Mass Effect 3 Review
- Mass Effect 3
- Mass Effect
Made2Game Mass Effect 3 review score: 10/10
Formats: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
The term “blockbuster” is one that’s bandied about so freely nowadays that its meaning has all but eroded away. Anything with a certain production budget attached and a fancy enough trailer is lauded as a blockbuster, as an “epic”. In videogames the term tends to apply even more loosely: it has become synonymous with any AAA title with its fair share of set-pieces, A-list voice actors and an over-blown viral marketing campaign. In actual fact, however, it has taken the videogames industry just over 30 years to produce its first true blockbuster. Mass Effect 3 is it.
More so than its distinguished peers Gears of War 3, Uncharted: Drake’s Deception, GTAIV or Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 3 is a cover shooter / RPG hybrid that is so much more than the sum of its parts – the culmination of seven years’ worth of brave, bold and compelling storytelling wrapped up in solid shooting action and set to the backdrop of one of the greatest, most involving story arcs in the history of gaming. This is not fanboyism, or gushing – and it certainly isn’t “paid journalism” – this is simply a statement of fact: as an experience tailored to the individual player, as a malleable narrative, as an epic tale of good versus evil, Mass Effect 3 has rarely been matched and never been bettered.
But it isn’t perfect. As a game in its purest form, Mass Effect 3 does have its shortcomings – which we’ll get to in due course. But first, a little backstory.
The Reapers are here
Having been granted SPECTRE status by the Citadel Council (the ruling body of the Mass Effect universe) and given remit to hunt down rogue SPECTRE Saren in Mass Effect 1, protagonist Commander Shepard found herself facing off against all manner of enemies from the synthetic Geth to Saren’s sentient spacecraft Sovereign – itself part of a genocidal race of living machines known as Reapers. Uncovering the Reapers’ mission to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy every 50,000 years, Shepard had her work cut out convincing the arrogant Citadel Council of the threat.
After defeating Sovereign, Shepard died saving her crew from an attack by the Collectors, the Reapers’ private army. Resurrected by pro-human terrorist organisation Cerberus, Shepard ended up on the wrong side of galactic law, recruiting a crew of the toughest, smartest and most powerful individuals she could find for a suicide mission in Collector space. Failing to earn their loyalty or making bad leadership decisions could result in the deaths of the entire crew, including Shepard herself. Mass Effect 2 reiterated time and again that the final mission would be a suicide run – and it would require planning and preparation to guarantee success.
Mass Effect 3 begins several months after the ME2 DLC “Arrival”, and finds Shepard grounded after her actions caused the deaths of some 300,000 batarian civilians. In true action-movie fashion, no one believes her warnings about the Reaper invasion, until they arrive out of the clear blue sky, blasting everything in their path like the tripods in War of the Worlds.
Tell your friends we're coming for them
It’s after a lengthy cutscene that you’re granted control of Shepard, and immediately it’s like being reacquainted with an old friend. Shepard handles like she always did, and as soon as you’ve got a gun in your hand and the camera snaps to that familiar over-the-shoulder angle, you feel right at home. Anyone importing a save from the first two games (and you really should) will find themselves starting at a higher character level (we began at level 30) with all the corresponding skill points available to spend. Combat, biotic and tech abilities have seen no significant overhaul since Mass Effect 2, with minor tweaks applied to the way you level them up and develop each skill down a certain path. Our Shep is a sneaky Infiltrator class, so we immediately upgraded Tactical Cloak and Incinerate fully, bunging the spare points into Sabotage and Cryo Ammo for that extra little kick in a scrape.
Following Admiral Anderson to rendezvous with the Normandy, we soon got to grips with the tightened gunplay, the newly added combat roll (achieved by tapping A and moving in any direction), and the more precise and immediate snap-to-cover manoeuvre. The new melee attacks are less well-implemented, unfortunately; cracking an enemy with the butt of your gun has the desired effect, but the “heavy melee” omni-blade kill often does more harm than good, launching Shepard into a two-second animation that an enemy can easily avoid but which you can’t cancel out of. The lack of a decent instant stealth kill further compounds the omni-blade’s uselessness – it’s simply an addition we could all have lived without.
Once Shepard leaves Earth with a vow to bring an army back, you’re given your freedom to once more explore the galaxy as you please – though there are only a handful of planets available to begin with, and there are even less to land on and explore on foot. Initially setting out only with a desire to entreat the Citadel Council for help, Shepard’s objectives change minute-to-minute and mission-to-mission. This is not the formulaic recruitment and trust-exercise dynamic we saw in Mass Effect 2; rather, Mass Effect 3 casts Shepard as a buoy in a maelstrom, buffeted here and there by the savage gales of all-out galactic war. She stays afloat as only Shepard can, by making tough decisions and owning them for better or worse.
If we lose Shepard, humanity might well follow
Mass Effect 3 is a game that wants you to think about your choices, to agonise over them, and then reflect on them for hours afterwards, either celebrating your own foresight or ruing your rashness. If the choices presented in the previous two titles seemed tough, ME3 will genuinely test you. Favourite returning characters – including your crew mates – live or die based on seemingly inconsequential decisions made at key points in the game, as we found out the hard way in a moment that actually made us hate Bioware for a good hour or two afterwards. To lose someone who has fought beside you for a 100+ hours of gaming is heartbreaking in a way that you’re genuinely unprepared for – especially given Bioware’s incredible writing.
