Bioware have completed an immense achievement with the Mass Effect series. As a whole, this is easily one of the greatest series in gaming history. What’s impressive about it is that your saved games can carry over from one game to the other, taking all the important decisions you’ve made into account. This means that this story is most certainly your story and should be different for most players.
ME 1 was actually the third game I ever reviewed since I began writing about the gaming industry. I’ve reviewed the entire series (downloadable content included) since. So what do I think about how it all ends? Well, it’s an excellent game by most standards — just not the standards set by the rest of the series. ME 1 & 2 both blew me away at their time of release, whereas ME 3, while excellent, doesn’t impress at the same level. This is a game for fans of the series, and newcomers will most likely be lost and confused without playing at least one of the first two games. With that in mind, the rest of this review assumes you will have some familiarity with the ME games and universe.
Now since this is the Xbox 360 review, I would be remiss not to mention the Kinect features. This lets you use voice commands to make conversation decisions, order your squad mates around and interact with things. As I mentioned in my preview a few weeks ago, for the most part it works and is definitely fun. In the heat of battle, it is great to tell Liara to fire a singularity and for Garrus to move to that flanking position. When it works, it is quick and responsive. Occasionally it won’t work, but it definitely does more than it doesn’t. Something to keep in mind is that anyone can yell out commands, including anyone you live with or a random character on the TV show my girlfriend is watching on her laptop next to me. Either way, it definitely is nice to see Kinect features used well for a game I am actually interested in.
Also worth mentioning is the multiplayer. This is basically a 4-player co-op horde mode with some RPG elements. You chose a character and class, level them up as you gain experience, and earn credits to buy supply packs that contain weapons, new characters (such as aliens) and other equipment. What’s fun with these packs is that there is a random element to them and you never know exactly what you are going to get. As for the gameplay, there are a variety of maps, with three different enemy armies to face. You must survive for 10 waves, three of which will include objectives (eg. four consoles to hack). Get through this and the mission is a success and counts towards your military strength in the singleplayer portion. While it is certainly fun, it’s no better than the horde mode found in other games, and with no story elements, it relies completely on combat, which isn’t Mass Effect’s biggest strength.
The combat (for both multiplayer and singleplayer) plays similarly to ME 2, except you aren’t quite as skilled outside the gate. For weapons and equipment, Bioware wanted to add back some more RPG elements this time around. Therefore you need to upgrade and modify your weapons in order to do better with them. As an example, for the first few hours my assault rifles recoil was a lot higher than it was in ME 2 until I found some recoil dampener mods for it. For the most part I think Bioware has found a nice compromise between the complicated RPG elements in ME 1 versus the complete removal of them in ME 2.
Other changes include the complete removal of any hacking mini-games. Planet scanning is simplified and has nothing to do with mineral gathering. Like ME 2, there are no open worlds to explore or vehicle gameplay. Also, besides the Citadel, there are no other hub worlds to visit and explore, which I think is a shame. You do still have the Normandy to explore and it is mostly the same as it was in ME 2.
It was nice to be back in the universe Bioware has crafted. I know these characters, the worlds and conflicts. For this reason, when the bigger moments of ME 3 happen, the emotional impact is that much higher and there are some strong moments in ME 3. This is the end of the trilogy and no matter what you do, not everyone is going to make it out of this war alive.
Sadly, I must confess that I think the squad roster this time around is probably the weakest of the series, and none of the new characters stand out the way previous characters have. On the bright side, Bioware did an excellent job with the different environments you will find yourself fighting in. There were multiple times where I just stared in awe at the sight in front of me or what was happening in the background. The sense of scale shown throughout the game (especially with the Reapers) is impressive.
The story begins on Earth with the Reapers beginning their invasion of the galaxy. From here Commander Shepard needs to travel everywhere to try and ally all the alien races together to push back against the Reapers. This is done with both bullets and politics. While the other Mass Effect games clearly laid out what needs to be done before you can go to the end game, and you chose the order you did it in, ME 3 does things differently. The main quests this time are far more linear, with usually only one available at a time. Yes, you still travel the galaxy map to different locations, but the only options here are whether to go for the main story mission you have at the time or do side missions.
Many past teammates will show up during both main and side missions, and it is always a great feeling when you bump into them to see what they’ve been up to. It was also amazing to see the way some missions played out and how choices both new and old would impact the game in wonderful and unexpected ways. More importantly, I can’t even imagine how some of them could have gone any differently, they just felt so fitting. I truly look forward to talking with others to see just how different their game was to mine based on the decisions they made in the past games.
Sadly, this sense of “choices matter” comes to a halt in the game’s ending. Right now there is a lot of hate online for the ending of ME 3 and I will say is that I did not like it either. It’s not because it wasn’t the ending I was expecting (I honestly had no expectations), it’s just a bad ending, plain and simple. Unfortunately I won’t be able to explain why I think this, as that would require spoilers. It really is a tragedy that the final 5-10 minutes of a game can actually damage so much of the overall experience in such a retrospective manner. But alas, here we are. While the buildup to the finale is great and very close to the excellence of the previous games, those final closing moments left me feeling disappointed when the credits started rolling, which is a real shame.
Putting the ending aside, I also felt the game had a few too many “defend this point” situations. And typical for the series, I came across a few odd bugs (all forgivable considering how good most of the game is), like characters not looking at each other while having a conversation, drops in framerate, occasional pop-ins and characters exchanging an invisible object (which really hurt the emotional impact of the moment). The game also froze my Xbox 360 twice.
In the end, I feel ME 3 is an evolution rather than the revolutions the first two games were. While the ending has certainly left a bad taste in my mouth and soured my feelings on the series a little, I cannot deny that the journey to get there is still excellent. I loved having this one last adventure with all those characters I’ve gotten to know. I suppose this is the downside of having the pedigree of a developer like Bioware; we come to expect a certain standard from them. So when they fail to reach it, we notice. With that said, while ME 3 perhaps isn’t as great as the other two games, this doesn’t take away from the amazing accomplishment that the whole ME series is. Congratulation, Bioware, you did it.