Mass Effect 3 is finally here. Since 2007, Mass Effect has shifted focus from a space RPG with clumsy action shooter mechanics to an action shooter with optional RPG components. It is a game series that has polarised many over the years. Note that this review does contain brief spoilers about Mass Effect 1 and 2. Actually, if you’re reading a review about a game which is the last in a trilogy, then of course it’s going to be one massive spoiler! Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
In the 2180s, humankind has finally reached the stars and taken their place in the galaxy amongst a variety of alien species. A lot of the background lore of the Mass Effect series is influenced by other sci-fi, but the world feels unique enough to stand on its own. You play as the hero of the piece, Commander Shepherd. Shepherd can be customised to the desire of the player not only in appearance, gender and background, but through the choices that they make. Paragon (goodie two-shoes) or Renegade (bad-ass) paths are taken through choices in dialogue options. Mass Effect 1 established Shepherd as a galactic hero by saving the government from a Reaper, an ancient race of living AI starships. Mass Effect 2 revealed the Reapers’ plan to purge all life in the galaxy. In Mass Effect 3 the Reapers execute their plan, which sees Earth itself being invaded and its population enslaved. Attacks occur simultaneously around the galaxy. It is up to Commander Shepherd to rally each of the alien races and fight the Reapers.
The vast bulk of your time in ME3 is spent in ground combat, shooting up enemies with a multitude of weapons, issuing orders to your AI teammates or laying waste to them with biotic (or other) powers. A number of changes have been made to the combat system from ME2, though the changes aren’t as drastic as the combat shift between the first and second games. The changes further enhance Mass Effect as an action shooter in the mould of Gears of War but blended with an RPG bent. Some changes, like the ability for any class to carry any weapon in the game, may not please players who are after a more pure RPG experience. But more freedom equals more choice, and choice is what the Mass Effect series has always been about.
I personally liked the combat refinements, as the amount of hours I spent in this mode would have been hell if it wasn’t fun. Combat is highly driven by the character class you choose, so pick a class that matches your play style. Like in Mass Effect 2, you are able to choose your character class even if you import a character from previous games. My character was a soldier in both ME 1 and ME2 and I was thankful I could mix it up for ME3 with the awesome melee based Vanguard.
The single player campaign of Mass Effect 3 is supposedly 15 hours long if you don’t count side quests. I’m a mega completionist and spent almost 60 hours in this game, going through every side mission I could find and maximising all the stuff I could collect. Collect is the operative word here because the whole point of the game can be considered to be built around collecting. You collect money, loot, model starships, weapons, war assets and more. War assets, like squad members in Mass Effect 2, are the central driver towards achieving the best end game outcome in Mass Effect 3. The more effort spent grinding out the collection of as many assets as possible supposedly will result in the best possible game ending for Shepherd and the galaxy. This grind did get tiring at times but the main story driven missions are varied and well paced enough to make you forget the grind.
Each of these major sections focus on a major race/faction and each feature beloved characters from previous games (if they survived ME2…). If you have followed the series since the start then you will enjoy the NPC’s dialogue as much as the gameplay. On more than one occasion I felt sadness or joy (or both) as the events of the game played out. If this is your first venture into the Mass Effect galaxy then some of the references may be lost on you and I thoroughly recommend playing through the trilogy from start to finish. Don’t let me scare you off though, ME3 is still a great game to play stand-alone and enough help is provided to ease you into the Mass Effect galaxy.
This game is the first in the series to feature multiplayer. Bioware has come under some criticism as playing the multiplayer mode is the fastest way to boost your single player score and produce the best ending. The only way to play is co-op survival mode, where you and up to three other human players take on successive waves of increasingly harder and more numerous baddies. The character classes available and gameplay are similar to the single-player mode. One of the biggest drawcards is the ability to create alien playable characters. You receive in-game credits while playing missions which allow you to purchase weapon and equipment packs. The cycle of earning cash to buy gear and then repeat is addictive. Bioware deserves credit in their implementation of this mode. Like many fans of the series I was highly skeptical at first but found that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve come back to this mode even after finishing the single player.
With all the controversy this game has produced in gaming media, I have to touch on the ending. Many nerds out there weren’t happy with it and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with it. Some aspects of the game can be tedious. Scanning star systems for war assets and other trinkets replaces planet mining from ME2 (a welcome change) but it’s still pretty annoying. It can also get very confusing trying to track the modifiers your gear and upgrades have applied to your abilities for combat. The paragon/renegade system is also less effective, with both types of choices rewarded with reputation points that add up to a central meter. This unlocks certain interactive options in dialogue but it makes the concept of choice a rather flimsy one compared to previous instalments.
While this game has had its share of controversial reactions, it doesn’t detract from the incredible experience of Mass Effect 3. It is one of the most memorable game and science fiction worlds I have journeyed through. My nerd heart is heavy with sadness at the reality that it has finished.