Mass Effect 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
North American Release Date: March 6th, 2012
European Release Date: March 9th, 2012
Trophies: Yes, 1 || 2 || 6 || 42
DISCLAIMER: THIS REVIEW WILL HAVE SOME SPOILERS, BUT NOT OF THE VARIETY YOU MIGHT THINK. I WON'T SPOIL ANYTHING IN THE GAME, BUT I WILL MENTION SOME THINGS THAT ARE NOT IN THE GAME. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
The Mass Effect series has driven BioWare to prominence in the gaming industry. While certainly receiving attention and accolade for their award-winning Knights of the Old Republic series, it was Mass Effect that put them squarely on par with other giants like Bungie, Activision, DICE, and Ubisoft. Anticipation for Mass Effect was large, and fairly substantial for Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 3 has now seen release, and the hype is truly enormous. Even news outlets that traditionally have at best a passing interest in the gaming industry have been reporting on the titan, and press events and midnight launches have been organized on the scale usually reserved for a Halo or Call of Duty title.
But can it live up to those expectations? Certainly Call of Duty sells well, for example, but despite 'official' review scores many fans argue it had become lackluster recently, and that fans are tired of being inundated with the same game or same problems year after year.
Not that Mass Effect has become a yearly franchise, but does it fall victim to the ever vicious hype bug that has killed so many before it?
Gameplay in Mass Effect 3 builds and improves upon the incredibly solid base developed by Mass Effect 2, while re-incorporating some of the elements that made the first game fun. The combat mechanics are at a new high for the series, with the cover system being updated to offer more fluidity and options. You can now enter and exit cover more easily, and new maneuvers are available to you - you can now do a rolling dodge move, and also roll cover to cover. Shepard's become more versatile in this entry, regardless of class.
The melee system has also been overhauled, increasing the damage and giving each class a unique "heavy melee" attack, the most well-known being the soldier's Omni-blade stab. This new move is probably one of the biggest changes to the combat system; you'll be amazed just how many times you'll use it in singleplayer and how many times everyone else will in the multiplayer. It's that fun and handy. Included in all this new versatility is also a move that combines the cover and melee systems; it doesn't come up often, but when an enemy's in cover just on the other side of your wall you can actually reach over, yanking them to the ground in front of you and stabbing them quite nastily. Not necessarily the most realistic of moves, but much more realistic than two people separated by a few inches of steel or concrete and being unable to melee each other.
Probably one of the largest updates to the fighting overall, though, is the return of weapon modifications from the first Mass Effect. Although you won't be bogged down now by the hundreds of different pieces of loot you can acquire as you were in the first game, you can now swap out various bits like scopes, extended barrels, and the like. There are only a handful of different upgrades for each weapon, and no differences like specific manufacturers - your limitation comes from only being able to equip two per weapon out of a pool of four or five different modifications. They may seem to have very subtle effects on the combat, but the impact can be pretty substantial if used correctly.
The leveling system for individual powers has been changed somewhat, forcing you now to choose between two different passive bonuses for the last two slots of each power when you level it, but these amount largely to the same ends as the previous entry. Your evolutions to each power are a little more subtle than simply choosing one of two upgrades for a power, but they amount to largely the same thing; for example, now instead of choosing Heavy Warp versus Unstable Warp at the end of a power tree, you have the opportunity to guide it that away yourself.
Other than that, most systems in the game remain largely the same from the first two games. The Galaxy Map exploration system is mostly the same, just now with a different focus to accommodate the premise of a galaxy that's now at war. Dialogue, armor customization, even collecting your model ships - everything else remains largely the same, which isn't at all a bad thing considering how well it worked in Mass Effect 2. The game is fun to play from beginning to end, without ever feeling repetitive or dull.
Now, before I go any further let me acknowledge a few things right now. First, no score or slant I give to this aspect of the game will please everyone; in fact, chances are it will completely polarize people just as the game as a whole has. Mass Effect 3's singleplayer is probably the hardest aspect of a game I've ever had to score, for reasons which are abundantly clear to anyone who's played it yet, and which I hope to make clear to anyone who reads this. This is something I've really had to think about, and I'm still not sure I've approached it in the right way. But this is what I've got, so bear with me.
