Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
The final chapter to one of the most highly regarded gaming franchises of this generation has been concluded. The epic journey BioWare set us on five years ago has made its mark in history with this final entry in the series. Through the avatar of Commander Shepard we’ve solved ancient galactic disputes, met (and lost) close friends and made choices that will shape the future of the galaxy. Frankly, this is one of the franchises that have had me the most invested in its world, playing with a completionist mindset in fear of missing even the tiniest bit of content. Mass Effect 1 gave us an exciting introduction to the galaxy and the story. Mass Effect 2 brought us a deeply personal journey by getting us attached to the extremely well developed characters made up of most of the universes sentient species, gave us a deeper insight to the Reaper threat and left us in a uniquely tense situation towards the end. But how does this ultimate evolution of the series shape up as a game? Well, let me tell you..
The moment to moment gameplay of Mass Effect 3 is divided into four major parts; Third person shooting, dialogue, space exploration and character customization. The only notable exceptions from the previous games are the hacking mini games and the planet exploration. While these are some impressive bullet points, I should mention that the space exploration and customization are not as well developed as the shooting and dialogue sections (at times even being quite tedious), but more on that in a minute.
The shooting mechanic has been noticeably improved throughout the series, this third installment being the final polish put on the more action oriented combat implemented in Mass Effect 2. The weapons boom, chip, rattle and impact satisfyingly when fired, and there are many variations of weapons suited to the different classes and play styles. So, you will probably want to try out most (if not all) of the weapons that are scattered around the many battlefields until you find a combo that works for you.
You will at all times be accompanied by two members of your crew whom will help you with one of their skills, charge the enemy or provide covering fire with a simple command, giving combat a slightly tactical feel. Although it’s perfectly possible to go through the game without issuing a single command, you’ll probably want to utilize every advantage available to you in the higher difficulties.
RPG Systems and Customization
The class you select when creating (or continuing) your character can rather dramatically affect how you fight. For instance; as an Infiltrator, you’ll mostly rely on your Tactical Cloak while lining up headshots from the back of the battlefield, while as a Vanguard, you’ll be constantly zipping across the map to stay directly in your enemies’ faces with heavy melee attacks.
Another cool new system is the weight limit, which balances the weapons you bring into combat with how frequently you can use your abilities. Whereas in previous games, you were always fully equipped with a Sniper Rifle, Assault Rifle, Shotgun, Handgun and Sub-Machine Gun, you now have to pick between the weapons with this in mind. Either bring many and/or heavy hitting guns to be effective at all ranges, or bring a few and/or light weapons to wreak havoc with your skillshots, biotics or tech.
Weapons can be upgraded and modified with enhancements that are either found in missions or bought in Citadel shops or from the Normandy’s requisitions console. However, the interface for comparing the different weapons and modifications is kind of unintuitive, and it feels like there’s no way to get a complete overview of what each weapon does. When you want to try or use a different setup it’s a tedious process to find the information you’re looking for.
As for the actual skills, you can prioritize your character for versatility or focus on developing one or a few skills before moving on to others. The first three levels of each skill basically just improves on it, while the final three levels lets you choose one of two possible bonuses, locking the other one out in the process.
It’s quite easy to buy a reskill in the ships Med-bay, but the game never really gave me the desire to experiment with alternate builds. All of this customization is also available for your crewmembers as well, although a bit more limited in scope.
This is an area this series has always struggled with. The planet exploration from the first game suffered from poor controls and tedious down-time between the good stuff. Mass Effect 2 rid itself of that entirely and replaced it with a planet scanning minigame where you explored for resources used as currency for various upgrades to your ship and equipment. Mass Effect 3 has an even less inspired variant of the planet scanning, where you’re basically being chased by small Reaper ships around a solar system map while trying to find planets to scan for arbitrary “War Assets”. It’s a poorly developed system that you only really end up doing on the off chance that you might miss something cool if you don’t.
Another disappointment is the lack of hubworlds. Mass Effect 2 had you visit the Krogan homeworld Tuchanka, the Omega Space Station and the Asaris Illium in addition to The Citadel, and only having access to The Normandy and The Citadel for quests and ambient atmosphere makes the galaxy feel somewhat smaller this time around.
This is kind of the extent of it.
This game is absolutely gorgeous. It handles close up textures on things such as armor, environment and skin very well (on human and alien alike) while still being able to paint amazing vistas with gigantic ships moving and interacting in the background, AND keep a solid frame rate at that. Sometimes you might come across a bland texture, or notice some clipping on characters in the cut-scenes, but this is rarely something that takes you out of the experience.
The Reapers are hitting the galaxy in full force, and a sudden, vicious attack on earth forces Commander Shepard to make a desperate escape in the ensuing chaos. Earth has been taken, and unless you can unite all sentient species in a joint counter-measure, it will mean the end of all intelligent organic life. This is the fight that’s been alluded to throughout the series, and now it’s up to you to gather as many resources as possible in an attempt to take back Earth.
Most of the story is experienced through conversations, giving you the chance to investigate for details as well as choose how to respond in any given situation or conflict. There are some really tough choices where you will be forced to choose the long term fate of entire species weighed against short term gain against the Reapers.
This is something very much intact from the previous games, but unfortunately the effects of your previous choices are often no more than mentioned in a few conversations, if not just impacting an arbitrary number called the “Galactic Readiness”, which serves as an overview on how well you are doing in the war against the Reapers.
Outside of the overarching story between the missions, you get to know the personal stories of your crew members, and through your conversations with them you can choose how to develop those relationships. The voice acting is as excellent as it has always been, and the writing is so good that I stopped to listen to almost every conversation in fear of missing out on something.
The ambient dialogue when walking through the Citadel and the Normandy also help flesh out the state of the world, with short stories that give color to the war and paint a terrifying picture of the destruction the Reapers are causing.
As I’m sure most of you know, there’s been quite a bit of controversy over the allegedly disappointing ending to Mass Effect 3. So, with a slight spoiler warning (for those of you who like to go in fresh); While some complaints are valid, my thoughts are that in the end, you have made the choices that you believe shaped the galaxy in the right direction. I played mostly “Renegade”, but I still went in to the game from the start with the mindset to really think about the important choices. The ending of this series isn’t the culmination of all of your encounters, but more of an exclamation point to the overarching story that has lead you through the galaxy, with one clear purpose given to you at the very beginning. In the end, the Mass Effect series is a journey more than it is a destination, and all the challenges conquered and friendships made are something you will carry with you in the back of your head long after you put down your controller.
In short, Mass Effect 3 is a very successful end to a 5 year franchise. While this game is not without its flaws, its strengths greatly outweigh any small annoyances you might experience with their less developed mechanics. I heartily recommend this to any fan of action games, RPG’s or even non-gamer science fiction enthusiasts. Happy gaming!
EXTRA! For a thorough breakdown of the games Multiplayer, check our the lengthy Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Feature.