Review: Mass Effect 3

Review: Mass Effect 3

With a lot riding on the third entry in the Mass Effect franchise to deliver the goods after delays, ridiculous amounts of hype and lots of excitement, Commander Shepard’s latest adventure had a lot to deliver. Thankfully, it did; Mass Effect 3 is both a fitting end to the trilogy, and also perhaps the best game in the series.

For those who’ve been with the franchise since the start, it is hard not to form some kind of bond with the Commander Shepard that you’ve used over the years. Whether male or female, stunningly beautiful, generic or hideously malformed with a shocking hairstyle, everyone’s got their own Commander Shepard, and it is this bond that helps the game’s generally fantastic narrative to stick with you from start to finish.   Sadly, those who are coming into the franchise for the first time won’t find a lot to appeal to them here; without knowing the ins and outs of the first two games, you’re pretty much going to be completely lost as past events are referenced almost constantly. To get the full experience, make sure you play the other games first (if indeed you can suffer through the original Mass Effect’s Mako planet exploring missons – good luck with that).

The stakes couldn’t be higher in Mass Effect 3. Shepard’s continuing journey throughout the first two games pales in significance to the massive threat looming over the third game in the series; it genuinely feels as if everything has building up to this game and it makes the game incredibly powerful at every turn as you feel as if you’ve transitioned from minor missions to huge, influential things that hold the fate of the galaxy on an incredibly wobbly pivot.

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The threat of course comes in the form of the Reapers, ancient, huge and incredibly deadly synthetic killing machines with an unstoppable desire to wipe out all traces of organic life within the galaxy. Commander Shepard is of course the leading man/lady to deal with this threat having being throwing thorns in their side for the past two games, and it is up to you as the player to counter-act this highly deadly galactic problem by uniting the galaxy under one banner and throwing an all-out assault against the Reapers. It sounds like a daunting task, and it is. Commander Shepard will have to use every trick up his/her sleeve in Mass Effect 3 to solve ancient conflicts between races and ensure that everyone bands together in order to stop the greater threat.

The storytelling is where Mass Effect 3 excels the most. With highly improved character animations and a better sense of realism, Mass Effect 3’s much improved graphical capability combines with the best writing in the series yet to create an adventure that is – in a phrase – completely mega- epic.  All the way through the game I was practically on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, finding myself exploring every nook and cranny of the game to ensure I didn’t miss a thing. Add in the added bonus of repercussions from previous games such as characters who dies not appearing, and you’ve got a truly staggering sense of scale within this adventure. I was sad indeed not to see Thane, who alas didn’t survive my onslaught on the Collector Base in Mass Effect 2. He’s awesome.

A special mention has to go out to the section in the storyline that references Garrus’ obsession with mentioning calibrations in Mass Effect 2. Gave me a good giggle that did.

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I’m sure by now you’ve all either seen or heard about the controversial ending of Mass Effect 3, and I have to say most of the criticism I’ve heard is generally unjustified. I actually applaud Bioware for not going down the predictable route with the ending, and I found it to be impactful, interesting and insightful. I know there’s a lot – and by a lot, I mean like a huge crowd – of people who won’t agree with me, but I felt like this was the correct choice for this game’s conclusion and I ultimately left feeling satisfied. Even if you didn’t particularly like the conclusion, that isn’t the important part. The important part is enjoying the the ride all of the way through, and even if you didn’t like the ending we should focus on the fantastic narrative within, not just the game’s climax.

So much of the story actually has significant, emotionally jarring impact. There were multiple times within the game I struggled to make a decision because the outcomes seemed so drastic, and I’m not ashamed to admit I got a little choked up at times when things went awry. This isn’t a tame game by any means – the galactic struggle is profound, will keep you excited all of the way through and always feels like a struggle against a threat that is much bigger and much more powerful/advanced than you are. This isn’t just a war, this is a struggle for survival. Massive, massive props to the Bioware team for creating such an engaging narrative for this game.

Gameplay wise, Mass Effect 3 is essentially a streamlined, much-better version of Mass Effect 2. Gun combat is more fluid and responsive than  ever, allowing Shepard and his crew to attack enemies better than ever before, and there’s also a greater focus on verticality. While it may seem a negligible thing, having this vertically means battles are much more varied and expansive; more often than not you’ll have enemies sneaking up behind you, trying to riddle your body with bullets and biotic powers as you’re focusing on their chums in front.  This option is of course available to you as well, so you can easily get yourself in a nice elevated position and blow the enemies to smithereens if you so choose.

