Review: Mass Effect 3
There’s perhaps no other game franchise in history that commands character investment like Mass Effect. Players journey with a character of their own creation through three titles, establishing allies and enemies along the way, with the repercussions of decisions made in the first two outings felt firmly in the third.
That unprecedented emotional investment is easily one of the series’ greatest strengths. In Mass Effect 3, players will re-encounter familiar faces from the first two games. Whether in recruitable or non-recruitable capacities, it’s truly like bumping into old friends, moreso than any game before it. It feels like players have been through a lot with the characters of Mass Effect 3, and it makes their fates – for better or worse – all the more engrossing.
But this level of investment also holds the franchise up to a particularly high level of scrutiny. As such, it’s extremely disappointing that a bug prevented players from importing the faces of their particular Commander Shepards at launch. It may seem like a minor quibble, but countless players have invested hundreds of hours into these characters. It’s extremely jarring to see a character developed over three games and five years replaced by a fill-in for the final chapter. The mind boggles as to how such a glaring oversight slipped through into the finale of a series that prides itself on the personalisation of the whole adventure. As of the time of writing, this bug has still not been rectified.
Get past this stumble at the starting blocks, though, and Mass Effect 3 is indeed a worthy culmination of one of this generation’s most ambitious feats.
With its persistent universe, hundreds of choices made in previous outings will resurface in unexpected ways throughout a player’s adventure in Mass Effect 3. The consequences are at times heartwarming and, at others, heartbreaking. Depending on the player’s previous experiences, certain options, routes, characters and more may not be available. The sheer number of story permutations on offer is certainly impressive, and also loans itself to a decent replayability factor.
Players will also continue to make difficult choices right through to the very end of Mass Effect 3, although these choices have more immediate and possibly more drastic consequences. Often it can dissolve into ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenarios that will weigh heavily on the player for hours to come. Occasionally, the gravity of a choice won’t become apparent until it’s too late, but to live with the consequences is one of Mass Effect’s bittersweet joys.
It’s true that Mass Effect 3’s ending will polarize, but it cannot be said that it’s not a fittingly grandiose conclusion to a trilogy that deserves no less. Some further elaboration and explanation of particular aspects wouldn’t go amiss, but it’s too early to say whether players have ultimately been deprived of this.
While Mass Effect 3’s gameplay is instantly familiar to series veterans, a couple of changes may throw them. Sidequests are handled somewhat more confusingly, with many often added by simply “overhearing” a comment made by an NPC on the Citadel. It means that a player may unwittingly pick up several sidequests while they’re engaged in some other purpose. So unless the player stops and listens in depth to every passing conversation, they’ll have little to no context when they stumble across these quests in the journal. At times, some of them even appear to vanish from the journal. It’s as if the player must complete certain side quests before advancing certain core, story-progressing quests.
The game’s combat is further refined from the strides made by Mass Effect 2, inching ever closer to Gears of War slickness from the severely stripped-back mechanics of the first entry. More control and maneuverability is afforded to both Shepard and teammates, with combat rolls and further aim-from-cover possibilities now available. On-screen prompts leave no illusion as to whether Shepard will rush past or vault over cover. Landed shots have a punchy weight à la Call of Duty, and sniped domes now pop à la Gears of War. Loads of subtle innovations fine-tune the series’ more straightforward shooter mechanics. But it’s always been the addition of Mass Effect’s biotic-ability elements that makes for its uniquely satisfying breed of combat. It’s a far cry from its mediocre origins; so much so that a standalone, cooperative multiplayer component is a surprising draw card for a game with more traditional RPG chops.
It’s a Horde-mode variant with an addictive levelling, class-and-equipment unlocking element. Instead of always facing waves of increasingly difficult enemies, certain waves will occasionally throw curve-ball objectives at players. It means that gameplay doesn’t simply dissolve into bunkering down and holding a position; certain objectives demand mobility. And with a wide range of unlocks resulting in quite distinctive gameplay styles, this multiplayer has some serious legs. In any case, many former non-believers are now drawn to Mass Effect 3 for the multiplayer alone, which speaks once again to the strengths of the game’s improved combat mechanics.
Slightly disappointingly, while the equipment and loot aspects of Mass Effect 3 are an improvement over its immediate predecessor, they don’t approach the unique customisation levels of the original. Weapons found along the way simply unlock the availability of that particular armament for all squad members (although each teammate is limited to only two weapon types). A major improvement comes in the weapon upgrade customisation, however; each weapon contains two slots into which upgrade mechanisms can be placed. These upgrades add certain buffs such as heightened damage, accuracy, capacity and more. Again, these are available to all squad members upon their discovery.
As for other loot, only Shepard’s armour is customisable in any comprehensive fashion, with the Normandy crew members able to switch between three pre-determined armour variants. However, they only differ aesthetically, and all of them are available upon recruitment.
Also disappointing is the fact that vehicular combat has been removed altogether, at least from the core game. It’s possible it may return in the form of DLC (as with Mass Effect 2’s Hammerhead), but it’s a shame that a core aspect of the series’ roots has been left to the wayside.
But this small list of flaws leaves barely a dent in Mass Effect 3’s composition. It’s a true achievement, and a worthy realisation of the lofty goal set by BioWare nearly five years ago. The climax may not be to everyone’s tastes – quite understandable given the unparalleled levels of investment in the franchise’s universe – but it’s simply not enough to dissuade players from taking part in this fantastic journey. Add to this what is possibly the most unlikely multiplayer success story this side of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and Mass Effect 3 can only come as unequivocally recommended.