Review: Mass Effect 3
Here we are again.
Damn, Commander Shepard. We’ve been through some crap together, haven’t we? First Saren decides to go rogue, then we come to find that a race of ultra-advanced machines bent on the total assimilation of all advanced life is about to attack, then you straight-up die, only to be completely rebuilt by a human supremest terrorist organization led by Martin Sheen. We form the biggest group of badasses the galaxy has ever seen with the express intention of destroying an army of Reaper-indoctrinated Protheans who’ve been kidnapping entire human colonies. And if that wasn’t enough, we stopped to solve everyone’s random, insignificant problems along the way.
Yep, we’ve seen some serious action together, Shep. But guess what, pal o’ mine: you ain’t seen nothing yet. That’s right, after a seemingly endless wait, the dramatic conclusion to Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy has finally arrived, and it does not disappoint.
Tell me a story, Bioware.
The fabled Reapers have finally arrived, and, of course, the galaxy is completely unprepared. Shepard’s been under house arrest since his little Cerberus escapade, but Freddie Prinze Jr. and Keith David show up just in time to get you exonerated. From there, it’s a mad dash across the galaxy to unite as many races as possible for one giant retaliation. Along the way, you’ll face new Cerberus and Reaper forces, like the powerful Banshees, Asari that have fallen victim to indoctrination.
Mass Effect 3 does a good job of incorporating your decisions from the previous games, though several of your squadmates from ME2 - characters you’ve spent hours getting to know - appear in what amount to brief, inconsequential cameos (provided they survived the suicide mission). For a franchise promising to make you feel the weight of your actions, it was somewhat jarring to see Bioware play fast and loose with so many important characters.
While it will undoubtedly upset some fans, the conclusion to Commander Shepard’s story is extremely satisfying and evocative. By the end, you’ll truly feel like you’ve been through the ringer. Bioware may have focused on action a little too heavily for my liking, but they still know how to spin a mighty fine yarn.
In the trenches.
The original Mass Effect caught a lot of flak for its stiff controls, but ME2 took just as much for its oversimplification of the inventory and leveling system. ME3 straddles the line between “deep” and “accessible” a bit better than its predecessors, though it still leans closer to the latter.
Movement is noticeably more fluid and combat feels much faster paced than previous integrations, though you can still pause the game at any time to recon enemy positions and issue orders to your squad. For a game you’ll likely be playing for 25-plus hours, tedious combat is a huge pain. Luckily, Bioware finally hit the nail on the head in ME3, with combat that is both frantic and strategic.
ME3 features a large variety of weaponry and attachments. Rather than constantly swapping out weapons and armor, you come across upgrades while on missions or in stores. This works as a good middle ground, eliminating constant inventory management while still providing a sense of character progression, though I still prefer the old school loot-driven system of ME1.
Biotic and tech powers have been expanded upon from ME2. Each power now has six levels, each with a branching path from level four onward, making for some pretty tough choices. While it does still feel a tad bare-bones, ME3’s leveling system is a marked improvement over ME2.
Mass Effect has never been a graphically stable game, but ME3’s frame rate and graphical glitches are noticeable, to say the least. On PS3, some cutscenes drop the frame rate into the teens, and issues like texture pop-in continue to dog the series.
It’s a small galaxy after all.
And so we finally come to the multiplayer. Like just about every other game made in the last four years, Mass Effect 3 features wave-based co-op against an onslaught of AI enemies. The catch is that, with every successful mission, your “Galactic Readiness” increases, improving Shepard’s odds against the Reapers. While it is fun to mess around as the various races of the Mass Effect universe (playing as a Krogan has been a dream of mine since the series’ inception), ME3’s multiplayer is thoroughly unremarkable. It sure makes for an excellent bullet point on the back of the box, but I can’t imagine that Mass Effect’s multiplayer is long for this world, particularly when there are already games that have done Horde mode better.
So long, Shep.
Characterization and morality have always been at the heart of Bioware’s games, and are undoubtedly Mass Effect 3’s greatest assets. Shepard’s relationships and decisions, and their consequences, elevate the Mass Effect series above being just a bunch of decent shooters. If this is somehow your first foray into Commander Shepard’s space-boots (shame on you if it is), I would strongly advise playing through the first two beforehand. However, if you’re already invested in Mass Effect’s narrative, ME3 provides a lengthy and satisfying conclusion to one of this generation’s greatest franchises. This may be Shepard’s last hurrah, but it sure is one hell of a swan song.