Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 3/6/2012
Platform Reviewed: PC & X-Box 360 (Multiplayer)
System Specs: Core i5 760 @ 2.8ghz
EVGA GTX570 2GB RAM
1TB Caviar Black HDD
Played with Controller or Mouse and Keyboard? Mouse and Keyboard; Controller for multiplayer
Difficulty(ies) Played: Normal
Time Played: 24 hours. Completion
Concept and Execution
Many things have changed throughout the Mass Effect series, but there is one constant: whether the story centers on humans or aliens, tolerance is earned through blood and sacrifice. The premise of the trilogy is that an alliance of alien races, joined by the young upstarts Humanity, must face an enemy whose sole goal is to destroy them. However, race relations are constantly in flux, and the greatest threat to them is not the Reaper invasion, but petty infighting, rabid political climates, and rampant, multi-dimensional xenophobia. One of the most impressive things about the series is how closely it mirrors our difficult real-world personal, national and global relationships.
In Mass Effect 3, Shepard must convince each race to defend itself from a massive Reaper attack that has been launched against Earth and is sure to spread throughout the galaxy, but they put their own species’ interests ahead of what they perceive as a human issue. Until the conflict reaches their doorstep, that is.
The dialogue in the game is on par with previous games—a wonderful mix of space opera action stock exchanges, where the series finds its roots, and more profound and even touching moments. But because this is the third game, BioWare is able to leverage the familiarity of returning characters. We found this added to not only the main storyline, but the side missions, too. And while they were satisfying, these sequences are often the most engaging to the long-term Mass Effect player.
Overall, Mass Effect 3 stands on its own in terms of narrative and concept, although some players may not feel fulfilled with Mass Effect3 as a final entry in the series.
As for the RPG elements, where the series claims its greatest fame, we found ourselves engaged in many instances where our choices were difficult in ways that are common to all of the games in the trilogy. In Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, Shepard was faced with hard decisions, but their consequences had little immediate impact on the narrative and felt rather nebulous because of that. Of course there were instances where crew members were lost and romances were developed, but it isn’t until Mass Effect 3 that the real impact of former choices are realized fully. This made for some interesting and powerful moments, sometimes elative and others dire. However, because Mass Effect 3 is the final installment of the trilogy, the choices that are made are sometimes illusory. For example, one of the staple dilemmas of Mass Effect places Shepard in charge of deciding whether one or another race should be extinguished or a crew member should live or die. Mass Effect 3 contains several such instances, and we found that while we fretted over some of the outcomes, in reality, they were based on a series of former narrative paths we took. In a sense, the choice was already made in previous games. This is something that will not affect the completionist, who will probably import a playthrough that contains all of the outcomes that he or she desires. However, those who did not complete Mass Effect 1 and 2 will have a less chance to achieve a desired ending in Mass Effect 3, and those who found themselves with corrupt files and/or lost saves will have to either complete another playthrough or find a saved game on one of the sites that offers them.
Overall, we were impressed with the way that the war factored into the choice system, and we were even more impressed with the incorporation of the storyline in the conversations that take place between the peripheral NPCs on the Citadel and elsewhere. In the previous games, there was plenty of news broadcast throughout the game, with Shepard’s accomplishments central. In Mass Effect 3, the extent to which even overheard discussions serve to help develop the story was impressive. Details like these are what make the Mass Effect experience so rich.
Concept and Execution Grade: 23/25
Game mechanics in Mass Effect 3 are a mixed bag, with many improvements over the prior game, but with some puzzling choices as well. The inventory system is vastly improved, with weapons having stats (rate of fire, capacity, damage, etc.) instead of just a description. Each weapon can also equip two mods, which add bonuses like extra damage. Weapons and mods are found in missions, and some may be purchased in shops at the Citadel. Weapons and mods have multiple levels, with each upgrade providing incremental improvements to things like damage and ammo capacity and the variety is greater than what was available in Mass Effect 2, but not quite the inventory explosion that was the original Mass Effect. Heavy weapons have been removed from the weapon choices available to players. Instead, they are scattered around certain maps, usually strategically placed near the location of a tough battle or a defensible position. This tends to make them feel more special and rare than they did in Mass Effect 2, but it can be frustrating if you discover them only after finishing that tough fight. The final improvement is in the weight system, which allows any class to take any combination of weapons into battle. Each weapon has a weight value, and the more weight carried, the slower powers regenerate, forcing players to balance a desire to have many weapons available with the penalty to power cooldowns.
Resource management has also changed. Gone are the endless hours of planet scanning and the spending of resources for gun upgrades. Instead, the Normandy scans for war assets to help fight the Reapers. These assets are sometimes directly added to your war readiness, as in the case of finding a missing ship or lost black ops team, and sometimes they are items or plans that must be given to someone at the Citadel in order to unlock some other asset for the war effort. The emphasis on specific entries to the war effort gives it a feeling of being more real than if it were simply another number added to your total.
