As a fan of the first two Mass Effect titles, or at least Mass Effect 2, it should come as no surprise that I am reviewing the third part of the trilogy, but where does it stand between the first two games and is the controversy regarding the ending justified? It’s a bit of a hybrid between the two, with some better, although less diverse gameplay, and the ending actually presents the most interesting moral choice in the series since Legion’s Loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2. But if you want a longer ramble, hit the jump below.
Mass Effect 3 Review
Platform: Xbox 360(reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Release Date: 6/3/2012
Price I Paid: $80.99 (Collector’s Edition)
Six months after the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard is grounded and the long awaited adversary of the series, the Reapers, have finally showed up, and they did so by the hundreds. With the galactic defenses ill prepared for such a conflict, it is up for Commander Shepard to decide the best way to prepare the galaxy against these genocidal 2 km tall monstrosities. The majority of the game is literally just that, preparing. You go around the Citadel, the hub of this game, searching for side missions that gradually grant you assets to form an army to take back earth from these giant robotic shrimps.
But when you are not scanning planets to find one specific item that will grant money, a quest item, an abandoned spaceship that you can send to fight for you, or an upgrade that grants a 5% boost towards one of two stats, you are running from the Reapers in your little galaxy map. However, there is a big problem with that, namely that it is hard to be afraid of something that you can easily outmaneuver, and is apparently only twice the size of your ship, the Normandy. Speaking of which, the ship itself has received a third makeover, one that spreads things out and holds far fewer crew members. I was genuinely disappointed by the final number of crew members, 3(I’m including the DLC, since it came with the Collector’s Edition) of which are new characters, and 5 possible returning characters.
It really does make Mass Effect 2 feel somewhat pointless, since I thought the goal of the game was to build a team that could take down any adversary, the final crew is very balanced and likable, and they do give a reason and mission regarding the non-returning allies, so it is understandable, with the exception of one single character. James Vega is a gambling, smoking, drinking, bodybuilding, half-arsed Mohawk wearing, and overall pointless Mexican stereotype who is as as likable as a turd, I felt more compassion towards the robotic dog that did absolutely nothing on my ship. I downright hated Kaiden in Mass Effect 1, but that was because he looked like a Latino version of the playable character in Deus Ex 2, and he wasn’t gay, so he would not talk to me. I am absolutely disgusted with anyone who had their female Shepard hook up with him. The best part that I can remember about him is when the DLC character said how Vega would be executed back where he/she is from and the fact that he likes Dinosaurs. I cannot even fathom why BioWare would make an anime movie about the guy, it is only slightly worse than burning all the money in an orphanage. I wish that there were some way to kill your allies in this game, because Vega would die faster than you can say, “loco”.
But, since it’s odd to talk about the ending this early on, let’s talk about the visuals. BioWare continued to increase the series’ visual fidelity. Animations are smooth, lip syncing looks wonderful, although the expressions could use a bit more polish when conveying joy and sorrow. Although running looks like someone running, skin has texture, environments feel more varied despite being designed to be fairly linear. There could have been more nature involved, but this is a game about impending galaxy-wide Genocide, plants should be kept at a minimum. It’s a very pretty, very well written, and very well delivered game that features some of the best voice acting I’ve ever seen in a game. Which makes it all the worse when lines are not said to their completion for one reason or another.
The dialog system now tends to focus on only 2 decisions to save memory and more easily distribute Paragon and Renegade Points. This is reflected in the leveling system later on, and in the 12 or so upgrades that you find throughout the game. It kind of reminds me about Cthulhu Saves the World’s often amazingly difficult choices that you make whenever a character levels up, but that’s a story for another day. Speaking of systems, the weapon system of the game has been completely revamped, allowing Shepard to carry any combination of Sniper Rifles, Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Submachine Guns, and Heavy Pistols, not unlike how it worked in Mass Effect 1. However, weight is now a factor since if you are carrying too many weapons, your unique powers take longer to recharge. Combine this with the ability to buy up to 4 level upgrades for individual guns during your first playthrough, and a weapon mod system where you choose 2 out of 5 mods for guns, and you have a pretty neat system that is very welcomed, since Mass Effect 2 only had about 3 types of each gun. Although Heavy weapons are gone, I only ever used my Black Hole cannon 7 times across my three Mass Effect 2 Playthroughs.
The actual gameplay sadly lacks variety unless you think walking around the Citadel counts or hopping in a turret is your ideal manifest of entertainment. The main cover based combat has been refined for a frantic third person cover based shooter where you can lift up enemies send drones, create miniature black holes, overload barriers, or just stab a punk with a PDA/hacking device/sword. It is simply enjoyable and offers numerous play styles, although I just blitzed everything that came close to me with my biotic charge since bashing into enemies healed my shields. Speaking of which, the game took what I declared to be the ideal compromise between a health bar and regenerating health, where you have a few little health bars that regenerate as long as there is a sliver of health remaining in them. I just like this because it provides a penalty for getting down to what I’m assuming is 15 health points, since the game never shows the numbers that it says that you somehow have, but ever means that you are screwed if you do lose your shields since you can still take a bullet or two.
