“Take Back Earth”, says the Mass Effect 3 tagline. Your incarnation of Shepard sighs, and gingerly massages the small of his/her back. By now your character has their fair share of white hairs and aching joints, and is a slipped disc away from a desk position with the Alliance. It wasn’t already enough that your battle-hardened and galaxy-weary avatar has triumphed against Saren’s treachery; defeated Sovereign; was killed and brought back from the dead; and ended the threat of the Collectors – now Earth is burning, and once again a very heavy responsibility is set upon your character’s shoulders.
BioWare / EA need to put this trilogy to bed, so it’s time to dust off your old Mass Effect saves and bring to bear your progress in the series to date.
A previous save is highly recommended, by the way. You can still play Mass Effect 3 from scratch and plough through the story, but there will be far too many references, cameos, and implied knowledge thrown in the mix to truly appreciate the game as it is. As such Mass Effect 3 has very little strength as a stand-alone product, and if you’re thinking of getting into the series now, this gamer recommends you invest in Mass Effect 2 before making any progress on this one. It’s akin to watching Return of the Jedi first without watching the others.
The story cracks along, combining solid writing with great voice acting. This time, the Reapers are coming along to wipe clean the slate of the Universe, and Shepard needs to gather together the races of the galaxy to face the incoming threat. And yes, I’ll admit I got a lump in the throat from those tear-jerking moments when the soft piano played over muted warzone scenes, reminding me once again that “war is bad” and “freedom ain’t free” etc.
As per usual, the conversation “wheel” is more like a conversation triangle (consisting of Paragon response, Renegade response, and elicitation query), which still tends to make Shepard very black-and-white (or schizophrenic), but I suppose it helps to keep the conversation flow going. Several characters from the previous games make an appearance, and depending on your demeanour and your past actions they may stick around to help you out.
Minor tweaks were made to Mass Effect 2’s formula, such as the scanning mini-game. Rather than having the Normandy mine individual planets for minerals, the Normandy scans solar systems for “war assets” for use against the Reapers, and the occasional artefact for XP and credits. However, scan a system too much and Reapers will detect the Normandy, and cute little Reapers will chase the itty bitty Normandy off the star map. It’s a different kind of grind, and one I found unenjoyable.
The cover-based combat is still good fun, though. You’ll be tossing Reaper forces aside with biotic blasts, or immolating Cerberus troops with incendiary ammo. There are plenty of variables present to mix up gun fights – mobile shield and barrier rechargers and enemies that support and buff each other make battles considerably more difficult. Some of the enemies towards the latter half of the game become unreasonably powerful, especially when they’re supported by several lesser enemies. Having said that, each battle is not impossible and the devs were nice enough to allow some difficulty tweaking (even though your pride may be at stake).
Mass Effect 3 comes with its own fair share of faults – the occasional camera glitch is distracting, continuity issues can crop up (i.e. dead characters suddenly appearing in cut scenes), and some grind-like gameplay elements can wear thin on less than patient gamers.
However, the main point of contention is the game’s ending. There’s been plenty of noise about this on the Internet already, and I had barely finished half of the game’s lengthy campaign at the time. When I completed the game, I initially didn’t think that the ending was bad; it was just cheesy and attempted to wrap up a lot of the game’s loose ends quickly, as is the case with games that tend to run thin on time and money towards the end of the cycle.
After reading some analyses on the Internet, I became aware of the plot holes that the ending presented. Without getting into specific spoilers, the ending railroaded the player into a very narrow subset of potential outcomes, effectively making your previous efforts seem meaningless.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution had a similar approach, and it didn’t work then, either. Both games failed to account for the decisions I made over the course of the game (in Mass Effect’s case, over the course of five years). It probably didn’t matter that I saved this person or let that person die. Scanning for all those War Assets felt like they had very little contribution towards the end result. As a result, the ending had a weak impact. BioWare are releasing an Epilogue DLC for free, though, so hopefully there’ll be a greater sense of closure following its release.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have a great time playing this, though. I have invested a good amount of time into the series and I have been rewarded with a universe that is surprisingly deep and populated with characters that I actually care about. I actually wanted to complete each game in the trilogy. There is value here.
Despite the noise, recommended.