In terms of the story, I'm going to have to go backwards here because the ending(s) of Mass Effect 3 are the single most important aspect of the this game, period. There are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious being the fact this is the conclusion of a trilogy. It concludes what are ostensibly hundreds of hours of gameplay and emotional investment on the part of the player - depending on your platform, you've now nurtured a Shepard you've created yourself through two or three games, facing dilemmas that can, at times, be truly trying, and forging relationships are are surprisingly deep for a videogame. Mass Effect, for most gamers, is an emotionally intensive game for the amount of investment you put into it - whether or not you like every aspect of the story, you put a lot of time into this game and so for one reason or another, you care about your character.
While many people call into question several story decisions on the part of BioWare, almost everyone can agree that they have created a fantastically believable galaxy at war - everywhere you go, you'll find signs of the war effort, from refugees and fundraisers to wounded soldiers and warzones.
This is where I again feel the need to apologize. Profanity is usually avoided in writing like this, where from as impartial a standpoint as you can muster you need to critique and evaluate something and so, if nothing else, swearing comes off as unprofessional. Because of this, when it's used, it can be rather dramatic and drive home a particular point with all that much more force.
BioWare completely and utterly fucked up the endings to Mass Effect 3. Hands-down, they are truly, truly terrible. I'd be more than happy to disclose why, in detail, they're so awful in another thread or PM since I don't want to ruin anything for anyone who's reading this before playing the game. Speaking as generally and free of spoilers as I can, the last two hours or so of the game are absolutely chock-full of glaring plot holes and deus ex machina. I know the Mass Effect universe and canon as well as almost anyone; I've been a huge fan of the series since it debuted five years ago. And the ending to this installment and, by extension, the entire series ruins all of that. It is so bad that right now, people who are vehemently against EA and the concept of paid DLC, are petitioning EA and BioWare for a patch or DLC to create new endings - they're so willing to get new endings that they're willing to pay for it all over again.
I completely understand where they're coming from. These endings work out in a very heavy-handed way, but they come out of the blue and are introduced to the player by a character who is both introduced and becomes very important only in the last fifteen minutes of the game. They offer absolutely no closure for Shepard on a personal level. They shit all over your squad and love interest in a way that is absolutely awful because it's not explained at all, and because there's no promised happy-ending for you even as one choice among many. I've be okay with it if it made any sort of sense within the story, but it doesn't. It doesn't follow any part of the plot, it's not explained - it's a perfect example of the crap-sack story trope.
And worst of all, your choices in the first games don't factor in to the end at all - at least, not directly. Fear not - if you've been totally Paragon or totally Renegade, you get the same crap-sack endings as everyone else. Mass Effect has never had a theme of discrimination, that's for sure.
These endings make you feel so awful that most of you won't be able to enjoy playing the first two games anymore you. You know what's going to happen, and you feel so let down by it that you just don't want to bother anymore.
And this is where my dilemma in scoring this part of the game comes up. You are all completely aware now of just how awful I feel the ending is, and yet, up until maybe an hour or two before the end of the game, Mass Effect 3 is the best game in the series. The story is incredible, accurately reflecting your choices both from earlier installments and this one itself. It's much more natural and compelling than its predecessors and is exciting, poignant, sad, angry, exhilarating - truly everything a masterful story should be. This is a wonderfully crafted story from beginning until the end - and I mean until the end.
Of particular note is the interpersonal relationships. Squadmates now wander the Normandy and interact with each other, having their own conversations and doing their own things. One of my favorites was stumbling across James in the galley making himself huevos ranchero and having a hilarious conversation with the DLC squadmate. And you'll see this on the Citadel, not just the Normandy. Travel to different areas and you'll have the opportunity to encounter your friends and crewmates doing their own thing. Turns out Garrus' world doesn't revolve around Shepard - you'll find him hanging with other turians more than once.
In many ways, squadmates play an even larger role in Mass Effect 3, through more fleshed-out romance paths and friendships to interaction with each other, outside of Shepard. And among them are several old faces.
These improved interactions have been extended into everyone's favorite part of the game. Romances now unfold much more naturally. Instead of exhausting a particular conversation tree with your beloved that's around the same length as every other love interest, each character moves at a different pace now, and different scenes unfold differently. And bring your partner along in your squad for different dialogue in combat. There's a particularly amusing mission if you bring along Tali after romancing her, though I won't say anything more than that.
