Triumphs and Consequences
Mass Effect 3 is the final installment in a trilogy and the culmination of a series of triumphs and consequences that have come as the result of the decisions you’ve made through the first two games. In that respect, the Mass Effect franchise is the first of its kind to create such a complex and structured narrative. Whether big or small, the choices we’ve made have come to give each of us are own unique Mass Effect experience. All of our Shepard’s are different, and each one has a different story. The bar for Mass Effect 3 was set extremely high, and though despite some downloadable content controversy, and an ending that has the internet in uproar, Mass Effect 3 is a solid title for a lot of the things it does right even despite some of its glaring shortcomings.
The reapers have invaded, and Commander Shepard is immediately sent off-planet to find some reinforcements. You and your squad visit countless star systems in the hope to recruit armies to bring the fight back to Earth. Along the way, you’ll coincidently bump into some familiar faces and lend a hand in the fight taking place at large throughout the galaxy. While recruiting war assets, as the game calls them, you will solve age old conflicts and bring peace between species to unite forces (or perhaps not). You’ll also visit the familiar Citadel space station, build relationships and romances with squad members, and of course shoot some dudes and take some cover. It is the Mass Effect formula we’ve come to know.
However that formula is a little different if you’re coming into Mass Effect for the first time. For players who are importating their character from the previous games, Mass Effect 3 plays exactly as you expect it to. You get the usual round of dialogue choices, paragon and renegade interupts, and squad based combat gameplay. But new players are offered a choice as to what they want their Mass Effect experience to be. Start a new character from scrath and you’re given a choice between Action, Role-Playing, and Story. Action takes away dialogue choices and instead gives you what I assume is a linear one way direction of the story. The Story option is the opposite, where you get the option to choose all your dialogue but the gameplay is toned down. Role-Playing is a blend between the two, and is what the game calls the traditional Mass Effect experience.
New Players are also asked to choose between Kaiden and Ashley as a combat loss, or a third option: numerous. But for a new player, how can they possibly know what this even means? To a player coming into Mass Effect for the first time, who is Kaiden and Ashley, and what is meant by “Numerous”? Considering the fact that you could have ended Mass Effect 2 having losing a combination of squad members, how is a new player really expected to make such a desicsion? At all cost, play the first two games before coming into Mass Effect 3. Thew game trys to appear friendly to new players, but anyone coming in for the first time is just going to be lost. The fiction has gone so deep at this point that it’s hard to imagine that the game would make a lick of sense at all.
Provided you’ve been following along, the story itself leading up to the ending is mostly strong. For someone so invested in the fiction, Mass Effect 3 does it justice, though the scale and direness of the conflict doesn’t feel very well represented. We’ve come to realize that the reapers are like the badest thing ever, so when it seems like Shepard is roaming around the galaxy, just hanging out, the sense of urgency to get back to Earth isn’t really there. But behind that thought there is still plenty of memorable and emotional moments that lead up to the trilogy’s conclusion.
And oh that ending…Without giving any plot points away, I cant decide on whether or not the ending is genius in its own way or just completely lackluster and disappointing. I’m leaning more towards the latter. For someone desperately needing to know how Shepards story arch would come to a close, there really is no closure here. Everything is left totally ambiguous and there is very little explanation for anything at all. And even what is explained seems contrived and difficult to follow. That said, everything leading up to the ending is excellent. It is exactly what we’ve come to want from a new Mass Effect, but despite those great moments, the ending leaves behind a bad taste. There are of course multiple endings, but they barely differ from each other at all. Which ending you ultimately see will depend on a number of factors, like how successful you were at recruiting forces. But by the time the game ends, it doesn’t really feel like your ending is taking into account 3 games worth of choices. All, or most, of the desicions you’ve made leading up to the conclusion don’t seem to have any sort of impact with the ending.
In the war room, a new section on the Normandy, you can check your readiness for war status, which is represented by a bar that fills up based on the number of war assets you’ve acquired. You fill this bar up by progressing through the main story arch, as well as completing side missions, which are more or less just “fetch-quests.” While some side missions actually have you landing on planets to fight, others involve just overhearing conversations on the Citadel Station of someone needing something, then you going out to find whatever they needed. This is done by going into star systems and scanning planets in the same fashion as it were in Mass Effect 2, except this time you’re not launching probes and picking up minerals and resources, but picking up actual artifacts. After you’ve acquired the item, you simply go and bring it back to the person who needed it. It’s weird and awkward. Commander Shepard is an important man, so when exactly did he become everyone’s errand boy? On top of that, the journal never updates when you’ve acquired an important item, and there is no inventory management to speak of.
Thankfully however, these missions aren’t required, as you can still increase your readiness for war status in the single player through the games multiplayer. The multiplayer consist of one mode: a team wave based survival mode similar to that of hoard from Gears of War. You and three others fight off waves of increasingly difficult enemies on one of three difficulties. These rounds can last around 30 minutes and at the end you gain XP, credits, and an increase to your readiness rating in the single player. It’s a cool idea.
Then of course there is the “From Ashes” downloadable content, which gives you an additional squad member and a new set of missions. While this DLC isn’t completely necessary to get the most out of Mass Effect 3, anyone who is deeply invested in the fiction is going to want to have it. It gives incredible insight to the history of the protheans and everything leading up to the current war. It’s unfortunate really, because the perspective the new character brings seems vital, and having user need to pay an additional $10 to experience it, when it should have just been included from the start seems tasteless. You don’t need it, but you’re going to want it. However I can only recommend buying it if you are planning to start from the beginning. Playing the DLC after you’ve completed everything is kind of missing the point.
But moving away from the narrative, and towards the part where you’re actually playing Mass Effect 3, the combat is still great and has been touched up and refined for a smoother experience. Its fun, and the encounters feel like just the right level of intensity. Each mission yet again allows you to choose up to two squad members to fight along side you. You can still deploy the same level of tactics, like directing squad members, and if you have Kinect, you can even voice your commands by calling out a team member, and then issuing a command. It actually works quite well were I found that 80% of the time the game was picking up what I was saying clearly. Personally, after a few times I just switched back to the dial menu as I’m more about slowing the action down and planning out my next attack. Te most important aspect is that the game is fun to play. It never felt like there was to much repetition and everything felt good and perfectly balanced.
Whatever your feelings towards the Mass Effect franchise is now, I’d say it’s prudent to offer Bioware a fair bit of credit. The vast amount of fiction that was created to surround a short list of characters is mind boggling, and the fact that each of us had our own unique experience is a huge achievment. Mass Effect 3 is not as good as Mass Effect 2, but it’s still one hell of a game. While some of us might not have gotten the closure we were looking for, all the moments leading up to the finale, the characters, combat sequences, and just the Mass Effect universe itself has not just been a display of some of Bioware’s best work, but video games as a whole. While some of it’s shortcomings can be off putting, Mass Effect 3 is a great game that you should not miss.