Experience is awarded for actions during missions instead of at the end like they did in Mass Effect 2, which cuts down on the episodic feel that the previous game had, leading to a more integrated experience. Another bonus is the fact that your imported Shepard retains his level from Mass Effect 2, avoiding the jarring experience of being knocked down to level one after saving the universe. While this was justified in Mass Effect 2 with the mechanic of Cerberus rebuilding Shepard after his near death experience, it would have been exceedingly hard to pull off a similar deleveling without it feeling arbitrary.
The combat mechanics are hit and miss. Grenades are back, which is a bonus, though they are only available to certain classes. On the downside, the universal cooldown for powers still remains. This makes power-heavy classes like Adepts or Engineers seem less useful, because no matter how many powers you have, you still have to wait for a cooldown before you can use the next. Mercifully, medi-gel has been removed from this, so you no longer have to wait for your tactical cloak to come off cooldown to revive your squadmates.
Powers have been improved as well, with each one sporting six ranks, of which the last three are customizable. Each rank represents a concrete bonus (i.e. 30% damage increase or 10% area of effect increase) rather than the smaller incremental bonuses that were offered in Mass Effect 2. The final three levels of each power usually offer either unique mechanics or passive bonuses to other aspects of the character or squad as a whole. For example, sticky grenades can be turned into proximity mines that detonate when an enemy approaches, or any ammo power can be granted to squadmates at 50% power. The end result of this change is that every point spent in a power feels much more useful and interesting, and choices players make can significantly change the way a class is played, which wasn’t nearly as prevalent in Mass Effect 2.
The multiplayer mode of Mass Effect 3 is a refreshing and welcome addition to the previously exclusively single-player franchise. It’s a natural fit mechanically, though not as integrated into the single-player narrative as we had hoped. The extent of the impact that the multiplayer has on the single player game centers on the “war readiness” rating, a percentage that is used as a multiplier to your “war assets” in the single player campaign. The more multiplayer you do, the higher the percentage, and more war asset points are awarded in your single player game.
The match-making in multiplayer is quick and easy, giving the option of either random pick-up groups or playing with friends online in a four-man team. It is co-op only, not competitive, pitting you and your team-mates against teams of NPC enemies from either Cerberus, Reaper husks, or the Geth.
There are only four gender/race combinations available for each of the six classes, with fifty-percent being humans, which we found unfortunate. It would be nice to see some additional options for race and gender selection being offered in future patches or DLC. Each class has three special powers–one of them race-specific. This can be a bit of a mixed bag. While each race seems unique, it’s disappointing when your favorite race may not have the power you’d prefer, and there’s no way to change it.
Only the male and female humans are available upon first accessing the multiplayer mode. The other two races must be unlocked by receiving them in randomly in booster packs that are purchased with either in-game currency that is earned through playing missions, or with real-life currency (i.e. Microsoft points, etc). It’s a little disheartening that a lazy player can just buy the upgrade packs, but this does not present as large of a problem as it could have due to the cooperative gameplay. Plus the in-game currency is quickly and easily earned. The booster packs also include weapon upgrades, new weapons, weapon mods, and single-use items such as medi-gel, ammo packs, and rockets. The items and weapons are accessible by all your multi-player characters.
The character customization options initially include only a primary and highlight color for your armor, but patterns and lights can later be unlocked. Just as in the single-player campaign, your class does not dictate your weapon choice, and you can pick any two types from the five available. Also like single-payer, the weight of weapons affects your power cooldowns.
There are five different stages and three different difficulty levels. The three different enemy sets can appear on any of these stages. You can choose random set-up or pick each one specifically. The enemies attack in waves. Most of the waves are completed simply by eliminating all NPCs, but intermixed are waves with specific objectives, such as holding a specific point for a period of time, activating switches at various key points, or taking out specific targets with a certain time limit. The last wave is always getting to an extraction point in order to safely escape the level and features the fiercest and largest wave of enemies.
Players gain experience at a pretty satisfying rate, allowing for quick level-ups, but even starting at the low levels, players shouldn’t worry about not being able to contribute to a party, as even a new character is useful when played skillfully in a team-based setting. There is no level-grouping or ranking system in place for the multiplayer at this time, which can have its pros and cons. On one hand, the community can be a bit unforgiving. More than once our level 1 character was kicked from a group in favor of higher-leveled players. Yet, if there was a system that grouped people by level in order to prevent kicks, it would be harder for new players to gain levels as they would have a smaller chance of successfully completing missions. The difficultly system would have to be reworked.
Probably the biggest problem with the multiplayer mechanics is the many uses of a single primary button (i.e. A for Xbox and its equivalents). We often found ourselves rolling when we wanted to take cover or vice versa, as well as struggling to revive someone, climb something, or hurtle objects on the first try.
In a narrative sense, multiplayer is problematic. The tie-in to the main story is limited and forced. The generic voice-overs give the play a feeling of falseness. It doesn’t seem to carry any real weight in the main storyline like it should. It’s very disconnected. However, this doesn’t take away from the fun of the multiplayer mode. The play is excellent–simple and stream-lined.
