|Mass Effect 3|
|Platforms||Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows|
|Genre||Trilogy topper shooter RPG|
|Buy from Amazon|
I love the Mass Effect franchise. Mass Effect 3 is the first console game I bought new in over two years (previous new purchase was Mass Effect 2). I beat the first game six times. I’ve read the novels and comics that accompany the games. I own two Commander Shepard action figures and a mini Normandy SR2. I have a one year old son named Shepard.
So you could say with some confidence that I was really looking forward to Mass Effect 3. I made the day one Collector’s Edition purchase and popped up my first hour review of the game immediately. The game doesn’t start with as much energy as Mass Effect 2, but it’s hard to argue that there’s anything more powerful than beginning with the Reapers invading Earth.
Mass Effect 3 has received a huge amount of controversy regarding its ending. Do you know how hard it is to take two weeks to beat a game you’ve been waiting for two years while seemingly everyone on the internet is talking about its conclusion? Ugh. I’ll say right now that I certainly didn’t hate the ending, but didn’t love it either.
Now for my review on the other 99.5% of Mass Effect 3. I also have my review of the first DLC available, From Ashes.
Mass Effect 2 had a hyper level of polish applied to it. The game played amazingly and the great Mass Effect 1 experience was boiled down and streamlined into an excellent game. That streamlining had a cost though, as many of the RPG features the first game featured, such as upgradeable weapons and more skill point options were lost. I’m the kind of gamer that can appreciate and love both the shooter RPG that Mass Effect 1 was, and the third person shooter that Mass Effect 2 was, so the shift in genre didn’t bother me that much.
But instead of riding on the successes of Mass Effect 2, Bioware went back to the original game and researched what made gamers so fond of it. The result is Mass Effect 3, an enhanced version of Mass Effect 2’s gameplay with many of the popular RPG features from the first game back. It really is the best of both worlds.
Weapons can now be modified and enhanced, weapons have weight and will affect how fast your powers regenerate, experience is gained throughout the level instead of just at the end, power leveling is much more detailed with three branching decisions to make per power instead of just one, and so on. But they were also careful not to include the RPG features that didn’t go over so well in the first game, such as the huge sprawling inventory that went on and on. Mass Effect 3 is really both a third person shooter and a Western RPG.
The combat inherited from Mass Effect 2 is also much improved. The cover system has been improved in that cover isn’t required 100% of the time to actually survive. I always play on the higher difficulties and popping your head up in the second game for more than a second usually means you’re bleeding out. Mass Effect 3 features much more battlefield maneuverability, which also means the expanded melee system is actually worth using.
Shepard also has some extra rolling moves at his disposal to quickly get in and out of the action, but at times they feel too aggressive or awkward. If you somersault into a cover object, would you expect the game to automatically put you into cover behind it? It seems that the game always performed the opposite of what I expected it to do. I also had trouble moving behind cover sometimes, as I would unexpectedly pop out of cover instead of moving sideways.
General combat feels pretty close to Mass Effect 2, you can still curve your own powers around objects, but your squadmates’ powers are applied instantaneously. This has always bugged me a bit, and I’m curious if the developers just found that getting an enemy in your own line of sight was just that much simpler than trying to guess if the enemy was in your squadmate’s line of sight.
Bioware did manage to add a lot more satisfaction in fighting the game’s array of baddies. Soldiers will literally explode if warped and low on health; just in general everything feels like it has more power and effectiveness behind. Heads pop from sniper shots and bodies whip around from being thrown with biotic powers, couple this with a lot more maneuverability on the battlefield and Mass Effect 3 is just a lot more fun to play that its predecessors, at least in combat.
The game also doesn’t suffer from the difficulty spikes that Mass Effect 2 had, which at least for me were on Horizon and the Derelict Collector Ship (keep in mind I only ever played these games on Hardcore and Insanity difficulties). Mass Effect 3 scales with your level much better, and while the game is certainly hard at certain points, it never feels frustratingly so. The final encounter in the game is definitely the most difficult, too, by quite a bit.
Last note on combat, the shield/barrier/armor/health system that Bioware introduced in Mass Effect 2 is still around, but isn’t as obnoxious this time around. In the last game, you fought tons of guys with three layers of protection that required quite a bit of tedious ammo-power switching, but Mass Effect 3 pretty much limits the layers to two. Guys go down quicker this time around, but there’s generally more of them in each encounter. Definitely not a bad thing, keeps you on your toes.
