Cast your minds back to 2007. The Xbox 360 was in it's infancy, and Bioware released the much anticipated space opera - Mass Effect. The sci-fi shooter/RPG hybrid was a success. Bioware had created a great system combining RPG elements with a cover based shooter.
Mass Effect had a brilliant story along with an amazing, yet, unusual cast with first class voice acting. Commander Shepard, your character - could be shaped the way you wanted them to be. They could be naughty (renegade) or they could be nice (paragon). Regardless of what path you took you could shape the galaxy in a way that you saw fit.
Fast forward to 2010, Mass Effect 2 came out and like it's predecessor, it was a big hit. However, Bioware streamlined the game's RPG system and removed time consuming planet exploration and simplified customisation.
In 2012, the much hyped sequel and final instalment - Mass Effect 3 was released.
The Story - ME3 opens up on Earth during the Reaper invasion of Earth. Shepard is tasked with the mission of uniting the entire galaxy to counter the Reaper threat. Shepard is reunited with the Virmire survivor - either Ashley Williams or Kaiden Alenko and Joker - the much loved Normandy pilot. Soon after you meet additional friends such as Liara, Garrus, Tali and Wrex.
There is a much larger emphasis on fan favourites from ME1, however, the amount of screen time dedicated to the cast from ME2 is much-much smaller. Characters like Miranda, Jacob, Jack, Thane and Legion are reduced to mere cameos and have little effect on the over all story. Assuming a character had died in the previous game, they are replaced with new characters to facilitate newcomers to the series. For that very reason I believe the lack of ME2 character development is very much intentional. The only exception is EDI, who has been given a sexy robot body and is now a squad mate. Interacting with EDI is fun and her conversations with Joker make for some great comic relief. It's still great interacting with fan favourites like Garrus and Wrex.
Shepard can also have personal moments with these characters. At one point, Shepard and Garrus spent some time hanging out with each other on the Citadel doing some target practice, so it was great spending time with the old cast.
The main story missions retain the high standard set in the previous games. My personal favourite was the opening mission on Earth during the invasion and on the Citadel.
The ending...oh boy. What I believed was going to be a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant series turned out to be an absolute mess riddled with plot holes and logic that makes no sense. For example, the reasoning behind the Reaper existence. There are numerous 'Yo Dawg' memes regarding the reasons all over the internet.
Another point was the lack of a final boss - Harbinger. The 'boss' Reaper was hyped up and his importance emphasised during Mass Effect 2. However, he was reduced to a mere mention over the radio about his incoming attack and after being struck by his laser, he was gone and never to be seen again. After all of that it was very disapointing not to have fought it/him.
No questions were really answered, our choices throughout the series i.e. obtaining war assets were not shown to have any effect and the ending created questions and not answers. Overall, the story started off well but ended in a way which rendered the story the weakest in the franchise.
The over all story did feel rushed; maybe this was down to EA's deadlines, or maybe this is what the writers had always intended? Using the ME2 cast as an example, they were glossed over and I felt that the story could have done with another few hours to really develop the characters further. However, this is still a Mass Effect and despite the ending the story is still top notch compared to other games.
Gameplay - The gameplay is virtually identical to that of Mass Effect 2. It's more Gears of War than Mass Effect 1. You can now customise weapons which has been simplified to enable fans and newcomers alike to get the most out of armoury.
Shepard can now roll like a true COG/Locust which is a great addition as it enables you to dodge incoming attacks with ease and the cover system is pretty good also.
Shepard can be customised even more thanks to a revamped power/talent system which gives players and even greater choice, so you can shape Shepard to suit your play style, whether that be infiltrator, vanguard or biotic etc. I'd say in comparison to the previous games, it's in between - retaining ME2's simplicity and ME1's detailed system.
Much to my disapointment, Mako exploration did not return, probably due to the pacing of the story. I did feel however, that Mako exploration made the Mass Effect galaxy seem vast and it felt great exploring uncharted worlds, making me feel like a true space man (in this case, woman as I play as Femshep).
