Review by rubicon14

"A Botched Sequel"

Mass Effect 3 Review
A Botched Sequel
Score: 5/10 (Average)

OVERVIEW

Mass Effect 3 is a disappointing sequel that makes many of the same mistakes Bioware made in Dragon Age II (and some new ones) and fails to introduce enough new material to make up for its shortcomings. Graphics are basically recycled from previous games, and are really showing their age. The gameplay is almost identical to the previous two games, except for a new emphasis on finding cover (ala Gears of War). The plot picks up where the last game left off (with some gaps) and doesn't bring anything new to the table. Mass Effect 3 isn't a bad game, it's just not the game it should have been.

GRAPHICS/VIDEO/SOUND

Mass Effect 3 looks just like Mass Effect 1 and 2. Same main character, mostly same secondary characters, same ship, and even some of the same environments (like the Citadel). When Mass Effect came out, the game looked great. But by 2012, the game is showing its age. And with other blockbuster games released that have pushed the envelope on graphics (e.g. Skyrim and Halo sequels), Mass Effect no longer impresses. The glossy, industrial, metal environments all look the same, and the player would be forgiven for not remembering what made one level different from the next (contrast that with the Dwarven ruins of Skyrim). Even with the built-in variety that should come with the Mass Effect universe (a fictional galaxy with an endless number of races and worlds), the game's graphics are uninspired and cookie cutter.

The game also has a fair share of glitches and longer than necessary loading times. A perfect example is on the Normandy's default level you return to after missions. The communications room is separated from the command room by a security checkpoint that scans you with a blue grid of light (or something) and forces you to stop for a few seconds. Each time. It slows the player down for no reason and breaks up the action. I suspect this allows the rest of the ship to load while you are stopped in your tracks (doors are often slow to open for what seems to be the same reason), but the space is so small and bland that it is boggling why such delay would be necessary. I would understand if the delay allowed me to enjoy some spectacular graphics, but that's not the case. There is also an irritating blur built into the game that blurs your vision when you turn or look around. It doesn't create realism, it creates nausea, and it takes a while to get used to. I'm not the kind of gamer who demands perfect graphics, but when graphics get in the way of good gameplay, I hold the designers accountable.

The music is better than average, and the cutscenes look polished and sound good, but there was nothing jaw-dropping, which was a let down considering the build-up to this game. Mass Effect 3 has been in development for years and should have been a more impressive game given the hype for this series.

PLOT (NO SPOILERS)

The ending of Mass Effect 3 is infamously underdeveloped, causing the developers to release a supplemental DLC just to put some lipstick on a pig. But the plot of Mass Effect 3 suffers throughout the game, not just at the ending.

Mass Effect 1 was the opening act that introduced you to the galaxy and its various races, worlds, and kicked off the Reaper conflict. It was designed to blow you away, in the same sense that Star Wars did, by creating an expansive and diverse universe that would become the home of a series of games (and books apparently). Mass Effect 2 took a very different approach to the story by taking the focus away from the epic conflict with the Reapers and instead placing it on the main character's companions. Your main mission was a "suicide mission" to defeat the Reaper Collectors who were abducting humans, but the true story was in how you assembled your team, prepared them for this "suicide mission," and developed your relationships with them along the way. Mass Effect 2 didn't have an epic story so much as it had a series of intimate stories set in the context of an epic conflict of which you were a small but critical part. It was a different but effective way to advance the Mass Effect series storyline. Both games were special in different ways.

Mass Effect 3's approach to storytelling is a hybrid of those approaches that fails to be as engaging as either. It lacks the epic feel of Mass Effect 1 and the intimate relationships and character depth of Mass Effect 2. To make matters worse, the entire plot revolves around a deus ex machina. At the start of the game, you suddenly discover "blueprints" for a "device" that can kill all the Reapers, and your job is to assemble a galactic alliance to build the device and resist the Reapers long enough to deploy it. It's a cheesy way for the game's developers to dig themselves out of a plot problem that has loomed over the entire series - how does a divided and conflicted galaxy of races unite to defeat an infinitely more powerful threat? - and it feels like an underdeveloped short cut (as evidenced by the non-descript term "device" that the thing is known by in the early part of the game). It's the equivalent of a Staples "Easy" Button. And for reasons not explained, the decision is made to put all eggs in one basket and devote the entire resistance to the construction of this "device." It simply doesn't make sense that everyone in the galaxy has ignored Shepard's warnings about the Reapers, but the second they show up and kill millions everyone is galvanized to build a "device" and no one knows what it does.