And best of all, you now have the opportunity to differentiate between romantic overtures and friendly interest. Plenty of people went through all the dialogue with squaddies in Mass Effect 2 only to find the other expressing interest in them where none was given, forcing you to let people down when maybe you didn't even want to have the conversation at all. This has been happily remedied in the third installment - I was able to learn about Cortez's past and become friends without romancing him. In other words, there are no "ninja-mances" going on; even with male Shepards, there's a very clear point in Cortez's conversations where you can establish yourself as hetero- or homosexual in your interest in him.
All of these conversations and plot points unfold with phenomenal pacing, and BioWare has experimented (successfully) with alternative methods of storytelling. Again, I won't spoil anything, but the inclusion of dream sequences to further flesh-out Shepard's psyche is welcome and interesting to explore. God of War III players will be familiar with these.
So how do I score this game? There are amazing improvements in many respects, and everything that was fine has been left well enough alone. This is a fun ride, enjoyable ride in almost every aspect. Until the very last part of the game, which feels at best like an exercise in deterministic philosophy and, at worst, an inexcusable half-assed dismissal of what made this series great. On the one hand, you've got thirty-five to forty hours of incredible content before the problems, but on the other, the ending can make or break a great story - it's much more crucial than any other singular plot point.
I've thought a lot about this, but in the end only would choice made any sense. While I would like to reflect again on how incredible the game is for the vast majority of your playtime, the endings really are just so awful as to break the experience - especially for those of us whose character is a child of all three games. This is inexcusable.
Going into this game, multiplayer was probably the biggest bone of contention. After all, we've plenty of examples of MP integration into primarily singleplayer titles in recent years, with Dead Space, Assassin's Creed, and BioShock being the most prominent, and all of them meeting mixed levels of success to say the least. Dead Space alone, at least, had the decency to leave multiplayer-specific trophies out of the list, and that was its redemption in the eyes of many fans.
BioWare attemped to assuage the fears by promising the multiplayer would be created by a separate development house (so as not to interfere with the development of the main game), and by promising that multiplayer would be entirely optional - while it can impact your singleplayer game, playing it wouldn't be required to achieve the optimal ending to you game.
On that count, sadly, BioWare lied. On the Xbox and PC fans have discovered that unless literally every variable was checked favorably in the first two games (read: complete every sidequest and mission, and collect every mineral, piece of tech and so on) it is impossible to achieve the maximum level of resources needed to acquire the best ending, and even meeting all those criteria isn't a guarantee. This means that while most endings are open to you without touching the online component, in order to get that last option available you will, in fact, need to either play multiplayer or use the apps released for iOS devices.
Additionally, one of the trophies in an otherwise multiplayer-optional list demands a maximum level of readiness in each theater of war. This level can be raised through the iOS apps, multiplayer, or a combination of the two, but cannot be changed at all playing only singleplayer. This means to get a platinum trophy, you will either have to purchase and use an iOS device or play the multiplayer.
Fortunately these broken promises are mitigated somewhat by the fact that multiplayer is actually extremely fun. Its elements are nothing particularly innovative, but they come together in a way that works extremely well and is enjoyable. It's cooperative only so you don't have to deal with teamkillers or griefers, and while there's an in-game scoring system to let you know how you stack up against your teammates, everyone's score goes into a common pool at the end and everyone shares the sum total of experience. This means you can compete in a friendly way for points, but you don't miss out on XP if you're having a bad match.
While the gameplay in multiplayer is quite fun, you'll have to be extremely lucky to get the races and customization options you want in the lottery-based unlock system.
The unlockables also work a little differently than you'd find in most other online games. You earn money (independent from your experience points) which you can then use to buy randomized packs of gear including temporary bonuses, new weapons and characters, and even more experience. It's a system that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever collected trading cards or played a game like Magic: The Gathering. The downside, though, is there's no way to ouright buy something as an alternative to gambling on it. If you really, really need a particular weapon, there's a chance you'll never get it no matter how many packs you buy, and that kind of sucks. I myself have been hoping to unlock the Krogan Soldier since day one, and despite leveling my soldier up to 20 three times now, I've still got squat.
That is truly a minor grievance, though, compared to how awesome multiplayer actually turned out to be. There are six maps to play on, each with three enemy factions and three difficulty levels to choose from. Difficulty levels are well-crafted in that enemy AI is upgraded slightly as well, not just health and damage. While enemies will be harder to kill as you ramp up the challenge, they will also coordinate more, flanking you and pressing you on multiple fronts. If you want to beat them all on Gold you'll really have to work at it.