Biotic powers have also been exponentially improved over Mass Effect 2 as there’s some incredible nice-looking new ones that I take great pleasure in using regularly to destroy enemies.  A new favourite of mine is also the heavy-melee attack; a simple change you might think, but it really is satisfying to biotic teleport towards an enemy before smashing them in the face with a massive blast of biotic power that sends them flying across the room.

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Customization is also much, much better in Mass Effect 3. There’s  a lot more to unlock, the flexibility to create whatever armour you wish using different parts, making your weapons more effective using weapon modifications and the skill tree has also been revamped to include more branching choices, allowing for deeper customization of both Commander Shepard and his collection of followers. It’s a  breath of fresh air compared to the over-simplified Mass Effect 2 and it isn’t anywhere near as cluttered as the original Mass Effect’s obsession with giving you so much stuff you’d never know what to do with it. It almost feels as if the first two games were but a flawed attempt at making perfection, whereas the balance has finally been tuned to the proper level in Mass Effect 3. Here’s hoping Bioware do the same thing for Dragon Age 3.

The conversation system within the  game remains largely the same as earlier entries. You get branching paths with generally obvious renegade/paragon choices, then occasionally you get moral-influenced actions/dialogue choices dependant upon the situation. I’m fine with not really anything being added to the conversation system this time around because I’m very much in the mind-set of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and Mass Effect’s flexible conversation options have always been done very well. As I previously touched upon, the highly improved animations of the characters also helps to add authenticity to conversations and everybody doesn’t like quite so robotic as they used to. There are some instances when it goes a bit awry though and you’ll see staple Mass Effect animations such as the ‘move gun slightly’ or ‘wring hands together’ or the absolutely appalling-looking ‘stand firmly and point while looking silly but trying to be serious and failing greatly’.

The beauty of the conversation doesn’t lie in the animations alone though. Instead the conversation is as in-depth and exciting as ever with layers upon layers of storyline heaped into one big pile of wordable goodness. I’ve mentioned it before in this review already but the journey of Mass Effect 3 is truly spectacular, filled with so many twists and turns that your buttock cheeks can scarcely cling to the end of your seat as you want to leap up and fist pump the air as you kick….erm…not sure….whatever counts as a Reaper’s backside.

I’ve talked at length about everything good in the game, but alas, Mass Effect 3 isn’t perfect. The animations can be stiff at times (Shepard still runs like a person with a spike shoved up his rectum) and on the PS3 version I would routinely see texture pop-in, particularly noticeable during the game’s climax. It really did ruin the experience a tad to see the vast recesses of space as a  big navy blue expanse rather than black with twinkly bits. Ruined the vibe.

Apart from these niggly flaws in animations etc I really wasn’t sure about Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer. Essentially Gears of War’s Horde Mode set in the Mass Effect universe, the new multiplayer is something I personally felt was simply not needed in a series that has always been about the fantastic single player experience. I particularly didn’t enjoy the fact that the  multiplayer can have an effect on the storyline, as completing missions within the multiplayer enhances the ‘Galactic Readiness’ rating of those fighting the Reapers. It almost feels as if you’re forced into playing it whether you want to or not.

I did dabble quite a lot into the multiplayer and while it can be fun to team up with others to battle hordes of enemies it gets old, fast. There’s not enough variation in the maps to make it truly exciting to play and the fact that you must complete all ten rounds (or die) to get any points means it’s really going to eat into your time. Playing through all ten rounds will generally take upwards of 25 minutes, so make sure you’re in for the long haul before booting up the multiplayer suite.

If you are prepared to give up vast resources of your time there’s probably a lot to love in Mass Effect’s multiplayer. It incorporates the use of different classes just like in the main game, so whether you want to be a weapons expert or a biotic master is entirely up to you. There’s also a whole load of customization options available ranging from colouring yourself in pink to upgrading your weapons (which you will want to do quickly, as the starting weapons suck). If you want to see a disastrous attempt at playing ME3’s multiplayer I very much recommend watching myself and fellow ManaTankian Eric Pederson’s vid where we fail miserably at the demo. I’ve got better since then, promise.

 The Verdict

Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game, a fitting conclusion to the trilogy and something you can probably invest many an hour in to. Repetitive multiplayer, a few animation and graphical issues and the polarizing ending let the game down slightly (although I liked it, shoot me).

In other words: I’m Dan Curtis, and Mass Effect 3 is my favourite game on the Citadel.

9.6/10

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