The poorly written and acted dialogue makes matters worse. I found myself hitting the "skip" button often because I just couldn't hear any more of the non-sensical political bickering among leaders of different races (who still don't get along for the same reasons as always, but will all be rehashed for you ad infinitum). The dialogue needed some serious editing for brevity and consistency. An example is when you are about to save the day when a NPC calls you back to explain how he is modifying your omni-tool so he can communicate with you directly. To break up the action with that is totally unnecessary, and the game is filled with moments like this, when you are about to pick up your rifle and kick butt, only to be interupted by some whiny NPC telling you a trivila detail or asking you to complete a mundane task. By the end of the game, you'll want nothing more than a "Just shut the #$%& up, I'll handle it." dialogue option in every conversation.

GAMEPLAY
Gameplay in Mass Effect 3 is pretty much identical to the gameplay from Mass Effect 2 except for a new emphasis on finding cover (ala Gears of War). The same types of weapons and powers are there, many of your allies and enemies are imported from previous games, and the game has the same linear mission-based approach you've seen in Mass Effect 1 and 2 (and Dragon Age 1 and 2 -- in fact, there are so many similarities between Mass Effect and Dragon Age that they often feel like different skins on the same game).

The problem is that all of the issues from previous games in the series have not been fixed. First, AI is terrible. The most advanced thing an enemy will do is take cover. That's it. They won't rush in groups, they won't flank you (unless of course the game just drops someone behind you for fun), they will just slowly walk in your direction while shooting at you, occasionally throwing a grenade or ducking or putting up a turret. That's it. And most of your enemies are the same, from mission to mission, with little variety. It gets boring fast. Friendly AI is also poor. Your allies are mostly useless. To make them effective, you have to order them to target specific enemies, which would be fine except that you will probably also be the one doing most of the killing. It's incredibly frustrating when you kill five guys and one drops in from behind you and takes you out, leaving you wondering what your squadmates are doing if you're the one dropping every enemy with a headshot. It's repetitive.

Mass Effect has featured the worst menu interfaces in recent video game history, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception. The entire interface, from visiting other worlds to equipping weapons to executing side missions to buying equipment, is awful. It's clunky, hard to navigate, and either gives too much info or not enough info. Take buying weapons and armor. You can't view a weapon's stats until AFTER you buy it. Same with upgrades. You can buy armor components or a whole suit of armor, but the game doesn't explain that you can't mix and match, which makes the suits of armor a waste that you will likely regret buying because they limit your customization options. Stats are provided in bar graphs with no numbers, which makes measuring damage and ammo capacity possible only in relative terms, so you have no idea if your sniper rifle is more powerful than your assault rifle or that power you've been upgrading. This makes strategy largely an exercise in trial and error rather than logistics. Recharge time for powers is measured alternatively with percentages and actual times, so you really never know how long it will be before you can use the next power, or sometimes what powers you have active. It's just an awful mess. An excellent article I read years ago took apart the menu system of the first Mass Effect to show how, for example, alternating between health and health regeneration rate, made it impossible to properly rank weapons and armor. The developers of Mass Effect 3 apparently don't care that their interface makes no sense, or are too stupid to understand that when you alternate between relative and actual units of measurement and don't fully explain the math that goes into your character stats, the result is frustration and confusion.

The resource collection interface is boring. It always has been. But the Mass Effect developers don't seem to care. You're still scanning planets, pressing one button to scan the system, another to scan the planet, another to rotate the planet, another to launch a probe...it's just nonsense. And some of your hard work will result in collecting fuel when you have a full tank, so the reward is essentially deleted.

VALUE

Mass Effect 3 is not a short game, but other than replaying on a higher dificulty to earn an achievement I don't think there's any reason to pick up the game after beating the campaign once. If you can rent it for a week you might be better served doing that than buying it, or try to buy it at a discount or a re-released game of the year (apparently every high-selling game is game of the year now) edition.

CONCLUSION
If this game didn't have Mass Effect in the title it would be completely forgotten shortly after release. It's an uninspired sequel that has so many shortcomings it feels like the developers were just tired of this marathon of a series so they stopped running. I had similar criticisms about Dragon Age II. It feels like Bioware is consistently releasing half-assed work based on stuff they've already done, like a student taking a paper he wrote in History and changing the title so he can turn it in as an essay in English. They are making the same mistakes and failing to come up with new material. Mass Effect 3 is just another botched sequel that Bioware knows will sell well, but gamers deserve better than this.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 03/18/13

Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (US, 03/06/12)


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