Mass Effect 3 Review (PC/PS3/360)

March 15, 2012

PC, PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Few game series have had such an incredible impact on the gaming industry as Bioware’s Mass Effect series. The unique blend of third-person shooter action, RPG elements, and interactive storytelling is unlike anything we’ve seen this generation. The second game in the series, Mass Effect 2, refined on the first’s rough-around-the-edges gameplay elements to promote faster-paced action, more mobility in combat, and a step up in personal storytelling. The multitude of DLC packs released only added to the universe’s depth and personality, and helped set the stage for the inevitable final conflict. It’s no surprise that the company’s third and final entry in the series, Mass Effect 3, has such high expectations. When a game is considered the best, its strongest competition is its past iterations. So the big question is, has Bioware surpassed itself with an example of gaming perfection, or have the previous games set the finale up for failure?

Story: 4/5

The final entry in the Mass Effect 3 trilogy represents the culmination of all of Shepard’s efforts in the first two games. The Reapers, sentient starships who harvest or destroy all organic life every 50,000 years, are about to invade, and Shepard has the daunting task of uniting all of the races of the galaxy to fight this massive threat. Along the way, Shepard will unite with old friends, and reach out to the leaders of the galaxy to put old grudges aside to come together as a single united force. However, the best elements of Mass Effect 3’s story aren’t necessarily the bigger ones, but the smaller situations you find yourself in. These personal moments define Mass Effect 3’s emotional delivery, and are played out better than most Summer blockbusters. It’s also these smaller arcs that build on your purpose in the game, acting as a means to unite the different races of the galaxy against the Reapers. Mass Effect 3 is more of a personal journey than any previous installment, and Shepard will have to rely on his friends and allies to keep him focused while facing possible galactic extinction. It’s these moments that make the story extremely personal, and help to show Shepard’s Human side. He’s not just a legendary soldier, but an ordinary Human as well, with his own fears, convictions, and vulnerabilities. Shepard learns to lean on his friends to keep these fears at bay, and never give up his fight for the galaxy.

The only sour note in the game’s story is the way that it ends. I won’t spoil anything, but at this point it’s just about impossible to visit a forum or gaming site and not hear about Bioware taking flak over the game’s ending. Despite this, the game’s story is excellently done, and the final 15 minutes aren’t enough to ruin it. If anything, you will be able to make your own judgements about how the game ends, and when the fight is truly over.

Gameplay: 5/5

Mass Effect 3 presents the purest, most refined mechanics in the series to date. The team at Bioware has taken cues from Gears of War, the third person shooter every other is destined to be compared to, and improved the player’s mobility around the battlefield to promote a more believable, fast-paced system of combat. Shepard can now perform combat rolls, vault over cover immediately, and turn corners without leaving the safety of the wall you’re behind. Players can now blindfire out of cover as well; by simply pressing the fire button, Shepard will lean out slightly and take shots at your crosshair, which is now always visible outside of aiming. It presents a safer option when your shields are down, allowing you to lay down suppressing fire without fully exposing yourself. This helps do away with the “shoot, lose shields, stay in cover until they recharge, repeat” mentality of the first two games. Most classes also have access to unique Grenade powers; these babies pack a punch and sometimes have unique effects, such as clustering into several grenades on landing or lifting your opponents in the air in a biotic blast. Like thermal clips, you’re limited by how many you can carry at once, and can refill your numbers by finding more grenades in the field.

A key element in this installment is the refinement of melee combat. It’s no longer a last-ditch move when your clip empties and enemies are closing in, but rather a viable method of combat for dispatching your foes. Each of the game’s six classes has access to a unique melee attack, with some boasting unique effects (such as flame or electrical properties). You can also sneak up on enemies on the other side of your cover and perform a grabbing assassination for an instant kill. Mashing on the melee button also allows you to perform a three-hit combo, which is usually enough to wound or kill all but the largest of enemies.

Bioware hasn’t forgotten about the guns, though; the weapon system has been completely overhauled, with several new weapons in each of the five categories for players to experiment with. Each weapon feels unique and has a purpose; for example, the Carnifex hand cannon is no longer a clear upgrade to the Predator pistol you start the game with. While the Carnifex does pack a much bigger punch, its slow rate of fire means that the Predator wins in longer fire-fights where Shepard can lay down a lot of shots over time. Many different weapons behave differently as well, ensuring that every player will find his or her niche gun collection to use each mission. Players can also fit their weapons with up to two attachments with varying effects, from increasing damage and penetrating power to improved accuracy and ammo capacity. All classes now have access to all weapon categories as well. Want to play an adept with a heavy shotgun? Go ahead! You have the freedom to customize your loadout however you see fit. In order to balance this new choice, every weapon has a “weight” rating, which contributes to an overall weight score. The heavier the weapons you’re carrying, the less frequently you’re able to use your powers. It presents an interesting dynamic that lets players decide their balance between using weapons and powers, and opens up a lot of possibilities for character building. Whereas a Soldier who wants to focus on damage might load up on weapons and use his powers less frequently, a survival-focused Soldier can pick lighter weapons and make frequent use of defensive powers to take the heat for the squad.

