How do you end a phenomenal series? It’s a question many developers have had to tackle lately. The final chapter in any series should end with a bang… at least if it’s going to actually end. I think we all suspected that Halo wasn’t going to end like they said. But now Mass Effect 3 is here, the final chapter in Commander Shepard’s saga, so expectations are high. After all, we’ve worked so hard through the last two games, invested days of our lives & became embroiled in events that seem far greater than ourselves. The first Mass Effect ended with a massive battle on the Citadel, culminating with an epic space battle against a Reaper. The second had Shepard & crew facing a suicide mission to the center of the galaxy where the player’s actions decided who lived & died. How can BioWare top that?
I haven’t played the multiplayer, so this review will focus on the single-player.
Mass Effect 3 picks up a few months after the events in ME2, specifically after the Arrival DLC. Having been relieved of military command after destroying a Batarian system to delay the Reaper invasion, Shepard has been helping the Alliance make the most of their bought time. But even that isn’t enough to prepare them for the devastation of a full-blown Reaper invasion on Earth. As Earth’s forces are overwhelmed, Shepard is reinstated by Anderson & tasked with bringing aid to the planet. Thus begin’s Shepard’s journey to unite the galaxy against the threat of total extinction. Along the way they’ll run into old allies, settle old grudges, feel to effects of their choices in the previous games, & come head to head with the Illusive Man, who has set all of Cerberus against them.
Gameplay-wise, there are a few changes. For the most part the controls are the same as the previous games. The skills system is slightly different in that after level three of each skill, you get to choose between two upgrades per level. Grenades have been brought back for some classes, but despite being a skill have a set number you can carry. Shepard seems more agile this time around, being able to climb & jump over obstacles more easily. They’ve also added an omniblade that adds damage to your melee attacks. Shepard now has a weight capacity, but it’s different from what you might think. Instead of having an inventory, Shepard’s weight capacity affects how many weapons they can carry. Shepard can carry any & all weapons, but being over your capacity will slow down your power cooldown times, whereas being under your capacity speeds it up. In other words, the less you carry, the more you can use your powers & vice verse. You can also purchase new weapons & upgrades from stores or find them during missions. Each weapon can have two upgrades, which include weight reduction, increased accuracy or allowing you to fire through cover. In terms of exploration, it’s closer to ME2’s style. You burn fuel traveling between systems, but they’ve taken out planetary scanning… sorta. Instead of having the waste time scanning every inch of every planet, you scan the system, sending out waves in a set area around the Normandy. Sometimes you can find things in orbit, but other times you’ll track them on planets with your radar. But be careful. If the system is under Reaper control, they might track you down & you’ll have to flee before they catch you.
The Galaxy at War feature requires a bit of explanation. If you read my Mass Effect Retrospective Part 2, the description still stands. If you haven’t I’ll summarize:
During missions & scanning you can pick up War Assets, which have an assigned strength. Your Galaxy Readiness determines how much of those assets you can actually use. This is increased by completing multiplayer maps. Default is 50%, so you can automatically use half of your total assets. This is your Effective Military Strength, which determines your game’s ending. Basically, the more assets you have the better ending you’ll get.