Playing an imported save file forces the game to calculate over 1,000 variables, determining who you meet, who hates you and who owes you a favour right at the beginning of your quest, and as a result you’ll run into a ton of old friends and enemies. Bioware have forgotten nothing and no one, and Mass Effect 3 feels tailored to you as an individual to a degree never seen before in the medium.
The crew is much smaller this time around, allowing for more focused interactions, but all the crew members who survived the suicide mission can turn up at some point, usually during a mission wherein your actions can see them dead. There are some standout moments, too, but on the whole every mission is one giant set-piece and so choosing a favourite is difficult. Mass Effect 3 feels almost ruthlessly streamlined compared to its predecessors; there are no filler missions to bloat out the middle third, no need to spend hours scanning countless planets for resources (the scanner is now much quicker and easier to use – just watch out for the Reapers!)
Go out there, and give them Hell
Everything you do, every mission you complete, every life you save, person you help or resource you gather carries a point value that adds to Shepard’s Effective Military Strength (EMS). To have a hope of beating the Reapers and unlocking the best possible ending, you need the highest EMS you can get – which is where the multiplayer mode comes in.
Although it’s possible (but bloody hard) to achieve full EMS in the solo campaign alone, your victories in the online Galaxy at War campaign increase your Galactic Readiness percentage – a value by which your EMS is divided come the endgame. Rinsing the multiplayer is a handy way of increasing your chance of success.
Luckily, the multiplayer is brilliant. Similar to the oft-imitated Horde Mode made famous by Gears of War 2, Galaxy at War pits squads of players against increasingly difficult and powerful waves of enemies. With six classes and races to choose from, as well as the option to advance or promote your characters, Galaxy at War offers an experience that’s far more than the desperate, bolted-on stab at the online market that many expected it to be. It’s a game in its own right and one that lives up to the Mass Effect name in every way.
Despite the overriding quality, there are issues which, while not great enough to cause any real harm, are worth mentioning. The new squad-mates, for one, are probably the worst characters of all three games. Actually, scratch probably. Frog-faced, muscle-bound fratboy James Vega is irritating and unlikeable from the word go, whilst the other newcomer (who we won’t mention here for spoiler reasons) is interesting in terms of interactions and backstory but fairly useless on the battlefield – though their class is the same as ours was, so we might be biased there.
You were born to do this
Thankfully, returning characters are as fleshed out and likeable as they ever were. Continuing to build relationships and pursue romances (complete with love triangles if you misbehaved) is touching, often amusing, and adds a much-needed human element. That other crew members can begin romantic relationships of their own accord is a testament to Bioware’s respect and love for their characters.
The biggest complaint is aimed at the quest log system, which is so unhelpful as to be an actual drag. For some reason, it doesn’t update as you complete legs of a mission, so you can run around carrying an artefact or asset without realising you’ve got them or who they’re for. It can be confusing, but given the lack of hand-holding throughout, it’s more than likely a deliberate design choice on Bioware’s part. Apart from that little niggle, the engine that looked so beautiful only two years ago now seems dated since we’ve seen L.A Noire and Uncharted 3 – environments are still great, but the lip-synching and dialogue animations are so abysmal as to be off-putting at times.
After 30 – 40 hours you’ll find yourself facing the endgame – at which point it’s time to see if all your choices and sacrifices were worth it. The culmination of 120 hours of life-or-death decisions, personal struggles and moral dilemmas is bittersweet, topped by an ending that seemed to us to be deliberately ambiguous and screaming out for DLC – not to change anything, but to clarify events.
The fight of our lives
To avoid spoilers we’ll divulge no details, but suffice to say that the last hour is a minefield of plot-holes, contrivances and inconsistencies that go against the grain of the stellar writing showcased up to that point. There’s simply no way such an intricately plotted story arc would end with so many convoluted leaps of logic unless it was intentional – and the fact that a single, plausible plot device already hinted at several times could put everything right compounds the theory that this may be Shepard’s final fight, but it’s not quite over when the credits roll.
As a game to be played through and completed for the hell of it, Mass Effect 3 might be considered wanting. To avoid or opt out of indulging in the galactic politics and intricacies of the universe and story arc is to miss the point entirely. For the first time ever, the concept of judging a game as an overall “experience” genuinely fits, and doesn’t seem like a piece of PR buzz to hide a lack of gameplay under some shiny set-pieces. Mass Effect 3 is everything it should be: a tight, exhilarating cover shooter and the ultimate instalment of gaming’s finest sci-fi epic.
By turns Mass Effect 3 is amusing, exciting, challenging, heartbreaking and breathtaking, and a few minor complaints and arguably questionable design choices can’t detract from what is a truly modern masterpiece. It might have been possible to knock a point of the score for the sake of controversy or to stand out from the crows, but frankly we’d have to really pick at every minor detail to find a decent complaint. At the end of the day, controversy be damned, we’re giving Mass Effect 3 the only score we possibly can.
Simply put, this is epic.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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