Developed by BioWare and published by EA, Mass Effect 3 is the latest in the science fiction, action role-playing trilogy Mass Effect that centres around Commander Shepard, a human alliance soldier that is thrust into galactic events far beyond his (or her) imagining. It is a series that has prided itself on presenting the player with choices and the consequences there of, allowing the player to forge their own story as Commander Shepard.
While it is unlikely that Mass Effect 3 will be the last game set in that ‘verse, the game does bring about the conclusion of the story of Commander Shepard and his (or her) struggle to save the galaxy from the Reapers, a vastly superior ‘race’ of synthetic organisms that cull the majority of organic life every fifty thousand years. The reapers have arrived now and that is where you, the player are thrown into the fray.
It is up to you, the player, to unite a somewhat scared and fractured galaxy to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable Reapers, whilst dealing with the consequences of your choices in the previous titles of the trilogy. While it is by no means a requisite to have played either/ Mass Effect 1 and 2, BioWare have gone out of their way to make sure it is accessible to those new to the franchise, you will get more mileage out of Mass Effect by having done so (because of being able to import saves across games).
Onward then, starting with the good.
As one might expect with a game that falls into the action role-playing genre (or either genre when considered separate, really), combat is a large focus of Mass Effect 3, as you take the fight to the Reapers, or just plain try to survive. The combat has been improved upon from Mass Effect 2, perhaps most notably being the enemy AI, which approaches you more intelligently in battle with flanking manoeuvres and so forth. The enemy flanking is hardly new to Mass Effect of course, but the improvements do cause you to think a bit more about your positioning during a fire fight.
One of the things that enhances the above, most likely, is the enemy variety present in Mass Effect 3. The number of different enemies you’ll face throughout the game seems to be increased from previous titles. While this might not actually be the case (I can’t say I’ve sat down and counted precisely how many different enemies there were), the game does at least give off that impression. For example, new NPCs like the Cerberus Phantoms or Nemesis, have their own abilities and methods of fighting that can force you to change up how you approach the regular Cerberus troops if one of them is present.
The Banshee, also a new enemy, is probably my favourite new enemy in the game. I won’t spoil what they are exactly, but when I hear one of them on the battlefield, a sense of dread overcomes me like no other enemy has been able to conjure up (not even those big ol’ atlas mechs). This all collates in an experience that for me at least, seems more difficult while remaining enjoyable. Playing on the normal difficulty for Mass Effect 3 felt like I was playing on what was the harder settings in previous titles.
The story, which is a continuation of the previous Mass Effect titles, is going to be a big part of the game – especially for those who aren’t new to the series and want to see how their own Shepard concludes their story. In terms of the scope of the trilogy, the story telling in Mass Effect 3 is another thing that is improved upon for the most part. Emotional moments in video games are nothing new (I can list a number of them, in my opinion, over the years though this isn’t the place!) and previous Mass Effect titles have had their moments also.
But Mass Effect 3 doesn’t just turn the dial up slightly, it get pushed all the way up to the max. There hasn’t been a game to date that I’ve played, which has sent me on an emotional roller coaster (happy, sad, anger and frustration etc) like this game has. Quite simply, Mass Effect 3 hits just about all the right notes in this department. As I mentioned earlier though, I will stress this again. Mileage may very, if you are entering into the Mass Effect series for the first time with this game.
When the rumours of multi-player being added to Mass Effect 3, which has previously been a single player experience only, started to swirl around the internet, the feeling “Oh god, them focusing on multi-player instead of the single player campaign is going to ruin the game!”. That feeling was only strengthened when it was officially announced to be the case. Just mention the possibility of multi-player being added to an Elder Scrolls game while it is still in development and I’m likely to crawl up into the foetal position and weep. You could say that it is melodramatic and you’re probably right but we all have our eccentricities I suppose!
Having spent some time with the multi-player aspect of Mass Effect 3 now, for the most part, I can say my fears above were unfounded. As an experience, the MP plays a lot like the horde or survival modes in other games, particularly those more online multi-player focused in nature. Essentially, you join a team (either randomly or pre-made parties) and then fight to survive X amount of waves of enemies from one of three factions before being extracted. Every few waves you’ll be faced with more objective oriented goals instead of just surviving, such as hacking terminals or taking out priority targets.
