Giant Bomb Review

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Mass Effect 3 Review

4
  • PS3
  • X360

It's not the best game in the trilogy, but I'd still take a decent Mass Effect game over most story-driven releases.

The Citadel must be huge, because this game's got a handful of new areas to explore.

Mass Effect 3 faces expectations that are almost impossibly high, partially due to the high quality of its predecessors and the richness of its fiction. BioWare managed to create a sci-fi world worth obsessing over. Expectations are also off-the-charts because of the nature of Mass Effect's story. By adjusting itself to the choices you've made across the previous games, players have become attached to their version of the story, to their Commander Shepard. It's unreasonable to expect it to exceed every possible aspect of its predecessors, and I've tried to keep my own personal expectations in check. Mass Effect 3 certainly isn't a bad game, and ultimately I'd recommend that anyone with an importable Shepard from Mass Effect 2 should check it out. But even after making a real attempt to be pragmatic about Mass Effect 3, I've come away from it feeling a little disappointed about the way this trilogy closes out.

No one wanted to believe him/her, but it's all true. The Reapers are real, they're attacking Earth, and Commander Shepard is the only one with any real experience dealing with this threat. After a brief sequence on Earth that largely serves as a tutorial about how to shoot and use abilities, Shepard is back on the Normandy and back in command with orders to go get help from the other civilizations around the galaxy. Much like Mass Effect 2 was all about assembling a loyal crew for a final "suicide mission," Mass Effect 3 is about traveling the galaxy and solving problems in order to make entire races and planets loyal to your cause to ensure they'll be present for a final conflict with the Reapers.

The tasks you'll face, some optional and some mandatory, get funneled into your fleet strength, and the choices you'll make along the way also impact this number in ways both big and small. So if you allow a reporter to embed herself on your ship and grant her occasional interviews, you'll be able to rally (or discourage) specific factions in your fleet, which can raise or lower your number a little bit. Other choices, such as how you address the Krogans' ongoing fertility problem, make a larger impact and potentially come at a price, as one faction might not like it if you side with another. As in Mass Effect 2, you can proceed past the story's point of no return with less than a full complement of allies, but this will have storyline consequences. Filling the "you must have this many allies to proceed" bar, though, isn't especially challenging, assuming you're willing to scan some planets and embark on some optional missions along the way.

The attachment system lets you slap some quick bonuses on a weapon.

Along with building your alliances, scientists will also be constructing something that they think can stop the Reapers. But those old space racists at Cerberus have their own ideas about how best to proceed. So along with ending centuries-old conflicts via 30 minutes of third-person shooting and a few choices on a dialogue wheel, you'll also fight your way through human enemies, along with Reaper husks or others, depending on the scenario. Much of the side content in Mass Effect 3 is combat-focused, to the point where the game's multiplayer levels appear as "N7 missions" in the campaign, and most of these have you running around a relatively small area, hitting buttons and fending off waves of enemies. Sometimes a mission will simply stop and give you the objective of "survive," which feels like an artificial way to pad some of these missions out. It's not that the combat in Mass Effect 3 is bad--it's cleaned up and feels a bit tighter than ME2's did--but it's still not substantial enough to serve as the centerpiece of the game.

For me, the centerpiece of a Mass Effect game is the story and the characters. Along these lines, Mass Effect 3 can feel like a reunion, if enough of the ME2 cast is still alive in your version of the story. It's easy to see where the existing characters can either plug right into the action or be replaced with generic counterparts, if necessary. Heading out to meet up with Krogans? Hey, Grunt's there! Encountering the Quarians? You'd better believe that Tali's showing up. And yes, you'll face the Geth, and... yeah, it's not hard to guess about who you'll run into along the way. In a game where the full crew of ME2 survived, the story of Mass Effect 3 feels like one big coincidence after another because you're constantly and conveniently bumping into prominent cast members. Yet most of these old crew mates won't be returning to the Normandy this time around, because most of them have other responsibilities. Some of them will, however, appear on the ground while you're performing missions, but they'll be heading up a second squad or off performing their own tasks while you fight, relegating them to little more than radio chatter. Even with that in mind, as someone desperate to see how this story was going to conclude, it's great to see this cast of characters coming together again. And though it leaves a hint of an opening for some further adventures in this universe via a really hokey post-credits sequence, the actual endings provide a decent bit of closure for your Shepard story, even if the final speech that tries to tell you what you're choosing between is a little convoluted.

There aren't too many new faces in your crew. The most prominent is Alliance soldier James Vega, a thick-necked human with a no-nonsense attitude and an affinity for making up nicknames for the other members of your crew. Personally, I liked the idea of having a guy around who wanted to call me "Loco," so James found his way into my three-man crew more often than not. He starts out slowly, but his character develops in an interesting way over the course of the game. Considering that most of the people you encounter are already extremely well-established in the fiction, it's nice to have a couple of new characters to uncover along the way.

