Shepard. John Shepard. Designated N7 and has a License to Kill. He may not be Sean Connery, but it isn’t too much of a stretch to see him as the 22nd Century equivalent, given his uncanny knack for being successful no matter the odds, as well as his ability with the ladies, if you know what I mean. *wink* Even still, that wouldn’t quite be a fair comparison. Shepard is so much more. A loyal soldier, a strong leader, humble, pragmatic, determined...the list of qualities that make up the hero of BioWare’s space epic goes on and on. Naturally, that list is completely dynamic, as those who’ve played the previous games can attest. The choices one can make is one of the highlights of the entire franchise, and also a feature brought into question with this third (and Shepard’s final) entry...
Mass Effect 3 wraps up Shepard’s tale, something that BioWare has been promising since the first Mass Effect graced our consoles back in 2007. We knew walking in that this would be the last we see of our favorite space-faring hero. All the events of the last two games have been leading up to this. In Mass Effect, we find ourselves defending the entire galaxy from a rogue Spectre (Saren) and his Geth army, a race of seemingly ruthless, sentient robots. Along the way, we not only get to dig through the deep fiction that BioWare has created and learn about ancient Protheans, but also about the Reapers, a galactic threat that, while haunting us in the shadows for the first two chapters, ends up being the crux of Shepard’s entire story. The first two games were the build up, setting the stage for galactic invasion, and Mass Effect 3 is the final battle, where only two choices remain for all sentient life: Win, or die.
"...the storytelling itself, the more refined combat, the voicework, the visuals, et all, stand as a fine example of some of the best this industry has to offer, and with my minor complaints aside, there’s no doubt that Mass Effect 3 will be deservedly at the top of everyone’s list come this year’s award season."
Things begin with the Reaper invasion of Earth. Shepard is still being detained after his run with Cerberus. As the Reapers launch their offensive, the Alliance reinstates him, and sends him off to the Citadel for help. If anyone plans to survive the Reaper invasion, it’ll take the combined effort of all species within the galaxy. Naturally, few will just jump right in to aid humanity. Politics, long running feuds, and many other factors come into play, and Shepard will have to jump through many hoops to get everyone on the same page. Along the way, they discover plans for a Prothean super weapon that may be the galaxy’s only hope in winning the war against the Reapers.
That’s essentially it. The vast majority of the game will see Shepard and crew (many returning from the previous games, along with a few new faces) galavanting around the galaxy, fulfilling various requests in order to gain the much needed military support, and the assistance needed in building the aforementioned Prothean weapon. For example, the Turians won’t do anything until their home planet is secured (as it’s under attack by the Reapers as well). In order to make that happen, you’ll have to enlist the help of the Krogans. Of course, they have their own priorities and won’t play ball until their needs are met. Naturally, not all missions are major, layered plot points. Sheppard will be able to drive up support for the cause through all sorts of actions, be it from minor quests like saving a group of biotic students from a Cerberus attack on their school, quelling minor arguments among the citizens of the Citadel, or just exploring the planets in the various systems of the galaxy.
This leads to one of the primary components of the entire series: Choice. Helping the Krogans will hurt your support coming from the Salarians, and vice versa. These major decisions are scattered all about the entire journey, and will have long reaching effects on how the interactions with each species will play out. This lies on top of the typical good guy vs bad guys decisions (Paragon vs Renegade). Sadly, because this is the final romp for the Commander, each decision doesn’t quite feel like it has the same long term oomph that they did in the previous entries. Make no mistake, each one does make an impact, but in the end, everything culminates to a single point, and those decisions didn’t seem all that relevant by that point.
Working against Shepard every step of the way is Cerberus. The pro-humanity terrorist organization have a very different view on how to handle the Reaper threat, and they become a constant thorn in your side throughout the entire game. It turns out to be a beautiful spectacle to behold, watching the two story threads interweave back and forth leading into the finale. Given the sheer volume of threads the series has opened up, it must have been an incredible challenge to tie them all up here. But tie them up they did, and admirably so...as well as to a fault. The narrative here is the best it has ever been, seeing old beefs put to rest, and putting Shepard in some very difficult situations. The dialog just as strong, offering many poignant moments showing what kind of effect the invasion is having on everyone, both with the primary personalities you have grown to know and love over the course of the series, as well as the random no-name citizen. Loss of loved ones, displaced families, care for the wounded, among other situations, BioWare did a great job imparting the personal impact the Reaper devastation is having, not just on humanity, but on every species in the galaxy.
