The farewell to one of the best game franchises of last generation. It’s a good thing that another entry is just around the corner.
So I’m only about five years late to the party, though I’ve been dreading the idea of reviewing the Mass Effect series for multiple reasons. I have memories of the bemusement I felt when I finished Mass Effect 3, and they weren’t good thoughts. I was part of the crowd that were extremely upset with the way the ending was handled, though I didn’t send off any death threats or anything like that.
My time away from the game has done me some good I think, because my opinions on it have drastically changed.
For the better. Rest assured.
Bioware continued in their pursuit of refining the gameplay of Mass Effect, and have struck gold with their final entry in the Commander Shepard saga. Controls are responsive, despite still being grounded in the same control scheme that has been present through the entire franchise.
They struck a good compromise between the immediacy of the original’s biotic and tech power, and the fluidity of the second’s. Most powers can still be aimed around obstacles, just as before, but there is more flexibility to the use of them. Perhaps most importantly, your abilities can be dodged as well, so power usage isn’t necessarily guaranteed. This has been balanced a little with the increase in damage and effectiveness of those abilities however.
The arsenal of weapons has also been significantly expanded, with Bioware adding dozens of new weapons and including the ability to modify those weapons to enhance their effectiveness. Likewise, in a throwback to the original, Mass Effect 3 allows players to use any weapon they want, regardless of their class. Instead of offering restrictions on what weapons different classes can use, weapons have a weight statistic assigned to them. You could conceivably carry one of every weapon, but doing so increases the cooldown on character abilities.
Movement in general seems far more fluid, with cover being simple to get in and out of, and the sprint ability thankfully became an infinite resource. Gunplay feels tight, with most weapons packing an appropriate punch.
On the interactivity side of things, it’s important to note that Bioware included some options for people more interested in the gameplay than narrative. Players can choose to have full, limited, or almost-no control in conversations, depending on their preference for involvement. Exploration has been streamlined to great effect, with hub worlds and the Normandy having functional maps that show the location of quest locations and important NPCs. There’s no more hunting for someone to turn a quest into. Unless of course you forget what stage you are on one of the side quests (because the journal often doesn’t have updates), in which case you may end up trying to complete the same stage of a quest multiple times, only to make you think the quest is bugged. Those side missions are also cut back to the point where multiple missions are of the “go to X, retrieve Y, and return to Z” variety.
Speaking of the fetchy nature of the side quests, much of your Military Strength score in the Galaxy At War map is going to be determined by how much stuff you collect throughout the game. Most of your actions are reflected in the form of an Effective Military Strength (EMS) score, which is impacted by your Galactic Readiness; a negative multiplier that is improved by playing the multiplayer, which is actually a decent mode that didn’t need such a heavy handed approach to get people to play it. As of this moment, Bioware has patched Mass Effect 3 to make it possible to obtain the necessary EMS score to get the most ideal ending to the game without playing multiplayer, even though most of the war assets players can collect don’t seem like they should be tied to the ending at all.
Mass Effect 3 is obviously the most visually appealing of the series so far, which makes sense since it came out in 2012. The pre-rendered cutscenes all look pretty damn amazing for a five year old game from a previous generation. Most of my time spent with the game made me forget that I was playing an Xbox 360 game on my Xbox One. Those jarring moments were usually confined to the parts where the game prompted me to change disks (don’t follow that prompt on the Xbox One).
While the graphics aren’t on the level of The Witcher III or Uncharted 4, they hold their own to this day. What stuck out to me quite well was the ambience of Mass Effect 3 though. Just like with the second game, there’s much to behold in the ambient environments. However, unlike the previous game, Mass Effect 3 features some pretty interesting and heartbreaking things that you could easily miss if you’re rushing around. When walking around hub areas, you’ll often hear characters having conversations with each other, like a girl speaking to a C-Sec agent in the refugee area on the Citadel about her parents, or friends debating the prospect of going to war.
Some of the token characters from the previous games make a comeback as well, though it’s odd that their character models are so drastically different now.For instance, the Asari matriarch from the bar on Illium – who was a pretty unique looking character – now looks like a generic Asari NPC. Thankfully these changes are pretty rare.
The soundtrack for Mass Effect 3 though… Hot damn. Sam Hulick, the composer for the game’s music, did a downright amazing job on the score. Admittedly, the tone and style changed a little from almost pure electronic music to a more orchestral composure, but it fits so well. The score of Mass Effect 3 is honestly one of my all-time favorites. Particularly good tracks like Leaving Earth still hit pretty hard, especially when playing the game itself.
That said, I did have some notable issues with bugs still. A number of times, textures just disappeared from character models, the most egregious of which was Shepard’s entire face.
Also, starting up the game takes an eternity it seems, as EA requires the game to validate DLC and save information every time, which takes forever for some reason. Sadly, there were a number of times where the sound cuts out, especially during cutscenes like in the final battles on Earth.
Also, one thing that has plagued Bioware games for some time has been the issue of dead eyed characters. Every human looks bored all the time, and when they smile it just looks extremely creepy…
I struggled a little with the prospect of giving credit for originality to Mass Effect 3. On paper, there really isn’t much to compliment it on, but there are at least a couple things worth noting.
