It has been a long time coming for anyone who has followed the Mass Effect series. Bioware, famous RPG developer, promised to deliver a sci-fi trilogy where major and minor choices made from the previous game would carry on to the subsequent finale, marking it as the first trilogy story that a gamer could actually call their own. The pressure was on from many fans -- myself included -- to produce a groundbreaking masterpiece. Now the question remains: Does Mass Effect 3 deliver?
The game starts out in the futuristic cityscape of Montreal. Shepard has been detained for working with Cerberus, a pro-human terrorist group lead by The Illusive Man. While being questioned by Alliance leaders, the Reapers, an ancient alien race designed to destroy all advanced civilizations, has just waged war against the entire galaxy. The loss of human life reaches the millions only a few minutes after the first of these ravagers has touched Earth’s surface. Commander Shepard is then tasked with rounding up every other advanced species in the galaxy to join together in an effort to route the Reapers at Earth.
The first note of praise for Mass Effect 3’s story would be the immediate impact of both decisions made in previous entries and immediate ones that happen throughout the game. While newcomers will get a sense of information overload (most of the important information can only be digested through codex entries, rather than dialogue), everyone will be able to commiserate with Shepard and his human companions as you watch innocent life get snuffed out in the blink of an eye. You’re not doing this because it’s an objective on your mission log; you’re scouring the galaxy in demand for help because of your deep investment for the human race. Since the Reapers are attacking the entire galaxy (nearly obliterating one alien race), Shepard has to recruit other fleets by creating alliances with races that were once enemies. All of these elements unfold in a masterful manner by putting Shepard at the helm of political arguments that have lasted for centuries. This in-fighting is what makes the universe many have come to discover for the past two entries so intriguing.
While the plot for the first and second act may be the best in the series thus far, the conversational writing and final hours will leave players in admonition. One of the more surprising tones Mass Effect 3 employs is a general sense of insipid melodrama that happens during certain conversations. While previous entries have had their share of quixotic lines, those saccharine moments were given in a good mixture of either brooding over the upcoming mission or an overwhelming sense of discovery. The other disappointing aspect to Mass Effect 3’s writing is the underwhelming conclusion. On a thematic level, this age-old dispute of synthetics versus organics in this fictional universe does end on a…braver chord than the typical sci-fi novel; however, the way in which the player comes about this poignant finale leaves so many egregious holes that it severely lessens the impact of all your previous decisions. It would be unfair to say this is one of "the worst endings in video games,” but it is by far one of the most disappointing.
Despite qualms with the delivery in writing and the unfinished finale, Mass Effect 3 still delivers a fresh aspect on storytelling in videogames: it’s the final chapter in a videogame trilogy that uses so many elements from the first two entries while not feeling indebted to them. Shepard isn’t just retreading old ground by recruiting old characters; he/she is recruiting personalities that resonate closer-or farther-to him/her than when they were first introduced. It's such a shame that new squad mates, such as James Vega and EDI, fall flat in comparison to the likes of Tali and Garrus. Even worse, the most interesting new face to join your squad is locked away on ten dollar (800 MSP) downloadable content (free for those who purchased a new copy of Mass Effect 3 Limited Edition). While this fact doesn’t harm the score or quality of the title, this is just one of the few signs of a publisher negatively influencing a beloved franchise. Comparatively, Mass Effect 3 does retain the most story flaws in the series (thus far), but it still contains enough admirable qualities to be considered good.
The graphics for Mass Effect 3 could arguably be some of the best to be seen all year. The excellent artistic design of ME2 has been implemented in an interesting way. Since the only major hub other than your ship is The Citadel, the cleaner bourgeois aesthetic that litters most of this floating skyscraper now houses refugees and a nightclub mirroring that of Omega’s Afterlife. Other gritty aspects such as scoring brutal headshots and a variety of new Reaper husks set a darker tone. These interesting subtleties offered with some jaw-dropping visuals (certain in-game cut scenes that are almost CGI) make this game stand out as one of the best on the 360. One problem players will notice-which could be patched in the near future-is the inconsistent movements of certain characters during conversations. There are times when certain interactions with Shepard are broken up in some weird way, like a squad mate starting from a leaning to a standing position in the blink of an eye. Mass Effect 3 is a beauty to behold; from the grand scale of Reapers trudging the terrain in the background to the intricate details laid out across each map, so many of the individual elements have more than enough gloss to disregard snappy reactions while conversing with non-playable characters.
Mass Effect 3 once again leads the way in best multifarious sound quality. Voice acting, greater nuanced soundtrack and more make this title stand out as one of the early contenders for best sound design of the year. To start, the hours of quality voice acting is rarely seen in many other games. With quality voiceovers a dime a dozen, it won’t take long for players to yearn for more conversation with certain characters imbued with interesting personalities. While Mass Effect 2’s music composition may have felt too prosaic in some cases, the sequel supplies more euphonious tracks than expected. It’s not in the variety per se, but rather the combination of certain tunes, such as a blast of a loud bass intertwined with a few somber notes from piano keys, that make certain moments all the more memorable. Environmental sounds of combat haven’t been skimmed over either. The new “pop” in scoring successful headshots or melee strikes adds to the subtleties that have been successfully employed since Mass Effect 2. Overall, Mass Effect 3 succeeds not only in polish but also successfully making it difficult to distinguish which aspect contains the most brilliance.
