Mass Effect 3 Review: Fight or Die
Mass Effect 3 faces the impossible task of wrapping up a truly epic story arc, improving core gameplay mechanics and satisfying all the fan groups of the series, but it has a damn good go at doing just that. The game has a huge amount of considerations to make, and I do not envy Bioware having to develop this colossus, but the final product is one that has many nervous of the quality that the game can provide. Has Mass Effect fallen into a mainstream design that abandons its roots or has Bioware managed to retain the true spirit and vision of the series? This was the question that was on everyone's mind and demanded expectations to be kept in check, but how did it the final entry in the most ambitious series of games from one of the top developers in the industry turn out in the end.
Mass Effect 3 begins right where the Arrival DLC left us off, with Shepard in custody for his actions during that mission. However, the Reapers arrive at Earth with overwhelming force and Shepard is sent to gather help for the beleaguered Alliance from the other races of the galaxy. The game is all about the culmination of everything that was done during the previous titles, all the decisions that were made and characters interacted with. There is no way a new player should jump into this title as everything has so much impact when you know the context as imtimately as a series veteran. Due to the structure of these games and the fact that you can bring your choices over to this title from the previous two, Mass Effect 3 has a vast number of small potential changes to its events, as well as some big ones. This results in one of the most personal stories in gaming, as this is your story, and Mass Effect has you invested in a way that no other title can quite match.
You will meet all the major characters of the series who are still alive in Mass Effect 3, can continue an old romance or start a new one, all while having a final adventure through this incredible and intoxicating universe and lore that Bioware have created. The Reapers are shown to be an unstoppable force and you will also have to contend with Cerberus and the machinations of the Illusive Man, but the core of this games story is gathering allies to save humanity, and the things you have to do in order to gain those allies. The story is powerful, filled with emotion thanks to the rich lore and outstanding writing that has true impact, and has some of my favourite characters in any game. It was always going to be tricky to write a strong ending to this series but the ending that Bioware went with is a divisive one and I could not help but be disappointed by it. It is very unsatisfying and feels disengaged from what this series has been all about as it fails to be clear with its point. Despite this the game still stands as an outstanding narrative and story.
Mass Effect 3 is a great looking game, just like its immediate predecessor was. It is a darker game in tone, and this is replicated visually with a lot of shadow and darkness, but it is something that does not at all obstruct the game. The same art design and vision that I have always loved in this sci-fi setting is back, with some incredible backdrops and architecture. Places like the Citadel, Thessia and Earth are really brought to life brilliantly in the game. Character models look great, though animations are still a bit stiff. There are some small visual glitches like characters being invisible for one section of a conversation or texture pop in but this was rare and of little consequence. The new enemy designs are fantastic, with Cannibals, Marauders and Banshees among the new entries that really serve to make the Reapers a horrifying foe. Mass Effect 3 is not the best looking game on the market by any means, but it perfectly captures the universe is is trying to display.
The music is again brilliant, though I do think it is the least memorable soundtrack of the series. Despite this the game brilliantly slots the tracks into the perfect moments for them, increasing emotional resonance and complementing the drama of the scenes that are unravelling for the player. Voice acting is absolutely superb, with Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale both doing superb jobs at voicing Commander Shepard. For a game that so heavily depends on its strong cast of characters it is fortunate that they are all voiced so superbly. Dialogue is overwhelmingly delivered in a natural and organic way, which endears these characters to the players. New addition Vega, despite not looking forward to his inclusion, is portrayed really well, as are all the returning cast. The romantic relationship is extremely rewarding if you stick with a previous love interest and this is thanks to the incredible dialogue and conversation options that this game provides. The soundtrack captures the hopelessness of the situation facing the characters and the voicing communicates the whole thing in a realistic and rich way.
Mass Effect 3 largely plays the same as 2 but with a few attempts to make it a more refined game, especially during combat. The controls for entering and leaving cover are all based on the A button in a way that can be hampering if you are under pressure, but overall I though it worked rather well. The game ran the danger of becoming too like Gears of War, with turret sequences and large amounts of combat sections, but despite the inclusion of both these it is still very much a Mass Effect experience. The controls are no where near as refined as those of Gears, and on combat terms it is only a passable third person shooter. There are a lot of weapons in the game but the way in which you upgrade them, as well as your own levelling up, have been streamlined in a way that makes it more accessible while not dumbing things down.
There are still all the conversation sections that RPG fans feared would be toned down, and though the game is less about exploration than the first in the series I think it is fair: Mass Effect 3 is the end of a story and needs to be structured as such. There are still plenty of side missions to do outside of the main story, and you still have huge impact on the outcome of the major events. The game also provides a galactic readiness bar that is supposed to measure your preparedness for taking on the Reapers but as far as I can tell this is all a trick that has little to no impact on the actual outcome of events. It is a pity that vehicle sections have been removed from the game, missions are better put together than ever before and the combat has never been better. Mass Effect 3 also has multiplayer, an addition which I was strongly against for this single player game. It consists of co-op missions for up to 4 players against waves of enemies, another horde mode. The multiplayer impacts the galactic readiness of the singleplayer, but in honesty the multiplayer is an inconsequential yet competent addition to the title, with little longevity.
Mass Effect 3 does have a few design issues that annoyed me over time. The disc swapping on the 360 version is a mess, specifically the way the game has been layed out per disc. Mass Effect 2 had disc swapping but it was implemented in a way that was unintrusive and was generally fine, but this game has side missions on disc 2 yet these missions are available very early in the game. This lead to me having to swap the disc to do a side mission and then changing back over to return to the main quest.
Another thing is the load times, specifically from area to area within the same general section. The Citadel is the chief offender, with load screens that last for 30 seconds or more from area to area. It is a small thing but it can get frustrating and made me not want to do some of the missions in the game as they involve traversing these areas multiple times. Another complaint I have is about the terrible map and waypoint system, especially when you are trying to find individuals or areas during fetch quests. The map is close to useless in a way that it never was in the previous titles. The game also attempts to create a sense of urgency for your mission, as Earth is being torn apart now. However your speed has no actual impact on the game and this leads to a strange sense of pacing at times. These are all small issues, but they are ones that I noticed.
Mass Effect 3 is the perfect answer from Bioware to those who proclaimed their downfall after Dragon Age 2 and The EA acquisition, as it blows away the vast majority of other story driven experiences and maintains all the RPG credentials of the series, being a fantastic culmination of this story. The game has completely competent and challenging combat, great powers and enemy variety and a fantastic presentation and soundtrack. The core of this franchise is the story, and Mass Effect 3 provides an incredibly powerful conclusion to a great story, though the ending is going to be a talking point for years to come. The game involves making some tough decisions which make it a title that forces commitment and demands replays. It is a brave story that allows you to have massive impact on a setting that I have come to adore, being one of the best sci-fi universes I have ever seen in entertainment. Mass Effect 3 is an absolute must play for those who liked the previous titles, but the game has made no significant innovations that will earn it the love of those who did not like the previous titles. It is not the best game in the series, lacking the thrill of 2 or the vast story of 1, but it is still one of the richest game experiences I have enjoyed, and I would absolutely recommend it as part of one of gamings great trilogies.
- Brilliant emotional story and narrative that draws upon the previous titles
- Improved combat and greater enemy variety
- Incredible cast and character interactions
- Fantastic voice acting and beautiful music
- The final hour of the game is weak and the ending could have been a lot better
- Terrible map and waypoint system
- Disc swapping is a mess and load times are bad
- The Catalyst
- 9/10 - Amazing