March 18, 2012 by Paul Curtin
Promising the sun, moon, and stars in the form of a game featuring a fully alive universe with a story driven by the choices of a player, BioWare’s original Mass Effect seemed like an idea that could no way would live up to the hype. But after its amazing debut in 2007 and even better sequel in 2010, nobody was left questioning what BioWare could achieve in their Mass Effect games. Many epic gaming trilogies have come and gone in recent years, but none as unique and memorable as the Mass Effect series with its third and final chapter being the culmination of not only one of the greatest stories ever told in gaming, but one of the best of all time.
Mass Effect 3 is the bookend to one of the most epic tales ever told. In the first game Commander Shepard becomes the first human Spectre agent among a council of intergalactic peace keepers and discovers that the Reapers, an ancient alien species that destroys all advanced life in the universe every 50,000 years, are on their way to end another cycle. In the second game, Shepard travels through the Omega 4 Relay to take the fight to the Reapers in a suicide mission that could result in the death of not only his crew members, but himself too. Now in the third and final game in the series, the entire fleet of Reapers has finally made its way to the planets of this galaxy with the intent of wiping out all advanced species, including the humans on Earth. Forced to abandon his home, Shepard embarks on a mission to unite advanced alien races across multiple galaxies of the universe in an astronomical effort to stop the Reapers’ plans of mass intergalactic genocide. He’s not just trying to save the world… he’s going to take back the entire universe.
Like previous Mass Effect games, Shepard’s journey across the universe in ME3 is filled with unique characters and moral dilemmas brought about by BioWare’s award-winning choose-your-own-way style of storytelling and delivered by some of the industry’s best voice actors. Every conversation Shepard has with another character involves multiple good (Paragon) or bad (Renegade) response options, each resulting in a different outcome and each adding to his overall reputation amongst others in the galaxy. Quick-time decisions are thankfully also back to keep players focused during conversations by allowing split-second major decisions during cutscenes that can result in instant shifts in narrative direction. That time I accidentally quick-time Renegade punched that reporter in the second game and then not-so-accidentally headbutted her again in the third might have screwed my perfect Paragon rating and skewed my ending, but oh, was it worth it.
While there are plenty of games that allow players to pick from different dialog responses during conversations, no form of media does it as well as the Mass Effect series. Because of the way BioWare has made each game remember a player’s choices from previous games, it’s almost impossible to have the exact same experience as another person, which gives each gamer a truly unique and personal story. Whether you want to be a male or female Commander Shepard that’s a powerful melee or ranged specialist by day and same-sex or alien lover by night — you can have your Mass Effect however you like it by selecting from a wide range of combat and social options. Mass Effect 3 should come bundled with both previous games because if you’re not having the choices you made in previous games come back to help or haunt you, you’re not experiencing the best and most unique feature the series has to offer.
The game’s mission system allows Shepard to again discover primary and secondary quests by speaking with other characters scattered throughout NPC-filled areas of the Citadel. The questing system works great and is more action-based so that you never feel like you’re running errands for an alien too lazy to complete his own laundry list, but one problem I had with the game is how much time you spend on the Citadel with the reduction of NPC interaction on other planets. After spending so much time on the Citadel in previous games, I’m sick of it. By making the Citadel and Shepard’s ship the only two areas in the game you can go back to after completing missions, it takes away from the feeling of a massive universe with planets full of inhabitants that the previous game did better and BioWare’s 2011 GoTY Star Wars the Old Republic does much better. Also, whose terrible idea was it to release paid DLC missions on the first day the game is released? Either offer it free with the game or include more content and offer it a month or two after the release. Having extra side-missions for $10 after someone has just paid $60 for the full game is just bad business.
While certain planets might only allow for a single quick side-mission to take place on them, the main planets are where the real action and sense of exploration kick back in by featuring multiple missions with tons of epic scenes involving returning characters from previous games — depending on if they made it past ME1’s bomb and ME2‘s suicide mission. The ability for the story to exclude characters that players let die in previous installments and replace them with new characters is amazing; however, certain fans of the series might get upset over the lack of screen time that some returning main characters get as the story doesn’t allow specific characters to rejoin Shepard’s crew. Instead, they’re limited to cameos in less important side-quest stories. Each character’s use is still done very effectively and by not knowing if or when characters can die at any time throughout the game, certain characters’ last few moments alive are some of the most touching in gaming history.
