Mass Effect 3 ends what is Bioware’s massive and sprawling space adventure, that perhaps can be viewed as the gaming equivalent of Star Wars. Having started out as an Xbox exclusive, it has made the transition so that all gamers can get a slice of the intergalactic action. Telling the story of a male or female commander Shepard, a Spectre agent tasked with generally saving the galaxy several times over, Mass Effect 3 aims to end the trilogy with a bang; however, after players pump over one hundred hours into the three games, the ending leaves little to be desired and presents itself as a catalyst for downloadable content which is insane and almost criminal. However, before reaching that point, there is quite a game to be had that although full of inconsistencies and things that might irk players, still offers some solid entertainment, the reason we game in the first place and something we shouldn’t forget, no matter how bad the execution.
Mass Effect 3 can be played in a variety of ways, including for those players who are jumping in at the deep end. Seasoned vets can import their Mass Effect 1 or 2 characters, but this in itself rears the first of many issues. In my case, the female commander I’d nurtured through hours of blood and sweat in the previous games couldn’t be imported properly, and so I had to start over the process of choosing a class, and using the custom editor to create a new face. I’ve liked the custom options in the past, but being forced to redesign my character in this third game highlighted how limited the options are at this juncture. Rather than offer something new to tinker with, the game offers the same facial construction only with some minor additions. It’s certainly not as comprehensive as some other games which allow for body shape etc. to be edited. It’s a minor gripe and not overly impacting on gameplay.
Mass Effect 3 allows you to tailor the experience to suit your play style. So that means, when choosing a class you can opt for regular grunt, to biotic specialist (super powers – in a nutshell), to something in between. There’s a fair few options available, and although your enemies remain the same regardless, there is quite a difference in gameplay between classes. Sadly, once the choice is made you can’t change it midway through the game which is a shame. There’s also options to allow for the game to make choices for the player, and for combat to be toned down which is a nice touch for those looking more for a story based experience.
Mass Effect 3 continues its overarching storyline where once again, all organic lifeforms are under threat and are in the process of being wiped out, bar the few from the Reapers – an ancient race of synthetics tasked with wiping everyone out in a pre-programmed cycle every so often. Rather than go into the complexities of the story, I can only merely comment on its effect. To be brutal, it’s a jumbled mess of patronizing, pretentious nonsense that merely serves as a route through the actual gameplay as Shepard gathers forces once more to take the fight to the oppressive beings. Bioware have really taken one step forwards but two steps back. The original game’s simplicity with a humanized adversary worked well because it was new, yet this third iteration tries so desperately hard to tie all the pieces together that it ultimately fails. Mass Effect 3 goes to prove that story telling in some games simply doesn’t work well when less focused, and when there’s a lot of it to break up the gameplay, the cracks begin to appear to those who are paying attention. By design, Mass Effect 3 requires attention as it’s through hours of dialogue that players are given choices with supposed far reaching consequences. It was an idea born from the original game, referenced in the second, and surmised here. Sadly, a bit more direct consequence would have been more rewarding for the player, but due to the grand scale of the story, the actions of the main character are thwarted by it. Shepard can be hard nose, compassionate or even creepy in his/her role of super agent, but when things get way too big for the role, the raw essence of choices are lost. These games have always toyed with the black and white, but not really the grey and so we’re still stuck with their expected outcomes. A bit more imagination would have been good to see here especially as we’ve had two games already presenting the same thing.
Story aside, the cover shooter, third person squad based combat remains largely unchanged which is a good thing. You’ve got a fair few upgradable weapons and powers (depending on class), team mates to order or ignore, and enemies who come in various shapes and sizes. Bioware have tightened the combat gameplay, making for a more richer experience, but due to the pacing, is still going to be off-putting for gamers who just want to kill things rather that sit through lengthy dialogue scenes. On the flip side, there are some moments – especially the final few hours – where repetition sets in to the point of exhaustion. I was left wanting the game to end, rather than egging it on to continue as I fought waves and waves of samey enemy types. This perhaps personifies Mass Effect’s problems, it’s either too much dialogue, or too much mindless shooting, where when both overlap, players are caught in limbo. Mass Effect 2’s mission structure was certainly a much more approachable way of presenting the gameplay.
