Shepard first learned of an incoming invasion of the worst kind in the original Mass Effect. In Mass Effect 2, he was resurrected to battle to save humanity from that same incoming threat. Finally, Shepard is left to face the great battle of our time, to attempt to stave off the Reapers, a race of sentient machines, from harvesting all sentient organic life. The shadow that loomed over the previous two games finally falls, and the entire galaxy faces chaos and extinction.
Mass Effect 3 is the conclusion to a trilogy, and as such, it sees both the benefit of refined gameplay and the burden of creating an adequate finale to one of the most engaging storylines in gaming history. It’s an attempt that is largely successful, but also the videogame equivalent of kicking a field goal instead of going for the touchdown. The game largely plays it safe, and while this strategy results in a satisfactory experience, it also causes the game to miss out on the greatness of its predecessors. The original Mass Effect’s dialogue and incredible story combined with some lackluster design decisions gave it the ultimate flawed masterpiece feel. Mass Effect 2 was able to refine the first game, eliminating the flaws, and provide a continuity of story based on player decisions we’d never before experienced in a game. Mass Effect 3 provides a similar continuity, while becoming even safer in the gameplay department. It seems that in an effort to avoid any gameplay criticism whatsoever, Bioware distilled the game merely to the “choose your own adventure” storyline and the 3rd person shooting mechanics.
Bioware’s spectacular storytelling is center stage in this game, and the weaving of player decisions over the course of the previous two games into this effort gives events a weight they would not otherwise have. The themes of sacrifice for the greater good and perseverance are prevalent here, allowing the developers to tell a tale that is both triumphant and poignantly sad. This game will invoke your emotions, especially in its middle acts. The story starts a little flat, as it spends too much time trying to justify why the course of events are set in the way they are. And (as I attempt to avoid the ending controversy) the finale lacks the explosive emotional nature of the middle of the tale. It seems as if Bioware simply peaked too soon, and had difficultly constructing an ending that matched the powerful middle acts.
The gunplay which makes up the majority of your gameplay time is the best of the series. The weapons all seem to have unique personality and weight. The hotkeys and Kinect controls allow the player to implement their powers on the battlefield more easily than ever before. This improves the flow of the combat- the selection wheel still exist (for both weapons and powers) but skipping them in favor of hotkey selections is easier than ever before. The battles have a frantic pace, but in this effort (more than previous games) Shepard is much easier to control and the shooting is much tighter.
Being that the combat is so well designed, it seems only fitting that this game would include a cooperative mode. Apparently your progress in cooperative mode affects the single player campaign, but save for an achievement for having a certain level of progress when I began the final battle in the campaign, it was difficult for me to see the relationship between the two. The mode itself is a Horde-mode style battle of waves of enemies, as your team fights for its survival until extraction. The battle is changed up as one out of every three rounds gives you a special objective to fill (like assassinating targets, or downloading data from a terminal). The combat is fast and furious, and proves especially tough at the higher difficulty settings. That said, the fact that there’s only one mode removes some of the legs from the co-op. The grab bag nature of the upgrades (you earn cash to buy packs filled with random equipment) is also alternately exhilarating and frustrating. The fact that it took me seven hours of play to get a weapon higher than level one was a strong strike against the mode, and I spent a lot of time wishing there was a way to buy the weapons I needed at a premium price instead of the “buy a pack and pray” method. Without any strong weapons, I was useless to my team at higher difficulty setting, and was stuck farming money at the lower levels until I could rank up in the world. I enjoyed playing the mode, but that frustration stung a bit.
Mass Effect 3 is a solid, if not divinely inspired effort. It is a must play for those who have invested so much into the previous efforts and wish to see the conclusion to Shepard’s story. The shooting is top notch, and the high points of the story telling are more than worth the price of admission. It does fail to meet the universal high quality of ME2 (which was, in my opinion, one of the greatest efforts in gaming history) but all in all, will satisfy all but the most jaded of gamers. Shepard out.
- Emotional and weighty story
- Gunplay at the highest levels
- Fun co-op
- Beginning and end of narrative fall flat
- Co-op only includes one mode
- Lack of gameplay variety of previous games
- Too safe
4 / 5
Mass Effect 3 was released on Playstation 3, PC, and Xbox 360. This review was conducted with the 360 version of the title, purchased by the reviewer.