It’s safe to say that Mass Effect 3 was one of the most highly anticipated games of 2012. When a game has such high expectations, there are bound to be a lot of fans disappointed about something but the ending caused a lot of controversy between the fans and Bioware. This is old news though, so I won’t get in to it too much in the review, but I refused to read in to it until I could play and complete the game for myself without having that seed of doubt planted, and I suggest you do the same.
Mass Effect 2 ended with the destruction of a gigantic humanoid Reaper and a decision to be made about the outcome of the Reaper base itself before they headed toward Earth. Mass Effect 3 picks up right as the Reapers touch down with Shepard narrowly escaping the chaos alive. Your first mission takes you to Mars where you discover the blueprints of a Prothean weapon that can destroy the Reapers but it’s missing a key component called the Catalyst. Finding that component and uniting the races of the galaxy to work together after notoriously being at war with each other is the main focus of Mass Effect 3. How that plays out is not only up to the decisions you make throughout the game but the decisions you’ve made in the previous two games as well.
One thing I really liked about Mass Effect 2 was that it took everything I didn’t like about the original and fixed it. The terrible hacking minigame, the Mako missions, different armor classes and managing hundreds of different guns, ammo and armor just to nuke 90% of it in to gels were all missing from the sequel. In the end I had absolutely no complaints about Mass Effect 2 so I wasn’t really sure how Bioware was going to improve the final installment in the trilogy. While the changes were minimal, I did find a few things that added a little more life to the game, namely the ability to insta-kill enemies from cover with stealth takedowns and being able to sturdy my aim with heavy weapons if I fired them from a cover position. I also felt the armor customization from the previous game transitioned quite well in ME3 and had a much cleaner interface. I went in to ME3 as an Infiltrator and I really enjoyed the new weapon and armor customization options that allowed me to focus on sniper rifle damage and head shots, over the less desireable biotic and tech upgrades.
Mass Effect 3 took me around 55 hours to complete and I only missed 2 side quests. Once you finish the game you are taken back to before the point of no return so you can finish up any quests you might have missed or play any future DLC without having to start over. You can also import your ME3 character in to a New Game + which you will need to reach the max level of 60, but you don’t have the choice to change your class. If you plan on going through a lower difficulty first and then going through again on Insanity, make sure you’re content with your chosen class. I really liked my Infiltrator for the default setting, but going back through on Insanity I’m taking way too much damage. I’m also finding that the frequency at which the enemies toss grenades my way make me less effective at being a long ranged glass cannon. It kind of made me wish I went through as a Soldier or Sentinel to take a lot more damage and focus less on gearing for weapon damage and the situational headshot, so not being able to change my class without stating over was a buzzkill.
With the decisions I made in the previous games, the story in ME3 was immersive, compelling and (laugh if you want) I even teared up once or twice as my favorite character sacrificed themself for what they felt was a great cause. That’s right, folks. A 31 year old male teared up at Mass Effect 3. There were less characters to pick from this time around and the entire cast of ME2 does appear at one point or another, provided they were recruited or survived at the end of your ME 1 or 2 save, but none of them are playable this time around. I loved Mordin, Thane, Miranda and Legion and it was kind of a bummer to only see them in supporting roles, but it was nice to stick with Liara, Garrus and Tali who were with me from the get go.
One major change in ME3 is the ability to choose your play style. I don’t mean this in a melee or biotic sense, but you can choose from three different styles that focus on roleplaying, combat or both. If you’re new to the Mass Effect universe but are a fan of shooters, you can choose to focus more on combat and all of the dialogue will play as a cutscene. You’ll have no choice over how the conversations play out, who you romance, what races you ally with, etc., where going for a roleplaying approach makes combat easier. I didn’t feel this was really necessary as I’ve always enjoyed the mix of choice-based storytelling, character progression and gunplay. I also don’t know why anyone new to the series would jump right in to ME3, but weirder things have happened.
