With Andromeda still looming over the horizon for a few more months, and my reviews of Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 out of the way, it’s time to dig into Mass Effect 3, the game whose heinously negative fan reaction effectively murdered the series for me for approximately four years. It’s easily the game I remembered the least of the series, but seeing as how I genuinely enjoyed my time with it at launch, I assumed that it would still prove to be a good conclusion to the Shepard saga. Well… I was wrong. It’s a great conclusion.
Mass Effect 3 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Well, I say that, but Mass Effect 3 is quite odd from the outset. Things pick up shortly after the Arrival DLC for ME2, where Commander Shepard ended up killing hundreds of thousands of people belonging to a species of warmongering ruffians in order to delay the Reapers, a group of genocidal robot space prawns. When defending themselves, on Earth no less, the long foreshadowed invasion begins and Shepard is once again tasked with saving the galaxy. Well, after coincidentally encountering the surviving human party member from ME1, meeting a small child who may or may not be a figment of their imagination, and reclaiming their ship, the Normandy, which they just so happened to locate.
The coincidences continue, as Shepard is sent to Mars, where a group of researchers were just coincidentally researching a super weapon that could defeat the Reapers, but is coincidentally under attack by the pro-human terrorist group Cerberus. Also, the recurring character Liara is coincidentally there and the crew is able to coincidentally stop someone stealing this incredibly vital galaxy saving information just in the nick of time. A mech, as a matter of fact, who the Normandy’s resident AI, EDI, can coincidentally take control of.
While I am exaggerating things slightly, the beginning of ME3 is eclectic, cluttered, and contrived in a way that truly makes me wonder what was going on at BioWare and how many rewrites this critical section of the game underwent. It is still sensible, but does establish an odd tone the the rest of the game manages to gracefully avoid. Instead, the tone of Mass Effect 3 is that of conclusion and climax. With two games of events and characters, along with an entire universe to draw from, there is an incredible effort made to make the game feel like a dramatic conclusion, as the stakes are raised, long standing conflicts are finally solved, and a seemingly invincible threat looms over the horizon.
With so much riding on the story, it manages to reach emotional heights and maintain a pleasant level of intensity throughout, while still having enough downtime throughout for things to never be truly tiring or feel like an endless onslaught of events epic in their proportion. The minor side assignments from NPCs, talking to crew members, and regular trips to the Hub that is the Citadel all provide an appreciated sense of levity, while also further detailing the world during the war with the Reapers. Thereby increasing the player’s understanding of the universe, and ideally their personal drive to save it.
To warrant further compliments, the writing and characterization standards of the series are maintained here, with the recurring and new characters being a largely interesting case of people and aliens alike, and ones who I genuinely took delight in listening to for both the high quality voicework and the frequently excellent dialog. To further that, there is an effort made to firmly end the arcs and stories of the various characters Shepard met throughout their adventures, from mainstays like Liara and Garrus to minor characters who are barely even a footnote like Conrad Verner, and just about everything in between, especially party members from prior games.
However, going back to the dialog, there was a notable limitation made with how Shepard can interact with the world. Not only are dialog wheels available less often when making idle chat with crew members, but the dialog wheels themselves offer less choices than they had before. While the option to derail some conversations exists, I can only recall a scant few times where a true neutral response was available during conversation, and instead the only ones available were firmly Paragon or Renegade responses. I can understand this, as I’m sure the neutral options were selected the less out of those two, but it still feels more than a little odd that there is so seldom a third option in this game. Because the only one that comes to mind is the ending.
Yes, it was inevitable that I had to talk about this, so I’ll just get it out of the way now. The original ending for Mass Effect 3 was lacking. It left a lot open for interpretation and was tonally strange above everything else. However, after receiving so much feedback, the ending was revised and edited into something that, while a bit stitched together, manages to provide a meaningful and impactful end to the journey that came before it, and give players access to the biggest choice of all. I find it to be a satisfying conclusion to the story, and one that feels appropriate after the 120 hour journey that led up to it.
Although, the game also offers another conclusion of sorts that is equally, if not more, satisfying, in the form of a loving epilogue of sorts for the series, a DLC mission pack entitled Citadel. Mass Effect 3: Citadel is easily my favorite piece of downloadable content. The level of love, care, and affection put into each character included in this glorious, silly, and kind of stupid swansong to the trilogy is nothing short of admirable. The final product manages to capture everything I liked about the series, and do a few new, completely appropriate things as well. It is a party that left me shaking in childlike delight, the only negative thought perpetuating through my mind being how I did not have enough time to fully explore the additional content in its entirety.
