Great Space Opera with Poignant Emotional Moments (Spoilers)
When sitting down to write a review and my thoughts about Mass Effect 3, there are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration. One has to remember that this game is the final chapter in a story that we have been following for almost five years now. Because of that there are certain game and story telling elements that I think have to executed in order to fully close out our journey. These elements of course may or may not make for the action packed story that we saw in other games, but they do help to tie up the pieces of our journey. On the whole this game is a beautifully told space opera that showcases some incredible emotional moments. In fact I think some of them are are the most touching and dramatic moments I have seen in video gaming ever. I laughed, I smiled, I cried, I got angry and I got confused. This is not a perfect game and I think there are several instances where the developers didn't fully accomplish what they set out to do. Certain story arcs fell short and some elements of the game fell flat due to poor execution. Overall though this is mostly the game that it needed to be. I will touch base on several parts of the game below and cover up spoilers as best as I can.
On the whole I think the Mass Effect story here was very well done. Mass Effect 2 was all about assembling the best people throughout the entire galaxy to prepare for the final fight. This game is the story of that final fight. What the developers did incredibly well here was portray the hopelessness of that fight. The Reapers came and they conquered Earth. Not only is humanity but the entire galaxy on the brink of extinction and for the most part the developers were able to get that across. We could see the struggle happening between all of the characters (internally and externally) and the races in the game as they had to make decisions upon how to manage a war they were clearly losing. How does one decide to sacrifice the lives of millions, to maybe save the lives of trillions. Desperation is everywhere in this game and you can feel it in the air when the story hits it's stride. All that being said the story arc isn't entirely perfect. Mass Effect is still a game after all, an RPG even and it of course falls into the trap that most RPG's do and that is the sense of urgency.
Your main goal throughout this game is to essentially travel around the galaxy to rally all of the council races together on a unified front. Being that this is an RPG though there are of course side missions. Some side missions are better than others, but they still on the whole fall into the trap of collecting a piece of junk for someone when the world is falling apart around you. The urgency is lost when you can jump from system to system with no real consequence of time. On that front I almost wonder if the game would have been better served if it was a more linear story. The developers then could have really focused in on the urgency that is seemingly implied.
Overall I had very few technical issues with the game. Sure there were a few times where the game froze and I had to re-boot my Xbox. There were a couple of frustrating design ques though. First off it seems that many of the side missions were placed on the second disc. I found myself having to swap discs in and out several times during play sessions even while having the game installed to the hard drive. Next, some of the side mission mechanics left me with pure frustration moments. The game is basically a cover based shooter so when you go into a mission where you have to hold a position with enemies coming in from all sides, it loses that point of that mechanic. Several instances I had enemies spawn, jet pack in or orbital drop right on top of me. This was also a problem in one of the final battle sequences in the game where the game literally throws several banshees and brutes at you at once. It is a difficulty tactic that breaks the core mechanic of the game. Finally, simple map and movement mechanics felt clumsy. Why there needed to be a load point on the Normandy from the War Room to the Comms Center baffled me. Also getting around the Citadel was super frustrating after you had been there for the 12th time. It would have been nice just to hit the start menu and fast travel to an area, or better yet back to the Normandy.
Where do I start with the characters. For the most part you will see all of your favorites from the past series come back, depending upon who lived or died in your past play throughs. As I mentioned up above this story is not about trying to collect the best of the galaxy. I understand that and to be honest i think most people have their favorites from Mass Effect 2 already. The new characters that are added to this game for the most part are just dull. Javik is perhaps the most interesting, but he is locked behind a paywall of DLC that I think most people agree should have been part of the game. The other main characters that you can recruit into your party may or may not be the ones you really liked. In fact it seems that the Bioware intentionally went through the process of having everyone's favorite characters sacrifice themselves for various causes throughout the game. Truth be told this resulted in some definite emotional impact. I had several teary eyed moments. What was disappointing though is that their interactions leading up to those points were sometimes just boring. Thane for instance is found through most of the game just hanging out in the hospital waiting out his last days. I can't imagine that Thane would do that knowing that the galaxy around him is crumbling, even if he had only months to live. It would have been nice too if the developer would have at least let us have some of those favorite characters in our party for a mission or two before their ultimate sacrifice.
