Mass Effect 3, and Bioware in particular – have a lot of expectation riding on this game. With two previous blockbuster games behind it, fans (including myself) are expecting a certain degree of grandeur and majesty that usually accompanies the final chapter in any series. The tying up of all the loose ends and an ending that will leave the player/reader/viewer with a feeling of great satisfaction that makes them realise that they have not just played a video game, read a book or watched a movie but they have experienced it, lived through the eyes of the protagonist and gone through their trials and hardships as they were their own.
Mass Effect 3 places all these expectation on a storyline which has essentially been used near-countless times – aliens are attacking Earth. And through the storytelling, character development and sheer emotion contained in the first two games, carrying this saga to its conclusion was not only a tall order for developers Bioware – it was a perfectly executed finale.
Mass Effect 3 starts with a bang! Several of them in fact. As you have most likely seen from the trailers and every piece of promotional material on the internet and beyond – Earth is under attack by The Reapers, the over-arching antagonists of the Mass Effect saga – a race of sentient warships who appear from the edges of space every few thousand years and eliminate all life in the galaxy.
But this isn’t a quick sprint to ‘finish the fight’ like you would believe – no – as soon as your initial prologue plays out you find yourself quickly settling into old Mass Effect habits, you find yourself travelling the galaxy, scanning planets, noticing people in the Citadel simply waiting for a certain Commander to come and run a specific errand for them, you get back into the habit of recruiting squad members (both new and some old favourites) and generally trying to either make the galaxy a safer place (if you’re a Paragon) or simply trying to interfere in as many lives as possible (if you’re more of a Renegade persuasion) Only this time of course – the main story is slightly different – you are no longer trying to stop the Reapers from attacking – your are recovering from the beginning of their apocalyptic invasion.
Not being the quick and sudden Independence Day style attack that I was personally expecting – the Reapers move from planet to planet, system to system destroying everything in their path more like the Necromongers from the Chronicles of Riddick. Armed with different (and increasingly more powerful) troop types which range from the simple Husk which Mass Effect players will be familiar with to the powerful, hulking Brutes whose melee attacks can be devastating to your squad.
In Mass Effect 3, Bioware want you to understand that the Reaper attack is a very real threat and that it affects more than simply Commander Shepherd and the crew of the Normandy, there are a few instances in the game where Bioware seem to force this point across – wanting to emphasise the fact that these particular characters or situations are important to the overall Mass Effect story or when they want to drag the ‘human element’ kicking and screaming into the spotlight regardless of need. I think Bioware forget sometimes that – as gamers – we are already heavily emotionally invested in this alternate reality that is Mass Effect – we’ve been playing this franchise for nearly five years now – we don’t necessarily need reminding through the mediums of overly altered voice tones, soft string music and atmospheric ambience that these situations and characters matter to the story. This criticism aside many of the touching moments in Mass Effect and powerful and emotion stirring, like I said, we really do care about these characters and situations after all.
The glue that firmly holds the entire Mass Effect 3 journey together this time is your gathering of war assets and your overall ‘Galactic Readiness’ which measures how capable you will be at attacking the Reapers during the final battle and ending their invasion. This gives you an overall purpose in Mass Effect 3, you no longer lose focus on the seemingly trivial side quests as that particular person you are heading out to rescue from a broken down frigate in the back end of space might just end up being an Asari fleet commander with hundreds of ships at their disposal.
The highly touted Kinect compatibility which was originally revealed at the 2011 E3 showcase essentially boils down to voice recognition where you have the option to use predetermined commands such as ‘Open’ ‘Search’ and ‘Salvage’ during exploration mode and gives you the option to issue tactical commands during battle. For example if I wanted to have Liara use Singularity on an enemy I would simply aim my cursor at the enemy I had a particular distain for and say “Liara, Singularity”
This feature also gives you the option to select dialogue options during conversations using the Kinect which – as is unfortunately prevalent with any recent Bioware title these days – means that a simple recitation of “I don’t want to help you” can escalate into a reputation destroying episode of holding somebody out of a fifteenth floor window. (okay, maybe that particular situation doesn’t actually happen)
Now, call me old fashioned but after the novelty of the Kinect feature wore off, I quickly settled back into the routine of issuing my squad commands using the controller. The command system, controlled by the Xbox 360s bumper button was what I was used to and by this stage in the series I was very much set in my ways. This is not to say that the Kinect functionality was a bad idea. I do still wish they would have let me control the Galaxy Map with my hands though.
