The Epic Trilogy Comes To An End – Mass Effect 3 Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 console.
Floating down from space (quite literally, in some cases) is the sci-fi space epic Mass Effect 3. Set to finish the grand trilogy, the final chapter of the Mass Effect saga is a beautiful one that will keep you on the edge of your seat and emotionally involved. Please note though, that there may be spoilers from the first two games, so if you’ve yet to play them do so now.
Mass Effect 3 starts up right where ME2 left off. Commander Shepard has been removed from active duty and placed under observation on Earth, as a result of his direct involvement in destroying a star system. However, it’s not long until the Defense Council is requesting his presence, as several colonies have stopped checking in and they fear a Reaper invasion – which is exactly what they get. The meeting is stopped short as a full-blown attack is launched on Earth. Now, the only hope for the survival of the galaxy is for Shepard to flee his burning home world to bring as many allies as he can to stop the giant living machines.
The tone for this sequel is much darker than its predecessors. Unlike the previous games, there is barely any hope to be found. Your enemies are winning, people are dying, and everything seems to be against you. This bleak outlook that BioWare has created is heart-breaking, but incredibly enjoyable. Throughout your mission to bring aid to Earth, you see every emotion possible: you’ll laugh, cry, smile, and feel anger, regret, and worry. ME3’s story is one that grips you, makes you the centre of it all, and takes you on one hell of a wild and exciting ride.
A lot of this emotional rollercoaster is due to the choices you’re faced with. Like previous Mass Effect titles, you have a very good say in how the game progresses. During in-game conversations, you choose how Shepard responds. Players may inquire further into the topic, or progress with a caring/sensitive Paragon answer, a violent/careless Renegade response, or a neutral/opinionless reply. The consequences of these decisions can be very small, or affect the entire galaxy. Players are free to choose, sucking them right into the game, making them as much of the protagonist as Shepard is.
Something else deserving of praise is the cast. Each character has his/her own personality, style, strengths, weaknesses, appeals, or repulsions. You grow attached to your favorites and wish them to succeed, worry when they’re hurt, and feel heartbroken if they die. Even your enemies you can’t help but love-to-hate. The entire cast has been impressively well-conceived and presented, truly bringing the population of the galaxy alive.
As with ME2, players are able to import their save data from the previous game. This carries over all of your decisions from both ME and ME2, and even determines what level you start at. Finished ME2 at level 24? Well, that’s where you’ll start in ME3, with all of your powers progressed just as they were. This feature gives players a great sense of investment, rewarding them for playing previous titles. To carry over all of this throughout the trilogy is an impressive feat that sets ME3 apart from all other RPGs on the market.
Gameplay is fairly the same as it was in ME2; players will still be ducking in and out of cover (not unlike Gears of War), but enhancements have been made to make it a little smoother. Blue arrows will appear, based on movement direction, that help show what action the cover button will take, be it dive from one object to the next, run forward around the corner, or vault over a lower structure. Switching to a different side of cover is easy now, too: simply head to the edge of the object and click a thumbstick. This prevents players from having to leave cover to get around a corner and limits the time spent exposed to fire. Gamers will find navigating around set pieces to be generally straightforward this time around, with less instances of getting stuck to a wall or failing to jump an obstacle.
Melee attacks have also been given an overhaul. Instead of a single weak punch, players are now able to string together a few short combos to help dispatch targets within arm’s reach. If that isn’t enough, simply hold the bash button and your character will do a heavy attack. This varies from class to class, but generally involves an omni-blade or biotic blast. Overall, the shooter and melee mechanics both feel better designed and put together.
Speaking of classes, players still have the usual six to pick from. The three main ones are Soldier (relying mainly on guns), Engineer (using various technology based skills), and Adapt (adopting various telekinetic biotic powers). The other three combine mixtures of two of each power, and are the Vanguard (biotic soldier), Infiltrator (tech-based soldier), and Sentinel (tech-based biotic). Each class has its own unique power and a plethora of other common abilities, distinguishing them from one another.
A big complaint that many fans (myself included) had about ME2 was its lack of RPG elements, which had been greatly diminished compared to the first title. Fear not, ME3 has more than you can shake an M-4 Shuriken submachine gun at! As you progress your abilities to certain points, you’ll be able to expand them in various ways, such as reducing recharge time, or increasing attack power. This differs from previous titles, where you would simply improve the skill in a general fashion. Now players are able to customize their powers to better match their play style. This is a very welcome upgrade that helps make the player feel even more invested in the game.
