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Mass Effect 3 Review
In 2157, humanity discovered it was not alone in the universe. That opening line started it all back in 2007. We were introduced to Commander Shepard and his journeys through the galaxy. It has been a long road to finishing the war waged against the organic species and the big question is: was it worth it?
In 2007, we saw Shepard and his crew take up the fight against a corrupted space cop and his plot to bring an ancient race of sentient, genocidal machines back from the depths of the universe. Through racial bigotry and many different conflicts across the different systems, Shepard managed to band the galaxy together if just for one day to stop the threat. Sovereign, the lone Reaper scouting the galaxy, was destroyed and the Citadel was saved.
In 2010, we witnessed Shepard die and be reborn to fight against another Reaper threat. With the menacing Collectors under their control, the journey was tougher and humanity was the hardest hit this time around. Gathering the toughest and best to his cause, Shepard took flight against the Collectors and ended their plans to build a proto-human Reaper and scourge the galaxy. The celebration was short-lived, however. Shepard knew what was coming next.
In 2012, we end the trilogy with an all-out epic confrontation with the Reaper collective. They’ve taken Earth and have begun spreading out to the rest of the galaxy. Even just one of these things can conquer a planet. The scary and extremely dramatic finale brings together all the surviving cast members from the first two games and some new ones. Shepard isn’t kidding around this time and is fully dedicated to eradicating the Reapers once and for all. His mission is to band the galaxy together and create the ultimate weapon to stop these barbaric killing machines. The result of this is a trek across the entire galaxy in search of allies and assets to strengthen their chances in a Return of the Jedi-esque final battle. We all knew the story would end this time and our expectations rose way beyond comprehension. With that said, Mass Effect 3 sums up the series with one word: epic.
Starting off, it is easy to see that the gameplay is similar from the last installment but much more refined. Everything feels smoother. Even just walking/strutting around the ship and Citadel feels fluid. The combat is faster and tighter. They definitely brought the experience away from the “quasi-RPG with a tacked on shooter mode” to full blown “RPG in a shooter game” feeling. Think Gears of War: Galactic Mode. Sure, the entire series has always felt like Gears of War in terms of the cover-and-shoot mechanic but with the added melee features and new health system it brings a more defined approach. Weapons now have mods laying around the world that give bonuses such as improved accuracy or damage. The one aspect of the combat that hasn’t changed at all is the cover system. It is still awkward to stick to walls and cover correctly and I still found myself snapping off of them with ease bringing me in the line of fire. This isn’t terribly annoying but can be the culprit of an avoidable death due to low health and scrambling for that save haven behind a wall. If you’re in the midst of a turret or strong enemy, the cover system can be your worst enemy. You’ll find yourself re-snapping to walls and rubble a few times even in this, the THIRD entry to the series.
Every weapon is able to have two mods attached but unless you find a weapon bench during your missions, the only time you can attach them in on the Normandy. So if you find a nice new pistol laying on a corpse, you can use it but not with that pretty +20% damage mod. This makes sense but kinda sucks when you find a badass sniper or assault rifle and you’re stuck with vanilla mode until you’re done with your current task. There is also a new weight mechanic attached to Shepard that either helps or hinders power recharge times. The more weapon weight you have on you the longer it takes for powers to recharge. The problem I have with this is the weight bar seems to go from “blue”, meaning recharge times are actually lessened to “extremely red” meaning eat your launch before launching another Singularity or Warp. This mechanic is only attached to Shepard as squad members are limited to one-to-three different types of weaponry rather than Shepard’s ability to equip any type.
The combat is joined by a new health system that is different depending on which class you pick. If you’re a biotic specialist, you’ll gain a biotic’s barrier instead of a shield or armor. This comes with the same limitations enemy barriers have meaning any enemy with Warp can effectively make you dead, quicker. Beyond the new shielding, health is now non-rechargeable. You have five sections of health before you die and the only way to bring this back up is with Medi-Gel. Medi-Gel still revives squad members but unless you’re too far away from them I would save them up for health recharges. You are now able to run up to your buddies and revive them without use of Medi-Gel. This is extremely effective in tough situations so you have more health refills.
Aside from combat and trying not to die, you’ll find plenty of familiar faces standing next to you in a bad situation with a couple new ones occupying your flank. Every squad member feels a bit smart in combat but I still found Garrus having an obsession of staring Banshees in the face. I got tired of reviving him multiple times during encounters with those deadly things. Your buddies use their powers as often as possible but only ones that are active. You can quickly change the active power with the radial/Shift menu.
Enemies this time around have a lot more diversity between them. You have your standard troopers and husks but even opposing faction have different types of baddies that can hurt you up-close or far away; with rockets or with terribly huge arm blades. Let’s take the Reaper forces for instance. Aside from the Husks, you’ll find a common enemy in the Cannible. These tricky guys aren’t hard to kill but let the roam the battlefield long enough and they’ll devour their fallen comrades to gain shield, barriers, armor and even heal themselves. Banshees are teleporting scum that erase your shielding when they scream and shoot strong Warp bolts at you all while quickly coming up to your face in a terrifying manner. Ravagers are slow but their attacks are strong. I can go on but as you see, every enemy has its spot on the battlefield. At times you will face multiples of these different foes or just a number of the same type (which can be even worse, like two Banshees and three Brutes). This gives combat a new tactical edge as you need to figure out the best way to eliminate an addition to the fight. As soon as a Brute breaks through a wall, I instinctively roll backwards and begin planting some grenades or Scorpion rounds in him. Those plus Warp seem to be the best in taking these giant things down. This is a great way to make combat fun throughout the game and bring some challenge your way.
