aztecomar's Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360) review

Mass Effect 3 Review

Mass Effect 3 is the kind of game that comes around once in a generation, maybe once in a lifetime. Mass Effect is a franchise entirely encapsulated within a single hardware cycle that captured the hearts and imaginations of gamers worldwide. The franchise made huge promises in regards to size, scope and the revolutionary impact of an individual’s decisions. It’s been five years – five long, yearning years, but finally the trilogy is at its close. Mass Effect 3 is arguably the most anticipated game of the year, and the catalyst for the fulfilment of a five year promise. Lucky for us all, then, that Bioware have created a monolith of unparalleled proportions, showcasing possibly the very best game design and narrative of this generation. Playing Mass Effect 3 is an experience you will not soon forget.

For those not caught up with the story so far, Mass Effect 3 joins Commander Shepard on Earth, placed under house arrest following the events of Mass Effect 2’s Arrival DLC. Despite repeated warnings about the oncoming Reapers, the galactic government is slow to act and are ill-prepared when the omnipresent, sentient machines return to the galaxy and begin their reign of terror. Their mission: To eviscerate all life-forms across the galaxy and start anew, just like they have every 50,000 years since the dawn of civilization. Shepard, and his (or her) crew on-board the Normandy must set out across the galaxy and unite all together under one common flag to repel the invasion and save all sentient life.

The impacts of Shepard’s journey across Mass Effect 3 and the decisions made along the way are mind-bogglingly huge. Centuries-old wars and vicious prejudices are assuaged to unite under a common banner and fight for survival. For long-term fans of the series, there is an incredible sense of accomplishment to be derived from helping to solve these massive struggles that have dictated the actions and personalities of dozens of characters over the course of the entire franchise. This has always been where Mass Effect has thrived, with deep, branching options of gameplay dictating the future of the series in incredibly differing ways. It makes you feel as if the choices you make are truly important.

Gameplay has been tightened in some very important, key ways. As it was with the jump from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2, the shooting element has been tightened even further making it feel less like dice rolls behind the scene is dictating damage and more like a solid, third-person action game. I genuinely love the action in Mass Effect 3 – the tight integration of shooting and special powers still feels incredibly unique to the series and gives players a type of visceral action not available from other shooters or RPGs. I played as a soldier, a character archetype focusing more on the guns and leaving my allies to use their different tech and biotic powers to eviscerate enemies, and never felt as if I was missing out on any key features. It controlled well and was entertaining to play.

Outside of combat, other little tweaks have been made to help simplify gameplay and restore some of the RPG roots that were lost in Mass Effect 2. Powers are now more customizable, with upgrades presenting players with a series of choices, diversifying the way they will affect combat. Would you rather a concussive shot affect a greater area, or hit a single target harder? It allows for a deep customization of the way you enter into combat and how to approach different enemy types. Additionally, weapon management has been edged further towards the original Mass Effect days, with players choosing two attachments for each gun to go into battle with. This buffs weapons in a variety of fairly key ways, changing everything from clip size to adding a piercing power to bullets. Armor management is fairly similar to Mass Effect 2, but with a far wider variety of parts and armor types. It was cool to see the DLC armor packages from Mass Effect 2 available at the different shops across the Citadel for sale – it was a nice legacy touch.

Surprisingly, the Kinect integration is actually kind of brilliant. It manifests in three unique ways: It can be used in conversation rather than selecting dialogue options; it can be used to interact with things in the environment and to quick-save; or it can be used in combat to control your party members and give them tactical orders. In conversation it is kind of dumb: rather than selecting the option on-screen, you instead read the words aloud and the game continues with the conversation. It is kind of ridiculous and novel, but nothing game-changing. The same can be said about using it for environmental interaction, where instead of pressing “A”, you’d simply read the prompt on-screen. This is, again, novel, but nothing world-changing; although simply saying “quick save” to save as I would leaving the room after putting the controller down was a cool addition.

In combat, however, it truly excels. Shepard can command teammates to move around the battlefield, target specific enemies or use combat powers ordinarily on the controller, but by speaking the commands instead to the Kinect, it allows you to continue to focus on the action and what you are fighting at the time. For example, I found it extremely useful to order Garrus to use overload, then use his hotkey to follow up with concussive shot. Again, this is something that could be done with the controller ordinarily but it takes time and pauses the flow of combat, which seems a very inelegant solution to me. The Kinect integration is a good indicator of what it could be in the future, and a good signpost showing how far the technology has come in such a short time. I was initially sceptical, but ended up greatly enjoying using the Kinect as regular as I would use an ordinary controller.

Multiplayer is perhaps the biggest addition to the series, and one that doesn’t disappoint. You and three other players are placed on a map and tasked with surviving ten waves of oncoming enemies, whilst completing objectives on certain waves, such as killing a VIP or holding a position for a given length of time. At the end of each match, you earn XP to level your character and credits to purchase new supplies in the store. There are three or four characters for all six classes in the game, and each have a different variety of skills and powers to be used.

I’m still not sure if I like how the store works, however. There are three different priced packs available for purchase, which contain single-use items for maps, as well as different weapons and characters. As it is completely random, I’m still using the same weapons I was when I started and I’ve probably played 15 or 20 matches. Each match nets you around 15,000 credits, but the best pack costs 60,000. In a smart, yet devilish, move on EA’s behalf, you can purchase the two best packs for 80 and 160 Microsoft Points each, if you are so inclined. It’s a smart, yet devilish system and one that rewards commitment. All in all though, the Multiplayer is an entirely optional part of the game that whilst it can help you complete the single player faster, is entirely unneeded to get the best ending. Its fine for what it is, and will hopefully continue to be developed in future titles.

