A Well-Crafted End For This Fantastic Trilogy
Over the past few years the Mass Effect franchise is one that has captivated audiences with its rich and detailed world, characters, and stories, and rightfully earned itself a vast and dedicated fanbase. For Mass Effect 3 the bar was set ridiculously high and in closing out the trilogy the game may fall slightly short of hitting it, but still manages to deliver a fantastic experience and do things with its story on a level that no other game out there is managing to do. The game begins on Earth with you, as always, in the role of Commander Shepard, humanity’s last hope against the Reapers; a hostile and extremely powerful race of synthetic creatures looking to make all sentient life extinct. Much to his/her dismay Shepard is forced to leave Earth in the clutches of the Reapers, and travel the galaxy in his/her ship The Normandy to rally together an army and secure the fate of the universe once and for all.
As you’d expect almost everything contained within Mass Effect 3 is pretty standard fare for a Mass Effect game. You navigate the universe via your ship’s galaxy map, explore areas on foot, regularly run into dialogue-option-driven conversations, manage some light RPG elements, and participate in quite a lot of cover-based third-person shooting, all in a way which is very similar to Mass Effect 2. Some of the biggest changes to the game for 3 though, come in the way you spec out Shepard and co. before missions.
When you level up and upgrade your combat abilities it’s no longer a case of simply pouring points into whichever ability you want; the first few times you upgrade an ability it will just become in some way more effective than before, but later on in these upgrade paths you’ll have a choice of what kind of improvements the upgrades make. For example, one upgrade on the grenade ability path asks if you want to do more damage with grenades or extend their radius, while one on the “cryo blast” ability path asks you if you want the ability to do a small amount of damage to targets or increase the amount of time they’re frozen for.
Choosing weapons carefully is also a bigger part of preparing for combat. Each weapon now has a weight stat and the more weight Shepard is carrying, the slower his/her powers recharge in combat. Up to one of each type of weapon can be carried at a time, and this often leads to situations where you’re deciding if you’d rather have your warp and overload available a few seconds faster, or whether you really need that assault rifle with the higher fire rate. Each weapon can also be equipped with up to two weapon mods, which can do everything from stabilising the weapon to increasing the size of ammo clips for it. On top of this, upgrades for the base effectiveness of weapons are available to buy, both on-ship and upon visiting the Citadel.
These changes aren’t really ground-breaking, but they make for some interesting customisation options, and allow you to see more tangible advancments as you progress through the game. The combat itself carries more or less all the strengths and flaws of previous titles in the series, with moving between cover often feeling rather clunky, an excess of different actions being awkwardly mapped to the A button, and fights rarely being all that varied. Despite this, taking down enemies can still be a satisfying and exciting experience, and to Mass Effect 3’s credit specifically, one of its better additions is that some enemies will often try and flush you out of cover with grenades. This means that you may have to switch between cover multiple times during a fire-fight to keep out of harm’s way, and I only wish that that more enemy types could keep you moving during battles. Overall the combat isn’t anything amazing, but keeps the game chugging along at least adequately.
In a slightly surprising twist Mass Effect 3 also introduces a combat-driven co-operative multiplayer mode, not unlike horde mode from Gears of War. In the multiplayer, you can gun down opponents with up to four other players in order to level up different characters with different powers, unlock new items, and increase your “galactic readiness rating” in the single player. However, lacking the squad control and story elements of the single player, this mode feels rather dull, and like a bit of a needless component to be tacked onto the game.
While combat may not be the game’s strongest suit, one thing the Mass Effect series has prided itself on is looking good, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception there. From the start, the game shows off some captivating environments and beautiful artwork. Animations throughout the game feel smooth and detailed, with the characters in particular coming across as wonderfully life-like, and the improved lighting brings a fantastic sense of atmosphere to some of the areas. Impressively even many of the loading screens feature smooth and picturesque scenes, and all of this is wrapped up in the sleek and imaginative aesthetics the series has become known for.
Of course the biggest draw of the game is probably the character interactions. The mountains of well-written and well-voiced dialogue make you feel a real connection with the people that populate the universe, and all of the main characters feel like they have their own distinct and likeable personalities. Interestingly, alongside returning characters from previous games, the game introduces one new squadmate, a young alliance soldier by the name of James Vega. While he doesn’t feel the strongest of the characters aboard the Normandy, he still makes an amicable addition to the team. It’s also impressive that this far into the story, the game continues to pull some interesting twists.
The story comes across as appropriately affecting for the last game in the trilogy, and over the course of it Shepard must make decisions which have a suitably grand relevance to the fiction as a whole. As with previous instalments, one of the game’s greatest strengths is to give you genuinely difficult social and political decisions at certain key points in the story; there are few other games which can stop and really challenge you in this way and it’s fantastic to see. All in all, it just feels excellent to be part of such an interesting and well-realised universe, albeit one where a somewhat darker spin is put your interactions in it this time round.
Those who are likely to get the most out of the story though are Mass Effect veterans who can import their Mass Effect 2 saves into Mass Effect 3. It remains remarkable how the Mass Effect games manage to twist themselves around the major choices you’ve made throughout the previous games, and talking to anyone else about their experience with the series, it becomes obvious that every player is able to take a genuinely unique journey through the trilogy. But anyone who is approaching Mass Effect 3 as their first game in the series is likely to find slightly less marvel and wonder, as they’re not seeing choices of previous games reflected.
Unfortunately, while the majority of the story is very well done, Mass Effect 3 has in its bag of tricks some major disappointments. The game introduces a couple of new gameplay systems to help tally how well equipped you are to take on the Reapers; “galactic readiness level” and “total military strength”. Essentially the core goal of the game is to increase these numbers by completing missions, making key decisions in the game, and participating in the multiplayer, but when it finally comes to that big finish, these numbers don’t really matter. Whether you’re a fully prepared Shepard or a hopeless wreck of a commander, the final mission of this epic trilogy plays out more or less the same, and that drains some of your efforts in the game of their sense of purpose. The ending sadly falls far below par from what we’ve come to expect from Mass Effect’s stories. While emotionally impacting, the fact that it reflects almost none of your choices throughout the games, makes little sense, and doesn’t quite give enough closure to the series, serves to leave a rather bad taste in your mouth when the credits finally roll.
On the whole Mass Effect 3 is a great game and still continues Mass Effect’s tradition of standing above the competition when it comes to interactive story-telling, it just has a few significant issues. For those who have played through Mass Effect 2 and feel invested in the universe, this game is a highly recommended purchase. If, however, you’re new to the world of Mass Effect, I recommend delving into Mass Effect 1 or 2 before you think about picking up Mass Effect 3.