Stepping away from the combat, Mass Effect 3 brings you toe-to-toe with many hard decisions. A lot of them deal with former squad members or just characters you’ve met throughout the series. The story is very dramatic and rightfully so! The entire galaxy is under attack and when I say they are under attack I don’t mean little skirmishes. Everywhere you go, things are looking bad and if they don’t initially they will. The entire opening scene sets the tone for the game. Things don’t let up and that means you’ll experience a lot of epic missions and decisions along your way. The stakes have never been higher and you really feel that in Mass Effect 3. From the opening salvo to the final credits this game don’t let you go.
That said, there some issues I had with the game’s story and I’ll try not to be too spoilerish here. I was disappointed with how a lot of the squad members from Mass Effect 1 and 2 were subjugated to small to medium roles and nearly didn’t much impact on the game at all. In the series finale, I felt like a lot of the relationships I had watched grow through one or two games were nullified. It was nice to see them pop up but aside from your main squad and maybe an old love they play second fiddle and it’s sad to see that. I understand they couldn’t have 20+ squad members but when you’ve invested so many hours into this series, you kinda wished they tried to just so everyone had a nice part. That’s not to say that at least everyone has an appearance, but some of the characters literally only have one mission and then you may see them on the Citadel. Whoopdy-doo.
One more thing about the characters: relationships. I’m gonna go ahead and tell you right now that unless you’re romancing Tali, Liara, Ashley, or Garrus, you’re gonna get a very half ass experience. Just like Kelly Chambers in Mass Effect 2, the other options are barely there. Most of them you’ll only see once or twice in the game and during the last encounter with them is when you have the romance. After that, done. Also, if you choose Tali or Liara, Ashley stays quite like Katsumi and Zaeed were in Mass Effect 2. A quick sentence or two when you chat with them and that is it until you go further in the story. Same goes for the rest of them. This is the most disappointing part of the game for me. It feels like they didn’t want you to have a choice in this game. In prior games if you were trying to romance more than one person, there was conflict and sometimes a disloyal member. Not in Mass Effect 3. You choose one person and its straight forward from there. Which, in a morality sense, is okay but that’s one less choice we used to have in the series.
The decisions this time around are very different, as well. Most of the time you’re picking between saying the same thing nicely or with a rash tone. Doesn’t really give you much of a feel between Paragon and Renegade but there is a subtle difference. As always, some of the more important decisions have life and death consequences and the more extreme choices (highlight by blue and red) make a return. Largely, it feels that many of the decisions that aren’t about the war directly don’t matter. It is all relative to how much Effective Military Strength you have at the end of the game. That is basically what the whole game is about.
Whereas in Mass Effect 2 you were gathering the best team possible to survive a trip through the Omega-4 Relay and destroy the Collectors, now you’re gather races to collectively fight against the Reapers at Earth. How effective your fight will be is all relative to how much War Assets you have. You gain Assets by completing missions and finding them on planets or helping people on the Citadel. Every time you gather a new War Asset you can view your progress in the War Room on the Normandy (that stupid scanner!). Every time you hit another thousand strength, your chances of surviving the war update. I ended my first playthrough with just about 3300 Effective Combat Strength and Galactic Readiness at 50%.
Galactic Readiness? Effective Military Strength? Total Military Strength? War Assets? My god they put a ton of new mechanics in this game. Anywho, Galactic Readiness is all about how ready the different sections of the galaxy are against the Reapers. You can increase this by playing the multiplayer portion of Mass Effect 3. This is pretty cool but if you aren’t a fan of multiplayer you may be inclined to be a bit upset that you cannot influence Galactic Readiness in the single player adventure. Basically you play the different races and Co-Op against Reaper forces. The more you do this, the more your readiness for that section of the galaxy goes up. The more percentage you have for overall Readiness, the more effective your Military Strength is. Still paying attention?
I said that I ended my first playthrough with a bit over 3300 Effective Military Strength. The amount you need to have a “special ending” is 5000. It isn’t much different nor worth being upset about that you must play multiplayer in order to reach it. That being said, this is the most controversial part of the game and therefore, this review. The ending. I’m not gonna spoil it but I will say that I am a fan of how the series ends. You are given a choice and if you really think about your journey up to this point and everything that has happened it makes sense. Sense enough that I wasn’t mad. There is one thing said at the end that made no sense at all but it didn’t hinder my satisfaction of the game or the ending. I don’t quite understand why so many people are upset and asking for a change from BioWare but that’s just their opinion. If BioWare gives in and adds an alternate ending, that’s perfectly okay. However, I would be upset if they erase what is there now. Like it or not, it is the definitive ending for the Mass Effect series (at least Shepard’s story).
All-in-all, Mass Effect 3 captured all of my attention for 30 hours with minimal sleep in between. I just couldn’t stop playing it. From start to finish, the game holds you and takes you through an amazing ride that ends, in my opinion, the best new gaming series this generation. I haven’t enjoyed a series this much since Metal Gear Solid. Everything from combat to story sees an upgrade in this third installment. Although some of the aspects such as decisions and character relationships fall through, that is not enough to hamper this title. Mass Effect 3 is one of the best games I have played and if it isn’t Game of the Year then whatever is will be absolutely amazing and should make 2012 an astronomical success for gaming.