapers - unveiled in the first game, BioWare needed to find a new way to invest the player. So Mass Effect 2 strips back much of what slowed the first game down, and in doing so exposes the pink and tender flesh of character hidden amid all that lore.
BioWare begins this process by killing off the character you care about most - you. While on a routine scouting mission around some icy planet, the Normandy is attacked and destroyed by a mysterious vessel, and Commander Shepard, saviour of the Citadel and hero of humanity, is left floating dead in the cold black of space. It's an abrupt beginning for an RPG, grabbing your attention within the first five minutes. Impressively, Mass Effect 2 retains this immediacy for the majority of its 20-to-40 hour length.
The Illusive Man's Machiavellian ambiguity makes him a great antagonist. I wish BioWare had retained this trait in the third game rather than turning him into a wall-chewing nut.
Some of this is down to what's been removed, some of it to what's changed. The decision to jettison the planetary exploration sections in favour of more third-person combat was a sad one, but it unquestionably speeds up the pace of the game. It helps that the developers made it work through a snappy combat redesign. Shepard slips in and out of cover like a velvet pillow, and those semi sci-fi guns fizz and snap delightfully.
Conversations were tweaked to propel them forward with greater urgency. Sure, you could still ask an Omega shop vendor about the culture of the entire station if you want, but BioWare also added the ability to interrupt conversation in a manner which appealed to either your Paragon or Renegade leanings. So in one instance you might stop an injured Quarian soldier from unnecessarily sacrificing himself to aid you. In another you could kick a mercenary out of a skyscraper window on Illium for giving you back-talk.
But what really enables Mass Effect 2 to hold the player's attention so long is its characters. To briefly break Fitzgerald's axiom, Mass Effect 2's plot is stupidly simple. Shepard is resurrected by the human paramilitary group Cerberus, and tasked with investigating and ultimately taking down a race of aliens known as the Collectors, who have been abducting entire human colonies. To do this Shepard must pass through the Omega 4 Mass Relay, which, as assassin Thane Krios portentously points out, "no ship has ever returned from."
In order to succeed, Shepard needs to recruit a team and ensure that they are loyal, willing to do whatever it takes to see the job to the end. It's the Dirty Dozen in space, and it's the process of building this team, which makes up the majority of the game. The story, ultimately, is about them.
The addition of reloading in Mass Effect 2's combat really highlights how weirdly important it is in creating good gunplay.
This is demonstrated most by the loyalty component, which is Mass Effect 2's real stroke of genius. During the course of your adventure each recruited character divulges some kind of problem which they need resolving. Doing so ensures their full commitment to you and increases the likelihood of the final mission succeeding. More importantly though, each "loyalty mission" focuses in on each character individually, and during its course you get a glimpse of their past, their idiosyncrasies, loves and hates.
The Illusive Man describes your team as "the brightest, the toughest, the deadliest allies we can find", and they are. But they're also astonishingly broken, a motley crew of outcasts, mercenaries, murderers, and genetic freaks. Take Mordin Solus, the witty and brilliant Salarian geneticist with a soft spot for human Operetta, who is eventually revealed as responsible for an unspeakable atrocity. Mordin's loyalty mission is about his coming to terms with that action, about ceasing hiding behind his logical arguments and accepting that he is both hero and villain, saviour and monster.
New characters such as Jack and Thane harbour similarly troubled pasts, while returning ones have been given a personality tune-up, a grittier edge or a layer of vulnerability. Garrus and Tali have both become leaders in their own rights after Shepard's initial demise, and both struggle with the consequences. Periphery characters like Liara have changed in Shepard's absence, their exteriors hardened in response to deeper stresses and internal conflicts. It is in many ways a more human game. Darker, warmer, more ambiguous.
As you explore the galaxy, the Normandy SR2 slowly becomes a microcosm of Mass Effect's carefully crafted interstellar society. You deal with your crewmates' problems, and in the process deal with the problems of the universe. You intervene when conflicts spark between them. They accompany you on side missions you stumble upon when playing the monotonous and yet annoyingly compulsive planet-scanning mini-game.
Thane doesn't get much screen time compared to other characters, but he certainly makes the most of it.
It's worth pausing momentarily to highlight that while Mass Effect 2 is a tighter and more focussed game, it is just as expansive and colourful as its predecessor. The planets might be smaller, but they are more diverse. There's a planet shrouded in fog that conceals dog-sized fire-spitting bugs, while another is illuminated by a star so powerful the sunlight burns through your shields. There's a mission where you must navigate the skeletal wreck of the MSV Estevanico, perched so precariously on the edge of a cliff that any sudden movement could send it plummeting into the abyss.Beating Super Smash Bros. at its own game Meet the fan trying to improve on Nintendo's classic.
Everything feeds back to your ultimate goal. Every optional planet conceals something that will help you on your path - an upgrade for your weapons or items, or a few resources you can use in those upgrades. It all funnels toward that final, decisive battle with the Collectors, that journey through the Omega 4 relay to face whatever awaits you on the other side. Throughout its significant running time, Mass Effect 2 works towards an epic climax. When it arrives, it doesn't disappoint.
It's a thundering, powerful close. And it all comes back to character. Even if you've prepared in every way possible, completed all the loyalty missions, fully upgraded the ship, gone through the relay quickly after obtaining the Reaper IFF, there's still a chance things will go wrong if you make bad decisions in the heat of the moment. Send the wrong team-mates to complete the wrong tasks, and people will die. And it will be on you.
The possibility of that loss is electrifying, the fight matters, protecting your squad-mates, your friends, matters. Jack Wall's "Suicide Mission" theme kicks in with literally all of the drums as Shepard makes one last desperate dash for the Normandy while everything explodes and the Collectors' puppeteer Harbinger rumbles some ominous nonsense and it's all utterly, breathlessly thrilling.
Mass Effect 2 begins as the game that lets you carry on using your choices from the original. It ends as a single entity, taking the huge and vibrant universe of the first game and using it to tell an intimate story about people. It's got the grandeur of a space opera, the daring of a heist movie, and the gravitas of an epic. I don't know what gaming's Citizen Kane is, and frankly I don't much care, because we've already found our Empire Strikes Back.