Mass Effect, over the years, has been quite the chameleon. At first, it started as a pretty RPG heavy title that involved tons of customization and obtuse design choices. Then it evolved into possibly the most streamlined product Bioware had ever produced.
Mass Effect 3 attempts to marry the two types of gameplay into one action packed conclusion. But does it succeed? Or is it too action packed for its own good?
Without spoiling too much, at the start of Mass Effect 3, it goes without saying that things are not looking good for the galaxy. The Reapers, an ageless race that emerges from the shadows of the galaxy every 50,000 years, are now poised and ready to eradicate everything and everyone. As you can probably tell, there is probably a lot going on in this ~12 hour story — in fact, there may be too much going on.
In terms of lore, on a macro level, you’re going to get more with 3 than you ever have before. Species will interface with each other more than ever, and inter-species problems will rear their head right in front of your eyes. You’ll have to solve numerous age-old feuds in a frantic attempt to unit the galaxy against the Reaper threat.
You will fight giant Reapers, and you’ll feel like a badass doing it. Barring one specific encounter that features a rather odd design choice, battles are going to come fast, and they’re going to come hard. In fact, there are more jaw dropping sequences in Mass Effect 3 than either game in the series, and for the most part, all of your questions on the series are answered.
However, from a micro level, you’re not going to get nearly as much intimate time with your squad members as Mass Effect 2. Bioware, to a fault, attempts to cram quite a bit into the final part of this trilogy — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
For starters, a large number of former squadmates (and subsequently fan favorites) will show up as fast as they disappear, sometimes to the point of comically fast — which will easily frustrate long time fans. Unlike the second iteration, you never really get the chance to stop and smell the roses — Mass Effect 3 feels like a constant 80Mph road trip with no pit stops. Even moving around the Galaxy map is a dire affair on occasion, as Reapers can invade your space and chase you down, Pac-Man style.
Your party, for the most part, also feels fairly bare bones. Once again the trademark “meathead marine” rears his ugly head, this time in the form of James Vega (and, depending on your ME1 game, Kaidan). — the minute I could replace James, I basically never heard from him again. The rest of your party consists of a few fan favorites, and a two characters that are so spoilery that I can’t even mention here. While some people may be fine with the party choice for Mass Effect 3, I personally felt like other than my signature two, I was out of luck.
Bioware is also seemingly pitching the idea that Mass Effect 3 is a good “starter point” for people who have never played the series. I heavily disagree. Without a large number of lore bits from the first game specifically, most gamers are going to be absolutely lost. Mass Effect 3 makes a decent attempt to educate new players on past events and the current political climate, but ultimately you will end up lost.
A lot of these recaps are mentioned in passing during events, and as a result, the event itself loses poignancy when you really have no basis for why it’s such a big deal. As a result, I heartily recommend you at least play Mass Effect 2 before you play 3.
But despite these inadequacies, Mass Effect 3 does make a number of advancements. When you first boot up the game, you’ll notice one rather large gameplay addition – the ability to play with either the Action, Roleplaying, or Story style gametypes. Action will choose everything for you dialogue wise, and essentially present the game as a non-stop movie. Story mode will make combat easier, and focus more on potential story impact and choices. Role Playing is the classic typical mix of action and story you know and love.
While most gamers are probably just going to stick with Classic, a number of people will most likely enjoy the option. Additionally, I found it pretty rewarding to choose different gameplay types for different playthroughs – it’s a small addition that helps incentivize new characters and new runs. I think every mechanic works well in it’s own right (I’m personally a fan of Action, given the series’ direction since 2), but I really doubt Bioware will bother carrying this new system over to new games, which is a shame.
Gameplay wise, everything is pretty much the same as 2, but there are a few more options that make combat more enjoyable. For starters, gun customization now returns, albeit not as vast as Mass Effect 1‘s system. Shepard also can hold down the melee button to initiate a special heavy sword attack, which looks as cool as it sounds. Weapons now take up “weight”, which can change the rate at which your powers/biotics regenerate — which means no more loading up 5 weapons unless you’re a Soldier (this is how it should have been all along).
One other little addition that helps accent the solid gameplay are the loading screens. Unlike the second game, which mostly showed a wire-frame version of your shuttle embarking to its destination, ME3 has detailed loading sequences that show fully featured animations of the game’s various locales. In fact, some of them are so cleverly hidden, you’ll barely realize the game is even loading — it’s a really nice touch that helps get you jacked up to blow up some Reapers.
