Review: Mass Effect 3 – Something greater

This is the game Mass Effect fans have been waiting for. All of the time spent reading the codex and following Commander Shepard’s story of the battle against the Reapers, comes to a close. What makes this trilogy different from others is the personal involvement each player has; the moral decisions they have made and the ramifications that follow. We carry over our story and character from game to game, to see how events correlate and if the decisions we have made led to the desired results. But for a new player, they don’t have that connection and won’t quite understand why Mass Effect 3 is such a big deal to fans. If you are part of that group that has no desire to play Mass Effect at all, there is nothing that the third installment in the franchise will provide to change your mind.

Mass Effect 3 wastes no time getting into the story, and if you’re not a player who has been there from the beginning, you will be absolutely lost. There are just too many references to past events, people or issues, to really comprehend the situation and appreciate the universe. Since the narrative is so essential to the structure of the game, starting with Mass Effect 3 is like starting at the fifth of seven Harry Potter books. Even I, someone who has played every game (including downloadable content), have trouble remembering events from the first game. I have a vague idea of the main events of the story, but people who I may have helped along the way that made minor appearances, might as well be complete strangers. I cannot imagine the experience for a new player being enjoyable at any condition

For those who are caught up on the story and anxiously await the conclusion, you will encounter some noticeable changes. Mass Effect 2 stripped down the amount of things you could do to alter your character’s performance, where as Mass Effect 3 returns what was removed. Biotic powers or character attributes still follow a linear progression, allowing you to upgrade via skills points whatever abilities you find is most useful for your play style. To allow for more customization, skills near the end of the tree branch in two different directions, forcing the player to choose between something that is usually more offensive or defensive.

And while I never particularly enjoyed the implementation and the use of powers in combat, Mass Effect 3’s enemy types really encourage you to combine powers and breakdown the situation. In the two previous games, powers like Overload and Incinerate were always sort of secondary as I could take an enemy’s shield or armor down just as fast as if I used one of the powers. This strategy wasnot effective in Mass Effect 3, my powers were always is use, and even with a few second cool down, I still wanted to use them faster.

The Biotic or Tech powers in Mass Effect work great in conjunction with the improved combat. The cover system has been refined and further developed, almost replicating a similar experience to that of Gears of War.This improvement also meant a stronger focus on action, at times almost feeling like I was playing Call of Duty, where it kept sending waves and waves of enemies at me until I moved forward. When the game requires you to sustain the combat for long periods of time, the flaws become more visible, the clumsy control begins to let you down. There were numerous times during intense moments where I was desperately trying to get into cover, and instead of going into cover like I intended, my character just rolled into the wall, back into a standing position for the enemy to finish me off. I completed Mass Effect 2 on Hardcore difficulty with little problem, yet in Mass Effect 3, I was constantly switching between Hardcore and Normal.

In Mass Effect 3 you can even customize your weapons, modify them to improve their effectiveness for when you enter combat. Many complained of the lack of variety of weapons in Mass Effect 2, so BioWare listened by putting many variations of snipers, shotguns, pistols, etc. While all these weapon, power and combat improvements sound great, they are so insignificant in the overall experience. The amount of time I spend customizing my load outs, planning out my skill trees and shooting waves and waves on enemies that are in much more abundance than previous games, are just in the way from what I actually care about. Whether that is a problem or an accomplishment is easily argued. It is amazing that BioWare managed to create a story that I care so deeply about, but at the same time, there were so many instances while I played that I just wanted to cut the shooting gallery to half of the original time, just to move on to the next scene.

When you’re not shooting or customizing weapons, you’re talking to people, building relationships with other alien races to prepare for the war. As alliances are formed, your Military Strength increases which is essential to the success of your mission. Then there is Effective Military Strength which is dependent on your Military Strength and Galactic Readiness, which can only be improved through multiplayer. If it wasn’t for the boring planet scanning side quests, I would have never even bothered with the multiplayer until after the game. But improving your Galactic Readiness through multiplayer is a faster, much more enjoyable way of increasing your Effective Military Strength, even though the wave based survival mode is not very exciting in the first place. The co-op mode allows players to customize their weapons and upgrade each class individually, though these aspects do not reinvent the waved based survival game.

What I play Mass Effect for is to interact with characters, learn about the planets or origins of the many alien races. Sure I don’t mind shooting things once in a while, but I enjoy it in small sections, in places where they feel necessary to the story, rather than just a delaying tactic to lengthen the level for another 10 unwanted minutes. Even though the combat can be clumsy or the quest log is an absolute mess, I eventually learned not to care about them. The core of the game, the story, the decision making, is the best you will encounter in modern video games. There was one night, before I went to sleep, where I was presented with a difficult decision. It was what I wanted to do at the time, yet I felt uneasy while I slept, I was not ready to deal with the thoughts the came into my head after I had made this decision. The fact the Mass Effect 3 was able to affect me on an emotional level even after the fact, was an indication that there was something much more significant than levelling up my character or getting new weapons.

For all of the criticisms I have shared about some aspects of the game, I want to outline that it is an exceptional game, that there are very few games that are as fantastic as the Mass Effect franchise overall. I often recall the day where I was hesitant to pick up Mass Effect for a measly 12 dollars, but thankfully I was smart enough back then to give it a chance – I cannot imagine not being a part of this universe. To see my character grow along with me, and have my decisions carry forward with each release, is an experience you don’t often find with video games. This is where the value in the game lays, not the mechanics or amount of guns you can acquire, but the involvement you have from game to game.

Mass Effect 3, as captivating as it is, will mean absolutely nothing to new players. The continued story arc from game to game and references to past events or people, are far too embedded within the story for new players to appreciate. If there is any interest in playing, don’t make the mistake I almost made a few years ago, and just experience it for yourself. But if you’re not new, the conventions and formula that concoct a Mass Effect, are very much still core to the structure. Whatever issues I have with combat or the quest log ultimately do not matter, they are quickly forgotten and overpowered by the draw of the game, the story. For many, too much time has been invested in the story, characters and moral decisions to not see how it all ends. There is nothing that I or anyone will say that will stop you from seeing it.