I think it goes without saying that Mass Effect 3 had some high expectations, even by the standards of highly-anticipated sequels. It’s the grand finale of what is arguably Bioware’s finest work so far, and, in my opinion, one of the more epic stories to be told in games. It had to deliver the goods that the series has been known for, because fans were far too invested in the legend of Commander Shepard to stand for a conclusion that didn’t hit the level of quality story-telling they’ve come to expect.
We’ve already seen the reaction from a vocal percentage of the internet who feel Mass Effect 3 does in fact fall short as far as an ending is concerned. But, after my time with the game, I honestly believe Mass Effect 3 is a fine conclusion to a great series.
To sort of set the stage, after the events of Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard is relieved of duty on Earth, and completely seperated from his old squad. But when the Reapers, an advanced race of synthetic/organic starships who Shepard has been fighting and warning people about since the first game, attack Earth, he’s quickly reinstated and sent out to rally the rest of the galaxy to fight off this common threat.
In terms of story, Mass Effect 3 is pretty direct in how it’s linked to Mass Effect 2. So, despite what you may hear, I really have trouble accepting that this is the best place for newcomers to jump into the series. You would get by, but so much is talked about from previous games, that I really have to insist starting this story from the beginning, or at least from the second game where the gap isn’t so wide. To be fair, you really should play those games if you like a good story, anyway.
But if you’ve been there for Shepard’s story since the beginning, you will find the galaxy is still a fascinating place and more troubled than ever before. Conflicts and problems that have been brewing between the various races of the galaxy are at their boiling point, and Shepard is the only person who can settle these issues. The dialogue and reputation system return pretty much untouched, so it’ll still be up to you as to how you handle things.
It won’t usually be a case of black and white, though, and that’s where I feel Mass Effect 3 does a good job of standing out in the series. Compared to the other two games where the Reaper threat always felt like another chance for Shepard to do something heroic, I feel like Mass Effect 3 shows the desperate and extreme situation you’re in. The end of the galaxy is at stake, and people are going to be lost.
The decisions you make play into the game’s Galaxy at War system, which is why the decisions you make can land you in an uncomfortable grey area at points. You’ll have to decide how you’re going to win the war as in who you’ll appeal to, and what you’re willing to give up. Each choice you make has its pros and cons, and you’re going to get hit with a bad outcome sometimes. But the game makes it clear that this isn’t necessarily because you made the wrong choice. It’s because you’re in the middle of the war you’ve been preparing for all this time, and it’s not going to be an simple one to win.
Of course, for as well as Mass Effect 3 sets up this feeling of tension and desperation in the galaxy, a good part of the story still does fall a tad short in comparison to Mass Effect 2, and that’s in terms of your squad. The previous game just had this great cast of refreshing characters that got you to learn about this universe through talking and working with them. To it’s credit, Mass Effect 3 will bring a lot of them back in some form (if they’re alive, that is), but we already developed our attachment to those characters.
ME3 will make up for this by putting those old attachments to the test, and you may even lose a few favorites in your playthrough (did I mention the situation was dire?). Characters will continue to grow and they’ll still keep your attention better than most game characters do, but the lack of new faces just made it seem like we took a slight step back and it made life on the Normandy a little less interesting. Overall, though, the story and characters are still the biggest strength of these games (also, for what it’s worth, I thought the ending was just fine).
Now, as far as the combat goes, not much has changed since the second game. The shooting might feel tighter, the enemies might seem a bit smarter than you remember, but it’s mostly the third-person shooter we’ve come to expect from Mass Effect. It’s certainly engaging enough, and there’s plenty of powers and skills to unlock as you level up, as well as loadouts to play with against a decent variety of enemies. It’s just not the best shooter, and certain types of enemies make certain, tight environments frustrating at some points. But again, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker, and does well when included with the overall package.
Other aspects of gameplay play into the Galaxy at War system, which will incorporate side-quests, planet-scanning, and the co-op-based multiplayer. The side quests will reward you in the same way they have before, but could also get you something in terms of war assets which can add to your effective military rating going into the final mission, possibly making these quests a little more appealing.
Planet-scanning also returns and offers assets as well, but, fortunately, it isn’t quite as tedious as it was in ME2. You can scan planets in a broader range, and you don’t need to launch a million probes into the planet to find what you’re looking for. Sadly, it wasn’t necessary in my playthrough to scan too much, and this meant that huge chunks of the galaxy went unexplored. I like that Mass Effect 3 takes away the tedium, but it doesn’t really replace it with anything substantial here, which ends up making the galaxy feel smaller. You can stick to your mission log for the most part, and still reach the end of the game with all your options available.
But the newest addition that Mass Effect 3 brings is its class-based, wave-survival multiplayer. Simply put, you and up to three other people survive a certain number of enemy waves at varying difficulty levels. Playing this mode will increase your “Galactic Readiness,” which determines how much of their strength your effective military will be going into the final battle with. Needless to say, you’ll probably want to go in with as much as possible. Of course, this mode is optional, but, while it may not be anything ground-breaking, it is an enjoyable variation on Mass Effect’s combat and it’s nice to see a multiplayer mode that has some productive effect on your single-player game.
So, when all was said and done and I took my Shepard to his final round with the Reapers, would I say Mass Effect 3 is a satisfying conclusion to the series? Yes, absolutely, but I don’t say that with the same excitement that I do with other games I enjoy. After beating the game, I feel exhausted. Not by the game’s faults, but as if I’ve personally gone through this war myself. I got the job done, but I can’t stop thinking about what it took to get to those final credits. I have a lot of regrets, and lot of uncertainty about how I handled it, and I think that’s a testament to how strong of a story Mass Effect was. Any complaints I have just seem a bit minor in comparison to this feeling I have now.
Unfortunately, this means I can’t judge Mass Effect 3 on its own as much as I’d like to. To me, it’s the third chapter in one big story that I love. Even if it’s not the best chapter, it’s a strong follow-up to the game that was. For those of us who have been with the series from the start, we had to see this story through to the end. To those of you who haven’t, you’ll find a decent shooter with a well-told story, for sure. You just really need to get into the entire trilogy to appreciate it to its fullest.Posted in Reviews by Ben Matlock on March 27, 2012