Written by Lee Clifford
Holy crap the review is finally done! Sorry to take so long folks, I could use excuses like work, how I was waiting for my collector’s edition to finally get to me and had just been plugging away on regular edition etc etc, my real only excuse is that I have been absolutely submerged in this game.
I’m actually kinda glad I haven’t gotten a review done yet because I also want to put my two cents in on a few elements of the game that have become hot topics of conversation throughout the interwebs in the 11 days since Commander Shepard’s latest call to duty hit consoles and gaming PCs everywhere.
Everyone who has played Mass Effect already knows the tale, but to any gamers who have denied themselves this amazing franchise, here’s the rundown: Big, evil purple robots called Reapers are aiming to destroy all life in the galaxy and it’s up to Commander Shepard, whom the player controls, to face the looming menace. On top of not only having to fight this threat, the player must also convince the other races of the galaxy, who would prefer to just be in denial, of the horrors that are coming for them.
Mass Effect 3 is, obviously, the third part of this story, and not only do the other races of the galaxy now believe in the Reapers, but are facing the terror of knowing that this machine race from light years away has arrived and their mission doesn’t show room for mercy. Shepard is back on Earth, in Vancouver, waiting for his trial (varying from court-marshelling or potential re-instatement depending on decisions made from previous games) as the Reapers swarm in, taking major cities around the globe within minutes and leaving few to no survivors.
Shepard must once again gather a crew and take the fight to the Reapers while building an army that can fight back against extinction, and like always, in Mass Effect you’re free to do it your way.
The game handles nearly identically to Mass Effect 2, though feeling even more streamlined and simplified; much to shared joy and disdain from different sects of gamers. The game does feel more like it has strayed from it’s action RPG roots and has become a full-blown third person shooter with RPG elements. I personally prefer the RPG feel of old, but I can see what they’re going for in ME3, and just because I personally don’t prefer it doesn’t make it bad.
If anything, it works really well.
Fans of Gears of War and the like will feel right at home for the most part, running, shooting and ducking behind cover in heated firefights being a very large portion of the game. Hot-keyed special abilities are still there for on-the-fly change-ups in combat, but for the most part, depending on what class type the player chooses, the gameplay at its core is a run and gun shooter.
Something I do like with the streamlined gameplay is the integration of Kinect. I know Kinect is still a very divided topic amongst gamers but I still think it’s a great device and love mine just as much as I did when I first reviewed it. Whether you love or hate Kinect, though, everyone should try the voice commands in the gameplay. If players felt the system of stopping the action, pulling up an abilities wheel, selecting the abilities then continuing killed the momentum of heated combat, then they will love the simplicity of saying the name of which squad mate you want to perform an action, which action you want them to perform, and it’s done. This keeps the pace seamless and is even a lot of fun, making those intense battles even more cinematic as the gamer becomes a part of the battle now in more than just pushing buttons and sticks. The voice commands in conversations maybe don’t contain the same novelty, but if I want to sit back and nurse my drink and leave my controller beside me while going through dialogue sequences, I can do that now and it is pretty neat.
Mass Effect has always had great graphics for its time, and ME3 holds true to that claim. The characters and locales look better than ever, capturing realistic nuances while avoiding the stereotypical “everything HD should be brown” cliche that most games running on the Unreal engine deal with.
What makes this game stunning to look at is that everything isn’t beautiful. This is a time of not just war, but nigh extinction for the sentient races of the galaxy, places are destroyed, people are worried and wounded, and it shows. Sometimes the game does suffer from characters having void eyes and staring into space as they speak to your character, but other times the emotion in the faces truly ignite something in the player. Tears are still not something that’s been perfected by game graphic designers, but many times the sheer anguish in the faces of Shepard and co. as well as the people they come across sincerely tugged at the heart strings, and there was a few instances where I felt a little extra water in the corner of the eyes. Facial expressions still aren’t perfect, but ME3′s designers worked brilliantly with what they had and delivered the emotional experience very well in this outing.
