Mass Effect 3 Review
Mass Effect 3:The End of Commander Shepard’s Trilogy
Mass Effect 3 is a torrent of emotion. There is excitement over the grand, and promised-to-be truly final, conclusion to the series. There is satisfaction and lack of concern over the fact that this game completely stole three days of my life. And when I get to the end there is frustration and sadness, but also some closure. This is the end to the saga of Commander Shepard, and all that entails. The conclusion has created a bit of a stir; Mass Effect 3 players who have avoided the controversy and just want to beat the game had best prepare themselves.
This is not an entry level game. BioWare has gone to great lengths to enable new players to get into the action, but with a story this complex based in such an enveloping galaxy of a setting, playing the first two titles is just something that most people will find needs to be done. If you wish to cheat, options (such as masseffect2saves.com) are available at least for PC players to import others’ save game files. Such sources are also good if you want to see how different options in the game’s excellent save import system change the universe. This is not an entirely new game. Unreal Engine 3 is starting to show its age, but one thing about using a completely familiar media is that it’s relatively easy to build the talent and experience necessary to finely craft the final product. As a result, Mass Effect 3 is virtually clean of all graphical glitches as far as I could tell. The appearance, lighting, and effects generated by each weapon and ability mold the beautiful, well-designed surrounding environment extraordinarily well. BioWare has shown you can still create a masterpiece with worn canvas and old paint.
Mass Effect 3: A Visual Masterpiece Made with Old Tools
The sound suite defines Mass Effect and through the extraordinarily varied and capable voice cast, immerses the player in the game in a fashion that BioWare created and continues to indisputably master.
As before, Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale anchor the story as the male and female versions of Commander Shepard. As before, Meer sounds like an alternately heroic or badass sportscaster, and Hale demonstrates why she is the best voiceover actress in the business. Martin Sheen, while having a more rigid and reduced role this time as the Illusive Man, nonetheless lives up to his household name and clearly took this project seriously, just as he did in Mass Effect 2. Other familiar voices reprise their various roles, the most notable of which are Keith David as Admiral David Anderson and Brandon Keener as the deep, sometimes cold, sometimes badass, and often hilarious turian Garrus Vakarian. A cast to put any Hollywood project to shame is all BioWare standard fare.
Composer Clint Mansell steps in for Jack Wall, who for some inconceivable reason opted out of producing ME3’s score. That’s fine, Mansell did a better job. His sound is a requiem for a real dream and is sure to win a host of awards when the various industry ceremonies that recognize the finer arts within videogames roll around. Not content with having a coterie of epic voices, muses and noises, BioWare partnered with EA DICE (the subsidiary relationship vis-à-vis Electronic Arts does have its perks) to re-do the performance and sound of the various guns, abilities, and explosions. As a result, unlike the visuals, ME3’s sound suite is entirely new and comes off a wonderfully grittier and realistic experience.
A Cast to Put Any Hollywood Project to Shame
Mass Effect 3′s plot carries one of the few significant complaints I have with this game. As promised, BioWare gives you a sandbox galaxy where nearly every decision has some kind of impact. In an improvement, the opposing Paragon/Renegade scale has been shelved in favor of a Paragon/Renegade flavored “reputation” bar which simply adds everything together and renders the days of requiring the perfect hero or perfect badass to unlock all the dialogue gone. Good Riddance. And fear not, scarfaces; if you are still consistently renegade, Shepard keeps the festering marks of his or her death and resurrection in Mass Effect 2 opening act. If you still have them for the last game and don’t want them anymore, going full Paragon or paying for surgery (with money, not space rocks, this time) gets rid of them.
However, some conversations offer comparatively a lot less opportunity to be fleshed out and there are noticeably less opportunities except at major plot points to use the morality system’s associated charm/intimidate dialogues and the famous heroic interrupts. Some conversations, while good enough in their own right, offer no opportunity to pick choices at all, and simply play out by repeatedly clicking on the affected character in the same way that conversations occurred with the last game’s DLC characters. BioWare seemingly decided that this was a better option than approaching characters in full conversations only to have them deliver the same tired excuse every time they had nothing to say. They could have made an improvement, but instead apparently had some calibrations to do. A nice addition is the conversations between crew members that play out when walking into their various spaces, and the tendency of crew members to move to different areas depending on the situation.