Powers aren’t the only thing you have control over, oh no! Your weapons are now customizable as well, similar to ME. Unlike the original, however, players have a lot more choices in what they can augment. Each gun has two slots to put an attachment or improvement, and every upgrade slightly changes that weapon’s appearance. These can be additions like extending the barrel, slapping a scope on top, or messing with internals that change the colour of the body or stock. Things like ultra-light materials and magazine extensions help make the player’s gun feel like their own personal weapon.
The amount of attachments and weapons is staggering as well, with more of both than either of the previous games. In just about every mission you’ll find either a gun or several attachments hidden off the beaten path. With so many options, players will be able to pick and choose as they wish to create the best load-out to suit their gaming persona.
To add to that, any class can now carry any weapon. In earlier titles, players were limited to certain weapons based on the role they took (for example, Adapts could only use pistols and SMGs). ME3 takes a different approach, offering a weight limit instead. Every weapon has a set weight, and Shepard has a limited carrying capacity determined by his class. There is more to it though, as your carried weight also determines your powers’ recharge time. Take your exact limit into battle and your skill will recharge at normal weight; take less, and you’ll receive a percent bonus that peaks at 200%. Take more, however, and they’ll take longer to recharge, so watch what you bring. I find this system to work much better, and so will non-solider players.
But wait, there’s still more! Shepard’s futuristic armor can be fully customized as well. Players will be able to change his helmet/visor, chest plate, gauntlets, and leg greaves, along with various materials, colours, and even on-board lights. Seem like too much work? Unique, unchangeable armor sets can be bought to limit the time you spend looking through the closet.
Let’s not forget that Shep’s face can also be completely redesigned, should you not like the default provided by Mark Vanderloo. Everything from nose placement/size, hair styles, and even the distance between eyes can be adjusted. All of this helps each player create their own Commander, further augmenting the player’s in-game individuality.
The main goal of ME3 is to raise an army to take back Earth, and a lot of the game centres around this. As you take actions, be they massive like saving a planet or small like recovering some files, you’ll gain assets for your war, creating a total war count. This number shows the size of your militias, along with a predicted outcome of the final battle. The more allies you find (through kindness or force), the bigger your army will be. However, size alone won’t do it…
That’s where multiplayer comes in. This online component received a lot of harsh feedback from when it was announced, since many fans claimed the game didn’t need it and thought it would degrade the single player story experience. While I can see their points and worries (as I had some myself), I can guarantee you this is not the case. Not only is the campaign a massive behemoth, chockfull of supreme quality content, but the multiplayer is a wonderful experience that augments the main game.
So, how does this all work? Well, players take control of elite squads who are tasked with various missions in key parts of the galaxy. Winning a battle increases the readiness of that area, and the galaxy overall. A higher percentage gives the forces in the main game a better chance of succeeding in the final fight. Advancing your multiplayer characters to the highest level allows you to promote them into the main game, adding yet another asset to the battle for Earth. This also resets the class to level one, so think carefully before promotion. Combine a massive military force and a 90%+ readiness, and your fight is looking very good indeed. But do your best to do this, as the ending you receive will depend upon it.
The biggest misconception when one hears the word “multiplayer” is that it will be player vs. player in deathmatches. This isn’t the case for ME3. Instead, its online mode is done in a style not dissimilar to Gears of War’s Horde Mode. A team of four players must survive ten waves of combat, followed by an extraction. Enemies become increasingly harder as the waves go on, and every third, sixth, and tenth wave has a secondary objective attached to them. These can range from killing high value targets to starting up communication devices. Fail to complete your secondary goal before time runs out, or have all four members killed, and you fail the mission.
Like in single player, you’ll be able to create your own multiplayer character, choosing not only from the six classes, but from different races as well. You may play as a human (male or female), turian, quarian, krogan, salarian, asari, or drell. Every species has its own skill sets and movements styles, so players should experiment with them all to find which works best for them. Some are locked at first though, so you’re going to have to fight for them.
To help you survive, you’ll have various tools at your disposal. Similar to the main game, you’ll be able to fully customize your weapons and characters (though you can only reach level 20 in MP). You also bring certain items into battle that can help you in a pinch. Medi-gel can be used to pick yourself up if downed, Survival Packs will regenerate your shields and health, and Ammo Packs will resupply your empty guns. To kill off the tougher enemies quicker, you’re also provided a missile launcher. These are limited, however, so don’t waste them unnecessarily.
How do you get more items, you ask? Completing the secondary objectives grants the player credits that can be spent on various packs. Buying these gives players more supplies, unlocks new characters and customizations for them, and even provides new weapons and one-time use bonuses. This system takes some getting used to, but works very well with the online mode.