As I stated above, the worlds are also done with breathtaking execution. Setting foot on an alien world, attempting to come aid the people in their fight against the Reapers, only to see it demolished and barely holding together was chilling and, on the first play through, may even genuinely cause the player to stop and take in what’s happening, literally stunning them momentarily. On the opposite side of the coin, regions and space stations untouched yet by war are gorgeous to behold and still offer a lot of “wow” moments. One of my fondest memories of ME2 was walking slowly down a dark hall of a sleazy night club on a space station run by crime lords, just to be blown away as the doors slid open and the grandeur that was Afterlife sucked me in. It was one of my first real “wow” moments of the current generation of consoles, and though re-enacting it at the night club Pergatory on the Citadel station wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring, the locations untouched by war still pull the gamer in and make them feel like they have truly found a brief reprieve from the chaos.
The voice acting, as always, is amazing in Mass Effect 3. The returning cast reprise their roles as the characters you’ve come to know and love from the previous titles deliver some of the strongest performances I’ve heard in a game to date; the characters have also grown over the years of this story and it shows, and the voice actors have captured those developments and that growth and executed at a level that any game designer should be proud of.
The music, my God the music. For a franchise with no official theme song, I don’t know how there’s consistently such brilliant music. When gamers hear “Mass Effect” they usually associate it with that weird, warbly flanged sound that accompanies the title screen. The lack of a true theme song can be detrimental, but the other side of the sword is that with no true theme song it provides composers limitless creativity, making all the music unique in their own ways, delivering an even more immersive, emotional experience. Just about every gamer has now seen the opening of Mass Effect 3 and felt the emotional impact it leaves, if not, check it out.
Warning: contains spoilers. If you have not yet played the game and intend to, them don’t watch
This is the power of music. The imagery and environment that’s been built provoke emotional responses, but the haunting music played over what happens is what brings the tear to your eye.
And that’s in the first 10 minutes of the game!
The music is powerful and fits every situation perfectly, from heroic battle anthems and blood-freezing songs of sorrow; the addition the roar of the Reapers,, worked in similar to the music scheme of the first Terminator movie where the low hum of the machines accompanied the music, also built on the gravity of the situations and was used perfectly, giving the Reapers a truly terrifying presence.
Mass Effect finally has multiplayer! the jokes have been made around the web how the multiplayer is very much just horde mode from Gears of War, but it’s still a nice addition, and integrating it to work with the standalone campaign was a cool touch. If you’ve ever played a horde mode then this will come easy enough to you, add in some RPG skill trees and it’s a fun, but fairly stock experience.
What I liked
Top of the list, the emotion-evoking music and a brilliant story with great characters, all told and presented at possibly the best we’ve seen in North American gaming to date. I liked how decisions made even as far back as the first game, including downloadable content, was incorporated into this one, providing closure for the loose ends and bringing the side stories full circle. The little robot dog you get with the collectors edition is also pretty funny and watching her waddle around scanning stuff makes me chuckle. Lastly, that the player can tell this story any way they want; the player can make their character their own, from personality type, decisions, priorities even gender and sexual orientation are all open for any gamer to create anyone and play it however they want.
What I would change
By now a lot of people have read the rantings and ravings about how the ending sucks and blah blah blah now I’m not here to start arguments. I do agree that the endings leave a little to be desired, but it is a closure to the story that fits. Like most games with decision-making elements, some elements of the ending will differ depending on how the gamer plays out the story, and while I admit that none of the endings made me stand up and applaud, I wouldn’t say the endings are worth the outrage some gamers are making them out to be. The closure of Shepard’s tale could have been more memorable, but I’d say the ending is more a victim of a great story ahead of it and it can’t keep up.
I also wasn’t very keen on the quest-log system, it felt like it took a bit of a step backwards from the previous two titles.
And, I’m sorry if I take away from their threatening presence, but why do the Reapers look like big, purple robot shrimp?
This game so far is my go-to for Game of the Year. Yes we’re still early in the year, but Mass Effect 3 is setting a very high bar. Is it flawless? No, but Skyrim had a lot of problems and a lacklustre ending too and we all love it. The only true thing holding this game back from being one of the greatest games of this generation is the consumer backlash about diluted endings, and though I don’t side with whiners, I can appreciate how some people may want a bigger payout after becoming so emotionally invested in a story for the last five or so years. This game was the closing to a story that totalled nine years in the making, and it was a hell of a ride; my only lament is that the story of Commander Shepard has come to a close, for better or worse. I don’t see how Bioware could possibly top the Mass Effect story, but I sure hope they find a way.