It’s no secret that I am a huge Mass Effect fan. For years I have been trying to get my friends to also give the games a try but they never seem to be enthralled by its magic like I am. Guys like Bryan have never played it even though he’s a total sci-fi (especially Star Wars) geek.
So to write a review about the conclusion of the Mass Effect trilogy is both exciting and sad at the same time. It will also be with a hint of bias. Yes, I love the series and Mass Effect 3 is the cherry on the cake.
Earth is devastated by the Reapers’ arrival. Millions of people die within seconds and the few survivors are scrambling to safety. Commander Shepard barely survives, but is tasked with getting support to help protect Earth. The problem is that the Reapers are everywhere and gathering together a fleet big enough to save the planet will take a few different civilisations’ participation. So off Shepard goes in his sleek ship, the Normandy, to ask, beg, fight, threaten and pay for assistance.
Mass Effect has always been about the characters and the story and this conclusion of the trilogy is no different. Right from the start BioWare does a great job of getting you into the story, hitting home that the loss on Earth is great and significant. You feel the urgency of getting help, before it is all lost. It surprises me, then, just how long it takes Shepard to gather support to save Earth. He travels across the entire galaxy a couple of times, with enough time to see bruises on the faces of loved ones heal, all while running errands for just about every low-life in the galaxy! And he still has time for romance!
The gameplay for the third edition of the Mass Effect series has not changed too much, however, and Mass Effect 3 is still an action role-playing game, with the action part taking place in third-person with a pretty decent implementation of a cover system. With this in mind, Mass Effect 3 gives you three distinct ways to play the game.
The mode most faithful to the original is the RPG mode, which allows you to level up your character, enjoy all the action, all the story and is the intended way to play the game. Some people are more after the story though, and the ‘Story mode’ will make enemies weaker, Shepard stronger and allow the action scenes to go by much quicker while still giving you the full conversation tree and options.
Finally we have the ‘Action mode’ that allows you to have a real challenge during the fight scenes and not be bogged down by all the different conversations. This mode is essentially a very linear affair and I cannot imagine this game mode giving you much choice in how the game plays out.
I chose to stick to RPG mode, as this is the closest resemblance of the first title. This allowed me to really choose Shepard’s fate, and even the fate of those around him – your actions in the game really makes a difference to who lives and who dies and those decisions are more difficult than ever. If you’ve been playing with the same characters for three games only to then see them die, a little bit of you dies with them as well.
A lot of the decisions you made in the first two games affect the way Mass Effect 3 plays out, but that doesn’t mean you need to play either of the two previous games – it will make a lot more sense if you do, though. These save games can be imported when you start your Mass Effect 3 journey, but I could sadly not do that as my save games were lost.
The characters in Mass Effect 3 are as strong as they have ever been, and I can’t think of another game where the story has had me so enthralled. The way your own Shepard starts to act differently according to your decisions, and the way you actually fall in love with the characters is fabulous.
The conversation pieces don’t feel as revolutionary as they did in the first game, but that’s because they were perfect back then, only now you can actually talk as Shepard via your Kinect – you can read out any on screen commands and Shepard will obey. Feel free to order your team mates into position and use their powers by the power of your own voice. The only downside to this is that the action doesn’t stop while you talk, so I ended up using the radial menu a lot more. Couple that with a sleeping house while I played and you can see why the Kinect did not see much action.
A similar problem to my ‘conversation improvement anticipation’ occurred with the shooting action. I kept expecting more, but the weapons are now familiar and the gameplay even more so. You can melee your enemies and you might find a new weapon here and there, but very few things set it apart from other generic shooters. A very hearty ‘Welcome Back’ goes to the weapon modifications and armour changes. It was there in the beginning and somehow got lost when Mass Effect 2 came out.
Controlling Shepard was always a simple affair, especially if you’re used to any other action games, and this is no different in Mass Effect 3, yet BioWare saw fit to change a few things. The worst decision the studio made was to assign all actions to a single button. Try to run, jump, take cover, pick up items and interact with the environment and you push the same button. As a result, I often found myself taking cover when I wanted to pick up an item, or I tried to take cover but instead jumped onto a ledge.
Visually the game has made quite a significant improvement on the series, but it falls short of other titles. The game doesn’t require a very high frame rate, but it feels a little stiff and stutters at times. Textures thankfully do not pop into memory like they used to, and the Unreal engine actually serves the game really well. The special effects are brilliantly sci-fi: Blue lens flares emanate from just about every light source and the ambience created by the different planets you visit makes you feel right at home, in a creepy kind of way.
You also often feel part of a much bigger fight than you actually are. You will see Reapers striding in the distance as red lasers blowing everything up in their path. Fighter planes will swoop low across the map, dropping ordinance on the soldier below them, just over the hill from where you are. On the horizon you will see a planet burning in the night sky. Yet when you take part in the action you never actually have a part in a major battle. Enemies cleverly arrive in small waves and never overwhelm you.
The best part of the game has to be the sound. The music is stirring and the voice acting is the best I have ever heard, even though characters like Freddie Prinze Jr. do only adequate jobs. You also experience deafening explosions and more than your average ‘pew-pew’ from guns. These will rock your world if you dare turn it up to 11.
Mass Effect is also the first game in the series to include multiplayer. Upon first hearing about this new feature it was thought it would be tacked on at the last moment, just so that they also claim some of the online pie, but the multiplayer actually plays a major part in the game. In a clever trap to draw players into the multiplayer you gain readiness points for the climactic battle in the singleplayer campaign by completing the multiplayer missions. The higher you level up your multiplayer character, the better chance you have of completing the story with a good ending. This was not made clear to me until after I played through to a bad ending, though, so needless to say a second play through will have to be made.
The multiplayer is a simple co-operative mode, similar to the horde mode in Gears of War. You have to fight off wave after wave of stronger enemies. Each wave can also contain small objectives like hacking a console or defusing bombs. Team play is critical as the enemies differ enough to warrant different types of soldiers. During each mission you also earn credits allowing you to purchase new weapons, ammo types and medi-gel. If you have not earned any money in the game you can of course buy the upgrades with real money.
Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer is best enjoyed with a bunch of friends. I doubt it will have a lasting following similar to other EA shooters (here is looking at you, Battlefield 3) but is more than a worthy distraction from the mundane dribble that is also available out there.
It may seem as though I complain more about Mass Effect 3 than the score would reflect. The problem is I am overly critical because of the insane expectations I had for it – I was ready to want it to succeed but see it fail. In the end I was wrong. This is one amazing journey that sadly comes to an end when you are eager for more!
I wax lyrically about Mass Effect being better than the sum of its parts and the technical bits simply tie together to deliver an experience unlike any other in gaming. This may not be the best of the series for some, but in my book it deserves every accolade it receives. Now protect your save games, and let’s see where the Mass Effect universe takes us next!
The Good: Amazing atmosphere, characters and sound; Story is appropriately epic in scale and finish.
The Bad: Single action button; Not enough variation in action sequences
The Inappropriate: No matter the emergency, Shepard still finds time or intimate companionship?