If you had asked me five years ago how the Mass Effect trilogy would have ended up, I would have definitely had a different perspective. Game trilogies are a hard sell nowadays, with quality seemingly dropping with each release. Second outings tend to disappoint in comparison to the original, not to mention it’s a narrative feat to keep the same plot threads running for three straight outings. BioWare has broken this mold. Mass Effect was awesome; the sequel, fantastic; and the final game? Well, let’s just say that if you have invested yourself into this series, Mass Effect 3 is the pinnacle you have all been waiting for.
Without giving too much away, you once again take control of your Shepard as the Reapers are beginning their invasion of the galaxy. They have come to eradicate all organic life on Earth, and it is up to you and your crew to stop them. Depending on whether you decide to go vanilla or import your save from ME2 will determine several factors, and that is one of the many things that makes this series so special. Decisions I made from the first game have impacts in the finale, and character interactions change based on choices I have been making for two titles now.
Truly, this felt like the end to “my story.” This is my Shepard, and the decisions I have made and the alliances I have formed felt like I was the one to bring it all together. No other game does this as well as ME does, and I think it is actually one of its most appealing devices. I cared about the people we lost, on missions I wanted to take my friends, as opposed to who might offer me a better advantage. This game tugs at your emotions, and I am not ashamed to admit there are a few instances in ME3 that brought a tear to my eye. This game is an emotional powerhouse that really does it better than most out there.
The entire narrative begins and ends with a bang. There are so many epic moments in this game I lost count. The structure feels like Mass Effect. You will be tasked with zipping around the galaxy, collecting War Assets to help aid in the Reaper invasion. Your alliances will give you a better chance at survival as can be seen by the War Map. This new addition keeps track of each branch of your forces, as well as an overall counter of your chances in the final strike. It also keeps track of the galaxy and the Reaper invasion letting you know just how hard the final push is going to be.
If this is your first trek into the ME universe, I definitely recommend holding off and going back to at least play part two with the amended opening. This universe is simply too vast for someone to come in this late in the game and try to understand it. The Codex once again helps flesh out so much of the world, but you will still be lost on some aspects. For those that have been here since the beginning, though, the wealth of information and back-story is just as intense as it always has been. I could sit and flip through my Codex for hours learning about various characters, enemies and locales. The ME universe is truly one of richest in gaming.
When it comes down to the actual gameplay, BioWare has continued to evolve the series. The first game was definitely heavy RPG with light shooter elements. Part two seemed to go more shooter and refined the mechanics. The third iteration brings back a lot of the beloved RPG elements, while still remaining a very competent shooter. Your Shepard now has several skills, which can be leveled up and branched out. The customization is fantastic, allowing you to cater to your play style. Weapons also have modifications that add better scopes and power, but to be fair, the effects are truly minimal. The same is true with the armor. Things such as extra health are nice, but none of them make a massive impact. I do like the new health system, which allows you to take damage to one of several health bars, which regenerate if there is still some health left. Otherwise you need to use medi-gel.
If you blasted through the campaign, you could likely do it in around 15-20 hours. The side missions, though, are imperative to gaining opposition to fight the Reapers. There is around 40 hours of total content here depending on how much you do. I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but this is definitely a satisfying end to the trilogy. No cheap additions or hints, this is the end, and your actions have molded who lives, who dies and how things play out. I really felt responsible for everything that occurred by the end of the game, and believe me; some of it is hard to swallow.
What I liked most about the campaign, though, was the options you had to play it. You can take on normal, which is actually significantly more challenging than previous games, or bump it up to insanity, which is, well, insane. There is also the narrative difficulty, which makes everything super simple and easy, allowing gamers just wanting to get the story a chance to not get frustrated. Giving gamers the option to simply breeze through without worrying about dying or having to upgrade is perfect to draw in more casual players, or people without ample time to dedicate to games as much anymore.
The one area that gamers were concerned about was the addition of a multiplayer component to their single-player affair. ME3 includes an online mode, a first for the series, which is more akin to Gears of War’s Horde mode than anything else. There are six missions that can be tackled with friends and you can level up your character with upgrades. It is worth noting that all six of these missions are found in the main game as are the enemies you encounter. Think of this more as a section of the core game you can opt to play with friends and earn upgrades. It is a neat diversion, but nothing that will have players coming back over and over for. Honestly I am not really sold one way or the other on it. Still it opens up the possibility for more missions you can play with friends and more content is always welcome content.
Visually, the engine is showing its age when it comes to the textures and overall design. Don’t get me wrong; it still looks spectacular. The characters are stunning during the cut scenes with realistic facial and mouth movements, but some of the environments lacked some serious detail. Also, there were times when the game would pan to a character that simply wasn’t there; another limit of the technology and, of course, its age. There are also some hints of slowdown from time to time, but when you sit back and appreciate the variety of the locales and the enemies, you can forgive a lot of the aging engine’s issues.
Sound is immaculate. There really isn’t a better way to put it. The score is dynamic and emotional. The tracks that play during speeches and encounters capture the mood better than most big Hollywood movies. The voice acting is outstanding. Both male and female Shepard’s actors return, and the cast is almost all intact. Again, without going into specifics, each character brings certain flair and panache to the role, thus fleshing out their personality. I don’t think there is a game with a better cast of voice actors on the market.
I don’t expect a lot of people to not pick up Mass Effect 3. I think the reviews will all echo the same sentiments most of us already know. However, those who were maybe not as excited for it, or had fears it would not end on a solid note, can relax. This is a fitting end to an epic trilogy. I am not certain that any game could keep up this level of quality for as long as this series has. It is nice to see it end without feeling like it died prematurely. If Shepard and crew make a return, it won’t be met with criticism or cynicism. Instead, we will welcome them back with open arms. Mass Effect 3 is about as good of an ending as anyone could have possibly hoped for. You have to experience this early contender for Game of the Year, and it’s only March.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.