MASS EFFECT 3 (2012) – BIOWARE
Yes. The ending is pretty disappointing.
I apologise for starting a review so bluntly, but it seems that whenever I have witnessed Mass Effect 3 being mentioned in conversation, it is the finale that is the immediate point of contention. Rarely has the conclusion of a game been so poorly received; Bioware were only just cleared of a ridiculous court case that claimed that the game broke advertising rules by not giving players a satisfying ending based on their playing history with the franchise. The thing is though, it’s really quite sad – because ending aside, Mass Effect 3 is an excellent game and has much to praise.
Following the events of Mass Effect 2 and the defeat of the Collectors, the final part of the trilogy begins with an almighty bang. The player once again takes control of Commander Shepard (who can be created from scratch for newcomers, or imported from previous titles save data) who is trying to convince the Human Council to take action against the incoming threat posed by the Reapers, who aim to harvest all organic life from the universe. As the Council dawdles however, emergency broadcasts flare up all over Earth as the Reapers make their move and start obliterating everything in their path. Escaping from the surprise attack with Captain Anderson, Shepard is reinstated at the helm of the Normandy and ordered to go collect allies to protect Earth from the Reapers. The main drive of the game features Shepard meeting up with comrades old and new as he looks to settle galactic issues and stop the Reapers, before a final showdown back on the human planet.
For me, Mass Effect 3 excels in its storytelling. The second game never quite clicked despite its more grandiose action orientation, but ME3 hits the nail on the head. The stakes are higher than ever before with galactic genocide in action, and many of the issues that have been simmering over the past two games are concluded with great aplomb; an early mission for example has you playing the Turian, Krogan and Salarian races off against each other on the issue of the Genophage Cure. For me however it’s the small references that impress me the most – say for example you punched the annoying reporter twice before when you had the opportunity. Swing for her again in this game, and she will dodge and attempt a counter. Providing you did everything possible in the first two games, there are plenty of small instances like this that should remind you of the past and in some cases raise a smile. The development of the supporting case also reaches its pinnacle in this game, with Garrus in particular stealing the show. If you take the time to do everything one final time, there’s a good 25-30 hours of content to go through in this game.
One of my bugbears from Mass Effect 2 was the change from more RPG orientated play to cover and shooting. In the third game Bioware looked to address this by offering three modes of play: Action mode is full out shooting with little time to chat, Story mode is the complete opposite, and Role Playing mode is meant to be more like the original game. Upon playing through the game, Role Playing mode does appear to have solved the problems from the second game. Not only is combat much better in this game overall with better options to move out of cover, the return of grenades and the addition of quite satisfying heavy melee attacks, but Role Playing mode brings back the customisation that was really lacking in Mass Effect 2. When levelling up characters, there are now perks in skill trees to choose between (for example, do you want better shield regeneration or an increase to weapon damage), and via the purchase of equipment and scouring for items while out fighting you can apply upgrades to weapons and armour. There is also a tactical element in terms of what you bring into battle this time around, as carrying more weapons slows down the recharge of your biotic powers.
Other changes have been made to streamline the game a bit as well. The mining minigame in ME2 split the audience, and has been done away with for a game of cat and mouse with the Reapers. When you enter a star system, pressing the trigger button will make the Normandy recon the surrounding areas of goodies on planets and fuel dumps. Once found, you simply send a probe to the planet and pick up the booty. Continue to send out signals though and Reaper forces will appear and chase you until you escape the system. It’s not exactly hard to escape the Reapers though as unless you sit idle the Normandy can outpace them, and then they take a while to come back if you immediately re-enter, so you can scour the system and then hop in and out for rewards quite easily. Overall, it’s less tedious than the mining missions and therefore an improvement.
It is the addition of a multiplayer mode that marks the biggest change for the franchise however. Dubbed as ‘Galaxy At War’, this mode has you fighting waves of enemies online with a team of up to three other players on maps taken from main game missions. The waves of enemies gradually get more advanced, and there are some on-the-fly objectives to complete every now and again, such as retrieving valuable items and eliminating priority targets. For this mode, you don’t get to carry your campaign team into the fight, and must therefore create a new character, choosing from the same six classes. Each class has human options as default, plus one other alien race (a Asari Adept or a Turian soldier for example) which can be levelled up to Level 20 and customised with weapons and power like the main story. Completing missions not only gives you credits to spend on in game packs (for better gear and battle items such as medi-gel) and experience, but also raises your ‘Galactic Readiness’ that affects how your forces will do in the final battle in the single player campaign. Therefore, you must play the multiplayer to get the best out of the main story…and you need an Online Pass for it, as all EA products do these days. Consider this if you want to pick up the game second hand.
The thing is though, the multiplayer is far from the disaster it could have turned out to be. It plays more like Horde mode from the Gears Of War series than a deathmatch, and with the gameplay being lifted straight out of the main game it is surprisingly robust. Having the option to level up different classes and swap between characters after missions also lets you experiment with the best gameplay that Mass Effect 3 has to offer. I find the multiplayer to be pretty good fun, and over the 30 or so matches I have played other players will actually work with you as a team to revive allies and take down enemies. It has been improved with two free DLC packs that have added extra characters and more maps as well.
From a presentational standpoint, Mass Effect 3 stands as the best in the series. Mass Effect 2 was a pretty game, but this one takes the graphics just that bit further to something which is truly spectacular at times – watching the Reapers go about their business in the far distance is pretty damn intimidating. Character movement and close-ups on faces have also been refined as well, although you can occasionally find Shepard suffering from jerks and twitches if you have a custom face. The vocal cast returns as strong as ever from the first two games, with the likes of Seth Green, Martin Sheen and Keith David amongst many others talking their way through over 40,000 lines of dialogue, and while the composer of the first two games, Jack Wall, departed for this game, the replacements did an admirable job by composing some pieces of really quite high quality music. ‘Leaving Earth’ is a particular favourite of mine, a haunting piece that sets the grim tone quite early on.
I think it would be unfair if Mass Effect 3 eventually gets remembered only for its ending; it’s far from the first game to have an average ending (Fallout 3 for example, another excellent game, ended on a sour note if you didn’t get the Broken Steel DLC) and that aside it is an excellent and accomplished ending to what has possibly been the best new IP of this generation; in my opinion it is the best game out of the three released. With the ‘Extended Cut DLC’ coming out tomorrow for free, maybe the major issues with the ending will be resolved as well and people will be able to appreciate the game for what it is.