Planet scanning returned, but has been simplified for the possible explanation provided above. However, the Reapers are a new addition and enter the system you're in and chase you if you scan too much. Scanning is less time consuming than before, as you scan when flying in the mini Normandy. If your scanner picks up anything on a planet, you can then scan a planet as you could in ME2. However, items are also scattered in space and planet scanning is not required. Reaper interference is a huge annoyance. I felt that that whilst it added tension, it also made the most tedious part of the game...even more tedious. This prompted me to follow a tip that was provided on the internet, where you leave a system and then re-enter at a different side in order to outrun the Reapers and obtain whatever it is you were after.
Auto dialogue is prevalent in Mass Effect 3, much to the annoyance of those who have invested themselves in Shepard's personality. I found Shepard, in this case - Femshep, voiced by the brilliant Jennifer Hale, to have more of their own personality. On numerous occasions it felt that I was playing as Bioware's Shepard and not as my own.
The Normandy returns as an Alliance vessel. The interior, like ME2's Normandy is fantastic and in terms of art style, it feels like the ME1 Normandy, so its a great combination of the two games. It's always great to visit the Normandy and see what the different characters have to say. The Normandy has been revamped as you can now visit the 'War Assets' room, which enables you to monitor your progress in terms of galactic readiness and how much military strength you possess.
In terms of the game's length, I found this to be considerably shorter than Mass Effect 2, which I put down to the amount of 'go and fetch' side missions on the Citadel and the nature of the pacing when planet scanning.
The game's build quality is something to be desired. Unlike ME2, ME3 does not have the option to install and I feel this is reflected in the over all stability of the game. There are numerous frame rate dips in the PS3 version, especially whilst you're exploring the Citadel. Fortunately however, frame rate dips are the only technical issues I have experienced, with the exception of one freeze.
Visuals - the graphics are a step up from Mass Effect 1, but are pretty similar to ME2. Texture pop ins do occur when interacting with characters and whilst exploring the Normandy and the Citadel and I feel that more work could have been done to the character models.
The locations look great and it was a pleasure to see new Citadel locations and witness the Reaper invasion of Earth. Exploring the Quarian and Asari home worlds was something which I was hoping for, so I'm glad Bioware gave us the opportunity.
The art style is similar to ME1 and I prefer it to ME2's which comprised of orange/red hues. I felt that ME3's art style was darker and more reminiscent of ME1 and emphasised the darker story.
The sound - the sound was top notch, every time I heard a Reaper it sent chills on the back of the neck. The soundtrack has a different composer this time, but retains the quality of the previous soundtracks.
The multiplayer - like Gears of War's horde mode and Uncharted's survival mode, you battle waves of enemies - each getting harder than the last. The multiplayer enables you to unlock different species i.e. Asari and Krogan, each with different abilities. However, you must unlock the different species by purchasing packs. These packs cost credits and contain a random assortment of weapons, characters and powers etc. This can be annoying as you can keep purchasing different packs and you could end up with what you already have.
The maps are pretty good, although not much thought has gone into them as they have been simply taken from the campaign. It would have been nice to have seen unique maps.
Enemies are varied, Cerberus, Geth and Reapers, each have different classes. However, the multiplayer does get repetitive and I found that after I obtained a galactic readiness rating of over 90% (which is required to get the 'best' ending) I had no urge to return, even with the free DLC pack.
I've had no issues with the online stability whilst playing over the PSN. I may have had one or two brief bouts of lag, but no big issues.
Overall: This is a brilliant game, regardless of the ending and the lack of features compared to the previous games. For everything Mass Effect 3 does wrong, it does right. I may consider it to be the weakest out of the trilogy, but this game is still worthy of being called Mass Effect.
This is my first review and I've only just woken up...Do you agree or disagree with me? I welcome your opinions so please feel free to comment.