The two cores components of the Mass Effect series, narrative and TPS/RPG combat, haven’t changed much. Although the new “action” and “narrative” options on the main menu do allow for players (especially newcomers) to focus on what better suits them, you’ll still be talking and fighting throughout the campaign to some degree. While the combat mirrors that of its predecessor in many respects, there’s also a greater sense of agility thanks to the added rolling abilities and a blue indicator that displays which way Shepard will move in cover. Players will also notice that heavy weapons available to certain classes are now only laid out across certain levels, rather than there being a dedicated slot for certain classes in the past game. With alternatives like turrets and pilotable mechs, Shepard now has more ways to mow down his enemies than before. While players will be hampered by a touchy cover system and a sense of familiarity with other third-person shooters, the mixture of powers and shooting is as refined as ever.
On a side note, those who purchased the 360 version of Mass Effect 3 will notice the "Better With Kinect" tagline on the front cover. While I have had no experience of using it to call out squad mates powers or speak my dialogue option, I've heard that these voluntary features work exceptionally well (should one so choose to use them).
The integral new feature in Mass Effect 3 is The War Room. This secluded area in your ship is essentially the way to examine how many forces you have amassed thus far. This information is given a numerical value which gauges Shepard's increases in ‘Effective Military Strength.' The two portions that calculate EMS is War Assets collected throughout the single-player part of the game and ‘Galactic Readiness,' which is determined by your progress in the multiplayer (it remains at 50% if you never bother with the MP). The only problem with this aspect is the focus on multiplayer. While it remains unclear whether or not you must play it to get a high enough EMS rating for the “best” ending, it’s nearly impossible to get it any other way. While some of my actions throughout the trilogy haven’t always awarded me with more War Assets, I searched almost every corner of the galaxy in the game to still come up about 300 EMS (600 War Assets) short.
While Mass Effect 3 could still be considered too "shooter-heavy" by certain "RPG purists" (The term “TPS with RPG elements” has been harped by them as a classification for Mass Effect 2), minor improvements to the role-playing aspect should not go unnoticed. One aspect that should be applauded is the importance the player can put on their ship. With refined planet scanning and less hub worlds, players are awarded with searching this universe for more War Assets, credits, or powers which can then be examined on the Normandy. Everything available on the Citadel can also be purchased aboard your ship. The customization of your squad mates has been improved to allow for more variation in strength, cooldown duration, and more. Each ability now has six levels (improved from the four levels in ME2), with the three higher levels branching off into two different choices that alter said ability; for example, you can choose between a grenade option that does more damage or has a wider area of effect. The new weight system also makes for less frustration on class choice during the beginning of the game. Any character is capable selecting any weapon, and customizing on the workbench; however, with more selected guns comes a longer cooldown time. Overall, the streamlined approach from Mass Effect 2 has been reworked to add marginally improved RPG elements.
One of the most confusing gameplay decisions made is the lack of choice in the dialogue system. Throughout most the game, Shepard will be faced with choices that are either in the upper or bottom right-hand corner (Paragon or Renegade) of the dialogue menu. While these actions show that the developer didn’t want players meandering around a neutral option when important choices were meant to be made, the effect also hands out Paragon and Renegade points like candy. Initial hints of this will be found during romance options, such as a new relationship for male Shepard that is with a male pilot who lost his so-called husband to the Collectors a few months before. After slogging through the bad writing, it was also one of the initial moments of noticing where certain choices made no difference whatsoever. I chose certain Renegade options which then displayed a rousing speech by my Shepard about actions defining our lives. This is one of the many examples in which Bioware bastardized the dialogue system into feeling nothing more than a break to the combat.
As mentioned before, a new addition to the Mass Effect series is multiplayer. The multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 is essentially Horde Mode with certain waves (out of 10 total) being objective-based. Character selection allows you to vary sex, species, and class. Every race will have unique powers – such as a "Krogan Charge" for krogans and different movement options out of cover between drell and humans. From there you can choose certain maps, based on side mission maps found in the single-player, that span a different section of the galaxy. After each mission, the galactic readiness rating and percentage in that sector will go up. These multiplayer characters can also be sent into the field and become war assets for the main campaign. Overall, this mode only incorporates a few novel ideas that make it above the typical wave-based cooperative mode.
In conclusion, Mass Effect 3 is a great game that fails to reach those exemplary heights of its predecessors. While those overwhelming feelings from seeing old acquaintances still has an effect over those who have put so many hours into the series, many of the new story additions/developments fail to deliver. Even worse is the repetitive nature of jumping back and forth between narrative and combat, with little to do in between. Even small touches from Mass Effect 2 and later DLC packs are missing: Firewalker, hacking mini-games, and more. Mass Effect 3 succeeds in delivering another enjoyable experience, but the faltering in writing and design choices make this fall short of what it could’ve achieved.
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