13th March 2012 - Five years ago, Bioware, the development team behind Baldur's Gate and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, released a game called Mass Effect. It was a fully original sci-fi game that was attempting to merge the action and thrills of a third-person shooter with the intelligence, emotional investment, and depth of an RPG. It was what everyone expected. Well-written, exciting, epic, and awe-inspiring, the game went on to become the first part of a trilogy that would follow the story of the player's character from start to finish. For those who have been a part of the series since the beginning, Mass Effect 3 will be nothing short of the finale the series deserves and more. For those who are just joining the series, even without the context of the past two games, this game is still pretty amazing.
You play as Commander Shepard, who is on the frontlines of a war against an army of sentient warships known as the Reapers, who have just taken Earth. Since the Reapers are concerned with destroying all sentient life in the galaxy, Shepard must rally resources from everywhere he can find, build alliances, and even attempt to end centuries-old conflicts if there is any hope of victory.
First, it must be said that the writing and dialogue is absolutely phenomenal. Whether you're in the middle of a war zone trying to break through to save some people, or in a heated debate with a crew member, the situation has true emotional weight behind it. These aren't just computer controlled allies, they are fully fleshed out characters, which becomes more apparent when you start to care about them and their struggles.
Gameplay does its best to merge shooter and RPG elements once again. Mass Effect 1 was more RPG heavy, focusing a little too much on micromanaging everything from inertial force in certain types of ammo and selling off the dozens of obsolete armor and weapons, so much to the point that the shooting felt a bit stilted. Mass Effect 2 attempted to streamline this by having the RPG elements apply to what types of upgrades one applied to their weapons, special powers, and armor and went in a more action oriented direction, much to the chagrin of its established fanbase. Mass Effect 3 gets the mix just right.
On the RPG side, there is still leveling which is done by defeating enemies and doing side missions, all used to upgrade you and your crewmates' abilities, complete with dual-choice trees for the advanced buffs and powers. There is the ability to purchase and add various attachments to your weapons. Do you want a scope on your assault rifle for more accurate shooting, a stabilizer for your SMG, or would you rather have a pistol that can punch through armor? There is an encumbrance system that decreases the cool-down of your special biotic and tech powers if you don't carry a lot of weapons on you. Finally, there is the series' trademark binary Paragon/Renegade moral choice system that leans on the philosophies of ideology and militaristic pragmatism. Action wise, there are intense cover-based gunfights full of massive set pieces, insane numbers of enemies, and a very clever enemy AI keeping you on your toes all the way down to the last bullet. Unfortunately, your ally AI could be a bit more responsive. There were a few moments where my squad mates wouldn't engage the enemy unless I actively prompted them to. This is a minor flaw, but it doesn't help when you're in the thick of a fight and there's no support.
An element that was thankfully cut down for this installment was the resource gathering. While the previous installments had you traveling around planets looking for resources, be it in a space rover or by slowly and lazily moving a scanner over the planet from orbit, Mass Effect 3 instead has you searching planets for lost troops or potential resources in the middle of a Reaper occupied area. The benefit can range between extra credits to use on getting more weapons, or an experience boost. It is a lot faster and more involving than anything before, especially when a Reaper finds you, and it just works.
A bit of controversy erupted once it was revealed that Mass Effect's 3rd installment would have multiplayer. Some were afraid it would detract from the series' roots of being a single-player oriented role-playing shooter. The good news is none of that happened, and the multiplayer is kind of awesome.
The gameplay is very Co-Op focused, in the same vein as Left 4 Dead, and involves up to four players holding down against wave after wave of enemies while completing objectives. Playing adds to the game's Galactic Readiness which gauges percentage-wise how the war against the Reapers is fairing, and it also helps contribute to getting a better ending in the single-player mode, but it's not the only way. On top of this really well designed co-op game is an engaging metagame. First is the ability to choose and create a character. You begin with two human types of each class in the game, and you unlock other species as you play. Playing survival mode gives you credits which you can use to buy service packs, that act not unlike a pack of trading cards. The difference is that these aren't cards, they are boosts, new weapons and equipment and potentially new classes. The boosts can range between having armor piercing ammo for a game, or having an instant revive in case things go bad. There is a microtransaction system with Microsoft Points on top of earning said packs by playing, but thankfully random chance keeps things in balance.
Mass Effect 3 is gorgeous. From the distinct look of each planet, spaceship, and characters, this game nails everything right. It's a visual spectacle in terms of its graphical fidelity and it's futuristic sci-fi aesthetic. There are a couple of moments where the lip sync is off or a character exhibits some hints of the uncanny valley, but these are few and far inbetween.
The musical score of Mass Effect 3 is absolutely compelling. Between poignant and emotional piano music, grand and triumphant orchestral swells and just the right mix of techno and electric, Mass Effect 3 is an auditory feast. Voice acting talent is still solid as ever, with returning talent like Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale as the voices of male and female Commander Shepard, Martin Sheen as The Illusive Man, and Seth Green as the pilot of the Normandy, Joker, all putting in great work across the board.
I am going to be very clear about Mass Effect 3: it is a masterpiece. If you have played the past two games, you owe it to yourself to play this third installment. It has everything I love in a game. A great single player mode that lasts more than twenty hours. Smart writing. Addictive co-op multiplayer. But most importantly, there is great emotional heft. The characters in Mass Effect have been around for five years now, and have witnessed players make tough decisions in their world. Did you save or kill the Rachni Queen? Did you save the Council from Sovereign? Etc. In Mass Effect 3, everything comes back. Every choice you have made, every character you've befriended. Every gunshot. Every line of dialogue. Every step. Every romance. Everything gets resolved, but not always in the way you would expect. Nevertheless, the emotional impact of these choices are enough to bring anyone to their knees. In my own playthrough I was moved to tears not once, not twice, not thrice, but a total of four times by the events transpired throughout my experience, something not a single game has managed in recent memory. It is a complete tour de force, well worth your time.
Mass Effect 3 fires on all cylinders, giving fans a finale the series deserves, but not to the detriment of exiling new fans. If you're a fan, buy this game. If you haven't heard of Mass Effect but like a thinking person's action game or want a different take on an RPG, buy this game. If you want an example that a game can make you cry, buy this game.
AAG Score: 10/10
+ Great Combat
+ Impactful and Emotional Moral Choices
+ Visually and Musically Impressive
- Small graphics and AI issues
- Having to switch between 2 discs to enjoy the whole experience
Reviewed and Written By Tyler Chancey