As we tested the Xbox 360 version, we are able to report on the Kinect functionality. Out of combat, menial tasks like “Open [door]” or “Examine [locker]” seem extremely askew and pointless, especially since your right thumb is probably resting on the “A” button anyways. But in combat, the Kinect mechanics really start to help when you’re in the thick of things, and want to just relax and have fun without stopping the game for menu based selection.
Being able to tell Liara vocally to launch a Singularity charge at a certain enemy, then tell another squadmate to change ammo types on the fly is very fun, if only for a little while. However, given the delay, on higher levels of difficulty you may find yourself pausing combat via the weapon and ability menus anyways just to get your bearings.
While the campaign is around 12 hours, there is lots of content to be had with this game. While I’ll get to the multiplayer a bit later, I think it’s important to note that no single player content has suffered as a result of its inclusion. The only problem is that while most of the missions are exciting, nothing feels quite as emotionally significant as all the loyalty missions in ME2.
In addition to the game’s missions, exploration are customization are still viable to some extent. For better or for worse, “planet scanning” the way you know it no longer exists — you simply shoot a sonar pulse onto the Galaxy Map, and occasionally you will find planets with resources or refugees on it. There is some scanning, but it’s so few and far between you won’t be doing it often — planets also only have a single scanning point.
After all is said and done, there is a bit of replay value to be had in addition to multiplayer. There’s a New Game+ option and the ability to go back before the “point of no return” after you beat the game. Considering there’s also nothing stopping you from creating a brand new Shepard in Mass Effect 1, and bringing him all the way through 3, I’d say the game has a great deal of value — even if you complete ignore multiplayer.
Now onto the elephant in the room – multiplayer. To be blunt, your mileage may vary here. Personally, I’ve always viewed Mass Effect as a single player experience. I thought the cover system was fairly elementary, and while combat works well enough, I’m not the biggest fan of seeing how that would translate into coop play.
So — multiplayer. First off, it’s entirely coop, and has a four player limit — that right there will no doubt scare off a number of people who were expecting giant deathmatches or huge epic battles. Second, it’s entirely horde-based, and has a level-up system similar to Call of Duty. However, unlike most Horde Modes, which extend infinitely, Mass Effect’s is actually winnable, and has various objectives to complete during a session. Like an MMO, different races are playable, and those races only have certain classes available to them. You can also unlock new weapons and weapon mods in addition to extra equipment., through the in-game store.
My preconceived notions ended up being correct in this case — I got bored of multiplayer pretty quickly. There are only a handful of maps, and there isn’t really any story to be had. It’s also hard to really get into the multiplayer once you figure out that you can achieve everything (including all achievements and trophies) ultimately through the Campaign anyways. There’s also the whole micro-transaction setup that left a sour taste in my mouth. Basically, for either a ton of in-game currency or a nominal real-life fee (80 Microsoft points), you can buy “booster packs” — the problem is, you have no idea what’s in this pack.
It could be as cool as a permanent character, or as lame as a one-time-use item (it’s usually one-time-use-items). I think the multiplayer community may die off quickly if everyone is boosting and paying to win — all you need is one hotshot to buy a ton of packs, and kill a ton of enemies for you (which happened to me in a few public games). But, despite all this, if you’re absolutely bonkers about Mass Effect, you might enjoy the opportunity say, play as a Krogan with friends. Most people will skip multiplayer all together.
Galaxy at War, the other component of the online pass, extends over to the single player campaign. Essentially, this allows you to monitor the state of the galaxy in terms of its combat readiness against the Reaper invasion. You can heighten this readiness entirely through single player play, or you can contribute through multiplayer. Outside of changing the potential ending of the game (very slightly, for the last 30 seconds or so), this really doesn’t matter much. In fact, most people will probably play through single player and multiplayer without even realizing what this actually does.
As it stands, I view Mass Effect 3 the same way I view the original Star Wars trilogy. The first one is classic, the second is the masterpiece, and third is solid (but has some issues, like Muppets). While I don’t think that this recent entry is the best in the series, make no mistake — Mass Effect 3 is still a really solid game that shouldn’t be missed.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game Mass Effect 3