Review by vivalapolitik
"Mass Effect 3 Fittingly Caps Off One Of Gaming's Greatest Achievements, But Not Without It's Problems"
As 2012's first blockbuster of the year, the hype surrounding Mass Effect 3 is palpable. The near decade of development time poured into the series has led to enormous success, with critics hailing Mass Effect 1 & 2 as some of the most profound and innovative experiences in gaming history. Every aspect of our journey has led to this, and the stakes have never been higher for both Shepard and Bioware. One must save the entire galaxy while the other aims to tie together numerous plot points, characters, and player choices. In the end, even when it stumbles, Mass Effect 3 picks itself up and wildly succeeds in every area that matters.
Against all odds, Commander Shepard has both stopped the attack on the Citadel by the Reaper Sovereign and traveled through the Omega-4 Relay to destroy the Collectors. But the galaxy is still reluctant to even acknowledge the existence and impending arrival of the Reapers. It's fitting then that Mass Effect 3 begins with a slap of reality. The Reapers are here, and Earth is systematically overwhelmed with immeasurable power as Shepard attempts to make it off-planet to unite the galaxy against its annihilation.
The story itself is more comparable to ME1 than ME2, as the game is less focused on recruitment and more on progression. The major plot points present many choices with resounding consequences, and Mass Effect 3 handles morality brilliantly. Choices are ambiguous. Rarely are they plainly good or bad, and I was routinely left weighing the benefits and repercussions of decisions before making them for minutes at a time.
Mass Effect 3's predecessors have done a fantastic job of fleshing out the world's deep lore, and it's because of this that solving long-established conflicts feels so good.
Given that each game in the series is a massive RPG, Bioware's attention to closure within the meat of Mass Effect 3 is impressive. Nothing is left out, and some of the best character arcs in gaming are brought to a proper close, delivering some incredibly poignant moments. There's also an added layer of intimacy thanks to a smaller squad of characters that have more personal stories to tell. It's a nice contrast to the epic scope of the rest of the game and keeps the story from becoming too big for it's own good.
Bioware should also be commended for their progressive stance on equality. Players can choose to play as a female Commander Shepard rather than a male, and there's even several gay crew members on your ship. You can also, regardless of the gender of your Shepard, choose his/her sexuality depending on who you romance. What's most satisfying to see in these instances is how Bioware treats these aspects like any other. They don't receive preferential treatment and they aren't forgotten or discriminated against. Bravo, Bioware.
Some of the best writing in the series can be found in Mass Effect 3, and while there is a small decrease in the amount of dialogue choices given to players, the options available are incredibly thoughtful. The game sports an incredibly strong atmosphere and tone as well. There's a powerful human feel to the world, as each area of the galaxy is affected by and dealing with the threat of the Reapers differently. Mass Effect 3 also ingeniously communicates information naturally through Shepard's surroundings, breathing innovation into standard gaming conventions.
Shepard's final journey was clearly designed by masters of narrative. It's too bad then, that the ending crafted by Bioware to both the game and the trilogy is an abomination not worthy of the Mass Effect name. Without giving away spoilers, the game's ending really is as bad as fans claim and nearly invalidates the series' achievements.
Ending aside, Mass Effect 3 has the tightest narrative and most progressive plot in the series, both of which are supported by fantastic character design and the best writing in gaming. It's just too bad that the game falls apart in its final moments, inevitably leaving some players with a bitter, confusing taste in their mouth.
Let's get one thing out of the way: Mass Effect 3 looks great.
The last installment in the trilogy is all about an epic finish to the series, and the Reapers are the star of the show. The scale and power of these machines is front and center, and fighting wave after wave of enemies against a backdrop of multiple Reapers never ceased to amaze me.
The galaxy is falling apart, and it's evident that nothing is safe from the destruction of the Reapers. Environments reflect the crumbling nature of the Mass Effect universe and are aesthetically unique and detailed. You'll rarely if ever visit similar settings, which greatly lends itself to the game's escalating narrative.
From a technical standpoint, the game can look very good. Lighting effects and water physics are particularly stellar, and character models can be startlingly lifelike.
These pockets of graphical brilliance are however, marred by inconsistencies.
The frame rate repeatedly drops in the same areas and, while not nearly as bad as the first game in the series, isn't as stable as ME2.
Specific textures and character models also stick out like sore thumbs and can be downright ugly.
It's as if, on a tight schedule, Bioware was forced to focus on several areas of its game engine rather than the technology as a whole.
Technical limitations detract from a solid sense of coherence and it doesn't set a new standard of graphical fidelity, but Mass Effect 3 is still a visually impressive experience.
With over 40,000 lines of dialogue and numerous actors and actresses, the voice acting is some of the best and most comprehensive in gaming. Nearly every line is performed excellently, even though there are a few bad apples (I'm looking at you, Jessica Chobot / Diana Allers!).
The score is a mixed bag. Emotional moments are powerful and moving, but action pieces fall flat and often aren't more than background noise. It's too bad Hollywood composer Clint Mansell only wrote a handful of pieces for the score, as his are easily the best of the entire game.