There are a number of characters spread out across the different classes (soldier, vanguard, adept etc) that the single player experience allows you to choose as Shepard. Starting out, you only get to choose from the Human variants but as you progress and earn credits, you can purchase packs that can potentially unlock the more rare choices like Drell, Krogan, Asari or Turian. Weapons and weapon mods are also collected in this manner and earning a second card for something you’ve already collected or unlocked, either provides more experience (class characters) or levels up a weapon (up to a max of 10).
The game has only been out a week now and already the amount of time people have spent playing this mode on Mass Effect 3 is bewildering. Ultimately it boils down to this: the multi-player aspect is actually surprisingly enjoyable. And for those who’ve always wanted to play as one of the other races in Mass Effect, this at least allows for that possibility in a sense. I can’t see myself personally playing this for hours on end, but popping on for a few games here and there is something I will certainly be doing for the foreseeable future. I’m still not a huge fan of the influence multi-player has on the single player campaign, but is possible to make up for that without feeling the need to jump in if it isn’t your kettle of tea.
Dialogue (or conversation, take your pick) has always been a big part of the Mass Effect series when it came to interacting with your squad mates and NPCs found throughout the game. While what is in the game is fine, this element of Mass Effect 3 overall felt lacking. Many of the side quests that you acquire throughout the game aren’t really done so through any level of interaction what-so-ever, instead many are picked up as Shepard overhears people talking about stuff.
Now, there isn’t necessarily anything thing from getting a quest or two from being a ‘snoop’ or overhearing someone’s conversation, it can even be fun at times however, it is my opinion that an opportunity has been missed with it. There’s a fight for survival going on, so why would I care about something I overheard when I have bigger fish to fry? Being able to talk to these people, even briefly, so they could explain to me why it was important that someone go acquire their desired (for example) artefact, would have been a rather nice touch.
While obtaining resources to aid you (minerals, credits, war assets etc) has always been a part of the Mass Effect franchise, the method of which you did so has changed from game to game. In Mass Effect, you landed on a (generic looking) planet in a MAKO vehicle and explored the map to find whatever goodies where available at that location. In Mass Effect 2, this changed to primarily scanning planets to find mineral lodes which you could then mine (with a probe). This method provided feedback depending on how rich areas were that you happened to be scanning, allowing you to determine the best use of your probes.
In truth, it wasn’t the most exciting of things to do at times but there was still some semblance of challenge to it. In Mass Effect 3, things change once again. When flying the Normandy around on the solar system level maps, you can scan for points of interest. If a point of interest (Wreckage, a planet with something on it, etc) is in the range of your scan you’ll be notified. In most systems, you do this with the threat of the Reapers hanging over your head.
Which each successive scan you make in a solar system, the ‘Reaper Alertness’ bar raises. When full, several Reapers will appear on the map and try to catch you, ultimately forcing you to leave the system until the heat was off. At first, I thought this was a pretty neat addition (it even has an achievement tied into it) but the novelty quickly wore off, becoming somewhat boring and counter productive in the process. Scanning for minerals obviously wouldn’t be appropriate given the setting but some scanning of planets does occur, particularly when your scan on the map points to something of interest.
I am somewhat indifferent to the planet scanning as it is. You fire up your scanner as you did in Mass Effect 2, but are guided with a little arrow pointing toward whatever it is you are supposed to be looking for. It just seems a little too easy, however, the alternative isn’t much better.
Mass Effect 3 is a game that, as it stands now, is a serious contender for Game of the Year. There are a few issues that need addressing, like the face importer bug (I didn’t have any problems with that, but then, I recreated my Shepard’s look anyway) and some other things that I’ll likely to discuss in an article, due to being spoiler heavy and not really appropriate within the scope here. You’ll get more mileage out of it if you have played the first two titles (I’ve mentioned that twice now, but who is counting?), allowing you to become more invested in the story.
Even then, Mass Effect 3 stands up well enough as it’s own game.