Actually, I can’t find many innovations or spins on the mechanics that were used in the prior two Mass Effect games. With the exception of the story, the game tends to play it safe, and only taking things that worked in the prior titles. This is actually a fairly common practice with the end of trilogies, the designers either need to do something new and somewhat alien, or just refine and perfect what is already there. I can respect both views, but this is something that will always limit the third game in a series, and prevent it from reaching the highest point of said series, although I do not think that is the case with Mass Effect 3, a good story can do a lot for a game, and in my opinion, Mass Effect’s plot peaked near the end. Despite some characters lacking any well explained reason to not come with you, I’m looking at you Grunt, Samara, and DLC characters. And the human characters being as interesting as humans you pick up from the streets. I still think the game did a great job wrapping up their stories, which is helped by the final conversation you have with all of your teammates before the climax.
—Massive Spoilers Incoming!—
Now for the big one, the ending. I understand why some people might be disappointed with a final decision that reflects one’s own moral values and lacks any truly definitive good or evil… Oh wait, no I don’t! I think that people wanted an ending that tied up loose ends, but they got that with the main plot, which I am adamant to even bring up beyond its basic premise due to how much I enjoyed it. It focuses on two large conflicts that have been foreshadowed throughout the previous two games, and when I ended them in the most peaceful fashion possible, it felt really, really good. They were some of the few moments in any game where the plot feels like it’s about a legend, not just a hero. And if you bring up how the ending did not relate to what you did in the past 120 hours you spent on the trilogy, then you did not enjoy the series. If you truly enjoy something, you can forgive a lot, but the ending does not need to be forgiven, for trying something different, memorable, and very debatable with many unique interpretations, it’s just a shame that the unintended reaction of betrayal was as common as it is.
Bioware and its writers did not want a standard ending where you save the world from the Reapers, it wanted to be a deeper choice that reflects the player’s own view on the very meaning of life itself. And to paraphrase Jonathan Holmes, a video game enthusiast and licensed social worker, People who are deeply into something have an idea of how it should end, if it doesn’t end that way, they get mad. However, if it ends just like how they expected, they may be even less satisfied. Hollywood has made us expect the traditional happy ending, and feel unsatisfied with anything that may end on a bit of a downer or with billions still dead as a result.
I will say that I would have liked to see more differences between the endings, since the final decision is a massive one, but there was just as much difference in the endings in the first two titles, and your decisions barely changed the ending unless you messed up and killed someone. It actually manages to be parallel to the endings of the first two games, you witnessed the corruption of Saren and the Illusive Man, the loss of their sympathy, lack of consideration, and misplaced intentions. Except for the fact that you are now the one making the decision and it’s up to you to pull one of three triggers that decides the fate of not just humanity, but life across the galaxy.
I appreciate the ending for being different and unexpected, and providing a good amount of closure prior to the actual ending, and it’s called the rest of the game. Even if the ending was unsatisfactory or was like getting a pinecone shoved up your arse, that is no excuse to dismiss the entire game due to one flaw. In the words of some guy named Greg Anderson, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” I also think that the fan campaign to change Mass Effect 3’s ending, Retake Mass Effect, has an extremely arrogant title that implies that Bioware perverted a title that they created. And don’t get me started on the people who are accusing Mass Effect 3 of false advertisement.
Overall, Mass Effect 3 is a great end to one of the best Science Fiction series of the past decade. From the higher stakes and great delivery by nearly everyone involved in this game. To the silky smooth combat that is somehow not disrupted by the multitasking A button. There are worrisome moments whenever I see a Banshee lurking around the corner, which are replaced with a sense of empowerment whenever Shepard tackles them, a foe twice his/her size, to death. There is a massive sense of achievement that I get whenever I check all of my units for the final conflict, making me feel like I’m helping the galaxy by assisting people in what can be viewed as insignificant ways. I had a tremendous amount of fun with this game and can only find a few red herrings, I do not think that I could have asked for a better successor to one of my favorite games of all time.
The game manages creates a lovely aesthetic, great gameplay, and may only be lacking a few additions or a bit of polish.
Note: For more in depth looks into the ending from people who are far smarter than I am, look here: http://www.themogblog.com/2012/03/20/mass-effect-3-a-proper-ending/ and http://www.destructoid.com/why-mass-effect-3-haters-need-to-calm-down-223966.phtml
I also heard about the Indoctrination Theory, which you can learn more about here:
I personally believe this theory more than my own claims, but I refused to write 4 new paragraphs. My complaint about the ending would be regarding just how absurdly complicated this is to those who are not scholars in Science Fiction and could figure it out. And how that is not the final ending, and it will be continued sometime in July. That could be seen as a cruel joke, but I think it’s amazing how Bioware not only presented one of the most complicated endings in Videogame history, but effectively trolled the entire industry at the same time.
//I am not going to add anything more to the fire, since the fire burned itself out by now, and I just do not want to debate about something that may be non-canonical in a few weeks.