This review is being published well after the release date of Mass Effect 3, and the reviews on other gaming sites for several reasons. The foremost of which is due to my reverence towards the Mass Effect franchise, I have been a faithful fan since first reading about the development of the game and I wanted enough time to properly experience it. Secondly I wanted to make sure I played through significant portions of the game multiple times to provide an educated analysis of the different permutations. Lastly I needed time to reflect upon the ending and the game as a whole before I was comfortable publishing my final opinion on the end of Shepard’s story.
Compared to many of the games I play and review for XboxEdge.com, Mass Effect 3 is truly one of the best games I have ever played. This does not mean that it is perfect. Bioware has made numerous changes from Mass Effect 2, many of which are improvements but others feel out of place and significantly detract from the overall experience.
One of the most notable improvements is the addition of deeper customization options available to the player, which are reminiscent of the options present in the original Mass Effect. One of my main criticisms of Mass Effect 2 was the lack of customized weapons and armour, I’m glad to see that this has been rectified in the third installment. Shepard now has the ability to choose from a variety of different firearms, which can be tailored with different modifications. These modifications range from increased damage and accuracy to larger ammo capacity. The addition of each mod changes the appearance of the weapon, which is reflected in every cutscene. While the inclusion of weapon mods is appreciated the variety of modifications feels shallow compared to other RPGs and even what was present in the original Mass Effect.
The ability to customize Shepard’s default armour is also an improvement over the options available in Mass Effect 2. Shepard’s helmet, breastplate, gloves, boots, etc can all be customized to create one set of armour. A visual bar shows the improvements that each piece of armour contributes to Shepard’s base statistics of health, weapon damage, shields and other areas. Each unique armour piece improves certain statistics while neglecting others. The armour only exists to help reinforce each player’s individual playing style. If you’re looking to grind loot and make an epic set of armour, Mass Effect 3’s armour system will disappoint. Granted Mass Effect 3 is not a loot grinding game but the familiar customization options may lead some to be dissatisfied with the limited options presented to them, particularly because of the great armour options of the original Mass Effect.
While on the topic of armour, Bioware also fixed one of the most annoying aspects of Mass Effect 2, Shepard wearing helmets during cut scenes. The option now exists to control the use of helmets during cut scenes. No longer will you have to sacrifice protection if you want to see Shepard’s face while speaking to others. Shepard’s helmet can also be enabled or disabled during battle.
Mass Effect 3’s combat has been vastly improved over its predecessor in almost every area. No longer will you have to aim above or to the side of an enemy behind cover in order to hit them with a biotic power. Biotic powers such as pull and throw are more fluid and accurate than any past Mass Effect title. Bioware has given Shepard the ability to roll which improves upon one of the weakest points in Mass Effect 2’s combat. Often times in Mass Effect 2 you would be exposed to enemy fire and the only way to evade would be to either run towards the enemy to get behind cover or manually turn the camera sideways or backwards so you could run to cover you already past. Being able to roll allows Shepard to quickly roll out of the way of enemy fire and quickly find cover. It may be a small addition to the overall package of Mass Effect 3 but it plays an important role during combat.
Another change that plays an important role during combat is the new health system. Mass Effect 2’s recharging health bar has been replaced with health blocks similar to Halo. Once Shepard’s shield is depleted he will take damage to the health blocks. Once a block of health is depleted it can only be replenished through the use of Shepard’s limited supply of medi-gel. Medi-gel is also used to revive downed teammates. The only drawback to this health system is that the character animation to use medi-gel requires Shepard to be standing, even if the player is already crouching behind cover. This becomes a little annoying during the middle of combat, while trying to evade enemy fire.
The above issue regarding medi-gel is a minor annoyance, especially if you are proficient using squad commands to keep your companions alive. One of the staples of the Mass Effect series, the squad commands, is largely unchanged and remains one of the series best features. Squad commands in Mass Effect 3 have received an upgrade by incorporating the Kinect sensor. Using the Kinect sensor, the player now has the ability to control the use of their squad mates’ powers, order them to certain positions and other commands simply by using their voice. The inclusion of voice commands is a very cool concept but I quickly found myself using the standard squad commands because they are a more effective tool to control the flow of combat.
The player can also open doors and speak dialogue options using the Kinect sensor. The dialogue and interactions between characters is one of the best aspects of Mass Effect 3. Each interaction is not only well written but performed exceptionally well by most of the voice actors. It is a little jarring to see and hear Jessica Chobot as a character but I doubt it will have much impact on the majority of players.
Interacting with the various characters the audience has come to know over the course of three games, and the nuances in the conversations based on past exploits and choices is a rewarding experience that cannot be equaled in any other game.
As Commander Shepard you will be tasked with not only saving Earth from the Reaper invasion but the entire galaxy. This journey will lead Shepard to many different locations both familiar and new to the player. Each playable area, from the overhauled citadel to the expanses of Earth and the Asari home world, provide detail rich levels that are not only a blast to play through, but look absolutely stunning. The different style of architecture in the environments of these worlds reinforces the fact that you are visiting different worlds, not just different levels. Each area has an added level of depth that make the environments feel larger than they actually are, such as the multiple levels of the club purgatory or the reapers invading far off parts of the city on earth.