And the maps are fun and well-designed. Each one is pulled from a specific mission in the campaign, so the layouts will be familiar, but they don't ever get old. Enemy spawn points and objective locations are varied enough that each time on each map feels a little different, and allows you to sink hours into the multiplayer if you so choose.
The multiplayer's premise even manages to fold itself into the story of the singleplayer campaign, labeling you and your team as special forces troops offering support for people like Shepard, going on missions and gathering war assets. It's not particularly emphasized, but it's not questionable either. There aren't enemy characters or factions suddenly working together, for instance.
All in all, multiplayer is extremely fun, offering many hours of fun gameplay and the addictive feeling of buying new packs that will also be familiar to anyone who's played a card game. There's a definite feeling of excitement each time you purchase one, hoping that you'll get what you need. And even if you do, you'll keep buying them because there's always something new to be had.
Truly, the only downside is the fact that for most people it won't be optional, no matter how many times we were promised otherwise. At least, though, for something that's mandatory for completionists it's really fun, and not a huge grind or inconvenience.
Mass Effect 3 takes the bar and raises it to new heights. Technically, Mass Effect 3 is astounding with great graphics, very few bugs, and phenomenal audio. The visuals aren't quite ground-breaking, with the water being the least realistic of everything in the game, but everything else has received an upgrade from the second game. Facial animations are much better, hair is better, and textures are much more defined. It's easier to see patterns in Shepard's armor, for instance, and his/her face will really show emotion for the first time in the series. There's a particular moment later in the game where, if you choose your dialogue correctly, Shepard will become furious with Joker and it's actually pretty scary - it's the first time I've ever seen that level of emotional intensity within the series, even during a scripted scene.
The visuals, while not setting any new standards for the industry, are nonetheless a large improvement over the first two games and much better convey the emotion and scale of this installment. For the most part, gone are the matte painting backgrounds of Mass Effect 3.
The audio, though, is what really makes this game shine. Mass Effect had a fun electronic sound with enough variation to have battle music and ambient music, but both became old and lost their intensity after a while. Mass Effect 2 had a much more orchestral, contemporary score, but was also much darker and more intense without ever quite rising above that.
Mass Effect 3, like in other areas, takes the audio of the first two games and becomes the best of all three. Brought on to compose this time is Clint Mansell, perhaps most famous for his eponymous track from Requiem for a Dream. Mansell's work in Mass Effect 3 is actually breathtaking at times, with tracks that are both deep and sonorous in their majesty and emotion, and then others that aren't quite light-hearted per se, but certainly happier and more upbeat. The composition is a combination of the first two games, with a pacing and melody driven by more classic instruments like piano and violin, but an ambiance set by synthesizer and electronic sound. The soundtrack at times evokes the work of Vangelis, notable for his work on Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire.
The music truly adds poignance and importance to all the right spots in the sound. There are even feelings of nostalgia as refrains and whole tracks are recycled from the first two entries; there's never a wasted or useless note. One of the best soundtracks to ever come out of a videogame, period.
The trophies in Mass Effect 3 are fairly similar to what was seen in Mass Effect 2. Several story-based trophies for completing missions in singleplayer, most of which are unmissable. The rest are mostly leveling and upgrade-based trophies, with a few grind ones thrown in.
The two most notable are the Veteran and Defender. Defender is the trophy that requires maximum readiness in each theater of war, and that's the one that can only be obtained through multiplayer or the iOS apps, despite promises to the contrary. It's not actually all that hard to achieve once you're using either of those methods, amounting to about five to ten hours of multiplayer if you're good. It's the principle of the thing that matters, though.
The other, Veteran, is a grind trophy requiring you to get five thousand kills in-game. The nice thing is that this tracks across both singleplayer and multiplayer, allowing you to work on it no matter what game mode you're playing, and there are a few nice spots in singleplayer where you can reload a checkpoint to just crank it out. But it will still take a while.
Other than that, there's nothing really significant about this list. A few might require you to change your playing style a little bit, but there's nothing incredibly inventive or all that far out there. A solid, if unimaginative and long, list.
Mass Effect has proven to be polarizing in the past. When the first game was released, there was a bit of controversy centered on the inclusion of a sex scene. Speculation and misinformation were rampant, and many people campaigned for its removal without every actually seeing it or understanding its context. Eventually there was only one way to solve the issue, and sure enough, the issue was resolved when protesters were shown the sex scene. They saw that it was relatively tasteful and didn't include brutal depictions of filthy carnal sin with demons and aliens, contrary to what they'd been told.