Speaking of character builds, the third game plays host to the most refined RPG elements seen in the series so far. Whereas the first game had a lot of abilities available with little substance to some of them, and Mass Effect 2 had more focused but fewer options, Mass Effect 3 finds a happy medium between the two. Classes have access to more abilities with meaningful impact on their gameplay experience. All powers have more ranks and customization options as well; ranks 4-6 of a power now have branching paths, allowing the player to specialize their powers or cover all the bases to be ready for any situation. All classes also have access to the “Fitness” power, which enhances their melee damage and health/shield strength, essentially allowing any class to be a hand-to-hand machine.

For the first time in Mass Effect history, the game includes a cooperative, Horde-style multiplayer mode. Players can pick from all six classes across several of the races present in the Mass Effect universe, including Humans, Krogan, Asari, Salarians, Quarians, Turians, and Drell. Each boasts their own unique abilities, so a Human Vanguard will play differently from a Drell or Asari one. Rounds play out in waves, with special objective waves at 3, 6, and 10, requiring teamwork and cooperation to succeed. Players can also face off against three different groups of enemies, including Cerberus, Geth, and Reaper enemies. Players are rewarded with experience, credits, and Galactic Readiness (which ties into the single-player campaign) based on how well they perform. Level-ups are rewarded at a brisk pace, and credits can be used to buy Equipment Packs, which contain randomly-awarded power-ups, weapons, and characters of varying rarity. This TCG-esque booster pack system is interesting, and always presents you with something new to try, ensuring the longevity of the multiplayer mode’s popularity. And it’s a lot of fun to hop into a match with a few buddies and cooperate to win.

Graphics: 5/5

Those of you who decided to play Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 were treated to an early preview of the new Mass Effect engine, but it simply doesn’t do the graphics in Mass Effect 3 justice; the game, simply put, looks pretty. Whether moving through the corridors of the Citadel, complete with reflective surface and scintillating lights, to the war-torn streets of London on Earth, the graphics are simply incomparable to previous games in the series. The most noticeable element of the new engine is the facial animation; the engine uses a new modeling system where each model has a muscular “under-layer” beneath the skin, showing realistic creases and facial movement during dialogue. Character presentation is the most realistic to date, and Mass Effect 3’s campaign will show Shepard’s full range of emotion, from elation to anger to despair and everything in-between. Though texture load issues are inevitable with the Unreal engine, these events are few and far between and shouldn’t break the player’s immersion.

Sound: 5/5

A big part of the reason Mass Effect 3 pleases on all levels is the high quality of the sound work put into the game. DICE, the studio responsible for titles such as Battlefield 3 and Mirror’s Edge, have lent their sound engineering talent to make Mass Effect 3’s sound effects more realistic than ever before. While guns still maintain that sci-fi feel that Mass Effect is known for, they have greater impact and a realistic feel that truly connects you to the weapon in Shepard’s hands. Bullets whiz past you and large, heavy rifles produce thundering noise with every pull of the trigger. The game’s soundtrack is written by Clint Mansell, and although worries were high when previous composer Jack Wall was removed for the third game, ultimately Mass Effect 3 has a unique feel compared to the first two games, and the soundtrack fits this new theme perfectly. Mansell’s ability to combine epic scale and emotional connection in his work is one of the big contributing factors to Mass Effect 3’s deep immersion. Finally, the voice work is a big step up from the previous two games. Whereas previously it was easy to find lines with out-of-place tones or flat delivery, you’ll be hard-pressed to detach the voice from the character on-screen. The stars of the show are Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale, the actors behind the male and female voices for Commander Shepard, and the extra time and care put into their roles really shows. More than ever, Shepard feels more like a personality than a character in a video game, and it’s a true accomplishment.

Overall Score: 19/20 = 9.5 out of 10


Mass Effect 3 isn’t just an amazing game – it’s a chapter in gaming culture, a Paragon of an Action RPG that other games should be measured against. Combining fluid controls, a plethora of character customization options, a deep and gripping story, and fun multiplayer content, it pleases on all fronts, and presents the final template that many other games will be compared to for years to come.