Familiar faces--or visors, at least--have been stuffed into every corner of the game, assuming said faces are still alive in your version of the story.

It's great that the game takes so many of your previous choices into account, and it can feel like magic when that works out in a memorable way. Some of the interactions feel a little light, but it's generally pretty cool. Love interests, which have been a part of the previous games, often come off a bit strange, though. Since the game's built to handle a wide variety of potential outcomes and partners, it occasionally flip-flops between heartfelt dialogue that makes sense when talking to someone that you've gotten with in the past to terse, "just friends" sort of lines. Perhaps it's a bit much to ask the developers to record each line multiple times to account for the different subtexts that can be hidden behind the script, but it sticks out just the same.

If you aren't interested in performing the optional tasks required to fill up the "Effective Military Strength" bar and get the game's best (or, at least, most prepared) ending, you can fill it up halfway and then raise your readiness rating via the game's multiplayer. By default, the rating starts at 50 percent, so for every bit of help you're getting by completing tasks, you're only getting half of its true value. Again, it's pretty trivial to get twice the amount you need and fill the bar completely before embarking on the game's final missions, so the multiplayer isn't a vital component to the campaign. But it still has some interesting ideas that almost make me wish it played a heavier role.

The multiplayer side of the game allows four players to join together and go through 10 waves of enemies. It's Mass Effect's take on the standard wave-based survival mode format, with ammo dumps spread around the map to let you reload and the ability to raise a fallen comrade if you reach them quickly enough. It also slides in some objectives along the way, forcing you to activate four consoles, or take down four marked targets, and so on. These objectives are timed and they aren't optional. If you can't complete the task before time expires, you fail completely. And failure, either from a missed objective or losing all of your teammates, sends you back to the menu. There's no second chance at a wave, you'll need to start again. In my experience, most runs at the middle difficulty were taking around 30 minutes to complete, and the bonus you get for completing the task and getting everyone out alive is sizable.

He might look like a basic meathead, but Vega's A-OK.

Along the way, you'll earn credits and experience points. XP is broken up by class, and each class has a few races associated with it that all level up together. So if you play a drell adept, the asari adept also levels up along the way. The racial differences come in the form of preset power assignments. So that drell adept has reave, pull, and cluster grenades. And the asari has stasis, warp, and throw. You can swap characters out easily before going into a match, so these race/class combos sort of feel like preset loadouts from a first-person shooter. You can, however, choose any two weapons, and the attachment system comes into play, allowing you to slap items onto your guns that increase accuracy, damage, shots per magazine, and so on. This same system appears in the single-player, but acquiring weapons and attachments takes a bit more work in the multiplayer.

As you level up, you'll earn points to spend on your powers, just like in the campaign. But credits can be spent on random item packs. There are three different qualities to choose from, and the more expensive packs guarantee items of a higher rarity. Some of these items are single-use bonuses that you can trigger via the D-pad during combat, like an item that instantly restores your health and shields, an ammo replenisher, or medigel that can be used to resurrect yourself in case a teammate won't make it over to you. But you'll also find better weapons, attachments, and even new character/class combinations along the way. I came out of most multiplayer matches with 15-20,000 credits, which is enough for three or four base-level packs or one of the middle-grade packs. The randomized nature of it all can be maddening if you're trying to get a specific upgrade, and some sort of user-level item trading system might have been nice. But there's a bit of a thrill that comes when you're spending these hard-earned credits and waiting to see what pops out. If you're the impatient type, you can also toss real dollars at it and buy mid-level packs for a buck or high-level packs for two. I got curious and threw about $10 at it to see what sort of things popped out in the rare packs and wasn't too thrilled with what I got. That's the luck of the draw, I suppose.

Even though it has some interesting ideas, it's hard to get excited about yet another take on wave-based survival, especially one that uses the occasionally-clumsy Mass Effect combat as its base. Once you start thinking about how most of the campaign's side content either uses these same multiplayer levels or has you performing extremely basic retrieval tasks, it's easy to start feeling slightly indignant about the whole thing.

But only slightly. At the end of the day, Mass Effect 3 is a game for people who liked Mass Effect 2 so much that they absolutely need to see how it all ends. Despite claims to the contrary from the game's publisher, I really don't think newcomers will get much out of it at all. All it would take is getting to the new character creation screen and being forced to select between Numerous, Ashley, or Kaiden from a screen that asks you who died during your previous missions for a new player to realize they're being asked questions they couldn't possibly answer in an educated way. The value in this story is from seeing characters you adore dealing with a continuing situation. Even though it doesn't come together quite as successfully as it did in the previous games, those of you with an attachment to the Mass Effect universe should still play it.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
479 Comments
Posted by benpicko

4 stars?