Unfortunately, everyone involved is acutely aware of real information and problems surrounding the endings of Mass Effect 3. There isn't anything BioWare can show us or tell us to change the polarizing nature of the endings, especially when most people are firmly entrenched in one camp (a poll on the BioWare forums, to give you an idea, has 90% or 32k of polltakes listing the endings as 'unsatisfactory'). There are people offering up vapid theories and trying to explain the endings away as in-story things like hallucinations, but they all ring hollow. The only way BioWare can really fix this issue once and for all is to offer some sort of fix for people, but they've been silent so far. To be fair, the game's been out for only a week though the endings were leaked long before that.
It really just makes me sad, more than anything else. I still maintain that, except for that one thing, this is a fantastix game. The gameplay is solid, the story is phenomenal up until a point, and even the mutiplayer is incredible. The graphics are great, the music is awesome, and the trophies are simultaneously challenging and fun - a perfect combo.
In the end, the ultimate judgment of the series comes down to the same thing that made it great: choice. With everything you judge or review, things are subjective on a fundamental level - some people will love things that others hate, and vice versa. But Mass Effect 3 feels a lot more personal - maybe it's my own fairly well-known love for the franchise. Certainly major reviewing outlets haven't had much trouble, universally awarding it perfect and near-perfect scores. I think that's the point, though - in the end, this series really is all about choice. Maybe there's a review out there that can capture your own opinion just as well as you can, but for a game like this there's no set formula. You'll know for your own, and nothing I or anyone else can say will sway you. The only way to be sure is to play it for yourself, and really understand the context of its ending.
Only then will you know whether to condemn this game just as many have, or to hold it up and laud its many, many successes. Either way, Mass Effect 3 is not a bad game - you just need to decide whether it's merely good, or the 'Legend' it claims itself to be. I have to offer up my own score, that's my job; but this will not be indicative of what you think or even what the majority think. I urge you to play the game anyway, make up your own mind. Even with the despicable endings, it's still an incredible game.
The choice, Commander Shepard, is yours.
Improvement over the already rock-solid gameplay of Mass Effect 2. New additions only add to the fluidity and fun.
Amazing story, with great representation of choices, storytelling methods, and closure to many different threads. All spoiled by a godawful ending. This truly is a phenomenal game right until the end; however, upon finishing the game, most people will find themselves so upset that enjoying the first two games again becomes an impossibility. It's so plagued with plotholes, deus ex machina, poor storytelling and all-around bad writing it might actually make you sick, and if it's that bad, it well and truly might put your off the first two games entirely. You know how badly it all ends, so why bother? Your choices in the first two games are rendered pointless, so why replay different pathways?
Extremely fun cooperative gameplay that enhances the core singleplayer experience. Marred only by being required.
Great strides have been made in facial animations and demonstrative emotional traits, as well as general graphical updates. The music is flawless and truly powerful, vying for a position as the greatest in any game in history.
Overall: 7.5/10 Good
The third entry in the Mass Effect series is a game mired in strife, loss, tension, discovery, complex questions and answers. The gameplay is standard for most Mass Effect fans, very well done and a nice mix of Third Person and Role Playing. The multiplayer is also well done, even though it seems ancillary, almost as if it should be its own game.
At the end of the day this game is about the Singleplayer campaign. Unlike many trilogies, this title is seeking to be the darkest of the three. Mass Effect 3 is a strange game, its the first game in the series that I really felt relied on the previous titles. Make no mistake that until the last 10 minutes or so of the game Mass Effect 3 is a very well written game. Problem is all the story elements rely on the context provided by previous games, this ends up being a blessing and a curse. Too many elements of the game seem "cameo"-driven. A character like Jack or Miranda has an entire mission where they are involved, but they aren't actually involved in the plot. Almost as if Shepard has to "see" these characters off because they were in previous games.
The end result ends up coming off strange because no development actually happens. Couple that with a game that feels less involved in regards to exploration and an ending that is overly simplistic and incredibly poorly written and you have a story that is a mixed bag. Scenes vary between connecting and disconnecting, and the overall story is just not as well done as a package as ME2 or ME1... Something ME3 clearly underlines by not actually separating itself, and something from which the entire game suffers. ME3 is an average game, not a great game, and even that statement is being forgiving of an ending that is among the worst the industry has offered in regards to how well its written.
SCORE: 6.5/10 Tolerable