Mass Effect 2 is a single-player action role-playing game in which the player takes the role of Commander Shepard from a third-person perspective. Shepard’s gender, appearance, military background, combat-training and first name are determined by the player before the game begins. The player may choose to import a character from a completed saved game of the original Mass Effect or start the game with a new character. Importing an old character allows several decisions the player made in the original game to impact the story of Mass Effect 2 and grants the player a set of starting bonuses. The game features six different character classes for the player to choose from. Each class is proficient in a different set of powers and weapon types. For example, the Vanguard class is specialized in close-range combat and shotguns, while the Infiltrator class relies on stealth combat and the use of sniper rifles.
The world of Mass Effect 2 is a galaxy map that the player can explore to find and complete quests. Most quests consist of combat missions, but some involve the player interacting with local characters during visits to settlements. As the player progresses throughout the game, different locations and new squad members become available.