What makes Mass Effect as a series so brilliant is the way that decisions made in one game translate into another. Decisions I made five years ago weren’t full realized until I played through Mass Effect 3, and they have incredibly deep ramifications upon the way my game turned out. The decisions I made regarding which characters lived and died to which races saw genetic or mental apocalypse had deep, lasting ramifications into Mass Effect 3. Throughout the journey, numerous familiar faces would pop up and interact with Shepard, some in quite deep and meaningful ways. For new players, they would seem just like a standard NPC simply with more back story. For veteran players, however, these interactions are what make this game truly special. The quiet, poignant moments with long-lost allies are intensely gratifying. Seeing the arc of certain characters come to their end carried an emotional heft that I was not expecting in the slightest.

It mightn’t be the coolest thing in the world to admit, but Mass Effect 3 on more than one occasion managed to make me cry. Those moments are what make that game so incredible to me – that of all the things in the world, a video game made me tear up. This is testament to the phenomenal power and emotional investment created across the length of the series. Through quality dialogue and by presenting Shepard with a variety of choices that can drastically affect the outcome of the galaxy, Bioware have crafted one of the most individualised, personal journeys in all of gaming. I wasn’t just playing as Commander Shepard, he was my Shepard – the man who saved Wrex and yearned over the death of Ashley; the man who took the time to talk to Jack and to befriend Garrus. These emotional bonds were crafted by individualizing the choices I could make over the length of the series and created a personal attachment I wasn’t expecting – hell, it still seems wrong to see my Shepard’s voice coming out of another face.

The absurdly high quality of the writing and the story arc of almost every character you interact with across the length of the series makes them feel like more than just regular, forgettable NPC’s.Here’s proof: Bioware, in order to make Shepard appear more human and relatable, have Shepard have a series of nightmares across the game which are entirely forgettable and cheesy. The segments create a negative emotional reaction – forcing emotion and depth upon Shepard so late in the series – my Shepard, who up to this point wouldn’t react in this way – comes across as forced and fake. Yet as Shepard begins to say his final farewells to crew members past and present in preparation for the final assault, lest they don’t return, I was an emotional wreck. These weren’t just crew members I was saying goodbye to – they were friends, allies that I had spent the better part of 150 hours with in some cases. That was emotional depth – that is how you make me feel something towards your characters, though the investment of time and quality writing. In this way, Mass Effect 3 is unparalleled and I doubt any game will ever truly equal it. It is in incredibly special and incredibly personal moment to experience.

What makes Mass Effect as a series so brilliant is the way that decisions made in one game translate into another. Decisions I made five years ago weren’t full realized until I played through Mass Effect 3, and they have incredibly deep ramifications upon the way my game turned out. The decisions I made regarding which characters lived and died to which races saw genetic or mental apocalypse had deep, lasting ramifications into Mass Effect 3. Throughout the journey, numerous familiar faces would pop up and interact with Shepard, some in quite deep and meaningful ways. For new players, they would seem just like a standard NPC simply with more back story. For veteran players, however, these interactions are what make this game truly special. The quiet, poignant moments with long-lost allies are intensely gratifying. Seeing the arc of certain characters come to their end carried an emotional heft that I was not expecting in the slightest.

It mightn’t be the coolest thing in the world to admit, but Mass Effect 3 on more than one occasion managed to make me cry. Those moments are what make that game so incredible to me – that of all the things in the world, a video game made me tear up. This is testament to the phenomenal power and emotional investment created across the length of the series. Through quality dialogue and by presenting Shepard with a variety of choices that can drastically affect the outcome of the galaxy, Bioware have crafted one of the most individualised, personal journeys in all of gaming. I wasn’t just playing as Commander Shepard, he was my Shepard – the man who saved Wrex and yearned over the death of Ashley; the man who took the time to talk to Jack and to befriend Garrus. These emotional bonds were crafted by individualizing the choices I could make over the length of the series and created a personal attachment I wasn’t expecting – hell, it still seems wrong to see my Shepard’s voice coming out of another face.

The absurdly high quality of the writing and the story arc of almost every character you interact with across the length of the series makes them feel like more than just regular, forgettable NPC’s.Here’s proof: Bioware, in order to make Shepard appear more human and relatable, have Shepard have a series of nightmares across the game which are entirely forgettable and cheesy. The segments create a negative emotional reaction – forcing emotion and depth upon Shepard so late in the series – my Shepard, who up to this point wouldn’t react in this way – comes across as forced and fake. Yet as Shepard begins to say his final farewells to crew members past and present in preparation for the final assault, lest they don’t return, I was an emotional wreck. These weren’t just crew members I was saying goodbye to – they were friends, allies that I had spent the better part of 150 hours with in some cases. That was emotional depth – that is how you make me feel something towards your characters, though the investment of time and quality writing. In this way, Mass Effect 3 is unparalleled and I doubt any game will ever truly equal it. It is in incredibly special and incredibly personal moment to experience.

SUMMARY:

Mass Effect 3 is gaming perfection in my eyes: it is exactly what a game should set out to do to the player from the get-go. The story is heart-wrenching and inspiring all within the same breath, the combat is intensely satisfying and the pay-off for five years of gaming is easily the most rewarding gameplay experience I’ve ever had. It will take an absolute juggernaut of a title to make me feel like I did playing this game. This is as close as we’ve ever been to the pinnacle of gaming, in my humble opinion.

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