Trophies are a nice mix of story progression, exploration and combat but the tech/biotic trophies go back to how things worked in the original Mass Effect on the 360. You can no longer use a party member’s Overload for “Overload the shields of 100 enemies”. Thankfully you can always just hop online and earn those in multiplayer, but if you’re like me and only play the single player campaign you’re going to have to play through at least twice – playing once as two different classes. If you’re going for time efficiency, I’d recommend going through as a Sentinel for the Overload and Lift Grenade trophies, mainly because Overload requires a shield to burst off for it to count and will take a bit longer to find 100 shielded targets. Starting a new game as an Engineer or Infiltrator gives you Incinerate which you just need to kill 100 targets with and that will knock out everything for you.
Bioware actually did something I haven’t seen before where they combined online multiplayer trophies with offline single player and I applaud them for it. For instance, you can earn a trophy by playing on each online map or completing all 6 N7 missions offline, or reaching level 20 online or 50 offline. I ended my playthrough with 79% of the trophies unlocked and level 57, missing both Insanity trophies, the Overload and Lift trophies and the online-only Defender trophy, so you can really nail a lot of them in one playthrough. I usually go through on the default setting and then go again on Insanity, so only having a few trophies to mop up let me focus more on the game that time around.
When I made the decision on how to end Mass Effect 3, I was satisfied when all was said and done and the credits rolled. My biggest disappointment is that Mass Effect 3 is not only the end of the game, but the end of the entire trilogy. The ending for the game itself was fine, but it didn’t have any sort of epilogue. While I’m happy with how things turned out, I’m unhappy not knowing what the aftermath was of my decision. What happened to the rest of the crew? How is Earth coping with that much destruction and loss? How did the rest of the galaxy move along? I’m dying to know these things and hopefully Bioware sets up some DLC in the future that explains them (EDIT: As you know, they did). I can understand why this would upset some players, but I’ve played thousands of games in my lifetime and beaten enough highly regarded games with terrible endings (like Final Fantasy VII or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) that didn’t get anywhere near the amount of criticism ME3 received.
Do I think the ending was blasphemous? For the game, no, but for the series, it was inconclusive. But honestly, it’s a Bioware game and Bioware is pretty much the Stephen King of the gaming world. They offer amazing stories and experiences that leave us a little wanting in the end. I kind of expected it and I think that not reading in to why other people thought it sucked made me go in to Mass Effect 3 with an open mind. The seed of doubt is a terrible thing and I honestly feel that a majority of people read too far in to the complaints, automatically assumed the ending was going to suck. Then, while playing through the game, they couldn’t really immerse themselves in to the story because the thought of an unsatisfying climax was always in the front of their minds. It’s like someone ruining the end of a book or a movie for you. You’ll still watch or read it, but you’ll always be thinking about how the end is going to crash flat on the floor rather than focus on the story at hand.
The Verdict – A
Mass Effect 3, to me, was close to being a perfect game. Graphically it was beautiful and it has the same amazing voice acting that I’ve come to expect from Bioware. They’ve perfected the choice with consequences story flow made famous by the original Mass Effect, but it didn’t seem as significant this time around. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some harsh decisions to be made, but they’re infrequent. The story was rich and I actually wanted to talk to everyone and learn everything I could about the ever changing political struggles of each race. The combat in Mass Effect 2 was perfect but somehow they’ve made it even smoother with better melee damage, instant-kill takedowns from cover and giving better aim to heavy weapons. I’m not going to score Mass Effect 3 low because it failed to epilogue the end of a trilogy (which has since been made available in a free DLC) when it did conclude the end of the game itself just fine. I think the internet gives everyone a voice and sometimes that’s just unfortunate as we all know the internet will make a crisis out of anything. If you avoided ME3 based on the negative reaction to the ending, do yourself a favor and play it for yourself. Otherwise you’re missing out on one of the best games of 2012.