Story: If you want to really understand how much I loved this game, let me just say that I finished in three days. I went into this game expecting epic action, drama & to settle the problems of the other races. I got that & so much more. From the very beginning, the game hits to perfect tone of desperation. Every scene & character knows what the stakes are. But the scenes between characters also show hope. It’s a hard thing for me explain if you haven’t already seen it. You’ve become to attached to the characters, & you know they may die, but there’s this sense of “going down swinging” mentality. That there is still a chance. Even when nothing bad was happening, there was this lingering sadness because I knew that person may die in the end. And some do die, which definitely made me cry. Every mission either has you meeting up with a former squadmate or doing something spectacular. The set pieces during the missions are grand. How else can you describe taking out a 100 meter tall Reaper destroyer on foot by yourself with an orbital missile? There were scenes that made me laugh, made me cry, & made me say, “Oh my God.” The game is almost perfect… except for the last 15 minutes or so. Now, I’m not going to go into a huge flame session about the ending, although I do intend to make a post about my full thoughts as well as both sides of the argument later, but I did feel let down. I think from after the confrontation with the Illusive Man on was the problem. My complaints are two parts, at least from a story aspect. One is that there’s no real sense of closure. Yeah, I know how the game ends, but what really happened? I didn’t put all this effort into fixing everything just to get a one word summary at the end. What happened to the Krogan? What happened to the Geth? What happened to my squadmates? Come on, BioWare! You characterized everyone too well just to end like that. My second complaint is that the ending just kinda comes out of nowhere. Unless I missed it along the way, there were no real hints as to what the Catalyst was. There’s no real explanation as to where the Reapers came from, aside from a B.S. explanation of destroying the galaxy to save it. For any other game I would’ve said it seemed like the developers ran out of time or ideas. It’s not a horrendous ending, but it just doesn’t stack up to the sheer sublime perfection of the rest of the game. Score: 4
Gameplay: Overall, the mechanics work well. I wished they’d gotten rid of the clip system, but I’m happy to see grenades back. Shepard’s movement speed feels slower than before, but that could be to take advantage of the unlimited sprint. There are some new cover controls that take a bit of getting used to (I kept rolling out of cover & into fire), but once you get the hang of them they work nicely during combat. There are also some sections where you take over enemy cannons, which spice up combat. The new enemies have some tough defenses that are fun to overcome, like shooting Guardians through the slit in their shields with a sniper rifle. I do wish you could use the Atlas suits more during combat, but by the time I’d broken the windshield & taken out the driver, the mech blew up. The new melee attack is pretty useful if used properly, & I liked the addition of the ability to pull enemies who are standing behind your cover over for an instant kill. And there’s a real difference between the way each of the different guns handle, instead of just each version being slightly more powerful or having a larger clip. (On a side note, the Scoripon pistol was my fave weapon.) I was a little bummed that the only planet you can explore is the Citadel & that most of the side missions are simple scan-&-fetch quests. I was hoping to get to explore of the other species’ homeworlds. But given the theme of “race against time,” I understand why BioWare went the route they did. Besides, all of the proper missions are lengthy & exciting enough that I barely noticed it. I do have one major complaint, & again it goes back to the ending, but more from a mechanics standpoint. BioWare is a liar. According to them, multiplayer wasn’t required to get the best ending. Lies & half-truths! It is possible to gather enough assets in single-player alone to get the (what I would call) Good canon ending. However, it’s impossible to gather enough assets to get the Good + endings in single-player alone. At most, you can gather around 4000 EMS (assets x readiness) if you do everything right, which lets you get the Good + Destroy ending. But to have access to all three choices, you have to have an EMS of 6000, which is impossible in single-player alone. Yeah, I know in the end it doesn’t really matter & only changes, like, two small scenes, but it’s still annoying because BioWare said it wouldn’t matter. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: Graphically the game’s the same as previous versions. There are some minor differences to the characters’ appearances to reflect the time lapse between games, but it’s not major. That being said, the worlds you visit are interesting & varied. Some do really well at reflecting the scale of the battles going on around you, like on Earth or on Palaven’s moon. The Reaper creatures are each grotesque, reflecting a twisted image of what they once were. The game’s soundtrack also has some really nice pieces. Most of the time I didn’t pay much attention to the music, but it always fit the mood, whether it was through tense darkness, battle or a stirring speech. The three songs that stick out in my mind are when Shepard is leaving Earth after the invasion, Eve’s theme & when all of the forces you’re gathering are heading for Earth for the final battle. Score: 5
Replayability: Very high. This is definitely a game you’ll play more than once. I plan to play it again to try & get all assets. But on its own, there’s so much that I can’t wait to see again. And I have to go one step further & say that you will probably play the whole series again to see what changes you can make. Do you want to romance a different character? Try to save someone? Play with a different class or background? Score: 5
Overall Score: 5
Final Word: Even though the ending made me feel cheated, I highly recommend not only ME3, but the entire series. It will forever be cemented on my list of favorite games of all time. If you’ve played the previous games, definitely pick it up. If you haven’t played any, start from the beginning & get ready for a crazy ride.
Title: Mass Effect 3
Console: 360, PC & PS3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 6, 2012