I can’t think of another game that has had as much hype behind it as Mass effect 3. The story that began in 2007 and continued in 2010 is one of the most beloved in video game history and has created a very loyal and rabid fanbase. Gamers that have spent the last five years following the exploits of series star Commander Shepard and his/her crew have been awaiting this day with much anticipation. As the finale to arguably the greatest franchise of this console cycle, Mass effect 3 has a lot to give up to.
Mass effect 3 begins a couple of months after the events of the Mass effect 2 dlc “The arrival”. The day that Shepard has been warning the galaxy about has come. The Reapers, a race of giant robotic octopuses have come to exterminate every advanced alien civilization in the Milky way. The odds are stacked against them, but if Shepard can marshal the armies of the disparate alien species, perhaps there’s a chance that the Reapers can be stopped.
Everything that the franchise has been leading up to all comes to a head in Mass effect 3 and for the most part, it succeeds in wrapping up all of the various plots and sub plots that have been with the series since its inception. The narrative has a good mix of both grand, epic scenes and smaller more intimate ones, all presented in a cinematic style that rivals that of film and television. Mass effect 3 is Bioware’s most adult and meaningful story to date.
The sense of finality that Mass effect 3 has is palpable and makes each decision feel that much more consequential. More so than in past Mass effect games, you will see how the war against the Reapers affects Commander Shepard personally. The Commander may be the person leading the galaxy in this war but that doesn’t mean that the journey hasn’t left its mark psychologically. Shepard has always been more realistic than the usual player created characters of other RPGs but now more than ever, the Commander feels like an actual human being.
The relationships that you build with other characters is something that makes this series stand out and in Mass effect 3, they’re realized like never before. You’ve been through hell and back with these people and now that everything is on the line and galactic civilization may be ending, you’ll really cherish the moments that you have together. Sharing a drink or partaking in a friendly shooting match with an ally take on more meaning when there may be no tomorrow for anyone. While other games are better at capturing facial and body performances, Mass effect 3 trumps them all thanks to the fantastic writing and voice work. These may be digital performances but as a player, you will feel a deep connection with everyone on board your ship and especially those that your character is in love with.
Speaking of love, Bioware have chosen to be more inclusive by providing same sex relationships, which are a first for the series. Some people see a relationship between a female Shepard and Liara to be a lesbian one but considering that Asari are neither male or female it doesn’t count. It’s a bit odd that Shepard (male or female) who was straight in the previous two games would suddenly become gay for the third one but it’s not really a big deal as the game isn’t forcing you into a gay relationship. Making relationship options that cater to minority groups may feel like pandering but if it gets more people playing the game then there’s nothing wrong with that.
Whether they are with a same or opposite sex partner, the love scenes are very well crafted and are the best of the series. All of the problems that I had with the love scenes from Mass effect 2 have been fixed thanks to some clever camera work and tasteful nudity. The dialogue in these scenes is very emotional and you get to see Shepard express feelings and thoughts about the mission that he/she otherwise would keep to him/herself in front of the crew.
The ability to not only make different choices, but have those decisions change the narrative of subsequent games is one of the things that makes the Mass effect series so special. Since Mass effect 3 is the finale, everything that players have decided in the last two games will bear fruit. If you were helpful to a particular alien species in Mass effect 1 then chances are that they will help you in the final battle. The same applies to which crew members lived or died in your previous adventures. Everything that you did alters the story so it’s very possible that no two people will have the same experience when playing Mass effect 3. Although this game is structured in a way that is friendly towards those who have never played a Mass effect title, it is highly recommended that you do so in order to truly appreciate all of the nuance and richness that is brought to the story by your past decisions.
Past games rewarded you for either being completely good (Paragon) or just shy of being evil (Renegade) but in Mass effect 3, this paradigm has been slightly altered. You can now make both Paragon and Renegade choices without penalty thanks to the Reputation meter. Reputation can be increased by doing missions and sidequests. The more Reputation you have, the more dialogue options that are available to you. This helps in making dialogue sequences feel less restrictive and to make Shepard a more balanced person.
Mass effect 2 brought some much needed refinement to the gameplay and Mass effect 3 all but perfects the hybrid 3rd person shooter/RPG formula. The ability to roll adds new tactics since you can either get away from or move towards foes much quicker. Guns can be upgraded and customized, giving each weapon a distinct feel and look. You can upgrade your abilities with the more RPG-friendly leveling system. While assigning skill points isn’t as deep as it was in Mass effect 1, it’s more robust than it was in ME2 and allows you to make a character that really fits your playstyle. No matter what class you choose, you’ll be well equipped to deal with the intelligent enemies that stand against you. Mass effect 3’s gunplay rivals that of any other 3rd person shooter out there. Mix that with all of the various powers at your and your squad’s disposal and you get one of the most unique, exciting and visceral combat experiences out there.
In another first for the series, multiplayer is a part of Mass effect 3 and to many people’s surprise (including my own) it’s not only well thought out, but very fun. Called “Galaxy at war”, multiplayer is connected with your single player game. The more MP missions you complete, the higher your galactic readiness is in each sector of the galaxy. Having a high galactic readiness means that you have to do less side quests in single player. You can choose from any of the six available classes and even choose what race you want to play as. Unfortunately you cannot play as an Elcor or Volus. Yeah, these species wouldn’t really work well within the context of the co-op survival that MP is based around, but it sure would be hilarious. You and up to three team mates can get together to defend a map against 11 waves of Cerberus, Geth or Reaper troops. There are some slight diversions like uploading data to or hacking into terminals but for the most part it’s a survival match that emphasizes team work. The premise is simple but effective and isn’t the franchise killer that many thought it would be.
Like any good RPG, Mass effect 3 is a huge time sink. The single player portion alone can last between 40-50 hours if you do every quest and side quest and of course, multiplayer adds almost unlimited replay value. What’s great about side quests this time around is that they all feel like part of the larger story even if they are no more than simple fetch missions. You can complete most of these quests by scanning planets and locating the items. Planet scanning isn’t as monotonous as it was before and is actually kind of fun because if you scan a star system too many times, Reapers will come after you and you’ll need to high tail it out of there or be faced with a continue screen if you get caught. The best side quests are the ones that are full blown missions. These always have someone from your previous adventures and usually involved you getting them out of whatever jam they’ve gotten themselves into since the last time you saw them. I like to call these quests “Main side quests” since they feel like real missions and help flesh out the world of Mass effect.
The only dent in Mass effect 3’s armor is the lack luster ending. I won’t go into any spoilers but considering the high quality of the writing of not just this game but the series as a whole, the finale felt rushed and logically didn’t make much sense. That aside, Mass effect 3 is a truly great game. Like the two games before it, Mass effect 3 is an example of how interactive story telling can be just as gripping and compelling (if not more so) as the narratives of any book or film. This may be the end of Commander Shepard’s journey but I think it’s a safe bet to say that the franchise will continue and keep setting new benchmarks for other games to live up to.
- Fully realized characters that you can connect with and care about
- Clever and well written dialogue
- The lore of the Mass effect universe
- Smooth and fun gameplay
- The final 5 minutes of the game.
Mass effect 3 was developed by Bioware Corp and published by Electronic Arts inc. It was released on the PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and is available now for $59.99. The copy played for this review was a new retail PS3 copy.