Review by Unbridled9
"What happens when Corporate ASSUMES DIRECT CONTROL!"
Trilogies are always hard things to finish, and it is not surprising, a lot of hopes and expectations rest upon them. Not only do they have to wrap up and resolve multiple plotlines and story threads in a satisfying way, they have to do so with the expecting fanbase just waiting for a game that will, somehow, be more epic and engaging than anything prior. Obviously, it is possible to do this, lest trilogies have long since gone extinct as a story-telling medium. However, they are still risky and require careful attention and the one thing that should NEVER be done is introducing new elements or withholding vital information regarding resolution in favor of product placement. We've seen this happen with Star Wars VI and the fan dislike of the Ewoks. The reason is simple too. Instead of having a full-on satisfying conclusion fans now have to deal with something new/something withheld in what should be the climax of the story. As you can guess by the title, that is the problem with Mass Effect 3.
Additionally, the controversy over the game ending is very famous by now. To show that I'm not deriding the game unfairly because of it, I will ignore the ending entirely within the review.
Easily the hardest thing about writing an accurate review for this game is that the game itself is not bad. No where is that more evident than in the opening of the game. Shepard is back with the Alliance and dealing with the outcome of his actions in the second game when the Reapers attack en-masse invading Earth. The final battle has begun and humanity is outmatched before the first shots are even fired! Shepard is forced to flee from Earth with Reapers landing all around him, cities getting destroyed, hordes of Indoctrinated servants swarming everywhere, and barely escapes by the skin of his teeth to Mars where they learn of a faint, fleeting, hope developed at the last moment by the Protheans that just *might* be able to stop the Reapers, but the Protheans developed it too late. With the desperate fighting on Earth behind him, Shepard is forced to head out into the galaxy to amass a fleet and to find the resources to stop the Reapers once and for all.
First off, let's focus on the positives. The gunplay in Mass Effect is easily at its best in this installment. Fast, quick-paced, and relying immensely on careful use of powers that can be developed in a multitude of different ways the game is simply shining in this area. Certain enemies are best taken down with methods that simply cannot always be available to the squad, but there will be an alternative that may be more difficult or less rewarding. This is, simply, how the Mass Effect gunplay should feel like. In the first game it was blocky and slow, more of a side-element than the main focus. In the second it fluctuated too much between too easy to not be a threat' and too hard that you need special weapons'. This game finally nails the difficulty. Any fight can be too easy or hard depending on how well you handle the situation, it's just easier to handle with certain people than not.
Secondly, weapon-customization returns in full-force. Each weapon can have a series of attachments placed upon it to further modify their stats and abilities, but the choice of which attachments to use is entirely up to the player. Once again, this is a huge improvement over what was included in the second game where all weapons got all applicable upgrades, which ended up robbing upgrading your weapons of any personal meaning. Instead here the choice between making your shotgun more stable vs. carrying extra rounds not only comes down to your personal capabilities and choices, but each mission will have different situations set up so that having one attachment will help more than having another as well as offering a reason to seek upgrades and continue playing through again and again to further upgrade ones weapon.
This spills over into the games well-done multiplayer mode. Designed around the swarm' style of multiplayer where a team of players work together to combat a massive horde of enemies while completing various objectives, it works beautifully. Teamwork is outright required as, even on easy, a single player simply will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of opponents attacking. Tactics is highly emphasized as well, especially on the higher difficulties, where getting caught out in the open can result in a quick death. This causes the multiplayer mode to be tense, require skill and teamwork, and is simply a shining example of a well-done multiplayer mode.
Lastly, when the game actually tries, the story and personal connections within the game are simply amazingly well-done and stand out beautifully. The emotional turmoil of your shuttle-pilot as he searches and hopes that his lost husband is still alive despite the ransacking of Earth, the culmination of your dealings with Al-Jilani which can be rather endearing if done right, and the general awesomeness of Emily Wong, as well as many of the other side-characters you have met throughout your journeys in both the prior, and this, game.
