Mass Effect 3 Review
Obviously an absolute must for anyone who has played the previous games. If you are new to the series then you should seriously consider starting with Mass Effect 2 before diving into the ending of the trilogy.
Five years ago BioWare released Mass Effect to the world. The first game in an epic RPG trilogy with the ambitious goal of having your character’s actions and accompanying consequences carry over from game to game; creating an ever more complex and living world quite literally shaped by the player. As a result, Mass Effect 3 is forced to undergo scrutiny for not only how it handles as a standalone game, but as a conclusion to BioWare’s half-decade efforts as well.
Not shying away from the challenge, Mass Effect opens up with the event that Shepard has been trying to warn the galaxy about for over two years coming to pass. The Reapers have arrived and they are focusing on Earth. Shepard has very little time in which to assemble whatever help possible from the intergalactic community, cashing in on every chip the Spectre has earned in an effort to not just save humanity, but all sentient organic life in the galaxy.
BioWare provides their typical moral engine as you go about collecting this aid, often forcing you to choose between multiple war assets in an effort to put together some semblance of a functioning fighting force. Oftentimes your actions in previous games will at time directly influence the outcome of these negotiations. Some decisions may be out of your hands altogether and ideal outcomes, such as uniting two warring factions together, may not be possible.
The dialogue choices and writing in general can arguably be considered to have reached their peak in Mass Effect 3. The decisions that must be made are incredibly constructed and often ambiguous in their outcome with neither the paragon nor renegade choices necessarily having the outcomes exactly desired; like in real life. This lack of certainty, along with each decision have incredibly valid points can lead to intense periods of indecision as you realize you are dealing with a world that won’t fall into place as desired and could lead to the extinctions of entire races.
Not all decisions are as intense as these. Mass Effect 3 is full of choices and conversations that occur naturally while overhearing others talk or when being asked for a favor. Even the most trivial seeming ones can have unexpected ramifications hours down the line, typically with the gaining of a war asset or weapon. The outcomes, especially when combined with the previous games, can lead to some truly special outcomes that others didn’t even get a chance to see. My personal favorite involved Shepard’s greatest fan coming to his aid once more. For one of my friends the results ended in tragedy, while in mine the fan got a chance to finally be a true hero.
With an overriding theme of sacrifice in the game; Bioware did a great job of bringing certain events down to a deeply personal level with Shepard as people the commander has known personally were forced to make sacrifices of their own. These scenes were almost surreal in how much emotion they would evoke from you.
BioWare took the time to fine tune the combat system in Mass Effect 3. The cover-shooting mechanic did not undergo quite as a dramatic change as from the first game, but Shepard in general seems to handle the battlefield with a more fluid control. The addition of a quick combat roll allowing quick dodges and sprints to cover may be the largest contributor to that feeling. Still, I would occasionally find myself unable to take cover in some scenarios as the cover attempt would not register but never with any game ending results. The melee system also underwent another radical overhaul from the previous version. Now tapping your melee attack will cause Shepard to enter into a quick 3-hit combo while a long press would allow him to wind up for a devastating attack. A nice cosmetic effect appears in the strong attacks, tied to the character type Shepard represents; one example being the Vanguard’s entire arm being encased in an intense biotic field.
The power system has undergone some changes as well While similar to 2 in that you have a lesser number of powers available to each class, you can now start choosing different bonuses starting at level 4 of the power instead of only having one option at only the final level. This gives you the ability to customize your Shepard to an even greater degree in an effort to fit to your play style. Most of the upgrades focus on an area VS strength type choice but each power has at least one decision that’s a dramatic shift.
The general speed of the game was increased with the removal of hacking/bypass mini-games. The scanning of planets has also been streamlined by allowing you to “ping” space around you to see if there are any artifacts worth recovering. The weapon upgrade system was also pleasantly overhauled with a quick screen allowing quick changes to your load out before each mission or during down times.
A refreshing, if sometimes frustrating change, was the revamp of the enemy AI. Very seldom will foes sit behind cover, allowing you to pick them off, anymore. Instead they will actively engage in tactics to flank you or force you out from your cover. Those who enjoyed taking the series at a slower pace will be in for a rude surprise as the first grenade lands next to them. This adds a very real sense of urgency to each encounter and clever squad and powers management is essential at higher levels.
For the first time in the series, Mass Effect comes with an online multiplayer mode that is put together surprisingly well. The mode is similar to a classic horde mechanic in which a team of up to four players band together to take on increasingly difficult waves of opponents. You start by picking a race and class (humans are the only race that can be all six classes, though each race has a unique advantage to bring to the table) and each mission will net you experience and credits to level up and modify your weaponry respectively. Each level of the areas is a map you will encounter in the single player campaign, usually one of the optional N7 missions.
A neat component of the multiplayer system is that each victory will raise your “galactic readiness rating”. This is a percentage modifier (defaulted to 50%) that actually exists in the single player campaign with the modifier being applied to the military strength rating of your assembled army. This means that if you play zero multiplayer your rating is effectively halved, forcing you to complete all side quests to have any hope of getting the best game endings.
After having gone on a five year journey with my Commander Shepard I can say goodbye to him content with his place in history. While having to acknowledge the end is bittersweet, it was an exhilarating journey. By itself the game stands as a remarkable sci-fi action RPG, but taken as a trilogy it rises above.
Mass Effect is something that truly needs to be played as a whole to gain an appreciation for the subtleties in which the story was woven. There are those who argue that it is the most important sci-fi story of the current generation and it is hard to come up with any strong counter argument. Unlike previous epics in this genre you are not investing in a movie star and his story, but instead participating in the highest production of a choose-your-own-adventure yet.
Mass Effect 3 on the 360 has a “better with Kinect” tag line, something that could be called high hopes in a best case scenario. The Kinect features equated to a series of commands that you could scream at your TV such as “Garrus Overload!” in the hope that the microphone would a) pick up your voice and b) Garrus would respond fast enough to actually perform his action when it is needed. Essentially in every case I found it was easier to use the buttons on my controller, navigating the quick pause UI.