Posted by Willyownka

Good Review!

Posted by SadPatrol

FOUR STARS!!!

Edited by Vinny_Says

Well there you have it. The TL;DR:

-If you enjoyed ME2 you are likely to enjoy ME3.

-The multiplayer adds nothing new to the game and a lot of the sidequests are based on its design.

-Jeff liked James Vega despite the outside appearance and had a nice time with the old characters; it felt like a reunion.

-Your ultimate goal is to build alliances and strenghten your armies to fight the reapers.

-The ending feels convoluted.

-4 stars.

Posted by Milkman
Posted by Animasta

haha in comes the shit storm

it's what I was expecting, really...

Posted by benpicko

@Willyownka said:

Good Review!

Such a great read.

Posted by fitzcarraldo

way to go shep

Posted by onan

Ouch, 4? :(

Posted by heat

Buckle up.

Posted by Jace

Thanks for being real Jeff. It's why I'm subscribed :).

Posted by BeachThunder

That's less than 8.8 :o

Posted by Bubbameister33

When did 4 stars become a bad thing?

Posted by EveretteScott

It's not about the stars people. It's about what he said.

Posted by Generic_Ninja

Wait so Mass Effect 3 is AS good or just as good as Asura's Wrath?...I'm sold already!!

Online
Posted by Kinarion

Thumbs up? Guess I better check it out.

Posted by StarvingGamer

Good read, tells me I have a lot to look forward to when Amazon delivers my game tomorrow.

Posted by rmanthorp

Maaaaaan.

Moderator
Posted by freewilly5

In come the people predicting a shit storm that won't happen.

Posted by WindFall259

Well that's a bit of a bummer.

Posted by Chango

Sounds like its a very good game, but considering ME2 is an amazing experience, that it is a bit of a disappointment.

Posted by Korwin

Hehe, 4 stars. I'm damn keen to see this play out.

Posted by SpartyOn

I love Jeff as a funny-man and as a source of information in the gaming industry, but I find that I am rarely on the same page as him with reviews. He LOVES games I think are 4/5 material and is incredibly critical on games that I adore. That's ok though, because I know that when I read his reviews, and still get good buying advice because i'm aware of our differences. Good read though, I hope I find the final entry in this trilogy more satisfying than he did.

Posted by drewm135

I'm super glad Jeff's review is already up. Great review and seems incredibly honest. I'm really looking forward to ME3

Posted by Grondoth

You know what's weird? I'm more interested in the multiplayer than the single player, since I didn't really play much ME2. I also don't think people will get too mad, since I think the most irrational people on the internet are all mad at bioware and the crazy bioware people are in their own insular forums. BUT WHO KNOWS.

Posted by Animasta

@Grondoth said:

You know what's weird? I'm more interested in the multiplayer than the single player, since I didn't really play much ME2. I also don't think people will get too mad, since I think the most irrational people on the internet are all mad at bioware and the crazy bioware people are in their own insular forums. BUT WHO KNOWS.

we have plenty of crazy bioware people here don't worry

Posted by eroticfishcake

Sounds about right given the many (potential) loose threads that the previous two games left so tying them up would be really tricky. Still, sounds enjoyable so I'm picking it up as soon as it comes out here.

Edited by NTM

About the whole convenience thing he was talking about, I knew from watching the very little game play footage on GameSpot, what he was talking about, when Garrus arrived I said "Well that's convenient." It's like you see a specific race, it's likely you'll see the character you've known.

@onan said:

Ouch, 4? :(

That's exactly what I was thinking.

Posted by kurtbro900

@SpartyOn: He did love mass effect 2 though.

Posted by Cronus42

Predicting a high of 65 with a high chance of shitstorm.

That being said, great review, was expecting the 4/5 stars. Really can't wait to get this tomorrow. Thanks Jeff!

Posted by JimmyPancakes

I'm pretty lukewarm after the first couple of hours, though certainly not judging the game yet. The opening to Mass Effect 2 was so amazing and even in that game there was an adjustment period before the game felt like your game again. Also Infiltrator just seems boring now, so I think I might go back to the beginning and try Vanguard. I'm still enjoying being back in the universe but I am rembering that in so many episodic stories, when you finally get to face the big bad, its always a little underwhelming. Nonetheless, I can't wait to jump back in.

Edited by UnbreakableVow

This seems reasonable

I may play Mass Effect 3 one day, as I completed both 1 and 2. Though honestly I could barely tell you anything about the story of those games; they were a fun distraction, but none of the events really stuck with me. The only specific things I could tell you from ME1 and 2 were that I killed Wrex, let Ashley live, and Miranda died on my suicide run. I bought ME2 a couple months ago for the PS3 since I was thinking "Well, I could use a story refresher and I'll get some Trophies out of it this time," but as soon as I started playing, I remembered that I'd have to suffer through ME's gameplay to get that story refresher, and that's not something I was willing to do.

