In the finale of the Mass Effect trilogy, the reapers have finally fulfilled Shephard’s nearly-unheeded warnings by suddenly invading Earth. Mass Effect 3 picks up as the Reapers invade, and Earth falls. Did Mass Effect 3 live up to it’s incredibly lofty hype and expectations, or did it fall faster than Earth’s defenses.
The Heat is On…. Or is it?
Mass Effect 3 opens up with one of the most epic and impactful scenes in video gaming – watching Earth slowly but surely fall to the Reapers on the grand scale while making it truly hit home by adding a very… human element to it in the fate of a small child. A child who haunts Shephard for the entire game. From the game’s opening through the first few hours of play, the game does a fantastic job of really impressing upon you the urgency and the desperation of the events. They make good use of the backgrounds to convey a sense of how dire it is… showing the war. After you complete a certain part of the quest, this… fades. The game ceases being about the reapers, except in subtext. The invasion is… a matter for casual conversation between buddies. The deaths are relegated to statistics you hear about every so often during progress reports. The game becomes more about political jockeying and Cerberus… which is interesting, don’t get me wrong – but it kind of downplays the feeling of ‘the reapers have arrived, imminent doom follows’ that the game opens up with.
The overall story of Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic conclusion to the series, and up until the last few minutes is a fantastic sequel to mass effect 1. I say to mass effect 1 because the events of mass effect 2 seem of significantly less importance than those of mass effect 1, except in a few small elements and in the final chapter of the game. I felt this to be a bit of a cop out, because rather than doing as they’d promised and making every decision you made in mass effect 2 carry forward in all elements of mass effect 3, they made the decisions of mass effect 1 impact the core story while the decisions and outcome of mass effect 2 seems to mostly just effect the sidequests and non-essential conversation pieces you can find. Probably the most disappointing thing for me in Mass Effect 3 was just how limited my squad choices were. There are 2 new playable characters and 4 returning playable characters, 3 of whom were in both Mass Effect 1 and 2 and 1 of whom was just in Mass Effect 1. Not a single one of the ‘new’ squadmates in Mass Effect 2 made the cut for play in Mass Effect 3.
Bioware has proven themselves to be adept in the art of character driven storytelling, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception. Nearly every character is well written with their own story, and if you complete the missions associated with certain characters you can even get extra bits of information, humour, and story through meetings with them, letters, or other methods enriching the feeling of a connected universe. But probably the most important moment of Mass Effect 3 is the death of an old friend. A moment of peace and clarity among the chaos, this intriguing character’s death really brings the catastrophe of what has happened elsewhere into perspective by simply being so different. Watching him pass away in peace after coming to terms with his life and participating in his culture’s ritual surrounding a life’s ending is the single moment from Mass Effect 3 that shines as the most fond memory of the story. For a game to make one death among millions stand out so well is a true feat, and one that the Bioware writing team should be proud of.
Probably the most detrimental aspect of the game’s story is the ending. They created a fairly mediocre ending which completely betrays the heart of the series’ storytelling: Choice. Mass Effect has been all about choice and the impact of those choices… in Mass Effect 3, it isn’t the choices you make that impact the story – it’s how much of a completionist you were. If you are a thorough gamer who did most of the sidequests, when the final moment comes you’ll be able to access any of the 3 endings you choose. And even worse – all 3 of the endings use the same cutscene with just very slight modifiers. You don’t get to see how the ending interacts with any of your decisions; you don’t get to see the long-range impacts of any of your decisions… and the ending really doesn’t even respect your party choice. Party members that were with you during the final mission are in the cutscene in places that there is no logical way for them to be. The writing of the ending isn’t bad, it presents an interesting choice to you with very long-reaching and intriguing consequences… the problem is just that those consequences just aren’t explored.
Gun? Check! Explosives? Check! Psychic Powers capable of creating black holes? Check! Sword? Check! Wait… sword?
So, the single biggest change to the gameplay of Mass Effect 3 was the addition of a melee weapon called the ‘Omniblade’. Now, that may sound like not much, but you’d be shocked at how huge of a difference having a melee weapon makes to your strategies. The omniblade does huge amount of damage and you can perform a power attack by holding the melee attack key. Aside from that, other control related adjustments were mostly just polish. Characters move much more smoothly, aiming is a bit more responsive and the ally AI is a bit smarter. Overall, everything about the controls were improved.
To ensure that we’re able to continue from Mass Effect 2 without feeling like we’re already ‘max level’, they’ve added new layers of depth in the form of new specialization levels in each skill as well as some entirely new places to put your skill points. These specialization levels really add some unique flair to your specific character as it’s not only about which skills you picked, but also which specializations you picked at each of the higher levels. The stasis skill, for example, can either be maximized to create a stasis bubble or to dramatically increase the resilience of stasis making you have to pick whether you’re aiming for single targets or an area of effect. These decisions add a tremendous amount of customization and depth to the combat and character building.
