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Mass Effect 2 begins with dire events that foreshadow the game's darker tone — an attack that leaves the SSV Normandy in pieces and the fate of series protagonist Shepard temporarily unclear.

Never fear: Shepard returns thanks to the efforts of the controversial pro-human organisation called Cerberus and under the watchful eye of its chain-smoking overseer, The Illusive Man. Entire human colonies are disappearing without a trace, and Cerberus needs you — as Shepard — to investigate and confront the vicious forces behind the mystery. Whether you make your contempt for Cerberus' questionable methods clear or espouse the organisation's manipulations, you owe The Illusive Man your life. Like it or loathe it, he casts his shadow on every action you take.

A race of locust-like beings known as the Collectors cast an even larger shadow, and the threat they pose is greater than may first appear. Cerberus wants you to assemble a formidable team to assist and provides you with two human officers of its own. First, there is the sexy Miranda. Then, there is Jacob, who seems initially reticent but allows his emotional fire to burn more brightly as the journey progresses. One by one, you build up your crew of specialists to complement them. Among them are a stoic but powerful Asari named Samara, whose ethical code is as unforgiving as it is inflexible, and Thane, a brooding assassin that belongs to the reptilian Drell race. These are great characters, as are other members of your team, though the Salarian scientist Mordin Solus is possibly the finest character in Mass Effect 2 and arguably the most interesting one seen in an RPG in some time. His ultra-caffeinated, ultra-logical delivery is often hysterical and always entertaining (his romantic advice will have you in stitches), but his moral misgivings and humaneness make him more than just comic relief. This diverse team joins you aboard a newly built vessel named, appropriately enough, The Normandy SR-2, with the ever-reliable and ever-feisty Joker at the helm. He's not the only blast from the past to cross your path in Mass Effect 2, but it's best to discover for yourself which characters from its predecessor (and what role they play in this trek across the Milky Way) you'll meet again.

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