Bioware yet again changed the overall tone, and again they struck gold with it. Mass Effect 3 is a goodbye to the Shepard saga, and boy does Bioware hammer home the theme of fighting a hopeless war. The state of the galaxy in Mass Effect 3 is dire, and the Reapers live up to their name in full. Like with the beginning of the second game, you’re immediately thrust into a setting that develops wonder and nostalgia in you, only to have it all ripped away and crushed into powder. It seems as if Bioware is staffed with sadistic writers that love destroying everything players hold dear.
Bioware also knocked it out of the park (it’s a baseball idiom) with the DLC for Mass Effect 3. Now I don’t like the prospect of praising a game for DLC, but if there’s any way that it can be done correctly, Bioware seems to know exactly what to do (except with the From Ashes DLC). The Mass Effect 3 Citadel DLC is a perfect example of how to do things. It’s a fairly cheap DLC that takes on the persona of a cheesy action movie, complete with tons of science fiction and action tropes, paired with some of the funniest moments of the entire series. I couldn’t think of a better way to come to grips with the end of a franchise I hold so dear.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
The final entry into Shepard’s story chronicles the rallying of troops to take back Earth from the Reapers. It begins with Shepard getting interrogated over how to deal with the threat of the Reapers, which are now on the doorstep of humanity’s home, only for the realization that there’s no more time for preparation. It’s time for war.
During the events that unfold throughout the story, Shepard shows the signs of stress taking its toll. Nightmares are a fairly common occurrence and the weight of the galaxy rests on the shoulders of a select few people. Things start to look up once Shepard’s crew discovers plans for a device on Mars that can turn the tide of the war against the Reapers, but the only path to success is with the help of as many races as possible helping out.
Most of the story plays out in the form of Shepard scratching someone else’s back to get something in return. Along the way, there are a number of difficult decisions that need to be made, though with the right course of events taken, players can achieve somewhat ideal outcomes. That doesn’t stop some from trying to turtle up and seek their own survival at the expense of others, but the effort must be made to get everyone on the same side, regardless of their differences.
Many decisions from the previous games carry some weight, like whether or not you saved the Citadel Council in the Battle of the Citadel in the first game, or made it out of the suicide mission in the second game with your crew intact. Sadly, much of what you did in the previous games also suffer from scope issues. Saving or killing the Rachni queen on Noveria, sparing or destroying the Collector base, or telling the Quarians to make peace or war with the Geth means almost nothing in the end. Things play out more or less the same regardless of the choices that you’ve made in previous games. Those decisions are essentially boiled down into flavor text and EMS scores, the latter of which barely matters since maximum EMS can be reached fairly easily.
That said, the final events that unfold happen rather quickly, and your enjoyment of the experience can differ wildly depending on whether or not you have the free extended ending or not. I won’t go into too much detail here, but things look much less bleak at the end if you install the DLC.
The multiplayer fares well as an addition to the game, throwing players into the N7 missions that Shepard can go on as side missions. They’re cooperative only, but the matches are a blast to play through still. They are straightforward affairs, requiring participants to contend with wave based attacks and admittedly generic objectives, but it’s extremely cool to be able to play as an Asari commando, a Quarian soldier, or a Geth hunter; all of whom have unique strengths and abilities. As mentioned above as well, it’s possible to raise your Galactic Readiness by completing multiplayer matches too, which helps with your EMS scores for the main game.
It’s just a shame that microtransactions made their way into the game. At least the map packs are free though.
WILDCARD: HERE WE GO…
I’ll say this once, and leave it alone as best as I can: I absolutely hated the original ending to Mass Effect 3. I was dumbfounded with how abruptly the game ended and how few details were given about how the galaxy contended with the aftermath of the war against the Reapers. Previously, players didn’t get to see the results of the war that they waged. There were no consequences that could be seen as a result of killing off entire races, or refusing to help others. Conceivably, the only reason to do anything good as a character would be just to know that you did good.
They later made amends to the ending, releasing the Extended Cut for free, which answered many of the lingering questions and put to rest many of the gripes that people had with the ending, for the most part.
Perhaps the only thing that truly bothered me about the ending debacle was the assumption that my choices should’ve mattered more. The decisions that I made throughout the franchise should’ve felt more impactful in my opinion, though I can understand the limitations that Bioware were working under. Many of the things that could’ve changed would’ve required drastically different storylines, so some concessions had to be made, and that’s fine.
One smaller detail that I take issue with still is that an entire plot line about dark energy buildup was completely abandoned. Tali’s work on Haestrom in the second game, and all the talk of dark energy affecting things throughout the galaxy, just abandoned. It was later revealed that dark energy buildup was going to be the motivation behind the Reapers existing and doing their dark work, but that entire plotline was abandoned for reasons that remain unknown.
Mass Effect 3 honestly has ended up becoming a contender to be my favorite of the series. Sure, some things about it still perturb me, but the package overall is actually pretty fantastic. The story of Shepard trying to unite a galaxy, beautiful presentation, fantastic writing, amazingly crafted soundtrack, and the wonderfully realized characters; all in one package.
Despite the shortcomings and my emotional baggage I carry from the game, it’s still amazingly good. In fact, it’s great. Actually, so great that I might have to change my mind about the first Mass Effect being the best of the series.
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