My name is Commander Shephard and these are my Favourite Graphics in the Series
As expected, they’ve done some significant upgrades to the game engine. The graphics are significantly upgraded with better character models, incredible textures and environmental design, and a night and day improvement on animations. Mass Effect 3 is a truly impressive looking game with some of the most amazing looking background scenes such as the view of the invasion of the Turian homeworld from it’s moon – a fantastic visual scene. The character models are not the best of the generation, but they are certainly very good. And it’s not just the visuals that are incredible… every aspect of the audio exceeds my expectations with great voice acting, utterly visceral and realistic sound effects, and amazing music. From a presentation perspective, it’s hard to find flaw with anything.
A New Squad for a New War
With the removal of dynamic endings and alternate stories… the only replayability the game has is through a completely new feature never before seen in Mass Effect: 4 player coop multiplayer. Fortunately the multiplayer is actually really cool. Essentially in the multiplayer you play as soldiers in the Alliance forces working to maintain control of various key locations that you visit on sidequests during the campaign. Your soldier can be any of the 6 classes, but can also play as various different races unlockable during multiplayer play. The really cool aspect of this is that they’ve tried to make it so that each race plays in a way that suits the race, and have tailored the abilities each race/class combo has to make them feel distinct. While every varient of the Infiltrator for example has the cloak ability, each race’s infiltrator has distinctions among the other abilities to give different playstyles, strengths, and weaknesses. This, combined with the fact that you have 4 players, makes for a very interesting dynamic. The coop is essentially a variant on the common ‘Horde mode’ where you survive progressively stronger waves, mixing it up with occasional objective based missions that award credits that can be used to purchase packs that give you weapon upgrades, new race/class combos, and other benefits.
The other interesting aspect to the multiplayer is that they have added two distinct ways to make the multiplayer impact your single player game. First of all, the amount of multiplayer you play effects your ‘Readiness rating’ which helps you to unlock better endings with less time invested in the single player. Additionally, when you max out a class in multiplayer you can ‘promote’ that class turning them into a war asset which directly increases your single player meter. Both of these help to ensure you can get access to the best ending regardless of if you prefer to explore every nook and cranny of the single player or whether you prefer to go through the single player more quickly and focus your efforts on multiplayer. I think this is a great way to tie single and multiplayer together in a way that rewards you for whichever style of play you enjoy.
Probably the biggest mistake that Bioware made was not sinking a proper amount of time into performing thorough QA testing on the PS3 version. The game released with bugs very similar to those found on Skyrim – horrible resolution, freezing, crashing, glitching, etc. This is not acceptable. I don’t know why Bioware felt that not performing proper testing on the PS3 version was anything but shameful. There was one level where I had to turn difficulty down to minimum just so my squadmates could kill everything and then stumble laggily through until I got out of the lag. Not the way it should be at all.
On another note,
Mass Effect 3 was a stellar game until they decided to cut corners. Most of the core aspects of the game are fantastical and amazingly well-made – but once you get past the core of the game and move onward to the outer edges such as the playtesting, the story urgency, and the ending cinematic… it just falls short. I was hoping that Bioware had learned from Dragon Age 2 that cutting corners is not a good idea – guess I was wrong. I still do feel that Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game with unequaled character design, great mechanics, and interesting multiplayer. It is one of the ‘must play’ games of the year – just… well… it’s not as good as we were all hoping, and it really does feel rushed.
- Story is, for the most part, well written.
- Opening is one of the most well written around.
- New melee attack improved diversity and strategy dramatically.
- Additions to skilltree allow for a tremendous amount of customization.
- Presentation is incredible in every way.
- Multiplayer is very well designed and integrated.
- Throughout the game, the choices you make are very impactful.
- Sidequests are very well designed and often present interesting additional story arcs.
- Controls are more responsive and accurate than ever before in a Mass Effect game.
- The story seems to lose track around the midpoint.
- The ending doesn’t properly take advantage of the choices made throughout the game.
- Game loses sense of ‘urgency’ after a short time in.
- Incredibly poor job done QA testing the game as tremendous issues made it through to release.
- Game really feels like many corners were cut to get it out more quickly.
- None of the Mass Effect 2 ‘exclusive’ squadmates make more than a token appearance in Mass Effect 3.
- The ending also fails to truly provide any sort of closure to the story arcs presented within the game, despite ending with a scene that is a clear ‘dismissal’.
- Final cinematic has 3 versions depending on a major choice made, yet all 3 are just reskinned versions of the same cinematic