Mass Effect 3 Review

Four and a half years ago, Bioware released the original Mass Effect to massive critical acclaim and great sales. The deep role-playing mechanics, tactical combat, and immersive plot resonated with gamers everywhere, but it was Bioware’s then unheard of ambition to create a trilogy of video games that would tell a story as vast and epic as any film or novel series over the life cycle of one console generation that really captured people’s attention. Now, years later, that trilogy has come to a close, and despite all of the online bickering and talk of dumbed-down sequels, the world of Mass Effect remains as awe-inspiring as ever before.

Although much hot air has been wasted in condemning Mass Effect 3’s supposedly more action-oriented focus – and I’ll admit, the trailers did little to help that – the core gameplay remains basically the same here as it was in Mass Effect 2. You have full access to a variety of weapons and Biotic powers during gameplay, and can manipulate those of yourself and your squad at any time by pausing the action with one of the bumpers. This gives the game a more tactical feel than something like Gears of War, because you can pause time for as long as it takes to come up with a strategy. Also returning are the basic squad commands, which will allow you to direct your allies during battle. The shooting has been tightened up a hair, and although it still falls a bit short of some of its peers, there’s no denying that this is the best game in the series control-wise.

That’s a good thing, because you’ll be doing more fighting in Mass Effect 3 than ever before. Many of your objectives, especially in the side missions, require you to empty out occupied bases or survive against a timer until backup arrives. It’s fine at first, but if you intend to play all of the side missions you may find yourself bored by the number of times you’ll be asked to “defend an area until help arrives.” That said, the unique blend of heavy weapons, Biotics, and pausing time that has always been Mass Effect’s bread and butter is satisfying enough that this never becomes more than a mild annoyance, and the single player campaign typically balances the combat with quieter story sections very well.

That story is one of the weaker ones in the series, thanks in large part to its relative straightforwardness. You will be tasked with traveling the galaxy and putting together a team, much like in Mass Effect 2. The only difference is that this team is of entire species, not just individuals. There are some great twists and turns along the way that will force you to buckle down and choose sides, but in the end Mass Effect 3 feels like an exclamation mark punctuating the sentence that was the first two games. This is the story of a seemingly unstoppable invasion, and while some political bickering gives the game an intellectual edge that its peers lack, the main focus is on the Reapers and the sheer spectacle that their path of destruction creates. Every level of the game conveys a sense of desperation and urgency that’s usually reserved for the last few levels of most games. This is, without a doubt, the end to a series, and even if the story lacks the sense of mystery that made the first games so compelling, it’s still equally satisfying to play.

This is due in large part to the intoxicating blend of role-playing and shooting that has become expected of the franchise. The internet may be in an uproar about Bioware turning Mass Effect into an action game, but this is more RPG than the second entry was. The skill trees for your party have been fleshed out a bit, giving you greater control over how each character progresses. Weapon customization, a feature present in the first game but conspicuously absent in the second, makes a triumphant return as well, allowing you to make each gun your own. You can find this loot and more, such as different armor types and weapons, scattered about the environments. Coupled with a great character customization system, a ton of balanced classes, and the extensive moral choices scattered throughout the game’s many, many conversations, these options make each character feel completely unique.

Your character is no longer to be admired by you and you alone, either. Now you can take Mass Effect online, and the results are better than many have feared, although not quite as great as I personally had hoped. I have always been of the opinion that Mass Effect would shine in a competitive multiplayer environment. Imagine all of the different races, classes, weapons, biotics, and skill trees of the single player game at your fingertips in an online battle spanning entire galaxies and game modes like Domination, Capture the Flag, and Team Deathmatch. The potential for unique gameplay would be near unlimited. Unfortunately, that’s not quite what Bioware has delivered.

Instead of a true competitive multiplayer experience, Mass Effect 3 includes a survival mode much like Halo’s Firefight or Gears of War’s Hoard. It is by no means bad – fighting alongside three other players, each of whom is playing a different race and class, can be thrilling. There are plenty of maps, and they are all fairly well-designed. There are also plenty of ways to level up your character. There are tons of unique weapons and powers, and the multiplayer sports full skill trees just like the single player campaign. If you were to decide that you wanted to unlock all of the content online, you’d find that the multiplayer can be a huge time sink.

The enemy variety is similarly impressive. Mass Effect 3 benefits from having two games worth of enemies already established, not to mention the new foes that the Reapers have created. Between Cerberus, the Geth, and the Reapers, you’ll never be bored by what the multiplayer throws at you. There’s more to this mode than just shooting enemies, though. Occasionally you will have to take out certain marked targets during a round, or hack a terminal, or plant charges at key points in the level. These objectives serve to give just enough variety to what is otherwise a fairly standard survival mode.

Still, as accomplished and engaging as this mode can be, it feels like a mere cog in the machine of a greater multiplayer environment. Without any other modes to support it, Mass Effect 3’s online play will grow stale sooner rather than later for many despite the wealth of enemy types, level-up options, classes, and weapons.

At the end of the day, though, the multiplayer is just icing on the cake. The single player campaign is the real meat of this package, and although the story is a little more straightforward than it has been in the past, it’s still an immensely satisfying play. It’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by Mass Effect 3, polarizing ending notwithstanding. The gameplay and spectacle are better than ever before, and the characters and story remain engaging enough to see you through the game’s lengthy runtime. A few of the missions feel artificially padded out, but in a game so massive it’s hard to complain when a few minor levels are less than perfect. And in the end, despite a weaker story that ends with more of a fizz than a bang, and a slightly more straightforward campaign, Mass Effect 3’s greater moments come startlingly close to achieving that perfection.

Score: 9/10

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