A satisfying end to an epic trilogy
BioWare's tale of galactic warfare has stemmed three amazing games, each with their own distinctive flavour and charm. The Mass Effect series has certainly evolved over the years, whether that's a good or bad thing is relative to the player. The first game introduced us to characters, the second helped us build relationships with them, while the latest, Mass Effect 3, forces us to sacrifice the bonds we had formed. Sacrifice is certainly the main theme of this game, and, understandably so, it may leave some players feeling depressed, perhaps even angry at any of its three endings. However, no matter how jarring the conclusion may be for you, this is still an experience not to be missed.
What Mass Effect 3 Got Right
A Space Opera To Remember - Mass Effect 3 is a darker, broader tale than its predecessors. The game starts off explosive enough: the "Reapers", an alien race hellbent on destruction of all life in the galaxy, have invaded Earth and all but annihilated all living beings on the planet. Just like previous games in the series there is certainly a strong focus on personal relationships, more so than there is on entire planets and races: the game wants us to care more about individual character deaths rather than what's actually happening to a place like Earth. Commander Shepard might frequently mention his frustration at leaving his home planet while it's under such duress, but the bigger battle certainly plays a far more important part in the scheme of things, as do the relationships Shepard and those around him form.
Shepard's underlying goal is to sign up other alien races for the battle against the Reapers, a goal that certainly differs from merely searching for individual squad members in previous Mass Effect games. This puts far more pressure on the player, but it's certainly a compelling way to keep you playing beyond the game's emotional opening sequences; we're introduced to a sinister, evil race, and given no real time to grasp what's happening before we're flying around the galaxy looking for armies willing to join the fight.
What's most sensational about the plot is that it transcends a number of interesting ideologies, which is clearer once you do actually finish the game. The term "space opera" has probably been overused since the days of Star Wars, but there's certainly enough conflicting agendas and scandals that push the game well into that territory. Perhaps most evident of that is the fascinatingly sinister The Illusive Man and his Cerebus organisation, a story line which brings an aggressive conflict to both Shepard and those around him. Martin Sheen's portrayal of the character is simply amazing, and The Illusive Man is certainly one of the best reasons to play this game: I can't imagine the game, or series in general, being anywhere near as intriguing and compelling without him, and his fascinating, passionate agenda is one that certainly helps drive the story.
There are personal conflicts, political undertones and social commentary that certainly hit close to home, and BioWare has made as realistic a tale of galactic warfare as many of us have probably ever seen. It's compelling, interesting and memorable, and a tale that will truly stick with you for a long time.
Player Decisions Drive The Experience - If you can bring your Mass Effect 2 character over into Mass Effect 3 without any problems, you'll find that previous decisions, as well as those made in the new adventure, mould the experience a particular way. You'll meet characters that other players won't, relationships will often refer back to previous encounters, while you responses -- either paragon or renegade -- will take your character to places no one else might see. It truly is a fascinating and engaging way to interact with the world.
Great Action - Mass Effect 3 starts off with a modest tutorial for basic third-person shooting commands, before eventually moving towards the deeper, complex squad commands that are necessary in the heat of battle. The controls are relatively untouched from Mass Effect 3, but there are a few tweaks made that change the experience minimally; the cover system has been refined, although it's still far from perfect, while new weapons and a refined upgrading system add more depth to an already large array of weaponry and skills.
Each of the five weapon choices have a bunch of customisation options, while add-ons can be found scattered around environments and at shops on the Citadel and Normandy. Directing squadmates in battle also takes a bit of getting used to, and thankfully the action stops while you choose specific skills and loadouts for each of your friendlies.
Mass Effect 3's action is certainly focused on gunplay, which is fine, but shooting isn't always the best way to get out of a sticky situation. Your loadout often has an affect on how certain abilities perform, such as biotic and tech abilities. This adds an RPG element that, while it compromises the game's overall accessibility for newcomers, brings with it a deep and complex combat system that makes battles especially enjoyable.
A Galaxy Worth Exploring - While the main plot points and large battles will undoubtedly stick with you the most, Mass Effect 3's world is still just as subtly engaging as its predecessors' were. Walking around the Citadel, engaging with refugees, listening in on random conversations, completing side quests. They all make the world quite inviting and engaging, despite the game's distinctive lack of humour, at least when compared to the first two games in the series. The galaxy isn't quite as "fun" for Shepard as it used to be, but the seriousness certainly doesn't compromise the level of enjoyment for the player.
Exploring the galaxy makes up a very important part of the experience, as the side quests actually have an influence on how the game ends. If you choose to rush through the game, there's a good chance that the ending won't be especially influenced by your decisions throughout the experience. I wouldn't say it's a punishment, but it's clear that the more influence you have on even small objectives and characters, the more likely that your choices have affected the final outcome of the battle.
Multiplayer Packs A Punch - Mass Effect 3's cooperative experience certainly packs a punch and its influence on the main campaign is intriguing. The more you play it the more your "galactic readiness" increases for the campaign's main battle against the Reapers, but even this isn't enough to entice me to return all that often. Sure, it's fun to blast away endless waves of enemies with friends, but the experience certainly feels dry next to the depth offered in the single-player campaign.
That said, it's am ambitious addition and certainly not a misfire, it's just not personally what I expected. I do like the class system, as well as the steady progress of weapons, but it concerns me that such an inclusion is implemented into the main experience. Someone not especially keen on cooperative play might feel forced to play multiplayer to improve their game's galactic readiness, and considering that case I expected a deeper, more intricate system, rather than an implementation that lacks any real personality.
What Mass Effect 3 Got Wrong
Frustrating Glitches Compromise Gorgeous Presentation - Mass Effect 3 certainly has some of the most gorgeous set pieces in a game today, and some areas are especially inspiring, but the game is brought done by frustrating bugs and camera glitches. The frame rate jumps up and down during large battles, the camera is often misplaced during cutscenes, while quicktime-events during cutscenes are often miscued, leading to a forced restart of the mission. Crashes are non-existent on the Xbox 360 version but reports suggest frequent crashes on the PlayStation 3 version. Considering the scope of the game these issues are far from deal breakers, and one certainly shouldn't be disappointed but such issues. But they certainly jar an otherwise imaginative and at-times stunning design.
The Final Verdict
Is Mass Effect 3 a good way to finish the trilogy? Looking over the game in its entirety, it certainly is. The focus on "galactic readiness" is an evolution of the relationship system that helps define the series, while a stronger focus on action, a deeper customisation system and compelling narrative make for a memorable experience. The ending is one of passionate debate at the moment, but it's relative to the player and how they've directed the experience. Does any possibile disappointment in the ending justify disapproval? No, because there's far too much to love about the experience. The Milky Way is at your disposal, and the conclusion can happen in any number of ways. It's your galaxy for the taking!
By Gaetano Prestia