In fact, all of the DLC for this game is pretty excellent. From Ashes leads way to one of the most interesting and insightful characters in the entire series, whose expansive dialog, engaging history, and mere presence in some missions positively affects the game in a way that makes its separation from the base game somewhat deplorable. Leviathan poses an answer to a question only few had, but does so in a way that makes the quest feel distinct as some honest detective work needs to be done in order to reach a conclusion that, while a bit farfetched, was immensely satisfying. While Omega offers two new party members in an action focused adventure through the titular asteroid embedded space city in a story that, while very simple, has enough good characterization and drive to make it feel special.
While I am very glowing to this story, I do not want to insinuate that it is, say, perfect, or devoid of any real flaws beyond the few that I brought up. There are some events that are underplayed, and while the emotional resonance of the story is very, very strong, it does not always make the most sense, and a few notes played during this swansong are a bit sour. However, the bulk of those problems amount to things that are little more than nitpicks that I could pry at, but don’t. Besides, I easily could be a fun hating jerkwad and find flaws in pretty much any story ever constructed, including the prior two games in the series.
Having talked about the story for approximately two pages, I should move onto the gameplay, which notably improves on what came before it. Continuing with the base of a cover based third person shooter, Mass Effect 3 is clearly going for a more kinetic, fast, and action oriented route with its combat. Running is both faster and no longer limited by a stamina meter of any kind, tactical rolls increase mobility options, abilities pack a greater punch than they did previously, and the slew of firearms available feel similarly.
I personally chose to play the game through as a Vanguard, a glass cannon class of sorts that is built for up close and rapid damage, which when combined with the frequency that damage can be dealt, the ability to lessen power cooldowns, and a chargeable melee attack that can utterly wreck opposition, create a genuinely exhilarating and fast experience that, while a bit more difficult than I would expect from the Normal setting of an RPG, provided a fair and enjoyable challenge. Well, excluding that final enemy gauntlet near the end, which was also the only point in the entire series where I used Medi-Gel.
However, without any major subsystems to the gameplay, no Mako exploration, no Hammerhead, and no planet scanning, Mass Effect 3 leans heavily on its third person shooter combat. While not necessarily a bad thing, as the gameplay is quite fun, certainly fun enough to justify a multiplayer mode, this does limit the variety found in this game outside of narrative scenes. While the three factions faced in the game, Reapers, Cerberus, and Geth, all have their own unique units and such, combat gradually devolves into crowd control in an area filled with chest high structures and walls that can be used for cover. Fun crowd control, but the same basic thing over and over again, with the same abilities, same basic mechanics, and same general strategies.
As for the presentation, Mass Effect 3 can and is downright beautiful in many places, with character and creature designs are as high quality as they ever were, decadently designed environments, gorgeous backdrops, and graphical fidelity that I will probably continue being impressed by for the next few years. However, the actual design and look of certain environments end up feeling more than a little samey after going through so many war torn stoney battlefields and war torn metallic battlefields. They often fixated on very plain browns and greys instead of trying to make use of as diverse of a color range as reasonably possible, or simply more areas with striking and alien architecture.
There are some truly interesting environments, such as a food market in a neon coated futuristic space city, or the pleasantly minimalistic cyberspace level, but they are in the very clear minority here. Most likely as the end result of a creative choice to make the game’s general color scheme a bit more muted in order to convey the more grim circumstances of the plot. Such as with the interior of the Normandy, whose grey, blue, and red color scheme is far less lively than the orange and silver of ME2, or even the calming yet mysterious dark blue of ME1. I have some objections to this, but the core aesthetic of the game never feels as if it is being substantially bogged down by these decisions. Though, the same cannot be said about the decision to add a grimey filter over the surprisingly plentiful number of FMVs in the game. That I just don’t understand.
I also do not understand why somebody decided to litter most mission environments with new weapons, armor pieces, weapon mods, and materials that can be used for small side quests. While this was done in Mass Effect 2, there are approximately twice as many things to find in each new area, and the act of searching for them quickly becomes tiresome after doing it for every room in every mission. For as much as I love hunting for secret goodies that meaningfully impact the gameplay, the game simply is not designed for secret hunting.
There are a lot of minor footnotes I can go over, such as the pleasant world building idle dialog that paints that the galaxy of Mass Effect as a more tangible place with talks of PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and child relocation due to space racism. Or the fact that Cerberus becomes such a ferocious force throughout this game, when they previously did not seem to have anywhere near as much power in prior entries. How Shepard’s abilities and level from ME2 carry over. Or the fact that the plentiful number of weapons need to be upgraded independently, when it is time consuming to make more money in this game than what is provided during the base game.
Point is, there are a lot of little things I like about Mass Effect 3, a lot of little things I don’t like, and a lot of big things that I really do love about this game, enough for me to consider adding it among my list of personal favorites. Largely due to the distilled excellence of the Citadel DLC. Above all else, it is a satisfying conclusion to this saga that kept me enthralled through its campaign, and I can only hope that such a feeling is captured in its long awaited successor.
Oh, and I also played the game using a controller mod, which can be found here.