Some stories are too big to be told in a single installment. The Mass Effect series was trumpeted as a trilogy when the first installment was released back in 2007, and we finally have the chance to see how it all ends. For those of you who have played the whole series, and imported a character throughout it, it gives the player an incredible conclusion to the dozens of decisions they have made along the way. It’s not perfect, but Mass Effect 3, like its predecessors, is a monumental achievement in game design.
The biggest draw of the Mass Effect series is the epic story, which has been shaped in part by the choices the character has made in the first two games. I can’t overstate the connection I felt to the game when choices I made five years ago began affecting the game I’m playing now. All the romance I’ve experienced, all the drama and heartbreak, it all comes back in an Earth-shattering conclusion that is sure to be talked about for years to come.
Speaking of Earth-shattering, Mass Effect 3 opens with quite a bang: The Reapers, a race of sentient machines whose ultimate goal is to harvest all organic life, attack the galaxy, and center their opening thrust right at Earth. Commander Shepard, who is still under investigation for the events of Mass Effect 2’s Arrival DLC, witnesses the attack and, being humanity’s leading expert on Reapers, must somehow unite the galaxy to fight the Reaper threat. It is a fantastic introductory sequence that centers on many of the themes of the story: hope, despair and the strains of war.
The strains of war are certainly showing in Shepard. Previously, Shepard has been almost solely an avatar of the players will, exhibiting very few character qualities of his own. In this final outing, we actually see some of what makes Shepard his own character. The terrors of war and the collective refusal of the galaxy to believe the Reapers exist have begun to crack the formerly impervious exterior of humanity’s greatest soldier. Several dreamlike sequences are spread throughout the campaign that reinforce the toll this war has taken on Shepard, and they all come back to the forefront in the unforgettable end.
The majority of the gameplay is pulled straight from Mass Effect 2. Combat is technically similar, balancing the spectacular gunplay with an easy-to-use power wheel. Character upgrading has taken a significant step forward; instead of choosing between two different powers at the end of a skill tree, each ability has multiple choices spread throughout it. A streamlined approach to weapons upgrading is similarly adapted. While the number of specific weapon upgrades has been decreased, a stripped-down version of the original Mass Effect’s mod system has been implemented, allowing for even more customization options. Enemy variety is greatly improved, and every fight seems to take on a desperate tone.
The threat of the Reaper attack looms over every facet of the game. Gone are the hours spent scanning each planet for resources. Instead, a new method of quick-scanning offers you the chance to pick up new resources: warn assets. The new system isn’t without its downfalls though. As you scan planets, you quickly build a Reaper awareness meter. Once it’s full, the Reapers methodically chase you down every time you enter that system. It’s a great way to keep the Reapers in your mind in theory, but in practice it simply leads you to multiple re-entries of a particular system while you try to find the last war asset available. Beware: frustrations abound.
Planet scanning isn’t the only minigame that’s been redesigned. You won’t hack or single door, or match a single node whilst bypassing a door. Outside of a couple rail-shooting sequences, the gameplay plays it straight, with little in the way of secondary distractions. Don’t worry, you’ll still get a chance to stretch you’re paragon or renegade muscles; they are just fewer and farther in between than they use to be. I also didn’t encounter a single situation I was unable to talk myself out of. Unlike the Wrex situation of the first game, or the Miranda-Jack argument, I never found a conversation option that was grayed out, for either option. I was full Paragon, and yet was able to use the renegade option for every single speech challenge, including the last one.
The campaign retains about the same relative length as Mass Effect 2, but the events that transpire are nowhere close. No longer forced to set anything up for future installments, Mass Effect 3 deals with every unresolved issue available. Although, by the time I finished the game, I felt I had explored the entire Mass Effect mythology, the ending left me with more questions than answers. I can’t say I’m disappointed in the way it all wrapped up, but I was hoping for some more closure.
While everybody is going to buy Mass Effect 3 for the story, a fun and intense multiplayer mode has been added to the franchise. In addition to tying in to the story in a number of ways, the multiplayer mode allows you to step into the boots of a Turian, Drell and a number of other species in the Mass Effect universe. The cooperative-only multiplayer is a blast, especially when played with friends. Coordinating your attacks is a must in this difficult mode, loners need not apply. I was (am) addicted to the random packs you can buy with in-game currency (or real money, sucker), and unlocking that new shotgun or the Asari vanguard really got me pumping my fist.
It isn’t without its flaws, however. The one that sticks out most to me is the journal. The awful journal. What was once a helpful tool is now a broken mess that doesn’t tell you anything. Even though the multiple hub worlds of previous games has been reduced to one, the Citadel, I spent far too much time looking for the Volus I needed to drop off an important artifact to. Call me prickly, but there is no reason it should have taken such a step back.
I should stress that any problems I may have had with it pale in comparison to the grandeur of Mass Effect 3. In almost every way imaginable, it delivers on the promises of the franchise. For people that have never played the others, I would recommend it as a great game. For those of us who have been around since the beginning, it is a must-buy.