With Character Interaction, They Could Have Made an Improvement
I won’t spoil actual plot details, beyond noting again that the savegame import feature significantly changes the start of the game and has the potential to produce wildly divergent outcomes.
Purists and perfectionists will want to import multiple saves to see what is different each time they play through. The legacy of making the galaxy your own, however, runs straight into a wall at the very end, however. To defeat the vastly powerful and genocidal Reapers, Shepard must make a key decision, and the result of each choice is rather dystopian and tragic especially if you’ve spent the entire game making the galaxy a better place. The ending makes it clear that this is the end of Commander Shepard’s story and perhaps the start of a new one, especially if you play the game in a certain way. Those seeking heroic fulfillment, however, had best steel themselves. Every product draws complaints for the peanut gallery, but there is already a great deal of outrage on the official game forums and elsewhere about this choice. It doesn’t really make much sense to offer the player choice throughout all three games and then force them into what can only be classified as a negative grand finale.
Some mention must be made about the controversial inclusion of multiplayer, even though as promised it is an almost entirely optional offering. Similar to the survival/horde modes found in games like the Gears of War series, included with the host of Mass Effect 3 RPG elements, but not executed as well as it is in those titles, it’s a fun enough addition. To help promote it, BioWare tied it into the main plotline. The system is relatively simple, but it is annoying. To unlock all potential endings to the game, the player must gather a host of “war assets” through side missions, which themselves are not as focused and integral to the plot as in other games, and by collecting things through the usual space exploration and planet scanning.
Planet Scanning: Not Quite Gone
The total number of war assets is then multiplied by a factor of .5 if you skip Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer entirely – and this unfortunate introduction of decimal math constitutes the sole reason to play it. It’s possible to unlock the best overall choices without multiplayer, but it’s incredibly hard. I scoured the entire galaxy for side quests and war assets, and still fell short. It doesn’t help that the infamous planet-scanning system from Mass Effect 2 is not quite gone, and in fact is a critical component of collecting war assets. I later played about a dozen rounds of multiplayer and got my readiness rating, at a fairly decent clip, up to a level that made a difference.
By all indications, for all Mass Effect 3 playthroughs, this only has to be done once. However, this makes multiplayer nothing more than a chore, no matter how entertaining it is. Never mind the fact that the requirement — it can only truly be described as such — defies logic. It is a nonsensical pretense that by randomly assuming the role of a group of otherwise run-o-the-mill soldiers fighting small skirmishes in set locations, the player steadily improves the galaxy’s ability to fight the largest battle in history. It’s as if BioWare tied the singleplayer to the multiplayer in this way to cause their fanbase to get pissed off at EA’s imposition of multiplayer where it does not belong. Either way, tossing on an unnecessary feature and then wiring it into the rest of the game so it is all but unavoidable represents what can only be described as a piss-poor and short sighted design choice that also disadvantages anyone who can’t or refuses to play the multiplayer. I earnestly hope they patch it out.
Tying the Singleplayer Outcome to Multiplayer is a Piss-Poor Design Choice
Overall, despite previous complaints, I can only recommend Mass Effect 3. Ultimately minor concerns may get the wrong sort of player down if they choose to fret over them, but this is still a fitting, if not entirely flawless, end to the series, one that BioWare will surely improve in time via DLC. BioWare Director Mike Gamble’s recent tweet on March 8,
“Hardest. Day. Ever. Seriously, if you people knew all the stuff we are planning… you’d… we’ll [sic] hold onto your copy of me3 forever,”
Shows, hopefully, that some of the problems in Mass Effect 3 will be addressed and that more content and more improvements are on their way. I’ll eagerly await them, for they can only improve on what is a sure contender for game of the year, despite the early release.