Formats: Xbox 360 (Tested) | Playstation 3 | PC
Release Date: 9th March 2012 (Out Now)
Over the last five years we’ve been treated to the unfolding beauty of the Mass Effect universe. From the wonders of the Citadel to the gritty and crime riddled halls of Omega, we’ve explored the world of Mass Effect in immense detail. Now with two games behind us and the finale upon us, we have one final mission to set out on to complete the story of our many different versions of Commander Shepard.
Mass Effect 3 has been through a noteworthy amount of controversy up to its release and you’d be forgiven for a certain amount of concern over the path Bioware have taken with the game. The addition of Multiplayer was one point of debate, with many fans feeling it had no place in the game. Another grating aspect of the build up to the release was the number of action oriented trailers set on Earth that we have seen. The purpose of this odd kind of misrepresentation may be to draw in new audiences but it established a very unfamiliar image of the game for those who already love the franchise. Happily, I can report that Mass Effect 3 is very much in the spirit of its predecessors and that the multiplayer is actually a superb addition to the game.
There is one thing I’d like to suggest before we continue. Advertising for Mass Effect 3 has regularly commented that this is the game to start with if you’re new to the franchise. This is completely untrue. Mass Effect uses the decisions you make in each game in the series to determine many events in the following games and if you were to skip the first two titles you’d not only be missing out on two superb games but you’d also be passing up a chance to experience the trilogy as it was intended- a non-linear and interconnected narrative.
Mass Effect 3 has a titanic opening; two games of build up and impending threat unleash in an explosive thirty minute introduction that’ll leave you breathless. The opening also goes a long way towards demonstrating the emotional depth this game has to offer. From its earliest moments Mass Effect 3 sets out to dazzle and to touch its audience in a powerful way.
The gameplay of Mass Effect 3 is superior to the first two games in almost every way. Those who miss the complexity of the level up system in the first game won’t be getting quite so many stats to tweak but there’s a lot more variety in character development here than in Mass Effect 2 and the options available to you have a much greater effect on gameplay than ever before.
The enemies are also impressively varied here, from the organised high tech Cerberus forces to the monstrous Reaper ground troops. Each type of enemy takes a different strategy to face and the many foes will interact with each other in a great number of ways including providing defensive buffs or regenerating from the corpses of their fallen comrades.
Weapons and armour have also received an impressive amount of attention in this game. After the sometimes overcomplicated inventory in Mass Effect 1 and the disappointing selection in Mass Effect 2, the third instalment manages a perfect balance. There are plenty of weapons and armour pieces to try out and each weapon is unique. On top of this there are the weapon mods which have a sizable impact on how each tool of war operates.
One of the best additions to the new inventory system is a weight stat. Each weapon weighs a certain amount and the more your equipment weighs the longer your power recharge times become. Unlike the second game, you can use any weapon you want no matter what your class is, making your weight the only limiting factor when outfitting your Shepard. This is a great system that puts all of the choice in the hands of the player. Balancing your arsenal against your power recharge speed is incredibly satisfying and experimenting with different setups can be a lot of fun.
The narrative of Mass Effect 3 is nothing short of colossus. With two games behind it Mass Effect 3 sets out to resolve all of the vast narrative threads already established without the hindrance of having to set up new ones. Immense alliances will be forged and age old conflicts will be resolved by your actions and the story will be heavily influenced by the choices you made in the first two games.
The story is superbly paced and the dialogue of friends old and new is excellently written as always. The plot has at least two incredibly cathartic moments that serve as exclamation points on some of the deeply involving plotlines that have been running through over one hundred and fifty hours of gameplay. Naturally there are some plot elements missing that some would have liked to have seen but ultimately the story of Mass Effect 3 delivers in almost every way that matters. Except one.
Sadly, Bioware’s triumph hides an ugly blemish beyond all of the otherwise excellent qualities it offers. The narrative, which is filled to the brim with emotionally and intellectually stimulating moments, leads to a strange and disconnected ending that doesn’t live up to the grandeur of the story up to that point. Suffice to say that the end has raised a stir and to avoid spoilers I would recommend avoiding the topic and making a judgement for yourself when you finish the game. That, by the way, is something you absolutely must do- don’t let the discontent around the ending put you off of this game, it is otherwise superb.
Once you’ve finished the singleplayer campaign there is the multiplayer to get stuck into. This takes the form of a co-op struggle with three other players against waves of enemies. The combat works a lot like the singleplayer action only with a little extra difficulty packed on. There are six classes to play as and four characters within each class. These characters are levelled up as you play and you can select powers and skills as you do in singleplayer. You can also choose weapons and mods for your characters with the added restriction of only being able to carry two weapons.
A particularly excellent quality of the multiplayer is the unlock system. Rather than relying on the tried and true system of unlock by level up used by certain other online shooters, Mass Effect 3 uses a method more akin to that of a collectable trading card game. Rather than unlock weapons and items at specific points, the player earns credits which can be spent on packs. These packs escalate in quality and price, with more expensive packs containing better and rarer items (which can range from powerful weapons to new characters). This system is nothing short of genius and it makes every unlock exciting as you hope for that particular item you’ve been waiting for.
If there is one issue with the multiplayer it is the heavily advertised link to the singleplayer galaxy at war system. If you’d rather have your success or failure in the story depend exclusively on the merits of your actions throughout the three games then you may feel inclined to leave the multiplayer until after you’ve finished the game. It’s irritating that this is an issue at all and the option to disconnect your multiplayer activities from the singleplayer game would have been very welcome.
Altogether Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic package. The game ties up five years of narrative development and escalation into one of the most climactic experiences in recent memory. As an evolution of interactive non-linear narrative it is a grand achievement that pushes the envelope in terms of what we should expect from our game stories. By successfully bringing together the narrative strands (which are influenced by player choice) from the first two games and entwining them into a superb set of epic moments, Bioware have expanded the boundaries of the medium as a source of great stories. It is a shame that the ending feels so inappropriate in the context of this triumph but ultimately this is just one, if somewhat central, flaw. Mass Effect, as a series, is something you simply must experience if you’re a fan of gaming, science fiction or just great stories.