Many of these great locations become central to the various missions that Commander Shepard will have to carry out in order to save the galaxy. Mass Effect 3’s missions have the largest sense of scale and importance of the entire series. Shepard will find himself at the middle of conflicts that have been building since the beginning of the series. While there are a few standout mission there are many that fall into a formulaic template that begins to simply feel like a cameo-fest. The missions and their outcomes are important but the structure does seem formulaic, enough to be noticeable. The same argument can be leveled against Mass Effect 2 but its overarching narrative made it more forgivable.
One area where Mass Effect 3 falters compared to its predecessors is the side quests. The side quests amount to nothing more than basic fetch quests. They only amount to finding a particular item on a mission or scanning a planet and retrieving a specific item. These side quests can only be obtained by overhearing NPCs talking about them, there isn’t even a conversation that takes place between Shepard and the character to initiate the quest. The end result of performing these side quests is the character giving Shepard aide in the final push against the reapers. While the outcome is welcome it feels undeserved based upon the simple act of finding an item such as a religious tome or a war banner.
I understand that it wouldn’t be believable for Shepard to go on side quests like the ones in Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2 with the imminent destruction of the galaxy at hand but these side quests are not fulfilling and just seem like another hoop to jump through to get the best ending cinematic. If the side quests were given more importance towards the goal of Shepard rallying allies or handled in a similar way to Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, where you would send your comrades out on their own missions, the side quest aspect of Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t have felt so obtuse.
The side quests are further complicated by the obtuse journal system. The journal system is the weakest of any Mass Effect game. It doesn’t update the status of a quest once certain requirements are completed or even acknowledge that all the requirements have been fulfilled and the quest is ready to be turned in. Side quests are also given without any indication that the solar system needed to complete them hasn’t even become available to the player. Another minor gripe is that the journal doesn’t even open to show the most recent quests, it continually opens in the middle of the quest list forcing the player to scroll up every single time to see what the requirements for a particular quest are.
The codex section of the journal does contain a lot of information and will read all the information to the player which is a plus.
In addition to the standard side quests there are also N7 missions which require Shepard to take a detour from his galaxy saving duties to complete missions that seems below his pay grade. The N7 missions use the same arena levels as the multiplayer and provide a change of pace from the traditional story based missions of Mass Effect 3. The objectives of the N7 mission do feel more manufactured as opposed to the traditional organic feel of story missions. While the N7 missions do feel a little out of place they are a welcome change of pace to the main story.
The decisions made in the main story as well as your progress on the N7 missions contribute towards the new Galaxy at War system. This system shows the strength and readiness of Shepard’s allies to take on the reapers in one final battle. The iPhone game, datapad app and Mass Effect 3 multiplayer also contribute to how prepared the species of the galaxy are. The Galaxy at War screen provides some interesting background information on who Shepard has aligned with and the kind of support they are providing but it ultimately feels very artificial compared to the rest of the game.
Mass Effect 3 may also be the most difficult game in the series. The constant theme of battle during the game can be described as overwhelmed and outgunned. There are several missions that involve Shepard going into a fight not trying to win but just trying to complete an objective and get out alive. The new enemy types also contribute to the sense of overwhelming odds. The new reaper enemies that are a hybrid between different races can be very tough to handle given the situation. Even the Cerberus operatives can be difficult if the player doesn’t maintain a crowd control policy. The intensity of the battles coupled with the overarching importance of the missions conveys the impression of how dire Shepard’s situation is.
Bioware also tried to convey this feeling of hopelessness with artificial dream sequences that try to explain what is going on in Shepard’s head. The problem with these dreams that are haunting Shepard is the emotion toll they are supposed to take may not be in line with how the player’s particular character would react. The largest problem with Mass Effect 3 is that Bioware is being more heavy handed in their story telling than in previous Mass Effect games. In both previous games it felt as if you would unravel the unique story of your character whereas Mass Effect 3 feels like your story has been predetermined regardless of the perceived individuality of your character.
This problem also plagues the ending of Mass Effect 3 which may be more polarizing than the ending of Lost. The decisions that you have made over the course of three games ultimately feel disregarded. The only factor that determines the ending is how full the bar is in the Galaxy at War screen. There is essentially no consequence to any of the choices made in Mass Effect 1 and 2, the story unfolds the same with minor changes to how it is told.
Apart from the single player, Mass effect 3 also includes a multiplayer component for the first time in the series’ history. The multiplayer supports up to four players working together to survive and completing objectives against eleven waves of enemies on the N7 mission maps from single player. The multiplayer is surprisingly a lot of fun. I’ve had a blast playing it with three of my friends. The most addictive part of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is levelling up your character and using them in combination with your teammates. After each map you will received a varying amount of experience points depending on your performance. You will also receive credits which can be used to buy upgrade packs that contain a random assortment of weapons, ammunition, bonuses and characters. The randomness of these upgrade packs is similar to how magic or Yugioh cards work.
Mass Effect 3 is a great game. It does a tremendous job of creating a sense of impossible odds and the weight of the galaxy depending on your actions. The combat is vastly improved over Mass Effect 2 and the customization options are shallow but a welcome addition. The side quests may feel tacked on but the main missions are a very epic personal struggle. The inclusion of multiplayer was not detrimental like so many feared, it is actually quite a fun and addicting mode. As a standalone product Mass Effect 3 is an amazing game but looking at it as the end of the series fans may ultimately be disappointed with the conclusion of the culmination of their choices.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 360 version of Mass Effect 3.