So, in the end, did Mass Effect need a multiplayer mode? Well, no, not really. However, the inclusion of the online mode does serve to broaden the experience greatly. Not only that, but it’s incredibly fun, to boot. Fighting side-by-side with your friends in an attempt to preserve all galactic life is just glorious. Therefore, I dub it, “the best multiplayer in a game that never needed it.”
If you happen to be playing on the Xbox 360, then you have another unnecessary (yet very welcomed) add-on: the Kinect sensor. Using the microphones built into the device, players are able to accomplish various tasks using voice commands. Players can switch amongst their various weapons by simply saying the weapon type, call out different powers’ names to use them, open doors or pick things up, and even give squad commands to teammates. The best use of it, however, comes from conversations. When presented with a choice, players are able to speak the choice they want instead of choosing via controller. This greatly immerses players into the game, making them feel like they’re in Shepard’s place. While not a vital aspect, Kinect helps to make ME3 just that much more engaging and is a wonderful addition to the game.
Visually, ME3 is one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. In older games, close-ups on characters reveal a lot of pixilation, something you won’t find in this latest title. Textures are carefully crafted and look beautiful regardless of distance, and for the first time in the series, they’re pop-free. Every world you visit and person you encounter is incredibly beautiful and easy on the eyes.
Animation has taken a step up as well. A big problem with earlier games was that movements looked stiff and ragged, especially in conversations. ME3 takes a more cinematic approach, with people moving about realistically during talks or cutscenes. Greater care has been given to characters’ faces and expressions; Shepard no longer looks like a poorly-crafted doll, and emotions are portrayed realistically and brilliantly. Even the loading screens are visually stunning, depicting a shuttle flying over snowy terrain or watching daily traffic on the Citadel.
The scale of things is also gorgeous. Watching a two-kilometer long synthetic life-form come crashing down to Earth and start blasting lasers everywhere is horrifying, but awe-inspiring. Taking note of a massive space battle happening overhead while you walk through a ruined docking bay is just one of the little things that BioWare has done to take ME3 that extra mile in graphic quality.
There is only one real fault I’ve found in my 30+ hours of gameplay, and that’s with loading. Several times throughout the game I’ve thought that my system had frozen. However, it was simply the game taking forever to load up. This occurs just about everywhere, from simply walking across a room to mid-conversation. While it’s probably something that’s easily patched, this greatly cuts down immersion and will infuriate many gamers (myself included).
Audio is also stellar, both in terms of sounds and voices. The various futuristic sounds of the Mass Effect universe are very unique and interesting. Hearing the metallic roar of the Reaper enemies, the unique gunshot of a mass accelerator weapon, or the dubstep-like wub-wub-wub of biotic abilities will set ME3 apart from all other RPGs out there in terms of sounds; you won’t find these effects anywhere else.
Part of what makes the in-game characters so believable is the amazing voice cast. Some of the best voice actors in the game industry are joined by big name actors. Just a few of them include Tricia Helfer (Veronica Dare – Halo 3: ODST), Keith David (The Arbiter – Halo 2/3, Chaos – Dissidia 012), D.C. Douglas (Albert Wesker – Resident Evil 5, Alexei Dinoia – Tales of Vesperia), Seth Green (Scott Evil – Austin Powers series, Chris Griffin – Family Guy), and Martin Sheen (Carl Fox – Wall Street, Oliver Charles Queenan – The Departed). These actors bring the wonderful script to life, each delivering beautiful performances to make players laugh or cry, happy or sad.
Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale both give their voices to the male and female Commander Shepards. While Meer’s performance in previous titles has always been a little dry, he really steps it up in ME3, making the tired and beaten version of Shepard believable. Hale is wonderful as usual, giving the fan-dubbed “FemShep” a strong and confident demeanor. As a fan of the series, I couldn’t ask for a better cast to listen to; no complaints here.
While it is unfortunate that Jack Wall was unavailable to pen the trilogy’s final score, renowned composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) has stepped up to the plate. The soundtrack has been composed so well, one could never tell that the composers have been changed. With long brass and string melodies over top of orchestral work, minimalist electronic “patter,” and hints of various themes from previous games, ME3’s soundtrack is a wonderful and memorable experience. I look forward to adding it to my music library, alongside the other two titles.
So, when the war is over, in either victory or defeat, Mass Effect 3 is easily one of the best games ever made. With amazing story-telling driven by player choice, fantastic music, beautiful graphics, and some of the most relatable characters, this is one game that no one should miss out on. Just do something about the load times, and nothing can stand in its way. If you have yet to experience the Mass Effect universe, what are you waiting for? Pick up all three, book a month (or two) off work, and get cracking; the galaxy will not save itself!
Final Score: 4.75 /5.0, an N7 salute, and my nomination for Game of the Year.
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