It seems these days that a large majority of the big marquee titles are part of a trilogy and whilst some focus mainly on action, the Mass Effect series is amongst the best when it comes to story. From the richly detailed world to the choose-your-own adventure narrative, it’s safe to say that Mass Effect 3 is one of the most anticipated ends to a trilogy of this generation. No doubt by now you have all heard of the uproar over the ending, which I won’t spoil here, but actually the biggest issue I had with it was not that at all.
To be clear, ME3 is a great game; an experience that covers a lot of ground and answers almost all of the important (and not so important) questions the average fan would have. The problem partially lies with the fact that it has to follow in the footsteps of its fantastic middle chapter, a game which was narrowly beaten to the Game of the Year spot here at 7outof10 back in 2010. It isn’t as good as ME2, but don’t misunderstand this to mean that the series dies out with a whimper. It most certainly does not.
At the start your beloved male or female Shepard can be imported and during this process a checklist is presented to the player, highlighting some of the bigger decisions made throughout the previous two games. It seems a bit odd given that this wasn’t present in ME2 but it can be a godsend if like me you have multiple characters all with their own unique history. Regardless of whether you pay any notice to this list or not, throughout the course of the 40 or so hours every major and minor character, planet and storyline will show up in some form or another. Shepard it seems has touched many people in his exploits and thus as you progress through the campaign, it seems that you meet at least one old acquaintance on every mission. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is good to catch up after all, but it does make the whole story feel like a bit of a checklist.
Whilst everybody gets their due and has at least one more time in the spotlight, some seem to get more stage time than others. Some of course are essential to the big, series-long story arcs but those with lesser histories seem to take a back seat. If you were a big fan of Jacob, for example, don’t expect to be seeing too much of him this time round. Of course it is going to be impossible to fully satisfy everyone, but I would have liked to seen just a little bit more from some of my previous squad members.
With so many possible choices and consequences to deal with from previous games, it is quite impressive that so much ground is covered in ME3. As the list at the start of the game highlights, there are several previous choices which will shape your experience and whole characters may or may not be ever seen in your play-through. The decisions don’t dissipate in ME3 however, and if anything the choices presented to the player could be considered to be the biggest yet. In some cases entire races can be affected by your choice. The outcomes result in different sources of aid for the alliance, which you must assemble throughout the course of the game. With a lot of hatred between the races intertwined with their sometimes sordid histories, these big decisions are needed to get everyone on board to fight the threat facing the galaxy.
There were concerns vocalised by many that ME3 had forgone its RPG roots and focused purely on action but in truth this is not entirely accurate. There is an awful lot of combat, some of which is certainly more epic than previously seen but given the context of the story it’s understandable and brings a new dimension to the proceedings. Perhaps noting the success of Call of Duty, Bioware have opted to include turret sequences which you may have seen in last years E3 demo. In truth there are only three or four occasions in the entire game in which they crop up and they don’t overstay their welcome. That said, the combat has been refined further and is now even smoother and more responsive then ever before. Biotic powers such as warp hit their targets much quicker and much more effectively. Where as before you had to arc your shot, the game is much more lenient this time; you can aim directly at an enemy behind cover and the warp will almost always arc over it to hit them. Heavy weapons are no longer selectable as a portable weapon type, but are still present in the form of pickups at certain parts of the story. This time round weapons can be modified and upgraded however, so fans disappointed by ME2’s streamlined approach may be slightly appeased.
Multiplayer makes its debut as well as a four-player, wave-based, survival game type taking place over half-a-dozen maps. I have to say that I was extremely surprised at how much fun I had playing this mode. The combat in Mass Effect isn’t exactly Gears of War calibre but it’s certainly functional and diverse enough to accommodate such a mode. Playing with friends or with a good group with different player types yields the best results, as when powers are combined properly it can turn an almost impossible situations into an achievable feat. Depleting a shield and armour before deploying a singularity field and finishing it with a biotic explosion never gets old. Completing matches earns you credits which can in turn be used to purchase new weapons and upgrades for your equipment, whilst single use items such as medi-gel can also be obtained. The problem is however that you must buy the items in packs which contains randomly generated weapons and such. This can cause a source of frustration if tying to build a specific type of player. Don’t use a shotgun? Well you might be given a load of them anyway. These items can’t be traded or sold either so it can take a while to get fully up to where you want to be.
Whilst ME2 was delayed and the extra polish really showed, it is unfortunate that the opposite is true this time around. Many queried the somewhat quick turn around and it clearly did have an effect. I suffered strange and poor animations, particularly bad frame rates on consoles, and some lines of dialogue (mostly towards the end of the game) cutting off halfway through. No game breaker certainly, but given the high profile nature of the title and the talent behind it, better is expected. Also worth noting is that the 360 version comes on two discs, and, depending on which order the missions are undertaken, frequent disc swapping might occur. The start and end of the story seem to be on one disc whilst the middle section and miscellaneous quests on the other. All little gripes true, but it all builds up to a game, an experience which falls short of its potential. The endings certainly raise a lot of debate and with Bioware hinting that this might be addressed with additional DLC, Shepards journey isn’t quite over yet.
If you’re heavily invested in the story and want to see how it ends, ME3 still remains essential. The combat is better than ever and there are some truly great story arc conclusions which are well worth seeing. Readers of the books will also finally get to finally meet some unseen characters as well. It is quite rare these days for a franchise to be so open to resolving every lingering question and plot point, and that by itself is enough to recommend ME3 as an essential purchase, despite some niggling issues along the way.