Full Disclosure Note: My initial play-through of Mass Effect 3 was an import from Mass Effect 2 and subsequently Mass Effect before that, all full level play-through with all important characters alive at the end. I played as default male Shepard, level 30 starting infiltrator class. I have played collecting 100% of the assets and viewed multiple endings to come to a decision. Due to the nature of the game, everyone will have differing experiences, the following was my own in the style I’ve played both the other entries for consistency sake.
I have to make one thing abundantly clear before we begin, Mass Effect was announced from the start as a trilogy and as the final part of the trilogy it’s hard to separate from the first two entries as a standalone title (especially Mass Effect 2). It’s due to this that I will refer to Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 many times as a basis of comparison and, in doing so, WILL SPOIL story points that those who haven’t played the series at all might not want spoiled. I will say this right from the start here… If you haven’t at least played or know the situations set up in Mass Effect 2 as a bare minimum, this game will likely fall flat for you and it’s not one I can recommend you spend money on. For those who love or hate Mass Effect 1 or 2 and are on the fence if you should care about this game, please read on.
Picking up some time after the events of Mass Effect 2, the Reapers have begun their purge of the galaxy starting with Earth, prompting the Alliance to hoist Shepard out of “house-arrest” civilian life and back into the frontlines as Commander of the Normandy with the small task of saving the entire universe. While the Reaper threat is great, there are many little ongoing conflicts that occupy the time and resources of the differing races and it’s up to Shepard to fix everything and recruit army support to even stand a chance of winning. As usual, Cerberus is up to their own thing and it unfortunately frequently results in letting Shepard do all the work and swooping in the last minute to claim the goal, like some jerk from an Indiana Jones movie. Will Shepard overcome his greatest challenges to date?
From the get-go, there are very few discernable differences from Mass Effect 2; the combat feels somewhat tighter, graphics are improved and character animations feel much more realistic and less mechanical than before. These are all great things sure, but in my personal opinion that’s where the improvements on an old formula end. A very generalized statement, yet a very true one… if you’ve played Mass Effect 2, you won’t feel out of place in this game. Why should you? Mass Effect 2 took a gigantic leap from what was achieved in the inaugural game that improved on many hard to love things and to fully create a new experience in game-play again, while nice, would be a huge undertaking for little gain. This is where the beginning of my problems come from.
The action and gunplay implemented into Mass Effect 2 made it a great RPG with competent shooting, but are we at a point where competent is good enough for what should be incredible battles? As serviceable to little waves of enemies flanking you as you reach an objective was fine for the last game, is it wrong to possibly want better, real-time action that makes a game focused on universal war? Unrealistic to want possibly, but not out of the realm of reality seeing as it’s already been pushed back multiple times and the largest game company in the world had its hands in the barrel. Of course great battles have never been what Mass Effect has been about, so I digress and go on to my next major issue with the game.
The writing quality in Bioware’s work has slipped noticeably over the past few games and Mass Effect 3 is no exception. Thankfully, dialog still very much encapsulates a proper tone for each differing character, but some of the story points aren’t as hard hitting as they were previously. There’s a reason why many companies don’t try to connect a large story arc using the player’s unique game experiences over multiple video games in a series; after establishing a strong core of characters and plot in the first game and ramping up more characters with intertwining backgrounds and secondary plot lines, it’s obvious that Bioware have written themselves into a corner. The magnitude of work that would be needed to adequately fill in information for every single character you’ve had face-time with would require many more games. This unfortunately leads to what I felt were some easy wrap-ups to intricate loose ends with so many coincidental events that it’s almost comical. However, there is something to be said about how they’ve been able to take crucial information from every single piece of Mass Effect media out (books, games, and comics) and somehow find a way to incorporate them into the game. By doing this they strengthen the notion that this is a story taking place within a universe of many other things going on, which is commendable. While I won’t go into detail on the game’s ending, it was definitely a point of contention for me that made me question many things and as of this writing I am still not sure whether that makes it a terrible or amazing ending. Either way, I felt it was extraordinarily convoluted (which was
The noticeable decrease of new characters for Shepard’s crew is a refreshing change from at time feeling overburdened with teammates you’ll never use and the new additions fit the tone of the game very well (for the most part). James Vega (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a very prominent new face on the team and proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Receiving a lot of hate before the game came out, Vega actually has a pretty interesting story that develops as you progress and his need give everyone he knows nicknames makes sure he calls you “loco” a lot. Another mention worthy character actually comes with the From Ashes DLC pack, released the same day as the game. Due to the nature of the character, however, I will not say any more other than if you are a fan of the history and lore in Mass Effect, you’d do yourself a disfavor by not getting this DLC. Yes, it unlocks pretty background-heavy dialog in the rest of the game.
The pacing in Mass Effect 3 is strange. Remember how in the first two games the Reapers felt like an almost godly threat to humanity? We’ve been led to believe for a long time that a Reaper attack was the equivalent to a nuclear attack with everything being annihilated in no time at all. The threat was massive and ominous. Well, it turns out that a Reaper attack is actually kind of like how ANY alien army attack might be. Sure, they’re big, powerful, advanced and make pretty awesome noises that let you know they aren’t messing around… but they still need to take time, target things and fly around. In fact, they are slow attacking enough to start their invasion in the tutorial level of the game and allow you to fix wars and dance around at the Citadel for a couple of weeks. Seriously, the giant God-like world destroyers that have been built up all until this point are finally attacking Earth, but there is no real sense of urgency created that makes the player want to feel pressured to get back to the frontline. It seems that Shepard would rather walk aimlessly around the Citadel listening in to conversations between other people and deciding that since he has nothing better to do, he’ll go scour the universe for someone’s book. All problems caused by giving the player too much reign over the story, which while the case for the other games as well feels much sillier due to the serious nature of the events going on at the same time Shepard decides he wants to help two crew mates hook up. Maybe that’s just the price we pay for a custom-tailored experience.
A big problem I know a lot of fans had when it was announced was the idea of multiplayer in Mass Effect. Many people get the notion that time spent on one feature of a game detracts
time and effort from other, arguably more importation aspects when this is simply not true; there are teams that are assigned to differing jobs and both are expected to release a quality experience. Luckily, this rings true in Mass Effect 3’s online hoard-mode equivalent. Any single player fans will be able to jump right in with the same control schemes and objectives as any regular side-mission in the campaign and enjoy 10 waves of enemies with three partners. Of course, while it’s not in any way a mandatory or “better” way to experience the campaign, there is a system in place that playing multiplayer will help your “Galactic Readiness Rating” in the story, taking up the need to do the majority of the side content to progress.
Mass Effect 3 is a great game, don’t get me wrong. The problems I have with it while looking with a critical eye are still easily covered with fanboy rose-tinted glasses but the issues still amount to more than in either of the other two. I’ve actually overlooked bugs like my Shepard going from level 51 to level 1 when trying to load into a mission or teammates literally falling through the ground when writing this review up because small things like that had no effect on my personal enjoyment of the game, no matter how ridiculous and unpolished issues like that are. I’m fully aware that any and all love for this game only further reflects just how much I loved Mass Effect 2 which is why I hesitate to recommend it to anybody not fully onboard to see the conclusion.
Bottom line: A bad Mass Effect game is still preferable to me than almost any other science fiction/fantasy game. When it hits, Mass Effect 3 is a stunning representation of the culmination of 5 years’ worth of material and experiences triggering a very real emotional response to the player. When it misses, it’s another unfortunate example of a video game doomed to live in the shadow of its superior predecessor.