If you're wondering why this seems like such a short list of positives, that's because it is before the beast that is corporate rears its ugly head. For whatever insane and baffling reason (greed), EA decided to both cut and/or alter content so as to make it so that you have to play by their rules, and their rules are simply draconic. For example, right at the beginning of the game you will learn that you need a certain amount of forces in order to initiate, and subsequently succeed at, the final assault. Each choice and bit of resources you find is tallied up and on display, for both the current, and previous, games in the series. This, in turn, makes it so that there is a definite right' and wrong' answer to every single choice you made, even if it is merely as a score-tally. Did you choose to save the council or let them die? One of the two choices results in a higher score so that is the obvious right' answer! Did you destroy the Reaper facility or keep it around? One choice gives more points!
Too make it worse, you NEED every last bit of points (unless you're willing to play online) if you want to get the best endings. So if you made poor' (even if you had no way of knowing at the time) choices, didn't complete sidequests, and the like, you could easily be placing yourself in a position where you cannot obtain the best ending because of things that happened in prior games.
BUT THERE IS HOPE! ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS PLAY THE MULTIPLAYER! You see, in addition to the score, there is galactic readiness' which determines how much of the points you get. It starts at 50% and it can be raised up, but only by playing the online multiplayer! So if you made bad choices, you just have to play online long enough to get your readiness up high enough! I shouldn't need to point out that this blatantly punishes people who are unwilling to pay for Xbox live, people who made poor' choices and now need to play online, and people who have bad/no reliable online at all, all so that EA can both push the multiplayer mode onto the masses and ensure no one is using illegal copies of their game.
But it gets worse. The game has multiple bits of DLC and, unlike the prior two games where it was completely optional and the entire game could be easily played without missing it one bit, some very important things were cut for inclusion in DLC. Did you romance Miranda in ME2 and was hoping to continue that romance into 3? Better hope you bought the proper DLC, otherwise you won't be able to follow the romance through to any satisfying degree of conclusion. And it's not just romances. Many bits of important things, like finding the last living Prothean, require DLC and are far from optional' in both the game (he is a valuable and good teammate) and series scope (this is not just some thief/mercenary, but easily one of the most monumental things to happen in all three games). So you better warm up your bank account if you want the full' game.
Additionally, the game handles its new characters VERY poorly. That's not to say that they're bad. Under different circumstances they could have been very enjoyable, and some of them outright are (like the aforementioned shuttle-pilot), but the sad truth is that most of them are simply 2-dimensional and serve as little more than eye-candy or filler. Granted, they are very GOOD eye-candy/filler, and events like simply sitting down with newcomer James Vega and the marines can be touching, but the time and development needed to make these characters truly stand out simply isn't given to them beyond one or two heartwarming moments and they are little more than just background on the whole. Which is a shame because I really liked Diana Allers.
Lastly, a lot of the galaxy exploration, a key and engaging thing in the past two entries, is simply cut out. Instead, Shepard flies to a star-system and sends out pings' that let him know if anything is on a planet. If something comes up, you quickly fly down and get it, all the while dodging reapers that become alerted to your position. This is lazy and uninteresting and a VERY sad end to planet-scanning. While you can argue that the prior two entries handled it poorly with it being too time consuming/unengaging/what have you, having it reduced to this is simply a very sad end for a facet as important as this.
On the whole, playing Mass Effect 3 feels more like they made a complete and great game, only for corporate to assault it like a serial killer, hacking and chopping pieces out of it while leaving just enough for it to still be alive' as a game and then selling the pieces for quick cash without any consideration for their customers. The galaxy score, while it could have been interesting (the moral right vs. getting the troops needed to get the job done) devolves into little more than a ham-fisted way to force people online to play the multiplayer mode and the only truly good things are those left distinctly untouched by the monster that is EA.
Recommended Price: $0/20.00. Without playing the prior games, don't even bother. There is no attachments made in this game or enough things left untouched by EA to justify its purchase. All you will find is reminders that you need to shell out more money to buy the other games/DLC and a good, but not irreplaceable, multiplayer. If you've played the prior two games, it's worth it, but don't spend too much. Odds are that, at the lest, you'll have to spend more to get the ending you wanted to the series.
Final Score: 6/10 If EA changes its policies in the future, this game can easily skyrocket, possibly up to 10/10. As-is, it is crippled by corporate trying to get into your wallet to be anything more than a generic shooter. The only reason it is a 6/10 instead of a 5/10 is because it is still not a bad game.
Too bad there isn't a third Mass Effect game though. If this had been it, it might have been awesome.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 12/11/13
Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (US, 03/06/12)
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