PROs:

+ Refined, intuitive controls

+ Character customization is as perfected as ever

+ Gripping story and soundtrack

+ Voice work is excellent

+ Multiplayer component is fun, and a nice break from the campaign

CONs:

– Questionable ending

SECOND OPINION

By: R17

In 2007, BioWare set a fire to the hearts of all gamers with a story so bold, mammoth and explosive that it could only be told as a trilogy. From the beginning, our hunger and yearning to explore other worlds, discover new races and ultimately preserve the peace of the galaxy was an instant captivator. Mass Effect 3 has qualities entrenched in it that make this entry one of the finest in the series. In order to understand Mass Effect 3, one must understand the past from Mass Effect 1 and 2 as your decisions affect the conclusions of your story. Your character was troubled with moral predicaments and choices to make. Every act your character made had direct or indirect ramifications on the outcome of your game. This is what the Mass Effect universe came to be about and was essential to progressing beyond each game. Your choices in the past titles continue to be felt throughout your present playthrough in ME3. Basically all your actions and choices you have made over the course of the past still hold true to the effects of the future. Mass Effect 3’s story is literally in your hands and it is up to you how you will shape the future. This is the excellence of BioWare and superior quality of gaming that we have come to love and respect them for. From the beginning of Mass Effect 1 till the end of 3, the gamer will have witnessed and played through something so complex, explosive, riveting and downright phenomenal that words can only scratch the surface of this universe.

ME3 is by far the series’ most action-packed title in the franchise. It is also worth noting that ME3 is the longest one clocking in at just around 40 hours for my first play through. Immediately, the game gets off to an apocalyptic start with a massive reaper invasion on Earth. Shepard and Captain Anderson are both thrown into a firefight, narrowly escaping with their lives. From here, the game follows a pace quicker than we have seen in previous ME titles. The threat is now realized and it has never been greater or more cataclysmic than now. The difference between Mass Effect 2 and 3 are noticeable. The plot and story have a far more focused narrative and I will explain. Instead of running countless errands for your teammates to achieve their loyalty, everything Shepard does here has a bearing on the final fight to take back Earth. Rallying forces and gathering war assets while forging allegiances will become addicting and engrossing. Combining the forces of all the diverse races and civilizations of Citadel Space together pulls you even deeper into the series. The entire mythology that Bioware has created for all of these species and their histories cannot go unnoticed, and in ME3 they delve even deeper than before. One example in the game comes when you are trying to unite the Krogans to ally with two other races that are directly responsible for a fatal genetic Krogan disease known as the Genophage. The situation becomes tense but the objective of uniting former enemies to become future allies in a war against an outside enemy that can wipe out all of their races combined makes the goal pivotal.

Visually and musically, Mass Effect 3 is an awe-inspiring production that had me captivated throughout my entire playthrough and that is one heck of a challenge to do with a game of this length. From the opening sequence on through all the major missions, the music in Mass Effect has never felt more emotional and moving as it is here. The excellent voice acting must be noted due to Bioware’s great direction and an all-star cast of actors such as Martin Sheen, Keith David and Freddy Prinze Jr. to name a few. Graphically, the improved character animations and polish really shines through, easily differentiating itself from its predecessor. Large reaper drones loom in the background releasing inconceivable damage to cities and planets, while your team traverses through their own mission, stresses the epic scale of the war. The action looks and sounds high-tech and fierce sprinkled with some grisly scenes of mass murder and chaos that all add to the visual war painted theme.

Three separate games in one profound franchise. While they were all flawed in their own ways, they were all masterpieces for distinctive reasons, coming together to tell one of gaming’s greatest and most epic stories, and making gamers feel more personally invested in the protagonist, his comrades, and their battle than any other game could. As with any game that ventures to be aspiring there are flaws, (as I stated earlier) but were few and far between to really impact the overall experience. Looking back on the entire trilogy, there were numerous flaws in the previous two as well. Taken as a whole however, this is perhaps the first truly modern epic; a game that surpasses the confines of the genre of previous games and takes what it needs from across the gaming specter in order to finish its story in the most gripping, electrifying, and touching way imaginable. Very few gaming sagas come to an absolute close, but Mass Effect closes off in stunning grace.

SECOND OPINION SCORE: 10


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About Argus9

Jonathan ‘Argus9′ Zisser has been an avid gamer for over 20 years. His early years of playing the NES with his father helped springboard his interest in gaming, and has eventually matured into an avid following for the gaming industry. Studying Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University also gave him insight into the more technical side of video games. A passionate writer as well, Jonathan loves conveying his experiences and opinions by creating engaging articles as often as possible. More often than not, he tries to break down today’s industry and write editorials that make his readers think.

View all posts by Argus9

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