With so much history between characters of previous games, ME3‘s story is just as good, if not better than the second, with the events leading up to the end being a riveting roller-coaster ride full of ups and downs that will have you on the edge of your seat wondering how it’s all going to end — and more importantly, whether you made all the right choices to get the ending you wanted. Unfortunately, the very last few minutes of the game feel rushed and allow the player as Shepard to pick from three options that almost completely neglect all the unique choices made throughout the 100+ hours invested in the series. Despite choices made during ME2‘s ending and the number of missions completed during ME3 having a direct effect on the final outcome, each of the main three endings are far too similar and the final cutscene before the credits fails to offer a real sense of closure and instead opens up a ton of plot holes that will leave hardcore fans of the series upset and still not satisfied even after a post-credits epilogue.
Mass Effect 3‘s storytelling might have its flaws, but there’s no question that the gameplay mechanics have evolved for the better. While not as big of an improvement that ME2 was from ME1, BioWare has managed to once again make the gameplay even more enjoyable by introducing more vertical levels, tighter controls, an overall faster pace, and some bigger boss-like enemies that get thrown into the combat every once in a while. The cover and melee system can sometimes be a bit frustrating and cause a couple extra deaths, but it’s never to the point where it ruins the overall flow of the game. Kinect voice commands have also be added on the Xbox 360 version, making for the first good reason to buy a Kinect after the ability to swipe through a Netflix queue Minority Report-style. However, the Kinect controls can be hit or miss and aren’t necessary to truly enjoy the game. In addition to better character movement, animations, and graphics, the weapon customization system has been simplified: two slots for each weapon can be fitted with upgrades like increased ammo, accuracy, firepower, and more. Sadly, the hacking system from ME2 is completely gone, but players will be greatly appreciative of the changes made to the mining system that makes it far less time consuming and adds an enjoyable avoid-the-Reapers mini-game.
The biggest change from previous games comes in the form of a new multiplayer co-op mode that allows four players to team up online and fight waves of enemies. Players can fight different enemies from the game on six different maps to gain experience and level up to unlock new weapons, armor, abilities, and even points that go towards the singleplayer’s Galaxy at War rating for a better ending. The online experience is fun and works great; however, it feels tacked on with only one Gears of War Horde wave-based mode and a non-existent story that doesn’t feature any of the game’s lead characters. Some anti-multiplayer fans might be happy that the co-op doesn’t really involve anything of importance to interfere with the story told in singleplayer and the Galaxy at War rating isn’t required to get a perfect ending, but without a true competitive mode, co-op is like playing side-quests in the singleplayer campaign without Mass Effect‘s best feature, the story, which feels like a meaningless waste of time when you could just be replaying the story or a better online game.
Like a modern day Star Wars or Star Trek, Mass Effect 3 manages to almost perfectly tie together one of the most epic trilogies of all time. Unfortunately, due to how amazing the first two games were and how much of an improvement the second game was from the first, Mass Effect 3 doesn’t seem like as massive of a success as previous games with an ending that feels far less rewarding despite investing another 40+ hours into the 100+ hour franchise. Even with a questionable conclusion that lacks the closure most fans will want, the roller-coaster of emotions you’ll experience throughout the trilogy is well worth the ride and so much fun you won’t want to see it all come to an end. Mass Effect 3 gets 4.5 out of 5 stars (Amazing).
- Amazing storytelling unmatched by any other form of entertainment
- Improved combat mechanics and controls make gameplay better than ever
- Graphics have been significantly upgraded since the previous game
- Voice acting is as good as it gets in gaming
- Over 40 hours of gameplay in just the singleplayer story
- Ending lacks closure and can render nearly all choices from the series meaningless
- Online Multiplayer Co-op in uninspiring, tacked on, and boring
- Cover and melee mechanics are still a little rough around the edges
- Day 1 paid DLC missions are questionable