After 5 months, I have finally completed my quest to follow Mass Effect from beginning to end. and to muse on my experiences along the way from both a gameplay and story perspective. I feel obliged to warn you that I could probably be classified as an ME3 apologist, so if you'd like to avoid growing angry with a person like me, or if reading a wall of text doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I direct you to the back button. It's probably at about -50 degrees from this point on the screen. If you're interested in following my reactions from the beginning, it starts here.
I said I was a Mass Effect 3 apologist, but my second playthrough of ME3 revealed to me a dramatic flaw in the game that I did not experience the first time around - character importing, which I had been led to believe was fixed. What was worse was that character creation used a totally different set of stock features, and seemingly to me, a set that was less effective at getting a human-looking character out of the bargain. I ended up going with the default femshep, but her surreal features began to bug me, and so for the first time I made my default armor one of the complete sets that kept her in a full helmet as often as possible. Ultimately, however, this flaw ended up being so serious that I no longer felt like I was playing the same character as I had before. With my attachment to this character as low as it already was (I explain this in the first installment) I ultimately gave up on Female Shepard after the Geth Quarian mission, and returned to my default dude. Male Vanguard Shepard has always been a bit of a mixed bag. He let the council die, but saved the rachni queen. He went full renegade in ME2 and destroyed the Krogan cure, but also destroyed the collector base. His first time through the game had been a paragon run. This time, he was going to be true to himself - on insanity.
Everyone knows ME3 is the shootiest Mass Effect, and with the addition of dodging and shifting between cover, the game actually begins to feel like a full action game. I have to admit, though, I don't really play it that way in single player. I hold down RB to select my allies' powers instead of using the shortcuts (though I do use my own) and I often even use that screen to fine-tune my aim with the shotgun. Close quarters aiming is probably ME3's greatest weakness. I'm not sure whether to blame a reticule that's too wide or whether it's the lack of any auto-aim to speak of. Either way, it's really easy to do a biotic charge and miss. At the same time, this was the first time Mass Effect combat was responsive enough for me to really want to play on the highest difficulty. And there were indeed times when that difficulty got to me. I don't know if it had to do with my choice of armor or upgrades, or just the fact that I insisted on using my biotic charge, but if I opened myself to a single burst of enemy fire, I was pretty much dead. I think it took about five standard enemy rounds to kill me. I actually really liked this, and it was probably one of the few times that I felt like the amount of damage I could take was "realistic" without forcing an overly deliberate style of play, thanks to the quick ability recharge (drain energy being a key one) to keep hovering on the edge of destruction without falling over..
In multiplayer, where none of this pausing is an option, the game just doesn't seem fluid enough. Without having the time to consider my actions, I often find my character rushing into the wrong cover or getting stuck on things, and in turn, for some reason, this leads to me pushing the buttons too hard and my hands hurting. I assume it has something to do with trying to force my character to cooperate, which isn't a good thing.
Speaking of multiplayer, it's really interesting to me how popular this has remained - though I will not-so-humbly point out that I predicted before the game was out that it would have a long life, as Mass Effect 3's many superfans are left with nothing else of their favorite franchise to look forward to (in the immediate future). I wouldn't be surprised if this is, in fact, the main reason that ME3's multiplayer remains as populated as it is, as I really don't see the long term appeal of it in a mechanical sense. The shooting is inferior, the ability wheels are too simple, the teamwork elements are minimal (no ammo packs or healing, no enemy marking, just revives) and enemies soak up too many bullets. I have to admit the item slot machine they designed was pretty clever. Even without really having any intention of maxing out any good guns, I've probably bought at least a few dozen item packs (with in-game currency. I'm not crazy.) However, as they've expanded the mulitplayer and added more high-end guns and characters, the odds of getting multiple levels of *anything* that's rare or ultra-rare is prohibitively low, especially if you're like me and not playing with friends. As such, silver is the highest level of difficulty I can reliably beat. At any rate, despite these complaints, it was a good idea to have multiplayer in ME3, and for a first time effort, Bioware did pretty well with what they had.
I'll get the negative out of the way first - I would almost say that ME3 would be a better game with no side missions at all. I say almost not because I actually enjoyed the side missions (though the N7 missions were fun little sandboxes to enjoy your powers in) but because I actually did enjoy coming back after I finished scanning planets and reading the little descriptive text for all the various assets I found. If only they factored more visibly in the end game. But I won't get ahead of myself. I don't need to go on about these at length, but I will just point out that if they'd had the time to associate short little 5 minute sidequests for each of these like they had in ME2? That would have been 500% better and extremely impressive, instead of seeming like a cheap way of reusing old code from the previous game. Probably the place where the game's tight schedule bit the hardest, because you know that if they had an order of priorities, these were at the bottom. If you look at it like, "They had 2 days to create sidequests, and this is what they came up with" it actually becomes sort of impressive - in a totally irksome way.
