Shepard and the Normandy finally return. Does the arrival of the Reapers spell disaster for the franchise, or does Shepard get the send-off he deserves?
With its release on March 6th, Mass Effect 3 represents the culmination of a trilogy and expectations of millions of fans around the globe. The Reapers have finally arrived at Earth, and it’s up to Shepard and his small band of loyal friends to unite the galaxy and stop the threat. However, is it possible for a game like this to actually deliver on every single hope and dream of fans? The short version is, no. Does that make the game a failure? No. In most places, Mass Effect 3 excels, expanding on the improvements seen in Mass Effect 2. Some moments will have you literally on the edge of your seat. The fast paced combat and exhilarating story challenges not only players’ minds but also their hearts, and aside from a few minor gripes, Mass Effect 3 is truly an awe-inspiring experience, regardless of its flaws.
Mass Effect 3 begins on Earth, where Shepard is still desperately trying to make a case against the Reapers, a truly frightening synthetic race who come to cull galactic civilization every 50,000 years. Since Mass Effect 1 he (or she) has been trying to convince the galaxy of this threat, and yet this warning has constantly fallen on deaf ears. Now with the Reapers arriving, humanity and the rest of the galaxy find themselves in a desperate situation. Shepard must bring all the help he can find back to Earth to repel the Reaper invasion. If this is the culmination of trilogy to you, then you know the story and know the score. For new players, I insist that the first two games be played. Though EA has marketed this as a good jumping off point for the series, some of the most serious emotional punches come from the people you’ve known throughout the journey, and the consequences of your actions. It’s been a wild ride for Commander Shepard, and as the player you deserve to hear the full story.
For long time fans who are wary about the third entry in the series, there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of. The gameplay has been polished to a mirror sheen by Bioware, and it’s clear that they know what they are doing. Combat is much like it was in Mass Effect 2, with a focus on speed and squad tactics. Each of the six different classes represents a different style of gameplay, whether you want to use the risky Vanguard who charges into crowds with Biotic powers, or the pure Soldier who uses guns and grenades to clear a path of carnage. With any class, ME3 will feel like a totally different game. Combat is even faster than it was in ME2, and squads are even more easy to control. Now your squadmates will adapt powers to the situation at hand, and it’s only a simple button press away. This makes squadmates more useful than ever before.
Also useful is the new customization system, which feels reminiscent of Mass Effect 1, but instead of having a large amount of items and a cluttered inventory system, ME3 goes for a more streamlined approach, allowing the player to attach up to two addons to any given weapon. This can mean anything from added melee damage to a scope which allows for greater accuracy. The shopping system has also been improved, allowing the player to access all the visited shops from Shepard’s ship, the Normandy. This cuts down on the clutter and complications that plagued ME1. Another addition is the Weapon Weight system. The amount of weapons that Shepard carries into combat dictates the speed at which he/she can use abilities. This adds another fun layer to the gameplay.
The conversations have stayed just as complicated and interesting, allowing for an incredible number of decisions and moral choices. These all build on the decisions of the previous games, which for the most part makes for a unique gameplay experience for every gamer and every save file. Every Shepard’s journey has made different twists and turns, and almost all of them are represented in one way or another, big or small. It’s incredibly satisfying to see old faces return.
The story however, definitely fails to satisfy in certain areas. Especially when it comes to the conclusion, which most already know of by reputation due to the outcry of many fans. In addition to this, there were also a few other bugs, including the surprising return of a character who I knew to be dead. This did put a damper on the experience. However, in most cases this is not going to be a problem, and some of the emotional payoffs are huge and exciting. There were smiles, shouts and even a few tears on my play through of Mass Effect 3.
Smiles were also in abundance as I tackled the game’s new multiplayer mode, titled “Galaxy at War.” In this mode, you and a team of three others take on various forces while occasionally completing objectives, inspired by the Horde mode often seen in games today. Where ME3 differs from the pack is in bringing much of the gameplay of the single player experience online. In “GoW”, you will upgrade a character from one of the six classes just like in single player. This includes assigning talent points and customizing weaponry. The weapon weight system also comes into play here, increasing or decreasing power recharge rates based on your arsenal. The games take 20 minutes on average, awarding Experience Points for leveling up and money, which can be used to buy packs. These packs contain new weapons, mods and characters, and are completely randomized. This makes buying packs extremely addictive, much like buying trading card booster packs. It’s always exciting to see what new gun or character you’ll have next.
Integrated into this is Galactic Readiness, which determines the performance of War Assets in the single player campaign. Throughout the campaign, Shepard collects these War Assets which can alter the ending of the game. These are obtained by doing side quests and main story missions. Galactic Readiness starts at 50%, which means that the player only obtains 50% of the War Assets he or she gets. Multiplayer is necessary if the player wants to get the best ending. That’s not really a problem, as the multiplayer experience is fantastically polished and worth your time.
Also polished is the sound, which is one of the most important things in any Mass Effect game. Within Mass Effect 3, there is an incredible amount of dialogue, and some characters are going to make you laugh again and again. For established characters, Bioware does not stray from their personalities, instead delivering a consistent experience. Sound effects have also been improved, with guns making satisfying sounds, explosions knocking you back in your seat. My one gripe would be the Reaper sound effects, which constantly sound like auto tuned garbage. I was pretty tired of it by the end of the game.
Graphically the game is solid and up to modern standards. In most ways it looks about the same as Mass Effect 2, which by its own right was a very good looking game. It runs consistently at 60 FPS, without any stutter. Some of the vistas in the game are absolutely beautiful, and the game occasionally has set pieces that are gorgeous. The art direction is fantastic. I did find the sections that take place on Earth to be a little bland and devoid of the color that usually is present throughout the Mass Effect universe. I also found there to be a few graphical glitches, such as the camera blurring at odd times and characters disappearing during conversations. Other than these minor issues, ME3 continues Bioware’s tradition of polished gaming.
Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game. The final chapter of Shepard’s story is one that should not be missed, and the invasion of the reapers makes for some dire consequences that every player should experience. The gameplay is absolutely fantastic, and the presentation is truly stellar. It is the culmination of nearly ten years of storytelling. Regardless of the rage at the conclusion, Mass Effect 3 is a game that I will continue to come back to, and one I think that any gamer will enjoy.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
- Fantastic Gameplay
- Great Multiplayer Experience
- Interesting Characters and Dialogue
- Solid Graphics and Consistent Frame Rate
- Disappointing Conclusion
- Occasional Camera Glitches and Bugs