Game Mechanics Grade: 23/25
When constructing a sci-fi universe, proper execution of the fictional world is absolutely necessary in order to create an immersive environment. Mass Effect 3 accomplishes this in every possible way. From the incredible sound of Reapers attacking to the calm piano juxtaposed to the violent invasion of Earth, every moment–aurally and visually–is beautifully integrated and definitely adds to the immersion of the game.
The sound of Mass Effect 3 creates one of the most suspenseful atmospheres of any game. You are introduced very early on to the dark, menacing hum of Reaper ships as they fire their destructive lasers. At first, the combat felt distant; the powerful lasers would level buildings nowhere near your position and you were forced to only see the horror of a building falling to the ground. Later on, the sound preceded the horror of a bright beam sweeping the ground adjacent you, leaving you wiping the sweat off your brow as you continue your mad dash to the next bit of cover.
The musical score is the best in the series. It features tracks that we actually want to listen to outside the game. The piano theme that plays during destructive scenes is no doubt the iconic composition within the game and leaves a sense of overwhelming concern whenever it plays. The fast-paced songs during the end of the game fit each situation, fueling the adrenaline rush of having to always look for the nearest piece of debris for cover.
The level design of each mission really sets the mood for the feel of all-out war. Many missions are structured around struggling from one military outpost to another in order to secure a key objective in that planet. While in earlier Mass Effect games, you feel as though that your actions have such a massive impact on each area, your kills in the war seem almost pointless when three more Reaper Harvesters — skeletal dragons — fly overhead to kill a group of Turian soldiers after you spent ten minutes holding a position against groups of Husks.
The voice-acting in this final installment is the most successfully-integrated of the franchise. Nearly every discussion flows perfectly with minimal awkwardness. While some of the dialogue seems to have been hastily-written, most conversations are deep, moving, and fit well in the story. Your squad members always have something meaningful to say to you, and hearing references to many of the decisions made in the past always give a feeling of satisfaction.
Atmosphere Grade: 25/25
Players who have been with the Mass Effect series since the very beginning will find some special bonuses that make the game feel like listening to a greatest hits album by their favorite artist. Lots of attention was paid to the little subplots that have been scattered throughout the first two games of the series, and many of these will come to fruition, for better or for worse, in Mass Effect 3. Did you help the asari and krogan get together in Illium in Mass Effect 2? You can learn what happens to them here. How about that guy who really wants his refund in the Citadel? You can finally put that issue to rest. Want to know who Liara’s dad is? You can find that out, too. It is expected that the major plots and playable characters will be addressed in a series finale such as this, but it is nice to see BioWare paid attention to many of the little things that made the two previous games feel so much like a living universe.
Of course, the downside to a greatest hits album is that you have heard all of the songs before. Sometimes, it can feel as if players are just going down a checklist of decisions made in the previous two games and seeing the outcomes one by one. Previous players are also integrated in a hit or miss fashion. Important characters like Garrus, Wrex, and Liara have starring roles, of course, but some of the others aren’t as lucky. Many times lesser characters, even ones that played important roles (or were playable characters) in the previous games get little more than a cameo before they are either shuffled off to the war assets column or are shuffled off of their mortal coil. We found ourselves wanting more meaningful interactions with these characters, even if it was just in the form of being able to talk to them on the Normandy.
The multiplayer is a definitive addition to the series in terms of entertainment value. The option to play with friends and strangers alike using the fine-tuned combat system is a ton of fun. And with all six classes available, including different racial abilities, it gives players a chance to try different play styles and experience an entirely new facet of the game. This is also the only chance players have had so far in the Mass Effect universe to play a Krogan, which is a bonus in and of itself.
Though the multiplayer mode has definite replayability, especially with the various enemies, maps, and levels of difficulty, there does come a point where we felt like we were running the same scenarios– namely because we were. So, while highly enjoyable, we would love to see BioWare eventually add more scenarios in future content so as to keep the multiplayer a viable option for fresh play long after the shine of launch fades.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest complaints about Mass Effect 3 is the ending. For a trilogy built upon your numerous decisions throughout three games, the end result is lackluster. Without getting into too many details, expect to see little to no focus on your decisions made during the trilogy. In doing this, BioWare took away replay value in the game for those who wish to see alternate ending sequences. While you are able to spend time replaying the game to find a different means to the end, it almost seems ineffectual when your choices mean nothing at the conclusion.
Despite our lack of desire to replay the game now, BioWare always delivers on well-written DLC stories. We can almost certainly expect an assortment of new characters, missions, and –if the vocal community has anything to say about the matter – new endings. While it is unfortunate that such a great franchise ends leaving us with a very minimal desire to play it again, we are lucky to live in an age where game content is no longer limited to a single cartridge, but able to be expanded upon as long as the developers continue working.
Entertainment Value Grade: 21/25