Resident Evil 2 gives you the option to play as either Leon S. Kennedy or Claire Redfield when you start a story campaign. That one-time choice has some pretty profound effects on the game you play. Let’s talk about the similarities first, then we’ll talk about the differences.
The short answer, though, is that you’ll only get the full story of Resident Evil 2 by playing it (at least) twice — once as Leon and once as Claire.
One story, different viewpoints
Claire and Leon have pretty different experiences in Raccoon City, but they ultimately experience a similar story. It’s the same zombie apocalypse in the same town — they even bump into one another periodically — but the story beats aren’t the same.
Leon’s story has a more criminal investigation feel to it, which fits with his background. Claire’s is more a story of family and protection. But both characters still start and end at the same place.
Same maps, different paths
While the stories don’t follow the same paths, Leon and Claire often do. Whichever character you pick, you’re still going to visit a lot of the same places and deal with many of the same obstacles and puzzles. But the order you visit those places, how thoroughly you have to explore an area, and even what doors you can unlock depend on which character you play as.
There’s a door in the Police Station Basement, for example, that just won’t open for Claire, while one of Leon’s main objectives lies inside. The same applies to some of the other locked doors you’ll find.
Along with the different paths the two take, Claire and Leon have different goals as they explore and survive Raccoon City. Their goals are often similar, but their objectives will sometimes be in different places.
Without going into too much detail (to avoid spoilers), the different storylines of Leon and Claire are centered around different NPCs. These characters and the motivations they provide are the source of the major departures in the stories.
While that kind of just means that you don’t meet the same people, it also means that you don’t get the whole story.
Over the course of the game, both Leon and Claire add additional weapons to their arsenal. Leon first picks up a shotgun, while Claire gets a grenade launcher. (Later, they each add a few more.) Ammo for these guns usually shows up in the same place on the map — the same locker, for example — and the recipes for making the ammo are the same.
The differences aren’t as profound as the difference between classes in an RPG — each character just has a different type of heavy weapon. It doesn’t really translate to a different style of play, though. The basics — handgun and heavy — are still going to be what you use most often, and they don’t differ all that much. Even the late-game weapons have analogs in both arsenals.