Mass Effect 3 Review
It’s interesting, at this point, to try and review a game like Mass Effect 3. It’s been through a huge change of public opinion in such a short time: incredible critical acclaim quickly gave way to overwhelming fan disappointment (based mostly on its ending). Despite some hesitation I happily brand myself a fan.
If you’re reading a Mass Effect 3 review, you probably know the deal with the series. Shepard – boy or girl – has been fighting the Reapers since Mass Effect. In that landmark game we learned the mysterious Reapers are a synthetic machine race bent on wiping out all organic life every 50,000 years. At the beginning of Mass Effect 3 the Reapers do something we’ve been long expecting: attack the galaxy in full force. And – you guessed it – it’s up to Shepard to bring ‘em down.
After two adored games does Mass Effect 3 live up to the hype? The answer is mostly yes, with a little no. It depends on what you bring to it.
Much has improved since Mass Effect 2: the action is easily the series’ finest. Never before have the three gameplay options balanced so well: Whether gunning, biotic-blasting, or tech-smacking your enemies, prepare for some serious excitement. Biotics feel weightier and more realistic than ever. Ditto for the tech. I still take a bit of issue with the same-iness of the guns, but the game unquestionably goes to great lengths to arm you with a huge and varied arsenal. As in previous installments, bringing up the skill wheel and unleashing the bio/tech skills of your teammates to unleash wild combos is as fun and necessary for victory as ever.
That’s just the old stuff. There’s a whack of new mechanics, and for the most part they’re well-implemented. It’s now possible to dive from cover to cover. Shepard can deal a fun and brutal, built-up biotic strike. The new weight system got me good: I equipped my Shepard – an adept – with five heavy guns as soon as possible and quickly found myself screwed with a hugely long cooldown period. (This is what I get for stubbornly ignoring manuals and most tutorials.) Of course, that’s a viable option for someone playing the game as a Soldier, even an Infiltrator, but tech/biotic skill-based classes will need to think hard about what they equip before diving in.
A lot of people disliked the planet scanning from Mass Effect 2. It was time consuming and aggravatingly necessary. You’ll be happy to learn that it’s gone in Mass Effect 3. You’ll be less happy to learn that it’s been replaced with solar system scanning. You fly the little Normandy around various solar systems, as before, but now you’ll send out little sonar bleeps and pick up a number of goodies from planets, asteroid belts, etc… If you scan too often – around three times per system – the Reapers will find and chase you. It doesn’t take as much time as planet scanning, but it’s just as aggravating. The Reapers are incredibly easy to escape: if they start chasing you just leave the system and re-enter, scanning as you go. They’re more of an inconvenience than a threat.
On top of that, for some bizarre reason, finding random distress signals and accompanying missions on planets is gone! Why? Your guess is probably better than mine. I loved picking up missions on mysterious planets and shuttling to the surface to find out what was up. It was the only thing that made planet scanning feel like more than a chore, and it lent the game a real sense of exploration. I would have been just as happy with finding missions out of nowhere while scanning solar systems, but BioWare has confusingly jettisoned the option.
The biggest addition to Mass Effect 3 is, of course, the highly publicized multiplayer. I’m of two minds about it. On one, it’s certainly fun. Locking in with a small group of players and defending against wave after wave of either Cerberus, Geth, or Reaper forces can definitely be entertaining. As you play your Galactic Readiness Rating rises, and this can directly affect the campaign. (I’m not totally sure to what extent – yet.) It’s also tough. Bronze challenges are a breeze, but Silver challenges can be trying. Gold challenges are flat-out brutal.
On the other hand, as challenging as it can be, it’s pretty shallow. As a hundred other reviews have pointed out, it’s basically a Mass Effect-ified Horde mode from the Gears of War series. I know the galaxy-inhabitants-versus-the-agents-of-evil thing ties into the main story, but my kingdom for a few more modes! King of the Hill! Deathmatch! How is there no deathmatch? I suppose using attacks like Singularity and Cryo Blast against another player might be difficult to impliment, but honestly, unless BioWare adds a bit more to it, I don’t see myself playing much more than I already have. Additionally, as nifty as the whole Galactic Readiness Rating thing is, I couldn’t help feeling like BioWare was twisting my arm into playing the multiplayer; I should want to play it, not have to want to play it.
