Mass Effect 3 Review
Mass Effect 3 is the strongest entry in the Commander Shepard trilogy. It takes half-formed concepts from the previous games and turns them into trim, vital components. Bioware also narrows the focus of its narrative and unifies all gameplay under that narrative, a feature sorely lacking in Mass Effect 3's predecessors.
In previous games, crew members were compartmentalized on the Normandy. Unless Shepard paired two characters together for an away mission, the games' primary casts rarely strayed from their quarters or interacted with anyone besides Shepard. Bioware half-heartedly experimented with round table discussions and conflicts between crew members, but these interactions were brief and few. In Mass Effect 3, characters move about the ship and go on shore leave. They joke, confide, and even romance each other. It is a small addition in the grand scheme of the game, but it helps mold these programmed puppets more into characters and less into talking heads.
Unlike Mass Effect 2, references to previous events benefit from more natural incorporation into scenes and conversations. Random characters no longer appear to thank Shepard for a job well done only to disappear with no lingering effect on the narrative or gameplay. This noise reduction extends to the rest of the game: side quests, collectibles, and story decisions have a direct impact on the "galactic readiness" rating, a central score and journal that records Shepard's contributions to the Reaper war effort. Finally, the fate of the Rachni can mean something.
Not every addition is an improvement, however. I was disappointed to learn that Shepard the telekinetic biotic was powerless to deflect a single grenade. The quest journal is often terrible, failing to explain where to travel, if the quest requirements are met, or even if a destination is accessible. The squad AI can be suicidal at times. One difficulty spike rendered my squad powerless behind an automatic door. (Cerberus destroyed me time and time again. The next day, the mission was a success on the first attempt.) Most prominently, Shepard's dream sequences largely fail to produce an emotional response aside from boredom.
Outside the gameplay, animation peculiarities may cause the camera to focus on the wrong depth or stare at a blank wall. A couple scenes demonstrate that bulky character models are incapable of holding a gun with one arm without looking ridiculous. That said, Mass Effect's cutscenes are at their finest. From curing the genophage to Grunt's "last" stand, from the opening Reaper invasion to Shepard's mad dash to the conduit, Mass Effect 3 delivers its story beats with aplomb.
While there are many opportunities for players to steer Shepard in an undeniably evil direction, many of the "renegade" options on offer lend Shepard an air of competence rather than outright brash ineptitude, e.g. the final confrontations with Udina and Kai Leng. More than any other Mass Effect game, I felt safer experimenting with different dialog options rather than defaulting to the paragon's boy scout response.
The best Mass Effect game to date, it is unfortunate that a vocal portion of the internet community has dominated the discussion with complaints and disappointments about the ending. There are certainly logical gaps that could use filling, but the people who demand closure fail to recognize that the game in its entirety is devoted to closure and that the outrage is drastically out of propotion to the problem. Above all else, the final scenes of Mass Effect 3 leave me excited for the future stories in the franchise.