I'm not going to reopen old wounds by talking about the various issues with Mass Effect's "Diamond-shaped" story arc. To be honest, there was only one time in the course of ME3 (aside from character creation) where something they decided to do made me think - "Hey, but what about what I did in ME1/2?" That one point was where my female Shepard took on the Rachni, whom she had eliminated previously. They went to way too little effort to create a secondary path for that eventuality. I'm not saying this in defense of the game, necessarily. I definitely think they should have done more with the Collector Base decision, particularly given it was really the only one you made. I'm just saying that I wasn't thinking about it while I was playing, so it didn't diminish my enjoyment.
What I want to give ME3's story credit for is something much more simple than the question of the big decisions. It's the deliberate pacing and good dialogue that really help you feel your long-standing relationships with the characters, with Ashley, Garrus, Liara, and Tali particularly. The new characters are good, especially Javik, but it's those last conversations you have, as you realize that the end is near, and as finally, your crew have made their peace and accepted it, that is really, truly outstanding. I've never played a game where as NPCs were telling me, "I guess this is it. Goodbye", I was saying it back to them. A part of it is just because I've been playing with them for 3 games, but god knows I didn't feel like that for Sgt. Johnson or Dom.
ME3 only really has three decisions that matter. I stuck with my paragon solution to the Geth and Quarians, but having let Eve die, I decided to take the renegade route on the Krogan thing. I thought that shooting Mordin in the back was fucked up enough, but shit really got real when I shot up Wrex in the citadel. I felt like a scumbag for selling him out, but the truth was, Wrex should never have been alive in the first place. My gut instinct was always to kill him on Virmire, and I simply left him alive because his replacement was so colorless in ME2. Miranda also ended up dead because I wouldn't trust her (even though I already knew what she was doing from my previous playthrough). All in all, I didn't have many of my suicide crew left - just Grunt, Jacob, Jack & Zaeed. I killed Samara for Morinth (who did not help me out with the end of the universe - bitch) and Kasumi's quest bugged out, which is apparently something they never bothered to fix. I never liked her anyway. Is there a way I could have lost Grunt, Jacob, or Jack? I'm curious - I can't think of how I might have done so. But hey, I saved Steve Cortez this time. That has to count for something.
Of course I haven't mentioned the last decision, which is...
Oh, god, you say, not this again! Well, fair enough. I'll keep my opinion brief. The extended cut helped a lot with explaining the ending I did get, though the little concept art pieces in the aftermath were worthless. I don't have a problem with the ending. My first time through, my paragon run, I chose destroy. My second, I chose control, because on Insanity, my Shepard was willing to make the hard calls that got people killed. Originally, my opinion of the ending was: I understood generally what happened with the Star Child (and believe it or not, Leviathan did not signficantly alter my understanding of what he was), but everything after that is a disjointed mess that makes no sense. The EC solves that latter problem. At the same time, I agree with a couple of the things the GB crew said. A) I believe that the ending would have been better if it had just cut out after you and Anderson sit down, without any decision to make at all and B) I agree that it should have been possible to win with the refuse option if you had done, like, literally everything you could to get every fleet on board. Naturally it would be difficult to implement both of these solutions at once, but I was actually very satisfied with reaper-Shepard's narrated monologue, aside from the fact it wasn't quite renegade enough. But then, my character ended up being a net paragon (just barely), so maybe he shouldn't have been.
So, there will be another Mass Effect. I, for one, will probably buy it. I have a strong preference, however, for the sequel over the prequel option. Prequels are a cop out, and while they can have nice stories (e.g. Reach) it's also better to be surprised - especially by an adventure game like Mass Effect. But if there's a sequel, what should it be?
The control option seems like a pretty good canon that actually fits in with some stuff I've seen them do before. Imagine this - in the far flung future, the Shepard rules all with his tyrranical fist. There is prosperity, but there is also stagnation, as the Reapers prevent species from building the arms necessary to defeat them, and in turn, they cannot protect themselves from the threats posed by species beyond known space (this would probably have to be a different galaxy). However, only the mass relays in the most populous systems are a part of this empire. Other systems, lacking the means to repair their own relays, became isolated and developed separately. Without the Reapers to police them, they have developed in ways that surpass the empire in some ways, but are lacking in others. You are from one of these planets, and are the captain of the ship who is leading the first voyage through the newly discovered mass relay. Discovering what has become of the galaxy beyond, you begin to unite the discontent into a force that can finally overthrow the Shepard and allow the races to develop freely, following their own path once again.
Also, please add capital ship combat, along with a crew-buliding element that goes beyond your own party members.
There is just one point in all of Mass Effect 3 that makes no sense to me. Legion was somehow never convinced that it would be correct for the Geth to join the reapers. Why? At the same time, he was used as a relay for the Reaper code. Why? Are either of these answers really explained?
There's also another part of the lore carried over from ME2 that I don't understand. According to the Star Child, the Reapers create a machine copy of each species to preserve their essence and their accomplishments. If so, then why do all proper reapers appear to be of the Leviathan race? Are the others just left in dark space and not used for the harvest because they're too valuable to lose?