Game Rant's Rob Keyes reviews Mass Effect 3
BioWare blew us away in 2007 when, instead of continuing down the Star Wars path with another Knights of the Old Republic, they took that sci-fi RPG experience and gave us Mass Effect and with it, an entirely original universe where players could control the combat in addition to the journey and decisions of the game's protagonist. Mass Effect introduced us to an epic story based in a rich and complex universe, and its sequel gave players improved gameplay.
Does BioWare succeed in finding the right balance between action and RPG elements in Mass Effect 3, while also offering a satisfying conclusion to Commander Shepard's quest to save the galaxy from the reapers? Read on for our review to find out!
Mass Effect 3 draws from the best elements of its predecessors, offering the most satisfying and exciting combat gameplay of the series, and BioWare has again crafted a game that shines through its characters, dialogue and cinematic moments. More than the series' other installments, there's an inherent sense of urgency for players through Mass Effect 3's emotionally gripping story, but BioWare fails to give many of the characters the sendoff they deserved in what amounts to a disappointing final act.
The story of Mass Effect 3 begins right where Mass Effect 2 left off, and players of the 'Arrival' DLC will have a heads up on the circumstances which bring Commander Shepard to Earth to stand trial for actions he took, sacrificing colonists in an effort to thwart the first stage of the Reaper invasion. Before the legal proceedings even begin however, the Reapers attack and Shepard is on his way to rally support and acquire war assets from conflicted space-faring races to find a way to save the galaxy. The war has begun and players can play the game in three different ways: Action, Role-Playing (the standard) and Story. The addition of these game modes - as well as the support of useful Kinect voice commands for Xbox 360 players - help Mass Effect 3 become accessible to franchise newcomers.
Like the previous two installments, players find themselves hopping back and forth across the galaxy aboard the Normandy which again sees a bit of a redesign. This time however, the ship feels a tad empty. Shepard's team is substantially smaller than the previous games and characters who could previously be chosen for away missions now have their story arcs weaved into the overall narrative, instead of being recruited. A lot of familiar faces - and new ones - will appear aboard the Normandy while working with them on a specific mission, then they're off to do their own thing once joining the cause and Shepard moves on to the next big mission.
In that respect, Mass Effect 3 is different than its predecessors and recruitment is not part of the game. Characters are kept relevant for the time they're needed until the story moves on, but each gets their emotional moment with Shepard, infused with references to events of the previous games. While the game does a good job of finding interesting ways to meet up with all of these characters, most of them are underserved by the story's end and fans of the franchise will be left wondering what happened to key players they've grown attached to throughout the series.
The galaxy map remains the focal point of the Normandy and it has also been improved to reflect the status of the galaxy during the Reaper invasion. Gone is the time-consuming planet scanning for minerals and in comes scanning for artifacts, intel and credits. It's quicker, more rewarding and now offers a challenge since Reaper-infested star clusters won't let players scan freely. BioWare's created a fun, dodge-the-Reaper mini-game out of it, and it succeeds as an improvement over Mass Effect 2's system, but not over Mass Effect 1's for fans who enjoy vehicular gameplay and open-world areas to explore.
Mass Effect 1's M35 Mako tank and Mass Effect 2's (through DLC) M-44 Hammerhead hovercraft do not make a return appearance and there are no open areas to explore in the game outside of the Citadel hub. By design, Mass Effect 3 is a very linear experience as it focuses on delivering key events in a necessary order to move the plot forward. It's not just the maps, missions and overall story that are linear however, the choices players can make throughout the game often have little to no impact on the war effort.
Mass Effect 3 offers a streamlined experience by not including vehicles and dropping needless mini-games (hacking, bypassing) and instead focuses on delivering more action. Players will find themselves always moving forward in battle through varied and dynamic environments, with some locations featuring the massive and monstrous Reapers moving in the beautiful backdrops. Mass Effect 3 looks similar to Mass Effect 2 from a graphical perspective, but it comes with more polish and improved animations. Mouth movements are still a little off in conversations however, and the game does experience the occasional framerate lag and texture pop-in, but nothing that hinders gameplay.
Fans of the original game will be pleased with the return of more weapons and RPG elements in customizing Shepard's armor and load out. There are over a half-dozen guns under each of the five weapon types, all of which can be upgraded by purchasing better versions of each and buying mods (which also have multiple levels). All of the weapons are unique and useful in their own way, and the variety is a warm welcome when it comes to the game's biggest addition: multiplayer.
Mass Effect 3 introduces a co-op survival mode where up to four players must work through a series of 11 waves of battling foes and holding king-of-the-hill style areas. Slow menus and matchmaking combined with only one mode and six maps (all exact locations from the campaign) make the mode feel tacked on but how it ties into the single-player campaign is brilliant and will motivate gamers to give it a spin. Fans will also get a kick out of finally being able to play as other species, each with their own abilities, unique melee attacks and in some cases, different methods of movement.
By completing all waves on a map, players increase their battle readiness percentage which will boost the effectiveness of Shepard's war assets in the single-player campaign, helping players increase their chances of scoring a better game ending through the Galaxy at War system. It's absolutely not necessary and won't make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things should players decide to stick with the campaign, but it's there for anyone who is interested. In multiplayer, players also earn experience and credits to unlock weapons, mods, boosts, and additional characters and that's where the fun and replayability come into an otherwise basic multiplayer experience.
Having multiplayer tie into the bigger picture of Shepard's quest of unifying the galaxy further exemplifies BioWare's ability to innovate with the Mass Effect series. When combined with the incredible continuity which sees Mass Effect 3 utilize over a thousand variables from decisions and actions taken by players from the first two games, no series has offered such a long-spanning and fulfilling experience.
Players of the previous games who load up their save files for Mass Effect 3 are treated to countless references and dialogue from supporting characters, alluding back to Shepard's missions and players' choices. A lot of the throwbacks will pop up in conversation or add war assets to the cause, but the game fails to present the specific results of those acquisitions. Whether it be finding a few lost teams of marines or gaining fleets of ships from aliens once considered enemies, Mass Effect 3 doesn't show how previous choices directly affect the final battle. All it does is add to the numerical representation of the Alliance fleet size.
The same problem applies to the key characters of Mass Effect 2 who join the fight - they are not shown at the end of the game and players are left hanging with questions about in-game friends they've bonded with over the years. Combine that with an end-game decision which has no discernible effect on the conclusion of the story and BioWare, deserved of applause for taking the risks they did and crafting a genre-defining experience, has dropped the ball on delivering a complete and satisfying end to the Mass Effect trilogy.
That's not to say players won't be emotionally invested - they will and the journey that is the Mass Effect experience is unmatched by any other franchise. Despite a disappointing final act which doesn't let players truly make game-changing decisions, Mass Effect 3 does mostly round out the Reaper and Illusive Man storylines, at the same time solidifying the Mass Effect series as the ultimate sci-fi gaming experience. Looking back on what brought us to that point is a powerful realization in and of itself. You must play Mass Effect 3, just make time to play the first two before you do.
Mass Effect 3 is available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for this review.
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