Time to end it, Shepard...
Well, it's finally finished. Mass Effect 3 is in the books (sort of but I'll get into that). With a full trilogy playthrough of 75 hours, plus additional unfinished playthroughs, this series of games will certainly stand out as some of the best the current gen had to offer. And while individually the games had their weakness as well as their strengths, the totality of it all was quite huge. Which makes giving a final verdict on this game tough because of the multi-colored elephant in the room and wondering where does the series go from here. Bioware, long known for taking a huge amount of consideration in regards to fan feedback and criticism, seemed poised to deliver the absolute best Mass Effect game but while it's still fantastic, it's not their magnum opus nor is it the worst thing they've ever done. It's just 2 part disappointing and exhilarating.
Taking place shortly after the events of Mass Effect 2's DLC Arrival, Commander Shepard is on Earth has a huge Reaper force has decided to invade. Making it off-planet, Shepard decides the best way to reclaim Earth and end the Reaper threat is to unite all races and help them with their problems which'll create an all-out galaxy-wide offensive against the powerful Reapers. From settling the disputes with the krogans and salarians over the genophage to tackling the quarian and geth war, Shepard will gather all the resources he can for the final battle.
One thing I enjoyed about Mass Effect 1 was the narrative and I still consider it the best in the series. While Bioware definitely got better as far as cutscenes and character interaction are concerned, the first game really delivered this idea of a sprawling storyline stretching all throughout the galaxy and the more you played, the more you discovered. In Mass Effect 2, the issue with the Collectors would occasionally pop up but for the most part, the game revolved around doing everyone's side missions to make sure they don't die. This created the problem where the urgency of defeating the Collectors right this second clashed with the "make everyone loyal" goal and at one point, the main enemy of the game literally disappeared from my playthrough for a good 14 hours before I hit the home stretch.
Mass Effect 3 alleviates this a bit in that everything you do centers on one thing: the Reaper threat and whether to help it or stop those attempting to get in your way, the end goal covers everything. But it stills feels like "vignettes" most of the time as you have your "krogan/salarian episode" then your "quarian/geth" episode but it does help give finality to all the plot threads and storylines. And the storyline is helped even more by actually giving things weight and thanks to my paragon choices which involved fear of failing and losing loved ones, Shepard actually felt even more like a character. But the game still needs sidequests and this is where the game still didn't get it right. You didn't really have a lot of sidequests in the prior game but it balanced out in making them actually lengthy. In this game on the other hand, most of your journal quests is either scanning a planet for an item or doing a quick 8-10 minute battle, leaving the main story quests taking up the bulk of the time.
Combat has been improved on with things such as dodge rolls, better AI and improved level design which led to some nice flanking and counterattacks. And while the A button is still doing way too much and led to my death on more than one occasion, the times when it really saved me was a welcome one. Also helping out in combat is just the more (and I hate to use this word) but "visceral", especially in sound design. Guns just feel more punchier and your tech powers have a satisfying boom to them. Another added change is that unlike the straight path of ME2's ability upgrades, the last 3 upgrades offer you a choice which helps you decide how you want to build your character. For example, as a vanguard, the oh-so-satisfying Biotic Charge has the option for you to either have the chance for the ability use not to trigger a cooldown, allowing for more zippyness around the battlefield, or to strengthen your shields upon arrival. This carries over into multiplayer which even has customization among individual races let alone the class itself.
Ah, the multiplayer. What was originally Mass Effect 3's enemy number one as far as fans were concerned. Cries of EA-ization and shoehorning gameplay where it didn't need to be, turns out the multiplayer is pretty rock-solid. 4 people in a 10 wave horde mode with Mass Effect powers? Sweet. Being able to control asaris and quarians as you battle out the enemies is more fun than I thought possible and while it does get a tad repetitive and the RNG-ness of the packs you can buy bums me out, the addition of more content (and free at that) will help it make it a solid community over time rather than the dead-on-arrival online of most other games.
Playing and beating Mass Effect 3 felt strange since I'm sure the majority of people who finished it were the first-week adopters as they discovered just what lay in the last 10 minutes. I, on the other hand, have finished the game 3 months later with the full bore of fan outcries and petitions in memory, which certainly gave the game a weird atmosphere the further I progressed. But I will join the mob as it were: Mass Effect 3's ending is awful. And I'm not talking the Halo 2 cliffhanger awful, or the brevity of Dark Souls awful, I mean this is almost impossible to fathom. While I won't go into detail as to what's in it but it really does spoil the game experience. This review was written pre-new ending so it's hard to tell just how satisfying its proper conclusion will be but the game will still feel tainted because of it.
While I was always more a fan of the universe Dragon Age, I too have an attachment to the world and characters of Mass Effect and 4 years after I first started this series, it's really neat and fulfilling to get a storyline that was essentially "my own". And despite Bioware's overdoing of correcting gameplay problems to its ending to other questionable decisions (don't even get me started on the reveal of Tali's face: it literally made me go back to Liara), it's been a great journey getting here.