A disappointing aspect of the game is the lack of real boss encounters. Mass Effect 1 featured quite a few bosses, and Mass Effect 2 had some memorable fights too, especially in the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. But Mass Effect 3 seems to think that throwing a mech at you constitutes as a boss, even though they do it about a dozen times throughout the game. There’s really only two “boss” character in the whole game, and while they do stand out as pretty cool encounters, in a 40 hour game it feels a bit lacking.
The conversation system in Mass Effect 3 hasn’t changed much at all, but the Paragon/Renegade system was revamped a bit. Basically now there’s a single Reputation meter that paragon, renegade, and “neutral” actions feed into, and any checks to see whether you can unleash a sweet paragon or renegade action in a cutscene is checked against that single meter. So even if you’re only acting and saying paragon things, you can still pull off a renegade backhand whenever the game offers it. Supposedly fans were complaining about being forced into 100% one way or the other to do any of the cool stuff, so the single meter actually makes sense here.
If you’ve been playing the series since the beginning, many of the stories come to a very satisfying conclusion. Conflict brewing since 2007 pays off with the Quarian and Geth, the Krogan and the Genophage, even Conrad Verner! There are some paragon/renegade choices that can only be pulled off if you made certain decisions in the earlier titles, but either way the writers do a pretty great at tying up the loose ends for everyone.
Many of the decisions you make will lead to one kind of war asset or another. Since Mass Effect 3 is a galaxy-wide war against the reapers, Shepard’s job is to gather as many forces as he can under him for the final assault. A war asset could be something like a Salarian fleet, which may be worth 200 war asset points.
My first time through the game I was really concerned about my war asset total and that I wouldn’t have enough for... whatever the war asset number was actually for. I’ll let you know in a non-spoiler way that the war asset number doesn’t really matter at all. There is a perk to this fact: playing a renegade character in Mass Effect 3 is ridiculously difficult to do at times (emotionally and psychologically), and knowing that all the war assets you’re missing out on because of all the characters you’re pissing off and/or killing is easier to swallow knowing that war assets mean nothing. This is especially true if you played renegade for all three games, as there actually seems to be a measurable chunk of the game missing compared to a paragon Shepard.
I really loved the story overall, there is a hundred hours of gameplay and plot building up to some of the moments in Mass Effect 3, and the payoffs are just so great. Garrus is written amazingly, and my Liara love interest story made me fall in love with her all over again. The game takes us places we’ve wanted to go for years, and brings us back to locations of old in little cameos. For anyone who has played the first two games, skipping the third entry would be a travesty.
The slightly updated planet scanning system is plenty improved, with the mineral scanning system gone replaced with a much more palpable side mission scanning system. There’s even a little mini-game that’s played on the galaxy map, scared me the first time it happened! The ammo system of Mass Effect 2 is back, but this time there’s almost no constant shortage of ammo like I had before, maybe this is one of the things that made the gameplay feel a lot smoother: not having to constantly bother to look for more bullets.
Mass Effect 3’s voice acting is even better than last round, with Jennifer Hale as female Shepard still the standout, but the whole crew just feels incredibly well done. There are also a bunch of random conversations you can listen to throughout the game that don’t disappoint in quality or writing.
Graphically everything looks better, especially the facial animations during closeup cutscenes. The levels don’t feel as enclosed as they did in Mass Effect 2 either. The musical score seems more consistent through the game, too, but I’m disappointed the ending song is still lacking compared to Mass Effect 1’s.
Now, how about that ending. My immediate impression was that I loved it, but I have a feeling now that was just more backlash against everyone else at the time who hated it. You know: I wanted to love it, I had to love it. I did quite a bit of reading and found some well written complaints about the final few minutes, and I definitely agree with most of them. The ending does have issues, and I’m not even sure if the proposed Ending DLC will fix them. But it’s still a satisfying conclusion for me, and has forced me to think a lot about things such as artistic integrity, publisher interference, who owns the art, and whether games really are art or not.
I totally understand the frustration of so many fans, but I personally didn’t hate it. I’m excited to see what the DLC brings to the table, it’s rather unprecedented.
Mass Effect 3 not only succeeds at being an excellent game, it’s also a great ending to my favorite gaming trilogy of all time. The game is essentially 40 hours of fan service with terrific payoff after terrific payoff. Mass Effect 2 was an exceptional game with an insane amount of polish applied to it. Mass Effect 3 still manages to improve on everything.