Mass Effect 3, 2012
Signed up the 06/06/2017Mass Effect 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
In 2007, Bioware started something special when they released the first Mass Effect game. They released the first of what was to be three games chronicling an ambitious, high-stakes epic set in a deep, fleshed-out version of the Milky Way galaxy in the 22nd century. An odyssey which would find its way into the hearts of many a gamer. Two years later, Mass Effect 2 came out, and while the game brought about a slew of improvements in areas where the original was lacking, it didn’t do a lot to move the overall narrative forward. This left Mass Effect 3 with a daunting task; to tie up loose ends, give us some kind of pay-off for all the hype that has been built up about the final battle with the Reapers and provide a fitting end to what has so far been an amazing trilogy. All while being a kick-ass game.
Mass Effect 3 starts off with a bang. Commander Shepard is on Earth, sans Normandy, after being court-martialed for “the sh*t you’ve pulled” (or for destroying a mass relay along with a bunch of planets depending on how much money you spent on DLC for Mass Effect 2) when the Reapers (surprise motherf**ker!) suddenly land on Earth and proceed to lay waste to everything. Humanity is nowhere close to ready, despite constant warnings from Shepard about the imminent invasion. As a result, Shepard is ordered to evacuate the planet (aboard the Normandy yay!) and get help from the other Council races at the Citadel. Before that however, Admiral Hackett tasks Shepard with investigating a Prothean ruin on Mars. It is here where (s)he uncovers plans left behind by the Protheans for a superweapon capable of defeating the Reapers (turns out the Reapers do this “destroy all life in the galaxy” thing every 50 000 years and the Protheans were the last race to catch that L). This leaves Commander Shepard with a precarious mandate: get all the help (s)he can from the other races’ militaries and finish building the superweapon in time for the final battle vs. The Reapers.
Humanity, taking the L for not listening to Commander Shepard
The tutorial on Earth gets newcomers into the swing of things quickly enough, while those who have been here before can take the time to upgrade their character with all the skill points earned from previous games, provided you imported your Mass Effect 2 save game. When Shepard is finally dropped on to Mars and the game begins proper, expect the same tight, well-executed formula for combat that Bioware spawned in Mass Effect 2. The control still feels Gears-esque, which works in Mass Effect’s favour. Bioware have tightened up the system with improved AI and more variation in enemy type. The game does its best to throw these varied enemy types your way at a frenetic pace; you will be dealing with shields, armor and barriers a plenty which forces players to constantly change tactics and firepower on the fly. This makes squad selection (more on the squad later), choice of weaponry and power upgrades all the more important. New to combat is the power combo system. It allows you to combine with a squadmate (or you can set yourself up, or even have squadmates set each other up) to do massive damage with powers, a skill that adds a new dimension to firefights and is essential in the higher difficulties.
To help alleviate some of the pressure, weapons are no longer locked to specific classes; you can now choose to carry a single weapon or any and all from the five categories with the trade-off being that more guns you carry, the longer it takes for powers to recharge. ME 3 boasts the largest arsenal to date in the series; from assault rifles to shotguns, sniper rifles and more, all with unique properties so you’re bound to find a favourite. In classic Mass Effect fashion, these weapons, as well as your armour are customizable in both aesthetic and functionality to really define your playstyle. This allows for some interesting and potent setups with the right amount of tinkering. An Adept sporting armour that gives a boost to power recharge speed and armed with only a pistol can throw out power moves at an alarming rate and, paired with the right squad members can dish out heavy damage through power combos. On the other hand, a Vanguard with increased weapon damage can use the class-specific Biotic Charge power to get up-close in an instant before surgically removing head from body by way of shotgun. This combined with the branching trees of the level system allows for a level of specialization you won’t find in many a game.
Sentinel Shepard, going to work
The story unfolds beautifully in Mass Effect 3, but admittedly this is provided you have imported a save game from Mass Effect 2 (which was in turn imported from the original Mass Effect). I’ve played it both ways and I have to say playing ME 3 without an import does the game a huge disservice. The game tries to keep references to past events to a minimum (which is understandable if you did not play through those events in the first place). This however defaults the game to what I believe is the worst possible timeline and is a flat experience overall. This makes Mass Effect’s detailed system of cause and effect something of a strength and a weakness. If you haven’t played the first two games, Mass Effect 3 is your run-of-the-mill third-person shooter, and while it is an enjoyable shooter with good gameplay, it really isn’t the definitive experience.
