**Well, I did it, folks: I beat Mass Effect 3 in time to get you all a review. I feel I should preface this by mentioning that a certain aspect of Mass Effect 3 deserves a more detailed discussion than can be done without spoiling that part of the game. So if you have yet to beat the game, then be sure to skip the section clearly marked with a spoiler warning.**
OK everyone, the time is finally upon us! Mass Effect 3 is here and marks the end of Bioware’s epic space trilogy. Earth has come under attack and it’s up to you, in the shoes of the one and only Commander Shepard, to rally the diverse factions of the galaxy together and save Earth (and the galaxy) from destruction. While I won’t reveal much about Mass Effect 3’s narative, I will say that those of you hoping for a galaxy spanning story where you meet up with old friends (and enemies!) in an attempt to unite them will not be disappointed. The Krogan and the Genophage? Yep, you’ll deal with that. The Quarian and the Geth? Yep, them too. Of course, that won’t come as a surprise to those of you who have played the previous Mass Effect games; and rest assured that your choices in the previous two games will come back to help (or haunt) you.
As someone who has really only romanced Liara in the Mass Effect games, I cannot comment on how well your reunions with old flames from the other games really pan out. What I can say, though, is that even if they don’t join your party, each and every one of your old companions from the previous games will make an appearance at some point. And each one has grown (or stayed lovably themselves) over the course of the time jump between Mass Effect 2 and 3. At no point did one of them show up and have me scream “What!?! That’s not like them at all!” In fact, some of their appearances were so awesome that I was actually kinda mad they didn’t join you, even if they did each have perfectly good (and believable) reasons for not joining Shepard on his/her mission.
Side quests are still alive and kicking this time around, but you’ll find that Mass Effect 3 spends less time tossing Shepard into worthless cinematics with characters you care nothing about and instead simply has you eavesdropping on conversations all over the place to “pick up” quests. Personally, I like this system better, as I’d have a had a hard time believing Shepard had time to get involved and fix everyone’s problems on the Citadel while Earth is being invaded by the Reapers. The process is much more believable when you simply overhear someone talking about how a certain object would help their cause, “Our defenses aren’t what they need to be for our colonies. We need better targeting VIs!” Only to have Shepard stumble upon said VIs in his/her travels and show up on the Citadel to hand them over later. If feels a lot more like a charity towards a war effort then it does a side quest, which is perfect given the context of the game. Likewise, you’ll find people embroiled in heated debates from time to time and be given the option of siding with one over the other. These choices, albeit small, help shape your persona of who Shepard is while also potentially adding to the war effort. Should guns be handed out to civilians in order to increase general defense? Or would that only increase the chaos in the region? You decide. While these little debates don’t add a lot to the game as a whole, they are wonderful little touches that help shape your perception of the galaxy and work to immerse the player deeper in it.
Gone are the days of flying around the galaxy scanning every planet. Instead, they’ve implemented a sort of “pinging” system that has you fly around and ping for things to look at. Of course, if you ping too much then the Reapers show up and chase you around the little map of the solar system in a fashion that almost demands the use of Yakety Sax. Especially since there is no real danger should they catch you. I mean, sure, you “die” and get a game over if they get you; but the game autosaves whenever you enter a system, so you aren’t really put in any danger. Heck the most effective way of exploring seems to be to simply spam-ping the crap out of the system, “leave” the system when the Reapers show up, then simply re-enter it and continue pinging and exploring while they chase you around. Worked pretty well for me at least!
On the gameplay side of things for Mass Effect 3, the game has seen significant improvements over Mass Effect 2. While many complained that Mass Effect 2 got rid of all the “RPG” elements of the first game, Mass Effect 3 has brought most of it back while still keeping the faster and more streamlined gameplay of the second game. Skill trees in Mass Effect 3 have a “split” as you reach the end of them, allowing you to customize the ability to suit your needs and playstyle. For example, if you prefer to use the stasis ability (an ability that holds enemies in place) to lock down enemies and then damage them, there is a high tier upgrade that will allow you to damage them more before the ability lets them go. Or if you’re like me and prefer to use it to zone off areas and lock down multiple opponents, you can upgrade it into a bubble that can hold anyone who walks through it. Choices like these exists for every single ability, and allow you to tailor both Shepard and your squadmates to fit whatever situation and playstayle you want. Protip: Phantoms ain’t got sh!t on stasis.