As I said, tying up all the loose ends must have been a tough prospect during the design phase, and even though they did a fine job of it, there are some adverse effects. Many times I found myself feeling more like I was going through the motions, completing long-running story threads rather than experiencing a new adventure. While it was nice to carry them to their conclusion, and seeing a whole new side to the Geth was a real treat, each one still felt less like an organic resolution and more like I was completing some sort of end-game checklist.
If the action-focused mechanics of Mass Effect 2 was more up your alley, you’ll feel right at home here. Everything has been refined even further, and controlling your Shep is silkier than ever before. Mass Effect 3 plays like a true third-person shooter, for the most part, with smoother sprinting, a more refined cover system, and combat rolling. Five different weapon classes with many different options therein, including mods, and a ton of different armor pieces and full sets, lets players approach their battles however they see fit. Small arms and biotics, heavy weapon tanks, roguish snipers, or the more well rounded assault approach, all are equally effective, provided you balance it out with a proper team.
Speaking of your team, the AI is also the best it has ever been in the series. Enemies will flank and use cover intelligently, and your squad is competent enough to not need any direction at all, although that option is there for those who want to be a bit more in control. Those of you who don’t want to bother with any of it and just want to experience the blockbuster popcorn epic the narrative provides can do so as well, just by going with the ‘Story’ difficulty.
New to the franchise is a co-op component called Galaxy at War. Essentially it boils down to the typical horde mode we are all familiar with, but completing these missions (with up to three of your friends) can impact the single player campaign. Successfully finishing these missions gains war assets in each of the different quadrants of the galaxy, which in turn makes the force against the Reapers that much stronger in the final showdown at the end of the single player campaign. In all it’s a fun diversion to partake in when needing a break from the main story. Fun doesn’t mean necessary though, and I found that to be the case here. While it is enjoyable, I wasn’t all that compelled to jump in. Mass Effect still feels like a solo affair, regardless of the multiplay offerings. Fortunately, it isn’t a bad offering, as so many other games are guilty of shoe-horning in.
The visuals in Mass Effect 3 also saw a pleasant uptick, bringing some of the most beautiful eye candy of any game currently on the market. Facial animations are well done, environments look fantastic, if not repetitive at times, and are well detailed. The voice cast were also on the mark, providing performances that should have no trouble securing spots in the upcoming award season. Heartfelt conversations and emotional tales are audibly painted with ease, taking the fine scriptwork and bringing it to life. Another new feature to the series is Kinect support, allowing players to vocally participate in the dialog tree, as well as issuing combat commands. At first glance it may seem like a bit of a novelty, but once you discover just how responsive and natural it is, you’ll find yourself talking to your TV in time. BioWare seems to have mastered the audio portion of Kinect just as well as Harmonix has mastered the body sensing part.
I actually didn’t start my review session until just after the backlash about the end of the game began. And while I can now see why that segment of fans was so upset, I can’t say I’m apart of that crowd. It does indeed feel like my decisions really didn’t matter once it was all said and done. However, I fully expected the game to end the way it did. You could see it coming all the way back in the first game, and I applaud BioWare for following through, issuing a finale that most developers simply won’t do. Mass Effect 3 isn’t perfect. The primary objective of bringing everyone together for the battle against the Reapers became tedious at times, and the smaller bits of content such as the side quests and planet scanning wore thin after awhile, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of them arrive in bite-sized chunks. The multiplayer, while a solid mode in itself, still didn’t seem all that necessary to have. And since it spends the entire time tying up loose ends, there’s little real “meat” to be found. It does a great job of fleshing out the existing storylines though, especially in the case of the Geth, but unless you are already invested by playing through the first two games, there’s little here that will get you on board. With that said, the storytelling itself, the more refined combat, the voicework, the visuals, et all, stand as a fine example of some of the best this industry has to offer, and with my minor complaints aside, there’s no doubt that Mass Effect 3 will be deservedly at the top of everyone’s list come this year’s award season. I’m looking forward to seeing where BioWare will take us when the next adventure in the Mass Effect universe kicks off.
Release date : 2012-03-06
Publisher : Electronic Arts
Developer : BioWare
Gameplay : Action-RPG
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