I respect what ME does in regards to player choice and carrying those choices throughout your entire trilogy (even though ME1 character models do NOT carry over to ME3 as they did to ME2; this is a huge oversight), but as for the actual universe and the characters that inhabit it, I find myself struggling to care about any of them. Even when they did Best New Character for the GOTY 2010 deliberations, I couldn't remember a damn thing about Mordin as they talked about him. Kind of forgot who he even was.

Posted by rjayb89

Can't wait to give it up for Thane again for the first time.

Edited by rolvtd

I really wish Bioware would fix the day one Face import problem. Haven;t heard? I'll post the link off of their forum below but in essence, if you imported your Shepard face from ME1 to ME2, ME3 is giving players errors when trying to import your face and forcing players to recreate your face. Of course, this is no problem for players that used the default faces, but for those of us that have spent over 100+ staring at the same face, its very disappointing.

Here's a link to the discussion in the Bioware forum:

http://social.bioware.com/forum/Mass-Effect-3/Mass-Effect-3-General-Discussion-No-ME3-Spoilers-allowed/You-can039t-import-a-face-created-in-Mass-Effect-1-into-3-CONFIRMED-BY-DEVELOPER-Please-read-the-OP-for-more-info--9513640-1.html

Posted by honkyjesus

Sounds good, not great. I trust Jeff and Gametrailers.

Edited by Jace

@SpartyOn:

I think that's what holds the most value for me in his reviews. I know he's just being honest, regardless of whether or not I agree. Have you glanced at IGN's review for ME3? It's a 3 page travesty of talking in circles which then proceeds to give a score of 9.5. Reading things like that make me appreciate these guys.

Posted by ahgunsillyo

ONLY 4 STARS?! Clearly, this game is the worst thing to happen to mankind in the history of mankind. Bioware should poop on itself in shame.

Posted by HydraHam

@EveretteScott said:

It's not about the stars people. It's about what he said.

Sadly a good amount of people here and elsewhere won't see past the stars/scores, but it's already getting 10's else where so if we are going on how good it is based on a score then clearly the game isn't bad.

And people act like 4 is bad, remember when if a game got a 7 or 8 it wasn't the end of the world? back when kids mentalities weren't all about the score and that stuff under a 9.5 could be pretty damn good? that's gone now, for the most part. Now if a game gets under a 9 it must be meh or ehh.

Posted by SpartyOn

@kurtbro900: He did but I feel like we liked it for slightly different reasons. I feel like my respect for Mass Effect as a series is more in line with Brad's tastes. That's why I can see my idea of a "satisfying conclusion" to the series being slightly different from Jeff's.

Posted by micfiygd

Great review Jeff! Very informative.

Posted by ReyGitano

I really wanted the Mass Effect 3 single player to be amazing and couldn't care less about the multiplayer, but from the sound of this review the side missions have all been replaced by multiplayer content. That's a bummer, considering some of my favorite memories from Mass Effect 2 came from strange side missions you came across by scanning planets, like the old wrecked ship you had to walk across as it started falling apart around you.

Posted by MEATBALL

Still sounds pretty fucking great to me!

Posted by Hef

lol at the mandatory "only 4 stars".

Also I have no idea how Jeff stood that Freddie Prince jr. character. He literally looks like an Gorilla on steroids. Thick neck, bigger boobs than the entire female crew and massive flat mouth that really sells the ape motif. This game makes my always renegade style so much easier because I find so many people just flat out annoying.

Posted by SpartyOn

@Jace: I totally agree. I remember Jeff saying before that he wanted this site to focus on giving us an idea of who these guys writing the reviews are and what they like, so that we can make informed purchasing decisions even if it is in contrast with what they say in their review. I think GB is massively successful in that regard.

Posted by Apathylad

I'll buy it some day!

Posted by AlisterCat

Sounds great. The review is a lot more positive than the sub-heading lead me to believe.

@NTM said:

@onan said:

Ouch, 4? :(

That's exactly what I was thinking.

A 4 is 'ouch'? Really? I feel like I've seen this in Gerstmann past, present and future.

Posted by deathstriker666

Alas another honest, down-to-earth review from Jeff. Jeff is sovereign

Posted by ThePhantomStranger

This review got me ready to just wait until I could play the whole trilogy on a pc...then I had a terrifying thought! Origin! FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-

Posted by Gerhabio

What what?

Edited by Addfwyn

The score reinforces my stance that, while I'll pick this up and play it eventually, I don't need to rush and get it day 1 at full price. I'm not super invested into the ME universe, so it's not as super appealing to me as for others. ME1 I didn't particularly like at all, and ME2 was alright. I'll probably like this when I do play it, but maybe get my money's worth more at at the 2000-3000 price range.

Besides: Journey.