Good but not Great
Some of you might have played the Mass Effect games in the past and were eagerly awaiting the release of the final installment to this exciting trilogy. The wait is over and millions of fans were able to enjoy the stunning conclusion to Commander Shepards grand plan to stop the Reapers once and for all. If you don’t know what Reapers are, or who Commander Shepard is, then you might really enjoy what this latest title from Bioware has to offer. For everyone else it’s a slippery slope of lowered expectations.
It is important to point out that if you bought all the previous games’ DLC and imported your character the story can play out very differently. To touch upon this fact a little more I have to mention that if you don’t import a Mass Effect 2 character, you get instantly shortchanged storywise and dumped into a world full of empty encounters with forgettable NPC’s. During a fresh game, the authors deemed it appropriate to kill off almost everyone of significance from the previous titles before the action even starts. The moment you step aboard the Normandy there is a commemorative plaque of names that is three-quarters full. The development team over at Bioware decided that if new players coming into the trilogy don’t know who Jack, Grunt, Wrex or anyone else from the previous games are, then no one can enjoy them, NO ONE. This leads to various missions where you would normally meet the previously mentioned suicide mission team members and have cool little cameos, share some stories, catch up on old times - except now they’re not there and those missions are complete throwaways that have little to do with anything. In addition to this, Shepard is treated like an idiot coming out of a coma as character after character take great care to explain everything that is happening to you. While games like Gears of War 3 are unapologetic about not explaining what is going on, because they assume if you bought anything with the number 3 tagged onto it you have some understanding of what the heck is going on, Mass Effect 3 goes to great lengths to retell the entire story from within every conversation for the first hour of the game.
The story opens up with Shepard just sitting around, waiting for the Reapers to do something, because planning ahead is for dorks apparently. Once those synthetic bullies start pouring out of Mass Relays and attacking every single world in the galaxy it’s up to the player to rally a team and stop them! This might sound familiar, and thats because it’s the plot from Mass Effect 2. This time around you don’t recruit squad members, as you do entire species to rally their fleets against the Reaper invasion. Loyalty missions are replaced with a War Readiness bar that slowly fills up as you gain new allies and pay EA for multiplayer booster packs. You might meet a lot of familiar faces on your adventure (granted you imported a previous character, but hey don’t worry this is totally still just as great for newcomers!), none of which will help you out because they have laundry to do or cats to feed. Much like Mass Effect 2, almost all your allies from the previous game couldn’t care less about helping you out. It seems those loyalty missions where you solved every ones laundry list of daddy issues weren't enough to really cement your friendships - and you know they really gotta hang around this med bay all day long cause thats pretty important. Early on you find out the Protheans left plans lying around for this device that sorta-kinda might kill the Reapears, but no one is sure exactly. but what the hell we’ll build it anyway. The rest of the game is spent rallying allies as various races work around the clock to build The Crucible, your last ditch effort of stopping the Reapers, even if this thing turns out to be a gigantic Prothean microwave.
Not many changes have been made to the way you play Mass Effect. You still have your two squad members to back you up in all encounters. The variety of squadmates is significantly lower but you can get a cool Prothean buddy if you pay for some extra DLC right out the gate. This obviously wasn’t something cut from the main game because Protheans, the believed to be centuries old extinct race that built the Mass Relays and the citadel, don’t really have much influence on the overall narrative of the game. Despite the promised balancing between RPG and action this new installment keeps leaning even further in favor of shooting things up rather than talking things out. Sidequests have been downgraded to literally overhearing people talking on their space-iphones and getting their boring fetch quests automatically added to the still largely defunct quest log. Hey I overheard you talking about needing more apples so I went out to space and scanned a planet to bring you these apples, no you didn’t ask me to do this but here they are, so how about those Reapers they sure are murdering us by the millions huh?? Say goodbye to planet scanning for resources, and say hello to planet scanning for sidequests. Almost all of the side activities boil down to going to a specific planet, scanning it and finding a lost artifact or some old Cracked magazines. The inventory system remains largely identical to the previous title except now Bioware has thrown some of you RPG enthusiasts a bone and you can install upgrades to your guns while comparing bar graphs of damage output to ammo capacity. Even this is pretty hands off as you can install a heatsink level 1 or a heatsink level 2 which just works better - as a matter of fact when you pick up these upgrades that are just casually strewn across the battlefield they’ll automatically replace the previous level upgrade on your gun so you don’t even have to visit that workbench that often. All in all this is still Mass Effect and it plays like Mass Effect. The shooting is a little tighter and some powers got beefed up so Adepts aren’t completely useless, but if you played the last game and enjoyed it then you’ll feel right at home here.
A brilliant new mechanic that is introduced in Mass Effect 3 is the inclusion of multiplayer that has a direct influence on your single player campaign. Throughout the story Shepard will visit evil Cerberus hideouts where you accomplish some vague objective along the lines of “kill all these doods and press that button” in order to gain a foothold in that location. Once the area is secure you leave troops behind as Shepard whisks away to some other important task like finding heat sinks for some guy you overheard on the Citadel. This is where the online kicks in - you take on the role of those troops left behind to fend off reoccuring Cerberus attacks. Without going into much detail you play through 10 waves of a 4 player coop horde mode to raise the readiness bar in your single player campaign. You level up and gain weapons and if you want things now, now, now you can purchase booster packs for real money. There are no hats to buy like Team Fortress 2 but fear not as these packs are just as useless seeing as theres no way to know what you’ll get and very often items will repeat with no way of selling them. You might spend quite a bundle getting shotgun after shotgun for your character that specializes in sniper rifles and theres absolutely no way to break those shotguns down, trade or sell them. Thank you for your Microsoft points and come again, we have plenty more shotguns for you to purchase.
When all is said and done this is just another Mass Effect game. Despite all the hype it certainly doesn’t feel like the end all and be all for an overarching trilogy. Depending on who you ask, Bioware either watered down and beefed up the right elements or vice versa. If you liked shooting aliens in the face and throwing space-magic-missiles then this is still the game for you. If you were raging hard because Bioware took out the inventory system and watered down the RPG elements then that stuff is still taking a backseat to all the action, sorry. I’ll omit discussion of the ending as some people are livid enough to come up with doctorate level papers on how it was all just a Kefka’esque dream sequence and the true ending is still on the way. While not the strongest entry in the series, Mass Effect 3 does right by letting you talk to aliens in space, shoot aliens in space, and kindle sexy alien space relationships that result in awkward sex scenes eerily reminiscent of Star Wars fanfics. If you enjoyed the previous two games it would be ridiculous to not see the story through to the end, no matter how messed up and stupid that end might prove to be.