The other hot topic of Mass Effect 3’s release has been Biowares option to ‘dumb down’ the conversation mechanic. Now as crazy as that may sound this speculation is not specifically true. Yes there is the option to change the conversation style from ‘Full Decisions’ to ‘No Decisions’ which, if switched to No Decisions, allows the game to choose the response for you in conversations. Now the ‘No Decisions’ mode is not something I would recommend at all but for people who simply hate any form of conversation in video game then I suppose this option is for them. And no, regardless of what people may have reported about this particular feature – it does not affect the combat in any way.
Oh, and did I mention the multiplayer? Yes, there’s multiplayer! In a Mass Effect game! A fundamentally single-player experience. And it’s not one of those tacky ‘added on’ extras that you find with some other games either!
Essentially in Multiplayer you play as one of four co-op squad members who team up to take on ten waves of increasingly difficult survival matches through six different maps. The ability to play as different races really opens this mode up however as ranging play from the Krogan, Turian and even the Drell allows each race to add their own sense of uniqueness to the gameplay. It’s a wonderful feeling, teaming together with three friends (or strangers) playing as different races with different abilities, soldiers, biotics and engineers all pushing back at the encroaching forces of enemies. It’s simply an extremely pleasurable experience which also offers you bonus’ to your Galactic Readiness in the single player campaign.
The gameplay in Mass Effect 3 is obviously highly reminiscent of the previous iterations. But like Garrus himself, Bioware can’t help but ‘modify the calibrations’ on the Mass Effect gameplay aspect.
The biggest and most obvious comparison is going to be made by any gamer out there so I’ll clear it up right now – Yes! The combat in Mass Effect 3 is very similar to the Gears of War franchise. But this isn’t exactly something new. During my time with the Mass Effect trilogy, I (as well as many others out there) have noticed the subtle slide from RPG-heavy shooter to run-and-gun cover based shooter with the occasional conversation. Indeed, it feels as though there are considerably less conversation choices this time around and many more set piece encounters with chest-high walls.
You find yourself having a cutscene-driven conversation with an NPC which may or may not contain moments of Paragon/Renegade interaction and then are given a choice of conversation topics at the end. If you pair this with the revised inventory system where you can no longer carry around enough hardware to shame a small Geth Armada and you have to consider the weight of each weapon and also who is proficient with which weapon (Liara is only able to use light weapons for example, Garrus can only carry Sniper Rifles and Shotguns) the weight of your own combined loadout can dramatically alter the cooldown rate of your special abilities so whilst preparation is still necessary, it is no longer as mandatory if you are not heavily dependant on your Powers.
Combat wise there were a few occasions where the option to turn corners whilst staying flattened against a wall became difficult for the game to understand and what specifically counts as cover is questionable at times, meaning that whilst you are trying to stick again a perfectly flat, body wide column the game simply cannot register this and your end up performing a spectacular Critical Mission Failure. Though thankfully these errors were very few and far between.
It’s probably safe to say that Mass Effect 3 is not an RPG in the traditional sense of the term and it’s probably safer to say that it hasn’t been one for a while. From the early days of Mass Effect 1 back in 2007 where you had a deep and involved story with numerous customisation options and frankly slightly clumsy action sequences – the saga has come a long way. Though this may not be to everyones taste, I personally see this change from ‘RPG’ to ‘Action-Adventure Space Opera’ as the natural evolution of the genre and the franchise. We have worked through the Mass Effect games – potentially a number of times, we have cultivated your Commander Shepherd through the story and difficulty levels of both Mass Effect 1 and 2 and to see the consequences of those choices and decisions play out now in the final chapter feels right. It’s almost as if up until this point, Shepherd and the crew of the Normandy have had their choices and decisions to make but now – much like the player, they are very much along for the ride during the devastating war with the Reapers.
Only Bioware could make you feel the gravity of billions upon billions of lives depending on your every action in Mass Effect 3. It is the ultimate spear head for the Shepherd saga, as gamers we have loved Mass Effects characters, studied its history and completely absorbed ourselves in its mythology to learn about our greatest enemy, the Reapers.
With all organic life on the verge of annihilation by an unrelenting and seemingly unstoppable force you willingly through yourself into the fray, wanting to take the fight to the Reapers, you bend over backwards to travel across an entire galaxy to perform seemingly mundane tasks to gather more support for your war effort. You find yourself rallying support from anybody you can reach. This is no longer a hidden fight against a single Reaper; this is a fight for the survival of all species.
In conclusion, Mass Effect in general is not a perfect series of games but it is an unforgettable one, Mass Effect 3 stands as a breathtaking and stunning end to the series. It is the fruition of every conversation, every mission completed, every life saved and every choice throughout the series all meeting in a wonderful crescendo of epic action and consequence which offers Mass Effect 3 players a satisfying ending that will remain with them for a very long time.