Published on September 20th, 2012 | by Stephen Peterson5
Mass Effect 3 Review
Summary: Ending aside, Mass Effect 3, and indeed the whole Mass Effect trilogy, will stand the test of time as some of the best work the video game industry will ever put out.
A masterpiece of the medium.
Mass Effect 3 currently sits on Amazon.com with a woefully average rating of 2.5 stars out of 5. This shockingly low rating is overwhelmingly due to the massive controversy over the original ending to the game. It is safe to say the majority of fans were so unhappy over the ending to the game that they lashed out in any way possible, including harshly rating down the game on review websites. I will touch briefly (spoiler-free, as always) on the ending during this review. In this reviewer’s opinion however, rating down Mass Effect 3 simply due to your disagreement over Bioware’s decision on how to end their franchise is a shameful, immature mistake; It will only serve to hinder others from playing one of the absolute greatest video game experiences that is available on the market today.
Bioware was met with nothing but healthy skepticism when they announced they were making a trilogy of games that would allow players to craft their own world via player-choice, and then transfer those player’s choices over into the next game in the series, allowing you to continually mold a universe unique to you. It had simply never been done before. Sequels were nothing new. Player choice was nothing new. To allow the world a player created and changed in Mass Effect 1 to continually impact the universe through two sequels…that was new. And for all effects and purposes, Bioware pulled it off. My friend’s Commander Shepard, and the world he created, is a drastically different world than mine. An entire species is alive in mine, where genocide has been committed in his. Three characters in his have been dead since ME2. Those characters are still alive in mine, affecting the game in ways he will never be able to see. Although player-choice is obviously limited to the choices Bioware has programmed into the game, the sheer amount of choices and potential differences is staggering. When you realize Bioware had to craft hours of cut-scenes and hundreds of lines of dialogue just for one of the potential storylines a player might see, the scope of this project begins to be realized. I have made it a point to play through each game twice, once as a male Paragon (good) Shepard, and once as a female Renegade (bad) Shepard. The overarching storyline may be the same for each, but the experiences are as different as night and day. And I still haven’t seen all of the potential options that could be had.
Needless to say, the true impact of Mass Effect 3 will only be seen by a player who has played the entire franchise. Making Bioware’s epic sci-fi saga into YOUR story throughout the span of a trilogy of games, each surpassing 40 hours of gameplay, will immerse a player to a level never before realized outside of the love you have for your favorite cast of your favorite 7-season TV series. Mass Effect 3 can certainly be enjoyed a player new to the series, and the game still stands as a pinnacle of both storytelling and gameplay achievement without the help of its earlier brethren. But you are simply doing yourself a disservice by not starting at the beginning. Bioware has crafted the absolute richest science-fiction universe of any original video game, reaching a near Star Wars level of detail. And the best part? The discovery is entirely up to you. The lore of Mass Effect goes as deep as your willing to dig, between having multiple deep conversations with your squadmates, random facts from nearly every NPC, and the ridiculously deep Codex Bioware has gifted players on every game. There will be characters in your squad who are your family. There will be some that grate on your nerves. The real feel to the relationships you have with every character you interact with is startling. If your not into any of this, you could just blow through the well-crafted gameplay, skip the conversations, and finish the game. But if that’s what you want to do, then maybe you should just buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Have at it. But if your reading this because you love letting yourself vanish into a well-crafted world, then welcome, because you just entered Paradise.
The morality system of Mass Effect (paragon vs. renegade) has always been relatively straightforward. The blue option is good, the red option is bad. Mass Effect 2 actually rewarded you if you stuck to always choosing good or always bad. This led to branching storylines, but lacked actual morality….very rarely did you encounter a true gray area that left you biting your lip on how to proceed. Mass Effect 3 doesn’t fix that entirely, but finally did offer several morally vague situations which left me genuinely concerned about if my choice was the right one. In the other two games, I often felt like being the “bad” renegade often just meant I was a rude tool who liked to be confrontational. However, Mass Effect 3 caused my jaw to drop a few times as my renegade FemShep crossed the line from rude to straight-up villain with no qualms about doing the despicable. Never before has a game made me feel genuinely guilty for my decisions, and that alone is a triumph. Morality is a notoriously hard concept to effectively implement, but Mass Effect 3 offers one of the best attempts on the market.
