This Mass Effect 3 review is coming out a bit late (blame school), so if you’re reading this, you may have already heard about the controversies surrounding it. I know that this was the case for myself, so I went into the game with a healthy dose of trepidation–the Mass Effect games have long been favourites of mine, and I was afraid of seeing them ruined. After spending some time with the game, I can confidently say that, while it isn’t quite the masterpiece I had hoped for, Mass Effect 3 is fun, engaging, and worth a look.
If you’ve never played the series before, Mass Effect 3 is all about the invasion of Earth by the Reapers, a collective of gigantic Lovecraftian machine-gods determined to wipe out and harvest all space-faring sentient life in the Milky Way for their own sinister purposes. You play as Commander Shepard, who has been under house arrest since the events of the previous game for blowing up a Mass Relay (interstellar devices that allow for quick travel between solar systems) and destroying a settled colony of hundreds of thousands of people, all in order to slow down the Reaper advance. The game begins with the Reapers arriving at Earth, forcing Shepard back into service with his old crew in order to unite the various species of the galaxy against the threat.
For the most part, the game presents this adventure phenomenally well. Mass Effect 3 is still a big hammy space opera, and though its tone is often darker than its predecessors, there are several events in the game that are stunning both visually and emotionally, making it hard for players not to get caught up in the war effort. Although the number of recruitable squadmates is down from previous games, that doesn’t seem to be an issue here. If anything, the huge cast of Mass Effect 2 was overwhelming, making it easy to neglect certain people. Conversely, ME3‘s characters are incredibly detailed and complex. BioWare did such a good job here that you may find yourself warming up to someone that you disliked in previous titles (i.e. Kaiden, Liara). The only real weak part of the characters are the hit-or-miss romances. Admittedly, a few of them have rather touching moments, but others are weird or just downright awkward.
Every major character from previous games, assuming they are still alive, makes an appearance here in some form or another. More often than not it’s a brief cameo with some dialogue, but some characters are fairly integral to the plot. There are a lot of in-jokes and throwbacks to ME1 and ME2 that are sure to go over newcomers’ heads. In fact, contrary to BioWare’s claims, a lot of content is going to be lost on new players. Unless they want to read the entire codex, they’re just going to have to roll with the loads of information that gets thrown at them, though they should still be engaged despite this.
You wind up visiting every major planet over the course of the story, giving you plenty of eye candy to look at. The Citadel, the massive ancient space station that serves as the seat of galactic society and government, plays a large role, making it a far more relevant place to visit. The graphics are mostly fantastic; scenery is breathtaking throughout, and the facial animations for major characters are the best in the series, although the game sometimes skirts the uncanny valley, and most NPCs look alike. The game sounds great, too. Though it was sad to hear that Jack Wall left the project, Clint Mansell, known for his work on Darren Aronofsky’s films, turns in some fantastic pieces. Overall, the game is less synth-heavy, but Faunts makes a return to the soundtrack to make up for it.
In terms of gameplay, it is a mixed bag, but largely improved. Combat is the finest it has even been, and the streamlined interface is fantastic, making the RPG elements simpler without removing depth of customization entirely. Mass Effect has always felt like it wanted to be more of an action shooter, and it has certainly come into its own in that regard. Aside from the Soldier, which is too plain by comparison, the classes are all inspired and satisfying. For example, the Vanguard plays like a character from a fighting game, body checking opponents from across the level while punching them to death, while the Engineer plays like a space-wizard, shooting balls of fire and lightning at enemies while summoning familiars (Combat Drones) to aid them. Exploring the galaxy has never been so much fun.
Throughout, you can initiate sidequests by receiving them from Admiral Hackett of the Systems Alliance Navy, or by eavesdropping on conversations at the Citadel. These are essentially divided into three categories: N7 missions, which are single-player versions of the multiplayer maps; planet scanning missions; and what I like to call hide-and-seek missions, which require you to find items scattered around normal combat levels. Hide-and-seek are basically fetch quests, and thus the least interesting. Planet scanning is far less tedious than it was in Mass Effect 2, but it’s still largely superfluous making me wonder why BioWare bothered to leave it in. There’s a minigame that occurs if you use your scanners too often in a region where Reapers starts to chase after you, but it’s little more than a harmless distraction. N7 missions are interesting, and it make me wish BioWare hadn’t bothered with the fetch mission and planet scanning nonsense and just made a few more of them. However, as a complete package the gameplay is pretty solid.
This now brings me to the matter of the game’s ending and Day-One DLC (which you can read a review of here). Yes, it’s true, the ending is a bummer and a bit disappointing in context of what has occurred over the course of the game. In fact, if you start to look closer the plotholes become even more obvious, and it’s sad that it doesn’t really take into account the choices made over the course of the game, though that’s not necessarily a new thing. For example, many choices made in earlier games have been overwritten by non-game lore, such as the book that made it so Udina is always the human council member in ME3 despire the player’s personal recommendation. However, I disagree with the sentiment that the ending destroys what has made the game great up until that point. Certainly, I wish the ending was more satisfying given the build up, but I loved playing the game anyways. Regarding the DLC, it’s a bit harder. This isn’t the first time a BioWare game has had Day-One DLC, as they used it for Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins as an incentive to buy new, but it’s the first time they’ve charged for it. Having played with the DLC, I can safely say that it’s not necessary to enjoy the main thrust of ME3‘s plot, but the added character gives so much depth to the story that it’s hard to imagine why BioWare wouldn’t have just bundled it in.
Worse than the ending and DLC, I felt that the biggest problems is the game’s bugginess. I could forgive the constant pop-in and occasional frame rate stutter, as it’s a huge game, but the constant lock-ups were incredibly frustrating. Thank goodness the save system is fairly forgiving. Furthermore, there were a couple of sidequests that glitched and prevented me from completing them, though I was fortunate enough to not have to experience the already infamous face/stat import bug.
Thank goodness the multiplayer wound up being so good, otherwise these issues might have damned the game. The multiplayer plays out like Gears of War‘s Horde Mode, with four players co-operatively defending against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. There are 10 in all, with an 11th that requires players to pull back to a specific location for dust-off. The inclusion of the six different player classes are truly the shining point of the game, making combat fun to play with friends and strangers alike. Equipment can be bought with in-game or real currency in order to acquire new weapons, consumable equipment, and playable species. There are six multiplayer maps in total, the N7 missions found in single-player, and there are three available enemy types to play against: human Cerberus troopers, Reaper forces, or the robotic Geth.
Street Fighter x Tekken
Mass Effect 3 is a great game, albeit a flawed one. It has several memorable moments that outshine anything done in the previous titles (or gaming in general), but is unfortunately blemished by a sloppy ending, some mismanaged DLC, and some game-breaking bugs. Multiplayer is one of the game’s saving graces, though. Although this game isn’t perfect, I’m confident I’ll wind up playing it far longer than I ever played Mass Effect 1 or 2 if only for the multiplayer alone. Be sure to check it out.