As for your team of alien races, once again, the same tried and trusted formula is used where you’re gathering them as you play. The method has been well played out and seems synonymous with RPGs, however, I expected something different this time which wasn’t granted, bar, ignoring all of the characters I didn’t really care for from the last game. Using voice commands via Kinect, or the controller, I found the squad based play was not really that necessary, although I’m sure on tougher play throughs, more tactical choices are needed to succeed. The Kinect implementation is good, but when it fails during heated moments and ends up resulting in your death, it’s far easier to just stick with the tried and trusted controller with mapped buttons for powers. I still believe the conversation choices take players out of the game simply because speaking what Shepard thinks, places us as a subconscious of the character rather than role playing as him or her.
Mass Effect 3 presents some spectacular art direction and expansive vision for a galaxy filled with diversity. It’s a believable universe that begs to be explored, and yet, the essence of exploring was only really a feature of the first game with its Mako vehicle and uncharted planets you could land on. This element – which I loved – is totally absent, and I can’t help think this is due to the many people who complained, which made Bioware tone down the game. I would have loved to have seen the exploration element refined rather than ditched entirely because despite the Mass Effect galaxy being large and open, you’re very much shoehorned through the game from start to conclusion due to the story. The utterly pointless reaper chasing mini game on the galaxy map totally kills any element of freedom and is baffling as to why it was included. A really poor design choice.
The game is accomplished with its looks, presenting excellent looking character models – more so from the main cast – lavish worlds and appealing interiors. That said, the reuse of the main hub – the citadel – felt old, and again, was the only main hub players could wander around. Considering the first game had several hubs, it’s another shame Bioware didn’t expand this aspect of the game. It’s obvious they listened to feedback and injected a bit more life into the populated area, but at the expense of a steady frame rate which chugs on occasion. There’s even a bit of cleverness thrown in where you get to hear conversations progress each time you visit – a good idea on paper but then derailed once exhausted and people are left repeating themselves or just standing around doing nothing. In this regard, something like the populace of a GTA game would have been a better way of creating the illusion of a lived in space rather than characters glued to the spot for hours and hours. To me this just felt lazy and is something that should have been addressed in game number three. The dreaded texture rendering of the past seems to have been mostly eliminated which is impressive, because overall, the game is probably the best looking of the three so a big thumbs up there. On a technical level in terms of looks, Mass Effect 3 is highly stylised and an impressive feat of technical brilliance, but with two other games under their belts, it’s somewhat expected that Bioware would get things right this time, and they have done.
The game’s audio is perhaps its most flawless offering, with excellent performances all round and especially from Jennifer Hale as female Shepard, and the returning cast for the crew. There’s a little less interaction this time round with the individuals,but when it’s offered on a plate, there’s enough amusing moments that are expertly performed. The music, sound effects are all top quality, and despite many audio themes being reused from the previous games, still holds up remarkably well.
Mass Effect 3 offers more bang for your buck for the solo experience, and you can expect to pump in plenty of hours even if you ignore any distractions. The inclusion of a multiplayer is solid, and means if you are after just shooting things with none of the RPG nonsense, then solo or with three others, you can co-op your way through some locations from the main game. There’s just one singular mode here but the way it’s structured works well and is a surprisingly entertaining side dish from the main course.
To conclude, Mass Effect 3 is a technical marvel and probably one of the best western developed franchises of our generation. However, my expectations based on what was accomplished from the previous two games has led to some disappointment as certain ideas have been tossed to the wayside to make for a more palatable dish for the masses. I’m still not convinced over the story and how it’s presented, and perhaps after three games I’m being more critical this time than in the past, but I honestly expected some sort of progression rather than lip service – especially in terms of the relationships with the crew members. As for the game’s conclusion, I do feel Bioware cheaped out, ran out of tangible ideas or have cleverly set all the fans up for the imminent paid for downloadable content which the game even suggests at the very end. This feels decidedly cheap and condescending, and no doubt will cause the blood to boil for many. As it stands, the ending leaves a lot to be desired, with inconsistencies, and a complete lack of closure which is handled rather than in a clever nature, ballsy and nonsensical to the point of annoyance.
Mass Effect 3 could have been the ultimate game in the series, but due to a lack of vision, too much focus on the expected, and a disbanding of the series’ better ideas, has left a game which technically might be superior to its forebears, but from a player point of view, simply isn’t as impacting. I can recommend the game to anyone interested in action role playing games, but if you’re a fan of the original, then much like Luke Skywalker kissing his sister in Return of the Jedi, Mass Effect 3 might leave a somewhat sour taste in the mouth. A great game but not the series’ climatic ending I had hoped for.