The weapon system has also seen an upgrade in the form of the “weapon mods” used in the first game. Only this time they aren’t quite as convoluted as they were in the first game. Want your pistol to do more damage? Just attach a damage mod. More ammo? A capacity mod. Want it to pierce cover and riot shields? There is a mod for that too. Of course you can only ever have two mods on a weapon at a time, so choosing mods that suit your playstyle/weapon choices becomes just as big a step in making the game your own as the skill trees do, further adding to the depth and personalization of the game in ways Mass Effect 2 didn’t quite recapture from the first game.
Now if hearing about all these upgrades has you thinking that combat in Mass Effect 3 will be easier or more one-sided, I can assure you that that isn’t the case. Enemies are smarter and more varied then ever, often working together in different ways to capitalize on their own strengths. Guys with riot shields will slowly charge you up the center while snipers in the back will cut your shields down in seconds if you stick your head out for too long to deal with them. Meanwhile, other troops will deploy smoke grenades to block your line of sight and ensure you can’t engage them until they’re a little too close for comfort. Only by using your abilities and environment wisely will players be able to overcome the enemies of Mass Effect 3. And you can expect to die at least a few times until you learn how to handle each new enemy (and the varying ways in which they work together). The new AI is perhaps most noticeable in Mass Effect 3’s new multiplayer: a horde mode game were you team up with other players to combat wave after wave of enemies. Some have argued that this mode is useless or tacked on; frankly, I disagree. And find it to be a wonderful change of pace from the single player game while still keep almost as much depth. But, anyway…
All in all, the game is amazing. The story is as epic and grand as you’d have hoped for while still remaining deeply personal at times, what with Shepard losing friends and allies along the way and dealing with the pressure of being the galaxies’ last hope. Meanwhile, the combat, gameplay and RPG elements are all back and stronger then ever. Leading to a more more challenging and engaging experience for the players. While I’m personally very partial to the personal and character driven stories of Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3 is everything is it supposed to be and then some! That being said, though…
**WARNING SPOILERS START HERE**
The ending of Mass effect 3 is, to put it nicely, a disappointment. Upon struggling for 3 whole games to warn the galaxy and put a stop to the Reaper invasion, you are finally presented with the separate options of how to deal with it. Do you kill all synthetic life (including your synthetic allies and potentially yourself)? Do you control the Reapers in an attempt to bring peace through out the galaxy? Or do you merge synthetic and organics together into a new form of DNA that will (for some reason) bring peace to the galaxy and stop cycles of hatred? Say what you will about these choices and the color-swapped cinematic they each give you, my biggest problem with the ending of Mass Effect 3 has nothing to do with what happens to Shepard and everything to do with the huge questions left unanswered at the end of the final cut-scene. All those friends and allies you made over the course of 3 whole games and hundreds of hours of playtime? Yeah, hope you didn’t want any resolution on what happened to them after everything. Cause you won’t be getting it. Shepard’s romantic interest? Best friends? Potential children? *shrugs* Your guess is as good as mine. Because despite the hours of time players invest in those characters, their eventual fate (and indeed the fate of the galaxy as a whole) is kinda just left up for grabs. Which, as you’d imagine, is a huge letdown. The ending (or lack there of) cost this game a whole half point in this review; and some might argue that that’s being generous. The ending wasn’t bad, per se, just not by any means complete, and it resolved nothing that any of us wanted it to.
**END OF SPOILERS HERE**
All that being said, the rest of the game is a gorgeous masterpiece that I’d suggest ANYONE who is a gamer play it. Were it not for the glaring problem with the *SPOILER* and a few minor hiccups along the way, the game might very well have deserved a 5 out of 5. As it stands though, I’m gonna give it a solid 4. If you’re a fan of the series you can’t miss it, but I’m sure you’ve already bought it anyway by this point. For the rest of you, it’s a solid and well designed game that deserves to be played.