The one other character I found really intriguing was EDI and her development. She is clearly our "Data" in this game and it is touching to see her wrestle with her "humanity" and her relationship with Joker. It is a touching personal story that is well placed in this broader conflict that is happening and is one of the few things the developers did right to illustrate a personal story. It is interesting to see how her development in many ways personifies what Shepard believes we should be fighting for. Personal choice.
There is also this whole issue of the child and Shepard throughout the game. Depending upon how you interpret the endings (see below) this was either a clever mechanic or a very dump way to try and humanize Shepard. The issue here is that Shepard isn't really a character. He is an avatar for you, the player. All of our emotional connections in the games before were tied to the decisions and sacrifices that we have made ourselves. We owned them because they were ours. Here, this child (again see the ending part) is/maybe trying to add a personal story to Shepard. Regardless of his purpose it just detracts from my Shepard story. With either story direction the child could have been implemented into, I think he was better just to not have existed at all.
Oh and by the way. I now wish I saved Alenko instead of Ashley all the way back in Mass Effect 1.
From Ashes DLC
If anyone is a long time fan of this series I would highly recommend they download the "From Ashes" DLC. You get access to a protean as a party member and he adds some great depth to the cast. He is one of the only interesting new characters added. He is a imperialist jag off, but at least he is interesting and adds some great context to some of the other stories happening. Truth be told though he just should have been in the game.
Previous Game's Impacts
I didn't find a lot of critical impacts in my story from my previous game decisions. The only real one that was of any interest came in the side mission with Grunt and the Rachni Queen. In my previous games I saved the Rachni Queen in the first game and had Grunt's loyalty from the second. Based upon my decisions in that mission I was able to save both, but lose Grunt's squad. Reading online it appears that previous decisions could have altered that scenario quite a bit and it is too bad that more of those types of impacts did not find their way into this game.
Ok, so now we get into it. I have to say that I am relatively disappointed in the ending. It is either terrible or its is brilliant and just poorly executed. What really upset me about the ending is the ambiguity of it all. If the rumor mills online are true and the ending is really a discussion on indoctrination then that is totally fine. In fact I think that makes for a great way to end the series. There are too many poor decisions in how it is handled though that really bug me.
First of all I get that the developer would not want to explicitly state the indoctrination theme during the final sequence. I think they are trying to achieve a quasi-fourth wall effect here like what Bioshock or Assassin's Creed 2 did. The problem is that they never bring it all together in the final moments to provide the player with the epiphany moment. People need the realization spark to let them know what is really happening. Your just left feeling that you had to choose the least shitty of the shitty choices. What made the Bioshock and Assassin's Creed 2 ending moments so effective is that the player got to fully see the realization at the end and walk way with this incredible urge to discuss it with someone. In Mass Effect 3 your are just left sitting there not really understanding what just happened. Did you destroy the galaxy? Did I destroy all life? Did I throw everyone back to the dark ages?
Second, the whole justification for the Reaper invasion just seems cheap and too simple.
With all that we have been building up to through this series the explanation to us is that the Reaper's are here to wipe out advanced civilizations because synthetics would rebel upon their creators? Really!?!?!?!?!?!?! I mean this is just ridiculous. The Reapers and their "creator" themselves are synthetic. Are they just fulfilling that statement themselves? Why wipe out the advanced races? Why not wipe out the synthetics? Furthermore, we clearly have an entire story arc in this game that illustrates that the Quarians not the Geth were the aggressors in those wars, both times!!!!
The development of EDI also clearly illustrates a direct growth of this intelligence and her emotional maturity.
Also, if you purchased the From Ashes DLC you will clearly learn from Javik that the Protheans had a huge distrust and distain for artificial intelligence. Based upon what we know of their imperialist nature they never would have allowed AI in their cycle. Why then would the Reapers harvest them?
None of that justification makes sense (assuming it is real).
Overall I think the ending could have been handled better. The sad ending is fine. I like the ideas that could possibly exist here, but the developer needed to eventually pull back the curtain to let the player see the bigger picture.