Review by Shunichiro
"It's the end of the world as we know it"
The illustrious commander Shepard's mission against galaxy-threatening Reapers which started way back in 2007 in the first Mass Effect comes to a full circle in Mass Effect 3 which caused much nerd rage upon its release. I too fell for that, reading message boards about "the most horrible endings ever in a game" and thus didn't buy it when the game was released. I waited for a price drop and here we are now, in an aftermath of the end of the world, still shaken and stirred. I have always treated Mass Effects with passion and I had this love/hate relationship going on with ME3 all the way through it.
For starters, some gameplay mechanics have been changed from Mass Effect 2, much in the same way how ME2 was streamlined from ME1 which was partially a bit too fiddly for its own good. This time tweaks haven't necessarily been for the better. Planet scanning for minerals to upgrade weapons and Shepard's ship Normandy is gone. Now you just buy upgrades and install them onto weapons. Planet scanning is still there but only nominally to complete the minor quests you get just by overhearing people in Citadel which acts as a central point for the galaxy. Mission structure is more linear. You have primary missions to advance the story, then lesser but still important missions where you see many familiar faces from ME2. Lacklustre N7 missions are just short blast'em-ups while minor quests requires aforementioned planet scanning. The thing is, only one primary mission is active at a time and the only diversion comes from doing side quests.
Basically everything you do, playing missions and making choices within them, affects possible assets for the war effort, told in an Efficient Military Strength score you can check out in Normandy's war room. And that war effort you shall dearly need when you make the final assault in the end. You stand a whole better chance by racking up as many assets you can. By playing ME3 alone, you can't get nowhere near as many assets as you would by starting from a ME2 completion data, granting you played it good. Character customization remains the same as in ME2, and for a true role playing experience you can act either paragon, neutral or renegade in your actions as you see fit playing commander's demanding role.
Still it's your familiar Mass Effect experience, a cover-based 3rd person shooter mixed with a character-driven RPG. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed every moment of ME3. To me, Mass Effect 2 is a perfect video game, arguably the best in the trilogy. I won't go into detail here as to why. In a pure comparison between it and ME3, why is the new, supposedly more advanced graphics engine actually worse? Where is the beautiful dynamic lightning which used to lit up the scenes so effectively? Now lighting is flat, making most of the scenes visually undramatic. Grain filter, giving the series that cool 80's sci-fi movie feel is gone. Everything is too sterile now. Cut scenes aren't of a movie quality anymore in terms of direction, "camera work" and editing either. Sometimes they are too video-gamey for their own good, meaning stiff compositions and awkward movement. And the PS3 version is horribly choppy and glitchy in places, just like some bad PC game. The sloppy analogue sticks of a PS3 controller doesn't help either in some of the tightiest fights!
Those were the main technical issues. And then the missions. In ME2 they were intriguing and diverse, offering a wide variety of approaches and situations. In ME3 most of the missions play out like glorified shooting galleries, even the most important ones. The worst of the bunch were N7 missions played in drab multiplayer maps. Characterization was better in ME1 and ME2, new faces introduced here aren't as deeply written or that ambiguous either. Yes, they are interesting but something is missing, especially when part of the conversations aren't presented as a cut scene dialogue but as flat lines in the environment. And why didn't they keep any of the ME2 cast as squad members here? Sure, they all have bigger or smaller cameos or even important triggers here but I would have preferred some of them retaining a squad member status. For me it wasn't the same in the field without Kasumi and Jack. I'm happy though that Kasumi, despite of her DLC status, makes a fun cameo. But we have Garrus, you can't find more loyal friend and brother in arms than him. Indeed, Garrus and Tali have been squad members for the whole trilogy while Liara and Kaidan/Ashley (depending on your previous actions) make a return to the squad member status from ME1.
The start of the game is really dire. It almost makes you not wanting to continue. But it's Mass Effect so you have to play it and it does pick up the proverbial pace the farther you advance. The scenery gets more beautiful and grand, and the events start to make even the player nervous, not forgetting poor Shepard herself (I have always played fem-Shep and always will) who has unbelievable odds against her and an immeasurable burden on her shoulders. The romance aspect is tender and touching (at least with the person I chose), played out in various scenes thus having more importance here than ever before. Previously you practically just got to share the bed and that was it and you were free to end the relationship and start hitting someone else. In ME3 the romance is to last.
And then the beginning of the end starts. Most of the last mission, Priority: Earth, is a drag; endless battles repeating themselves one after another. It almost wears you out, but in a sense that literally puts you under Shepard's skin. Doesn't it never end? But when you start making the final stretch for that infamous beam of light, it all plays out perfectly from there on. A stellar way to end nigh perfect series.
The huge flak Bioware received from the endings themselves was plain unnecessary. It really blew out of proportions. The way I see it Bioware's solution was gravely misunderstood by the gaming public. From what I have read the main reason why players rebelled so loudly was that they claimed the choices you make during ME3 don't play a role in the endings. Wrong! So very wrong! In fact, as stated above, everything you do either increases or decreases Effective Military Strength. The more EMS you have scored, the more satisfactory the ending of your preference will turn out. I'm not going to argue about different endings as to which of them is the best or which the worst because there are none such things. It's all up to you. Each ending has their own justifications, their own rights and wrongs. But most importantly, we have a choice! A choice to choose an ending we more or less want. That's the only way Bioware could do it and it's way better than some predetermined conclusion which arguably would have lead part of the players even more unsatisfied. And I can't stress enough how big an impact the choices you made in ME2 have in ME3. For all newcomers to the series it's more than recommended to play the previous games first (well, for PS3 you can only start from ME2). There are so many variables between the games it's bewildering!
The most notable factor in recent "Extended Cut" DLC is that it lowers some of EMS requirements for certain consequences which is good for those who don't want to play multiplayer to rack up the EMS score. Storywise it doesn't add anything so important you couldn't live without. Oh, the new refusal ending! It's either completely pointless or you can see a whole new chapter opening with it.
As ME series is a movie-like experience, in some ways even better, I must give my extra thanks to the stellar voice cast. Jennifer Hale _is_ your commander Shepard, someone who has had harsh times behind her and more harsh times in front, always keeping cool but starting to even falter under a massive pressure, and being tough or compassionate whichever the script (and your choices in the context) calls for. I can't vouch for Mike Meer as male-Shepard as I have heard him delivering his lines only in Youtube videos - much to my amuse. That should say something about that... Supporting roles are cast perfectly, there's no squad member or an important NPC that would make you grin.
Final verdict: As a single game Mass Effect 3 isn't as good as ME2 which is perfect 10 in my books. Without Mass Effect 3 though, for all its good, bad and ugly, we wouldn't have this fantastic trilogy. Mass Effect 3 concludes one of the greatest trips in science fiction in a bravado that will have you thinking and reeling long afterwards, even though all the details don't make sense no matter how you twist your brain around them. But hey, it's science fiction! And it doesn't come much better than the Mass Effects. In any media.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/12/12
Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (EU, 03/09/12)
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