Obviously this has been a long time coming. The Mass Effect series is not just a universe in which three games are set. It is basically one enormous continuing game. Bioware told us from the start that decisions made in the first game would be carrying over to both two and three. So now Mass Effect 3 is finally here. With the expectations of two whole games weighing down on it, Bioware set themselves up to end the series in a spectacular fashion. More than anything in the series, it’s the characters that captivated me. Yes, I care about the fate of the universe, but I care even more so about the fate of Shepard, Tali, Liara, Garrus, Wrex, Grunt, Jack, and all the other squad mates that helped me throughout. Except for James, I didn’t really care what happened to him.
I’ll get the boring part out-of-the-way first, the gameplay. I’m not saying it’s bad, far from it, the combat in Mass Effect 3 was for me the best of the series. Veterans of Mass Effect 2 will feel completely at home, as not much has changed. Shepard is a bit more agile now, able to perform rolls and dives over cover, as well as jump over very specific gaps. The jumping part is not a platforming exercise, in fact it serves little gameplay purpose other than looking pretty damn cool. The power and weapons work almost identical as they did in ME2. Weapons have a healthy assortment of mods that can be equipped, which do things like add to the size of clips or reduce recoil. While the effects are noticeable, you could honestly probably play through the whole game without every equipping any and never notice you were missing anything. Powers are still equipped to the left and right bumpers, with the radial menu used to use any that aren’t hotkeyed or to order a squad member to use a specific power. Bioware does an excellent job of making the combat feel EPIC. Powers flying from your squad mates, gunfire from the enemies, the sound of a biotic detonation, it comes together to capture the feeling of being in an insane science fiction style battle.
Minor spoilers are to follow. I am not giving away any major plot points, but if you want to be in the dark totally and not know what characters may appear or who joins your squad, you’ve been warned.
But like I said before, it’s the story and characters that are the real stars. From a character point of view, Mass Effect 3 is the highpoint of the series. All of (assuming you managed to keep them alive) your squad members from the first two games make an appearance and it seriously felt like running in to old friends. Hearing Garrus moments before seeing him and instantly recognizing the voice despite having not played Mass Effect 2 since it’s launch truly speaks to how much of an impression this world has made upon me, and I imagine on most that have played the games. A couple of moments in particular are really the culmination of things that I had been dealing with since Mass Effect 1, and they both had me on the verge of tears not just because I’m a total sap (which I am) but because Bioware just NAILED the gravity of the situation for those involved. One mission in particular is now probably one of my favorite sequences in gaming. I can honestly say that it was perfect in terms of pacing, soundtrack, characters, story, graphics….just everything. I won’t spoil the sequence, but it’s truly amazing.
Bioware hits this high more than once in ME3, but sadly there are some things holding it back from maintaining that level throughout. Part of the problem is, strangely enough, the cast of Mass Effect 2. Not that they’re bad or not interesting, total opposite. All of them show up but NONE of them (save for those who also joined you in ME1) were playable characters. In fact, in Mass Effect 3, Shepard has the least amount of squad mates available to him from any of the three games. I wasn’t expecting ALL of my dudes and ladies from the first two games to be chilling on the Normandy , but I was hoping/expecting a system in which I could choose who accompanied me. How awesome would it have been to choose Grunt or Wrex? Tali or Legion? Not that whomever I didn’t choose was destined to die, but not just part of my squad for this game. Alas, everyone from Mass Effect 2 follows the same basic formula. Start a quest, run into them unexpectedly, they help you, then they become part of your “War Assets” rating if you’re in good standing with them at the end of the mission. It got to be a little silly the fourth or fifth time it happened.
Speaking of war assets, it’s a system that I could have done without. Doing main and side missions earns you increases in this rating, and it’s an effective rating of how ready you are to make a final push against the Reaper invasion. Think of it as your squad readiness level from ME2 on a universal scale. It’s cool to read the descriptions of the different fleets or military units you get, but the number itself seems arbitrary and is not explained. I would have liked to have seen something a bit more organic as to how ready the forces of the universe are to battle the reapers than “Rating: 3456”.
A quick note about the multiplayer: It exists. I’ve actually played a fair amount of it because it’s fun! It just doesn’t serve a purpose. It does tie in to the aforementioned war assets, but you can achieve more than enough of them without even touching it. It’s a good bonus I suppose for the main game, but I really feel like it was just in there because some suit said it had to be. The single player doesn’t suffer for it and I have sunk a good 8-10 hours into it, so at the very least it’s an interesting diversion. Also, playing as a Drell is badass.
Aaaahh, the ending. First of all, I will not discuss it much here, I plan to write a whole other post about the pros/cons/conspiracy theories/nerd rage fiasco that’s going on around the the internet. I will say this though; I was disappointed. The rest of Mass Effect 3 was a shining example of how storytelling in video games should be done. When I finished the sequence I called perfect before (which happens about a third into the game) struck me as so well done that I would easily call Mass Effect 3 my favorite game EVER had they kept that level up. Sadly, the storytelling powerhouse that this series has been for so long fails to even remotely approach those heights in the end of the game. I spent 39 hours with the game before that though, and they truly were some of the best I’ve ever had playing a video game. I recommend Mass Effect 3 to anybody, but I do wish Bioware had gone a different direction to wrap up what is one of the most important franchises in gaming history.