I had some issues with Mass Effect 3 technically. Little seems to have improved graphically since Mass Effect 2. That’s not a huge problem – Mass Effect 2 was a stunner. It made a name for itself by creating some of the most incredible environments I’ve ever seen: the barren Tunchanka wasteland; the Illium cityscapes; the cramped and creepy Collector bases. Mass Effect 2’s art design was seriously killer. I’m happy to say that Mass Effect 3 holds up beautifully: the inciting attack on Vancouver is intense; the battle on Palaven is killer; and, well, you can imagine the last few missions throw you into some unbelievable, often familiar settings. Playing through a level while a happily-holocausting Reaper in the background makes an impression or three.
Unfortunately, I experienced massive slow down during cutscenes. (Playing it on the PlayStation 3.) It’s a problem I faced in Mass Effect 2, but I’d hoped BioWare would solve for the final installment. Unfortunately not. Pre-rendered cutscenes are appropriately excellent, but a lot – a lot – of the in-game video gets intensely choppy. It never wrecked my experience, but I’d hoped for improvement that didn’t show. I also encountered a few crashes. Each occurred during an autosave, which forced my PS3 to restore after a hard reset. Very frustrating.
(Even more frustrating is the fact that these technical problems seem to be metastasized on the PS3. I must make an aside from the review to address this issue: why, nearly five years into the lifespan of the current console generation, are we PS3 gamers still receiving games of inferior quality to their Xbox 360/PC counterparts? Fallout 3, Skyrim, both Mass Effect 2 & 3 – how are these games at their worst on a system exclusively home to God of War III, the Uncharted series, and the Killzone series, each more technically reliable on the PS3 than most games on any platform?)
As in previous Mass Effect installments, Mass Effect 3 shines brightest in the storytelling department. The story is exciting and lengthy and doesn’t drag for a minute, and its setpieces provide an appropriately epic conclusion to perhaps the most ambitious video game narrative ever. While there has been some controversy surrounding its ending – more on than in a moment – I can safely say Mass Effect 3’s story mostly met or exceeded my expectations.
Every character you loved from the previous two games will return, depending, of course, on who’s made it this far. And most of their stories are thoroughly gut wrenching: Jack’s new position suits her very well; Mordin’s saga continues his morally confused relationship with the genophage; Mass Effect favorite Urdnot Wrex plays a significantly more substantial role than he did in the previous installment; and I feel sorry for anyone who’s first experience with the series is this third installment because reportedly their game will, by default, not include Thane. His story and the way it works with the main narrative is excellent.
Not all of them are playable. In fact, very few are. The character roster in Mass Effect 3 is much smaller than Mass Effect 2. This isn’t a complaint: Mass Effect 2 had so many fantastic characters. I never felt like I was giving all of them their due, so a pared down roster – especially with a couple of surprising additions – is appreciated. This is the part of the review where I should rail against EA and BioWare for making one of your squadmates – a particularly awesome squadmate who’s presence alters enough of the story to make him more than a little worthwhile – part of a first day DLC pack, but since I’ve already done a lot of that, I’ll leave the subject alone.
All your choices in the previous two games have led to this. Mass Effect 3 climaxes, as you can imagine, in a big way. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, there’s been discussion about whether or not fans were “cheated” by the ending of the game. They weren’t, of course; the endings are fine for the most part. The problem comes from its structure. I won’t ruin anything – and as much as I dislike BioWare changing the ending to satiate fans – but I can certainly see why people are complaining. I don’t think BioWare’s necessarily made a bad choice to have the game end that way, but they did make a strange one. I’m more confused by why they chose to go that route than I am angry or frustrated.
And I suppose that’s where the majority of my complaints about Mass Effect 3 come from: confusion. Why did BioWare get rid of the distress beacons? Why did they choose to so strongly emphasis its less-than-life-changing multiplayer component? Why did they include day one DLC? All these questions make me shake my head. They hold it back from being one of the greatest games of all time – maybe the greatest game of all time – but none of them ruin it. I have to give Mass Effect 3 an overall glowing review. I came to care immensely for the game’s characters, for Shepard and his/her crew, and Mass Effect 3 throws them into some unforgettable, morally grisly, and exciting scenarios. If you can play it, do – just keep your expectations in check.