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To The Stars
The universe of Mass Effect 2 is gigantic. Even if you stick to the storyline you'll have the chance to visit dozens of planets. There are dozens more, however, ready to be explored. Exploration takes time, but the bonuses gained from it can make the game more fun and Shepard much more powerful.
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The Basics of Navigation
Navigating around Mass Effect 2 happens in the Galaxy Map (accessed from the Combat Infromation Center, Deck 2, just across from the elevator) at three different levels - local, regional, and galactic.
At the local level navigation consists of moving the Normandy around the solar system you're visiting. Whatever is in that solar system, including any space stations or planets, are visited by moving the Normandy to them (left click and hold down with the cursor towards your destination, release before you get there as there is momentum), and clicking the button at the lower right to Enter Orbit. No fuel is used in local navigation.
Regional level navigation occurs when the Normandy is moved to the edge of a local solar system. The Normandy can move to other solar systems in the same way as on the local level, but now fuel is used. Be sure not to run out of fuel! If you do, the Normandy will burn through mineral resources to get where it needs to go, un-doing your mining efforts. Keep a full tank at all times: Fuel Depots are only found in systems with Mass Effect Relays.
Finally there is the galactic level. This is only accessed by going to a Mass Effect Relay. No fuel is used in this kind of transportation and the Normandy itself is not on the map. Just pick where you want to go, and you're there FTL!
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Exploring Planets and Using Probes
Navigation is great, but there is more to it than just looking at the stars. Exploring the galaxy of Mass Effect to mine its planets is a requirement for those who wish to aggressively explore research. The minerals Shepard picks up on foot won't cover much resarch at all.
Mining the resources of planets involves orbiting, then entering the scanning view. To scan, hold right mouse button and pay attention to the readings displayed on the right, as well as the accompanying sounds. When the white line spikes over one or more of the resources, and the pace of the clicking sound speeds up, a probe can be sent out to retrieve the resources (left mouse button).
Different planets will have different levels of resources and different kinds of resources. The amount of resources likely to be found is indicated when first viewing a planet, just above the planet's description. It can be Poor, Moderate, Good, or Rich. Generally, only Good or Rich planets are going to be worth your time. Note that a planet's resource rating will diminish the more heavily you mine it with probes. Once you've whittled a Rich planet down past Poor status all the way to Depleted you know you've made off with just about all the goods.
The flavor text in the planet's description might also give an indication of the resources to be found on the planet. Sometimes one resource will be described as being more plentiful than others, so if you're looking for a specific resource pay attention to the flavor text.
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One way to do this is to stagger your scanning patterns. When looking for resources you'll receive a small blip if you're nearby, so it isn't a good idea to go over every part of the planet with a fine tooth comb. Instead use a broader search pattern and then home in on the source when you have indication of some resources to be mined.
It is also a good idea to pass up on very small resource deposits. It is possible to go through the Normandy's entire probe inventory on a single Rich planet. That's no big deal if you are in a system with a Fuel Depot and can just buy more, but you don't want to have three probes left in some far-flung system when you find a Rich planet focused on the one mineral you really need.
Of course, researching the ship upgrades related to mining is also a good idea. Probe storage space can be upgraded, as can the speed at which you can scan planets. Both are highly recommended. They cost resources, but you'll quickly earn them back thanks to how much quicker you'll be able to exploit new planets.
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Beyond the Void
These tips should make exploration in Mass Effect 2 a great deal easier. If you have any information about traveling the game's universe you'd like to share, please leave a comment. We'll be adding Rich planet locations along with the minerals they have as we find them, feel free to share yours as well;everyone keep an eye out for eezo!