As a fan of Bioware and, in this specific case, the Mass Effect series, this review is one of mixed emotions. There are parts about it that I absolutely love, the parts that kept me playing for well over thirty hours, but there were also things that I would say range from being mildly disappointing to cringe inducing.
The one area of Mass Effect 3 that leaves me with the most emotional confusion is the story. But, truth be told, I think that is something that dates back from the second game in the series. Even then I had my fears and doubts about how the people at Bioware would be bringing this trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. Even so, with the exception of maybe the ending of Dragon Age 2, I have always thoroughly enjoyed the stories Bioware told in its games, so despite my fears I remained cautiously optimistic; hopeful even.
With that, I am sad to admit that, yes, my fears became a reality upon finishing Mass Effect 3. When I finished watching the "secret" cut-scene that played after the credits rolled, I was left feeling confused and and heavily disappointed.
That's not to say that the journey that was Mass Effect 3, and, in a larger part, the Mass Effect series, was wholly unsatisfying. There were, without a doubt, moments in the game which managed to hit me on a deep, emotional level in ways that games rarely do. Without giving too much away, people die in this game, and even though I think Bioware went a little overboard with the number of tragic deaths, there are scenes which even now, watching them on Youtube, I find the be utterly heart wrenching in the best way possible.
Speaking of people, Bioware claimed that Mass Effect 3 would focus on a smaller, more intimate team as opposed to the big group of people that joined your Shepard in the second game. Only the second half of that statement is true, really.
Fortunately, that part of it is probably also the most important. And really, it is true, in the sense that the world around me felt more alive and aware. Instead of a character living inside his or her own little bubble--and occasionally stepping out of it--it feels like everyone is, for the most part, aware of each other's existence. Not only that, they actually interact with each other! Without me having to do anything except stand there and listen to their conversations.
One of the funniest moments in the game was a particular conversation in the cockpit between Joker and another, Turian, member of your squad. I think everyone who comes across this particular conversation will immediately know what I'm talking about.
Unfortunately, the quality of the dialogue is kind of all over the place. One moment I was involved in a conversation that had a natural, organic flow to it, and the next time I talked to someone (sometimes even the same person), the dialogue felt incredibly forced, sometimes to the point of being monotonous, and other times being a clear case of over-acting; sometimes so much so that it was like watching a particularly badly acted episode of some generic soap.
On the gameplay level Bioware has made some a number of minor tweaks, almost all of which I felt were a nice improvement over the Mass Effect 2.
The biggest complaint I had with the second game was the lack of a deep leveling system. While I understood the need to streamline it for the sake of balance and accessibility, I felt they went too far with it in the second game. In Mass Effect 3, however, Bioware found a nice balance between the depth of the first game, and the simplicity of the second.
Leveling up, obviously, is something you do make your character stronger and provide them with stronger and more efficient versions of their powers. Again, compared to the second game, I felt that the abilities that I had at my disposal had been tweaked just enough to make them feel more useful. It probably speaks volumes that for the first time since Mass Effect 1, I chose something other than an infiltrator as my class (I chose adept) and not felt wholly underpowered.
On the whole, Shepard moves around the battlefield in a more nimble fashion as well. You have the ability to move from cover to cover, vault over low obstacles without slowing down, and roll in any direction to dodge out of the way of grenades or powers being lobbed in your direction. Something that, especially on the higher difficulties, saved me from having to reload my game on more than one occasion.
Counter to that, however, these additional moves have gotten me in trouble a few times as well. And it wasn't so much the moves themselves that caused my Shepard to meet his untimely demise, but rather it was the fact that almost every action you take is mapped to a single key. This has resulted in several frustrating moments where Shepard did something completely different from what I wanted him to do. While part of this can be blamed on my acting in a panic to quickly get myself out of a dire situation, I still couldn't help but shake the feeling that those mistakes would not have happened if there weren't so many actions mapped to a single key on my keyboard.
Still, as a third-person shooter there is not much that I can find wrong with Mass Effect 3. Pair that with the fun powers I had at my disposal and the variety of enemies I faced along the way, and I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the combat in this game.
And yes, planet scanning is still in existence, albeit in a less tedious form. Instead of scanning for minerals which you use for various upgrades, you now scan them solely for the purpose of finding specific items. Items which your Shepard will just overhear people talk about you pass them by.
That's right, you overhear the conversations in which people mention needing a specific item, after which a new quest will be added to your journal for you to go find said item. Sometimes I saw a fetch quest being added to my journal without actually having heard anyone talk about it. What's extra weird is the only time you interact with the people who need certain objects in any way is when you have them in your possession.
There are quite a few of these fetch quests, too, all of which involve flying to a particular system, hitting the scan button a few times until you find a planet that, according to EDI, has something of interest. You then scan said planet--just once is enough--to find the item, and, if it's something you need to complete a fetch quest, you can then go back to the Citadel and deliver it.
The scanning itself is certainly less tedious, but unless you're always paying attention to what items you've picked up and whether or not you have a quest for it, you'll never know if you need to go back to the Citadel to deliver it to someone. But, to find out if there's someone to whom you can deliver things you have found, you need to go to the Citadel and check your map for names you haven't seen on it before. It's all a very strange and laborious process to go through. Unfortunately, if you don't want to play any of the multiplayer, your ending will wholly depend on your completing these tedious quests.
Upgrading your equipment has been given an overhaul as well. Equipping things is still pretty much the same as it was in the previous game, just with a slightly different look. But upgrading your weapons is more in the style of the first game. During the missions you go on, you'll find an assortment of weapons and mods that you can apply to them. There is also the option to just buy new weapons, mods and armor in the various stores on the Citadel.
Once you've acquired a new weapon you can upgrade it on the Normandy, for a fee, up to a maximum of four times. The problem with this system is that it can be hard to keep track of which weapons you would do best to upgrade, so what I ended up doing was upgrading pretty much every weapon that I had. Something that, obviously, cost me quite a few credits and had I not pushed on with doing all those fetch quests, I would have definitely ran out of money.
Graphically the game looks better than its predecessor. I am by no means an expert on all the technical details, but I definitely noticed improvements from both a technical and artistic standpoint. Characters look better, the lighting more dynamic, and save for a few low resolution ones, textures have been improved as well. What's more, the design of the levels themselves feels more natural as well. Cover, this time, consists of more than boxes and crates placed at convenient locations.
The sound is, at best, average. Or to put it in better terms, I'd say that, with the exception of a few, the music in Mass Effect 3 is largely unremarkable. As a small disclaimer, I should probably point out that I've never been a huge fan of the music for Mass Effect. While I certainly recognize that it is fitting, the music has never really struck a chord with me. There are, as mentioned earlier, a few exceptoins, but by and large, I'd say that music left me mostly unfazed.
If you've played any of the previous Mass Effect games you probably won't be surprised that weapons don't really pack much of a punch when it comes to the sound department. I found that my powers as an adept, however, did sound great, especially when I hit an enemy with a combination, resulting not only resulting in a satisfying display of seeing characters fly through the air, but also a perfectly fitting sound effect to accompany it.
All things combined, Mass Effect 3 sees some welcome improvements over its predecessor, but for every positive there seems to be a negative. All the side stories that have been going on since the first game, for the most part, come to a satisfying conclusion. It's just a shame that the same can't be said for the main story, the one thing that this series has been revolving about.
If there's any advice I could give to potential buyers, I would tell them to base their decision on all the other, great, side stories that have been a part of the series since the start, and not so much for the conclusion to the Reaper story. And, should this be your first foray into the world that is Mass Effect, I would strong advice you to go out and play the previous games first because you will be missing out on a lot if you don't.