Thankfully, Bioware’s third-person shooter gameplay is just as refined as the story. Mass Effect 1 was heavily based on role-playing, and seemed to tack on a shooter. Mass Effect 2 became a heavy third-person shooter with very light RPG elements. ME3 has finally hit the sweet spot, allowing significant player customization while offering some of the most refined shooter mechanics in the industry. This is gameplay as it should be…no blatant problems or little annoyances interfering with the immersion you experience as you live Shepard’s story. The AI is smart, and will more than happily flank you and punish you for attempting to stay behind the same piece of cover. The Reaper race is especially brutal, combining ridiculously powerful long-range attacks and multiple fast melee units, which work together to frustrate you in the best possible way. Thankfully ME3 offers multiple class types for you to play as, all with very distinct styles of play. You might be an expert sniper who cloaks in the background, or you might be a vicious Vanguard who literally fights face-to-face. Your squad mates are smart and actually helpful in eliminating enemies, and you can choose a squad with abilities to complement your own. All these firefights take place in stunningly beautiful locales, each with their own style of architecture, backdrops, etc. Mass Effect 1 had a horrible reputation for recycling the same areas, and Bioware has fixed that issue so wonderfully it’s hard to remember the bleak tunnels of ME1 ever existed. The soundtrack is fittingly epic in scope and serves its purpose of adding to every scene of the game, both in the pounding bass of a firefight to the tender quiet moments of romance. It’s worth noting that other games will be lauded for perfecting just one of these areas of gameplay or customization…Mass Effect takes them and works every single one of them in so beautifully most reviews forget to note how much Mass Effect 3 simply does right. And that’s the best praise I can give…there’s not a single part of Mass Effect 3 which sticks out in a bad way to soil the experience.
Except possibly the ending. I couldn’t go the whole review without at least bringing up this ridiculously controversial issue. I’ll do the best I can to be spoiler free here, but feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you want to be a real ending virgin. I didn’t find myself agreeing with the ranting naysayers who were more than happy to tell people to never play the series because of how “horrendous and ****** awful” it was. My real complaint with the ending was that it simply wasnt’…..enough. For those of us who have invested over 100 hours of our time into crafting our own unique world, the lack of any personalized closure was a large letdown. Remaining spoiler-free, just know that no matter how you play the game, you have 3 potential options of endings that will be that way no matter how you played. I can see the problem here. I do wonder how Bioware didn’t see it. In Bioware’s defense, however, I do feel like your personalized world shines through the duration of the game so well, that the lack of choice in the end didn’t really kill it all for me. In fact, the daring direction Bioware decided to go with the ending was both unique and fascinating, and it was sad that so many people failed to see that. Bioware did rectify some of the issue by offering a new “extended cut” ending that extended the ending significantly, giving players a bit more of the personalized ending to their universe that they craved. And kudos to Bioware for that.
When Bioware first announced they were adding multiplayer, I can admit I was aghast and upset. Multiplayer has no business in this world that celebrates how wonderful and rich a single-player experience can be. How surprised (and happy) I was to be proven wrong. Bioware’s multiplayer is strictly co-op, and the lack of competitive multiplayer is part of what I think makes it work. The multiplayer is essentially a version of Gears’ Horde mode and Halo’s Firefight mode. However, Bioware very smartly twisted the formula by adding one element: loot. Every match brings you closer to unlocking a potentially better weapon or armor than you currently have, and this simple addition is wickedly addictive. After playing it, I’m honestly surprised no one else has thought to add this to their Horde mode variant. The multiplayer is a surprisingly pleasant distraction from the main 7-course feast that is singleplayer, and I’m proud of Bioware for leaving it as such.
Ending aside, Mass Effect 3, and indeed the whole Mass Effect trilogy, will stand the test of time as some of the best work the video game industry will ever put out. Bioware has shown the world that video games can be something more…something that easily rivals the spectacle of a movie and matches the rapt attention to detail of an expertly-crafted novel, and manages to wrap it all in a package that’s simply a joy to play. Do yourself a favor and pick up Mass Effect 1, and allow yourself to vanish into being your Commander Shepard through three amazing experiences. It’s a game like Mass Effect 3 that makes me proud to raise my head and tell the world that I’m a gamer.