Mass Effect 3 Review
It really doesn't seem that long ago that BioWare's Mass Effect took the Xbox world by storm. The action RPG starring Commander Shepard captured the imaginations of millions, and the sequel that followed further cemented Mass Effect's place among the all-time greatest sci-fi properties. Personally, I feel Shepard could best Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker on any given day, but I'd be afraid of the Jedi/Vulcan retaliation that would come from such a statement. Anyhow, it's been years since gamers started Shepard's story and now, with the release of Mass Effect 3, we finally have a chance to finish his or her fight. I know that Mass Effect fans will probably pick up this trilogy-capping game no matter what I have to say, but lucky for them (and me), Mass Effect 3 is a masterful RPG and one that deserves to be on every gamer's shelf (yes, even you PS3 owners who missed out on part one need this title).
Author's Note: You've no doubt heard the fan uproar concerning Mass Effect 3's ending. Rest assured; this review will only contain the smallest of spoilers and won't give away whatever ending you may end up earning. When you do finally finish, let us know what you thought of the ending in our comments section. Try and keep the swear words to a minimum, people!
Mass Effect 3 picks up Shepard's story right where it left off in part two, with the Reapers headed for planet Earth. Reapers, you see, are kind of like a reset button for the universe; every 50,000 years they show up, wipe out all life and wait for civilizations to rebuild before repeating the process. Jerks, right? Well, as the Reapers begin their attack on Planet Earth, Shepard is forced to leave to unite the races at the Citadel (the center of government for the entire universe) for the fight. This sequence is one of Mass Effect 3's few missteps. We have been building to the Reaper invasion since all of us started Mass Effect all those years ago, and to see the attack shortened into what is essentially a 20-minute long on-rails tutorial is a MASSIVE slap in the face. I said no spoilers and I meant it, but if you have, for any reason, been looking forward to seeing the Reapers descend on the planet we call home, get ready to be let down. What is supposed to be a global invasion comes off as a few errant explosions and an emotional "cheap shot" civilian death. Not cool.
Thankfully, Mass Effect 3's major story problems evaporate after the missed opportunity on Earth. Shepard is tasked with uniting the races of the Citadel for a battle with the Reapers, and this overarching task feels very similar to the way part two was set up. You'll be jumping from system to system, completing diplomatic tasks to bring more alien races into the fold, much like you recruited allies and gained loyalty in Mass Effect 2. The setup worked great then and it works great now, though this latest chapter has a tendency to be a little inconsistent, with side quests sometimes disappearing from your Codex for no reason, other side quests don't register properly (some quests are introduced by overhearing conversations on the Citadel and they register, oh, about half the time. Annoying.) and the Codex overall just doesn't feel as polished. And speaking of side quests, there don't seem to be anywhere near as many as part two, but thankfully not as many as part one, which featured side-quests so mind-numbing, they made playing Lair look like fun (remember that game?!). Before Shepard makes his or her final stand against the Reapers, you'll have visited and (somewhat) wrapped up every tale in the universe, from the Rachni races' fate to the survival of the Krogan race through viable females, and these stories are among the best ever told not only in just a game, but overall. BioWare has spent the better part of a decade carefully crafting this sci-fi universe, and the final payoff for these races and characters is something that must be experienced, regardless of how you may feel about how BioWare chose to end Shepard's tale. And yes, some of you are going to be mad. Deal with it.
When viewed through its gameplay mechanics, Mass Effect was the closest to a "true" RPG as the series ever got, with a ton of emphasis on gear, equipment and levels. Mass Effect 2 (brilliantly) streamlined all that stuff into a simpler equipment system, and the result was closer to a third-person shooter than a true RPG. As you know, gamers are never happy, so BioWare went with a mix of the RPG elements of part one with the action of part two to create the most complete Mass Effect game yet. They took this even a step further, by allowing players to choose whether they want a more traditional RPG experience, a faster-paced shooter without the equip headaches or a healthy mix of both. Add this to the steps BioWare has already taken to bring PS3 gamers into the fold and you've got an extremely ambitious game that somehow manages to succeed on every single level.
And speaking of ambitious, Mass Effect 3's Galaxy At War system is an enormous undertaking with a somewhat bittersweet result. Galaxy At War serves as kind of a bean counter on how much Mass Effect you have let into your cerebral cortex. By completing tasks, players can add to their "Galactic Readiness," which measures how well the final battle with the Reapers will go. Adding to your "readiness" comes in a few forms, from entering special codes online to playing and completing Mass Effect: Infiltrator, the iOS Mass Effect spin-off shooter. Thankfully, your "readiness" can be maxed out in-game without ever going to the Galaxy At War stuff, but having the option to branch out is nice (and the iOS game is actually pretty good).
In true "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" fashion, BioWare has also included a (groan) multiplayer co-op mode in Mass Effect 3. WHY?!? After so many other single player titles learned the same hard lesson? Dead Space 2? Metroid Prime 2: Echoes? Multiplayer makes even less sense here in the Mass Effect universe than it did in any of those trainwrecks; Commander Shepard is a character we created, each and every one of us, and one we've guided and grown with over nearly 150 hours of gameplay over a decade or so. For many, our Commander Shepard IS us, and the Mass Effect series, even with its over-the-top sci-fi grandeur, is one of the most personally touching and emotionally moving experiences we will ever get from entertainment media. So how does that translate into thousands of nameless, faceless automatons blasting away and crying racist and sexist epithets over Xbox Live? It doesn't, not even a little bit. For all the folks upset of the game's ending, I urge you to place your outrage where it belongs: on the inclusion of a silly, nonsensical multiplayer component that was only unnecessary, but somehow detracts from the single player by virtue of its very existence. If BioWare had released two versions of Mass Effect 3 - one at the regular retail price of $59.99 and a special edition - the exact same game with multiplayer excluded - for $999.99, I would have been putting off finishing up this trilogy until I saved up that thousand dollars. Seriously. Not every game needs multiplayer, and developers who continue to shoehorn it into their games should be catcalled and booed until my throat (or typing finger) is sore.
For anyone who was lucky enough to play the first two parts of this trilogy, Mass Effect 3 is a no-brainer. Not playing this game is akin to leaving one of your favorite books half-read, unfinished and unloved. Even those with a passing interest will be enthralled with Commander Shepard's final hours and the fate of our universe, so much so I'm even recommending part three to the PS3 owners who never truly got to experience part one of this groundbreaking series.
Final Rating: 94%. No matter your feelings on how things turn out in the end or the addition of multiplayer, Mass Effect 3 is the trilogy-capper we've been waiting for, and its an experience that can easily be recommended to nearly anyone.