Bioware has said that DICE, a fellow EA studio, advised them on game sound, and it shows. Guns are sharp, powers are forceful, and both allies and enemies constantly chatter between one another on the battlefield. The world also has incredible ambience, which is fitting given the scale of the story.
Bioware proves once again they are the leaders of voice acting in gaming, and the score and sounds do their job well.
Gameplay has received the most controversy from fans of the Mass Effect series. Some criticized the shift from RPG to Action in the leap from ME1 to ME2, while others embraced it. Fortunately, Mass Effect 3 is a sweet combination of the two.
Bioware has taken the fluid and smooth controls of ME2 and refined them. Combat is quick and visceral. Players can perform omnidirectional rolls, bind powers to specific buttons, and perform a heavy melee attack specific to each class. Level design is of AAA quality, and combat arenas avoid linearity and encourage exploration.
There's an admirable amount of depth and innovation to the Mass Effect combat mechanics. A new power recharge system is introduced to dictate the speed at which your abilities recharge based on the weight of the guns you carry. Biotic explosions and tech bursts can occur when two or more biotic and/or tech abilities are used on the same enemy, resulting in a powerful explosion with a large radius. There's also a wide variety of weapon mods and armor pieces players can use to alter stats.
Enemy variety is remarkably well designed. Each faction has its own hierarchy of enemies that behave and react differently depending on the situation. Even more satisfying are the numerous options available to take down each enemy. Combat is never relegated to simplistic boss-like encounters with only one option of approach. AI is intelligent and ruthless, and enemy squads won't hesitate to flank and overwhelm you should you let your guard down.
All of these components come together to create what is the best fusion of the RPG and Action genres ever implemented in a combat system. It's up to players to determine how they want to handle a situation, and in that regard, Mass Effect 3's gameplay has combined the RPG customization of the first game with the action mechanics of the second.
Mass Effect 3 marks Mass Effect's first foray into online gaming with a cooperative, four-player horde mode in which players must survive ten waves of enemies. All the elements of the single player experience can be found here, and they translate exceptionally well given the uniqueness of Mass Effect's gameplay.
There's a compelling sense of camaraderie as players hunker down to survive the onslaught of enemies. Even more satisfying is the option to play as various races from the Mass Effect universe. Quarians, Drell, Humans, Krogan, Salarians, and Turians can all be seen on the battlefield fighting alongside one another and really highlights the series' theme of tolerance and unity.
Some really great ideas come into play the further players dive into the online experience.
Traditional unlock systems are ditched for a risk-reward trading card-esque system. Players receive a randomized pack of unlocks based on how many credits they pony up, which can lead to exciting, tense scenarios of either satisfaction or disappointment.
Experience and credits are rewarded for both finishing matches and obtaining medals, which are specific challenges players can complete within games. The gameplay is given a great amount of diversity thanks to a large selection of enemies, maps, and difficulty modes. Extra experience can also be rewarded for randomizing the map, enemy, and difficulty level of matches.
All six classes from the single player campaign can be found in Mass Effect 3's online multiplayer. Within these classes, four different races are available depending on the class. Unique to these characters are specific sets of abilities, animations, and stats. So yes, there's an insane amount of customization.
What's most fascinating about Mass Effect 3's online element is that its weaknesses can also be interpreted as strengths. Multiplayer can interact with single player, and while it may disappoint those who refuse to play online, it's nice to have interactivity between the two modes. Co-op can also be hard. Really hard. There's a challenge present for even the most skilled players, but those less fortunate may always be stuck in the same difficulty bracket.
Mass Effect 3's online multiplayer really surprised me, and is one of the best third-person online experiences on the market.
Writing this review was difficult. As Mass Effect 3's release drew closer and closer, the hype surrounding the game reached impossible heights. I initially thought my experience was ruined after witnessing the poorly conceived ending that left me with an upsetting conclusion to my beloved Shepard. But a riveting moment I experienced near the end of the game really made me realize what an achievement Mass Effect 3 is.
As I was about to charge into what I knew was the final conflict, I ended up choosing a character for my squad who I knew was a terrible choice for combat.
I didn't choose this character because of their prowess on the battlefield, but because I wanted to be with them when our journey ended. I cared enough about who they were as a person to forgo a more combat-appropriate squad mate. That speaks to me more than anything else.
Mass Effect 3 isn't perfect. It has graphical issues, a disappointing score, and a slap-in-the-face ending. But what it has achieved makes these issues largely inconsequential. Mass Effect 3 and the series as a whole has given players an experience never before seen in any medium; an experience crafted by the players themselves. You're not playing as Commander Shepard. You're playing as your Commander Shepard. All of the choices players make lead to a unique tale that feels one-of-a-kind.
I'd just like to thank Bioware for mostly making good on their promise to deliver a compelling, unique experience shaped by the choices you make and the relationships you forge. Thank you.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/09/12
Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (US, 03/06/12)
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