If you DO import however, you are in for a treat with ME 3. The game is chock full of references to both small and big events from past games. Resolutions to deep storylines like the Genophage and the Quarian-Geth War are on the cards and when all is said and done, one can’t help but look back at past decisions and wonder whether they made the right choice. Between reunions with old friends (provided they made it this far and are not dead) and alliances forged with new ones, Mass Effect 3 feels like the third season of an entertaining series except you are a character in the series making up your own story as you go.
The squad is smaller than last time, with a few familiar faces and some new ones too. Ashley Williams/Kaidan Alenko make a return from Mass Effect 1 (which one returns depends on who you chose to let die back on Virmire) along with Liara T’Soni the the former asari archaeologist turned full-time asari badass (and Shadow Broker depending on how much money you spent on DLC for Mass Effect 2). Some other familiar faces include Garrus Vakarian and Tali’Zorah vas Normandy though their return is dependent on whether they survived the final mission of ME 2. New to the squad is James Vega, human marine with a big heart and bigger physique, EDI, the AI in-charge of running your ship, the Normandy (how she becomes a member of your ground squad is a surprise) and Javik, the last living Prothean, who’s availability is dependent on how much money you spend on DLC for Mass Effect 3. All have their own talents, abilities and personalities. These personalities can be further fleshed out through conversing with them on the Normandy and it is through these conversations where you can truly see the character development Bioware has worked on. Some characters change over the course of this game or the trilogy, others just go through difficult situations and some just never waver. All however feel like real people (do we call aliens people?) with real ambitions, opinions and problems. One of the writers promised before the release of ME 3 that players would get emotionally attached to certain characters the depth of the characters begs for that sort of attachment.
Lieutenant-Commander Ashley Williams, full-time Spectre, part-time space racist
The aim of the game is to gather war assets for the final battle and you will be doing this throughout the game. There will be times where races will be on opposing sides and Shepard will have to make a choice between one or the other. Do you gift the krogan with a cure to the Genophage (a sterilizing illness forced upon them by the salarians as punishment for rebelling) at the cost of salarian support for the war, or do you try to play both sides by tricking the krogan? Can such a thing even be done? SHOULD such a thing be done, if it is to save your planet? These are the types of questions the game constantly asks you. And while the larger war assets are gained through these decisions made on main missions, other war assets can be acquired through side quests as well as the returning planet-scanning mini-game. All these war assets add up and are multiplied by your Galactic Readiness score, which is determined by your performance in the new online multiplayer mode. All of this comes together into one Effective Military Score, which determines just how ready you are for the Reapers; higher is better obviously so you will want to spend time going through all the content of the game. The decision to make multiplayer a factor in this score however is questionable, as it is impossible to gain the best ending in the game without playing at least a bit of multiplayer.
The ending though leaves much to be desired. Despite all the weight your previous decisions had in coming this far, the final decisions put to you don’t take any of your previous actions into consideration. Some of them even contradict actions that you have taken in game, and not only that, there is very little closure given to the player. You make your choice, some stuff blows up, the Normandy lands on some planet (or doesn’t) and you get a flash forward where Buzz Aldrin tells your story to a kid. THAT’S IT. No information on the fate of your friends, humanity, other races or the galaxy at large. You are meant to fill in the gaps with your imagination I suppose. It’s very sad that a game that placed so much emphasis on narrative and player agency would end in this fashion. And despite Bioware and EA’s attempt to rectify their mistakes with the release of the free “Extended Cut” DLC, the fact that they would put the game out like this in the first place is really disappointing.
The Mass Effect trilogy can be likened to the best road trip of all time that ends with your arrival in a dump of a town. Sure the end is more than a little lacklustre but the journey there is nothing short of spellbinding. It would be harsh to judge the trilogy as a dud for 10 minutes of mediocrity when the 40+ hours that preceded it are genre-defining and worthy of being deemed classic. I cannot discount the moments of triumph I felt, like when I made it back from the Collector Base with most of my crew still alive (sorry Jack _) or the time I helped Grunt through his initiation into his clan or the time Thane saved my ass despite suffering from stage 17 of space cancer or the time I helped two races find peace where none was thought to exist. I could go on and on and that is the beauty of Mass Effect. It is for this reason that I can still say playing the Mass Effect trilogy is one of the best experience I have ever had with a gaming system.
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