Review: Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)
Title: Mass Effect 3
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Tagline: The conclusion to the biggest SciFi property since Star Wars and Star Trek
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Verdict: Buy it Already
If there is one thing that has confounded series creators is the idea how to close out their creation. I mean, people create attachments with a show or movie character and you have to meet those expectations in order to provide a sense of closure that makes people leave with a smile on their face. Bioware was facing this same task over the last two years, as they were putting in development time on the closure of their grand sci-fi extravaganza, Mass Effect 3. Could the masters at Bioware provide a satisfactory ending to a series that has amassed a legion of fans throughout the gaming community? I would say yes, but that depends on whether you tune in for the final ten minutes of Mass Effect 3.
What we have known for the past two games has finally come to fruition in Mass Effect 3. The Reapers have begun their assault on the galaxy, starting with the little blue pebble in the middle of the Sol System, Earth. Things, as with the second Mass Effect chapter, start off with a huge bang and give us the idea of the size and scope of this ending affair, as the huge Reaper ships start to land on Earth, decimating the Earth as they start to lay waste to the planet and life as we know it. Wasting no time with gobs of exposition, Mass Effect 3 hurries you off of Earth after a quick tutorial sequence, with the goal of rallying the galaxy races together to face off against the Reapers in a must win affair. Losing means, everyone dies, so failure is never an option in this case.
The idea of rallying the galaxy has been a theme that fans have been waiting for five years now, and it plays out in dramatic fashion. Shepard is never one to do things in a simple manner, as you have to quell long running disputes and feuds between races and characters. How does one manage getting races like the Turians and the Krogans to work together after the genophage? Or trying to quell war between the Geth and the Quarians in order to protect the galaxy from certain annihilation. It is a precarious balance that will never be perfect and here is where the story starts to shine. No matter how hard you try, you can never appease everyone and everybody to your cause. Some will join, and others will rebel, and it is done with a masterful stroke that makes perfect sense.
Missions are against dropped to you through various contacts and entities, and show up on your galaxy map, some vital for you to move the story forward, with others helping you gain strategic value. Sadly, gone is the idea of picking up missions through scanning planets, or at least, I never found bonus missions that way. Bonus missions were normally found through people like Admiral Hackett or another person telling you of a vitally important point on a planet that needed to be held. These missions however, felt a little tacked on, and more about showing you the eventual multiplayer maps you would be playing in conjunction with the main story. Thankfully, the main missions are plentiful and provide a lot of enjoyment and fill in a lot of back story on the other alien races you have met over the past two games.
More astounding than anything else is the way that Bioware have weaved together the ideas and decisions that you have processed throughout the past two games. All of them come together like a symphony, completely in tune and sounding as beautiful as if Mozart was playing it himself. Every decision, whether large or small play out in some way or another. People routinely mentioned my dooming a Batarian colony with the destruction of a Mass Effect relay, or something as small as Wrex mentioning that Liara is a better kisser than him, referencing my relationship ties. It is a complex idea to get hundreds of little decision flags programmed in a way that presents itself cohesively. I mean, when you start to comprehend the amount of detail that could change from one playthrough to the next, it is astounding that this game can come together in one solid piece. There were whole sections of the game that could have changed if one character had lived or died. It is a great piece of work, but it does come with its problems as well.
You see, trying to fit all of these little bits and pieces into place is a tough act, and it felt from time to time, I was tripping over accomplices and acquaintances throughout. I mean at one point, I ran into someone during a mission, which triggered me meeting another person at the exact same moment. I mean, it felt like the end of Lethal Weapon 4 when everyone from every movie showed up in the final scene for a group photo. It felt a bit cluttered, but it never took away from the idea that all of these choices mattered and made Mass Effect 3 feel far more like my own tailored experience that any other game I have played through.
Mass Effect 3 tries to give you a sense of this galaxy-wide combat, with a new war room inside of the Normandy, with a Galaxy at War map. With this new section, you get a visual representation of the resources you have recruited to you war effort as well as a percentage multiplier of the effective strength of those forces. Everyone starts at 50%, and that percentage can be bumped up in various ways, like playing co-op, using the Facebook app, playing iPhone games and more. It sounds like a cool idea in theory, but the problem comes from the big fat green bar that lets you know exactly where you stand in your battle. I knew about half way to three quarters of the way through the main campaign that I had done enough to get the so called, “Best ending” and that was only after bumping my percentage up eight points. That bar takes away a lot of tension over whether you are going to be successful in the end game. I am sure it was a design idea so people knew when they could stop grinding forces, but it left me with no surprises at the end. I already knew I would be successful long before the end game, leaving me feeling a little cheated over surprises like I had in the second game.
Action in Mass Effect 3 has been tweaked a bit from Mass Effect 2, and for the better. Firing weapons has been tuned to near perfection, allowing me to use all the weapons effectively. Things ramp up easy enough with simple foot soldiers to contend with, but after time, you run into all sorts or Reaper amalgamations from different races, and these battles will try the patience of any commander. You now have to get a quick sense of what needs to be focused on and attacking it from that angle. Set pieces are also done with a sense of hyperbole, including the first time you come face to face with a Reaper, a scene that I will just say is amazing and frantic. It also shows that Bioware went back to drawing board, mixing in elements from Mass Effect 1, including the upgrade of weapons and adding attachments, but in a way that never clutters your inventory. Gone are the 100+ items clogging up your inventory, instead the game just replaces the old weapon with the new model or attachment.
Much was made in the weeks leading up to Mass Effect 3 release on the Kinect integration. Most chuffed it off as a gimmick of some sort, but it works surprisingly well in the final release of the game. Calling out to characters to take position and use certain powers was quick and responsive. It helped with battlefield management, and felt quicker than going through the radial menu to get them to use powers. Opening doors or reading dialog choices worked, but those options seemed worthless, as I could use a button press to handle those actions far quicker. It also felt weird reading a dialog choice and then having a female voice talk out the sequence.
Co-op does rear its head in Mass Effect 3, which elicited a huge groan from me during the E3 presentation last year, but actually playing the co-op now, it shows itself to be a solid component in the game. It is not just something slapped on to the final product, but is a fleshed out, well developed mode of gameplay. You team up with up to three other players and fight through a horde style wave progression. The enemies and levels you face are different, and through the waves of enemies, you will get sub missions that have to be completed before a timer runs out. Most of these goals are as simple as finding a location and pressing a button and waiting for a bar to fill up, but it breaks up the action nicely and makes you have to work as a team to get the objective, and provide cover for someone while they complete the mission. The action is fast, but it feels like a Mass Effect experience. I felt completely at-ease as I played through several of the included maps and enemy sets. This, my friends, is co-op for those that do not have the time to put into a Call of Duty type experience. You can jump in for a round or two and gain a few levels, boost your galactic readiness percentage and feel like you have accomplished something. You get points for assists, kills, holding points, shooting specific targets and more, all wrapped with the familiarity of Mass Effect. It quickly became a staple of my gameplay and a surprising highlight of my experience with Mass Effect 3. You can even play as other races in a first, so go ahead and be a Salarian Engineer, or a Drell Adapt.
With all of this in hand, it should be noted that there are several missteps along the way to finishing up Mass Effect 3. There seems to be a problem with the way Mass Effect processes loading a previous character from Mass Effect 2. I was greeted with a fat error that my Shepard’s face could not be imported into Mass Effect 3, forcing me to change the look of a character that I had come to identify with through two prior games and multiple DLC expansions. It also did not help that there were a number of times where the game would come to a screeching halt when it came to a loading screen and I would have to physically pull the power cord from my Xbox 360 to kill the system. Animation errors also crop up throughout, most notably during cut scenes where people could completely disappear from the screen, leaving only a ghostly voice to answer my question. Of course, these issues can be remedied with a simple patch, but it does keep you from full immersion with Mass Effect 3, especially when you have to kill the game repeatedly during the last four or five hours.
What cannot be patched in the final 10 minutes of the game, and here is where Mass Effect 3 will become an experience that you love, or an idea that loathe. Ending a trilogy is a tough decision, that can go many different ways, as stated in the beginning, and here, in my opinion, the game ends with the idea that every decision I made was rendered moot. Players have spent countless hours, honing their Shepard with countless decisions, hoping for all of it to come to a head that can be resolved in a manner that saves the galaxy from the Reaper invasion. Instead, we are granted a final choice that renders every decision to a pointless endeavor. I tried to for hours after I finished the game to wrap my head around what happened and make sense of it all, but it seems that little thought was put into the final resolution. All I can say without spoiling things is that, if I got the good ending of the game, holy crap, what the hell is the bad ending?
Even with that knowledge in hand, I had to ask myself if I had enjoyed everything else that Mass Effect 3 has to offer, and without a doubt, I would have to say yes. While I still think the second entry is the pinnacle of the series, Mass Effect 3 does create the sense of a wider scope of danger and story. Rallying the galaxy to take up arms against a foe that is unbeatable is highly entertaining, and after 38 hours, I enjoyed every last drop Bioware gave me to enjoy, of course subtracting the last ten minutes of gameplay. Love or hate the ending, Mass Effect 3 is an experience that should be played by any that are looking for closure to a great franchise.
- Fun to see many plot points come to a head
- Co-op mode is surprisingly fun and engaging
- Combat is tuned to near perfection
- Astounding amount of choices coming to fruition at the end of the trilogy
- The ending loses all of the choice of the full narrative
- Cameos do end up feeling a bit crowded
- Galaxy at War seems a bit forced and takes away some of the surprise of winning the battle
Mass Effect 3, does show off a considerable amount of violence during its stay. People are shot in the head, suicide is performed a few times and lots of people are shanked in close quarters combat. It also has some elements of sexual situations that might not be appropriate for younger viewers, along with some colorful language choices. Keep this one in the hands of 15 and older.