Review by LordVader

"Mass Effect 3 is part of a discouraging trend in RPG's"

Mass Effect 3 is part of a discouraging trend in this generation's role-playing games. All of the major franchises, mainly western-style RPG's like those made by Bethesda and BioWare, are becoming more ‘streamlined'. That is to say, the mechanics of the gameplay are simpler, presumably to appeal to a broader audience and be more profitable as a result.

The problem with this, is that there isn't one. Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, and Diablo 2 were all meaty offerings. They were not without flaw, but it was reasonable for fans of those games to expect sequels that improved upon those that came before it: bigger and better. It doesn't matter that those sequels were not anywhere near those expectations, because like with any big franchise there are always going to be fans willing to give it a chance.

Mass Effect 3 was touted to be one of the largest events in gaming history. It was unprecedented, to have an RPG trilogy with the same main character travelling from the first title to the second to the third. Couple that with Mass Effect's dialogue system, and you've got the grandest, most immersive RPG experience available. That was the idea anyway. Electronic Arts' business strategy to insert more action into BioWare's RPG franchises was a complete success in terms of profit, but the games themselves are failures when viewed in a larger context, for the simple reason that the role-playing game elements are marginalized or altogether removed.

Mass Effect 3, on the PS3, looks exactly like Mass Effect 2. However, the quality of the textures, including faces and clothing and environments is more polished and offers a little bit more variety. It's common to see PC gamers rag on the quality of console versions of top-shelf titles, but as a console gamer I thought the graphics looked great. A glitch here and there has never bothered me, so when I rate graphics I'm also rating the aesthetic quality, or how it serves the purpose of the gameplay - and that is, obviously, subjective. I give the graphics here 7/10.

BioWare is known for bringing in accomplished voice actors for its games, and in Mass Effect some celebrities are even on board. The original soundtrack is of high quality and without a doubt the excellent production value of the music and voice work contribute to ME3's sense of being a giant, interactive movie - but more than that. It must have taken a lot of work to get different sound effects for each of the guns, and I appreciate that kind of quality. 9/10

As part of the effort to appeal to a broader audience, ME3 is more responsive on consoles. Still, with this type of game you will never have as many buttons as on a keyboard, or a mouse for that matter, so the complexity of your build is limited by your control. This is again subjective, but it was mostly smooth for me except with the new dodge/roll and cover mechanics, I found myself leaping around while trying to take cover, and so on. Overall I'd give the control 7/10.

Here is where the game falls apart. From the very beginning, it seemed as if I was suddenly in a Metal Gear Solid game. I'm exaggerating, but if you play through ME3 multiple times you are probably going to start skipping dialogue you've already seen 5 times. If you do that, you'll notice in the opening sequence you only get a dialogue choice maybe 5 times. It feels as if you're on rails, and are occasionally presented a dialogue option that has no bearing whatsoever on what just happened or is about to happen but is only there to create some added immersion.

Some will say I am exaggerating, but ME3, no joke, wastes the Mass Effect mythology. We see the homeworlds of the Salarian, Turian and Asari only as set pieces. Only the Krogan homeworld is explored in any great detail, and that's a shame. In a game where you're trying to unite different species to fight as one, I frankly expected visits to major capitals of each homeworld, so the player gets a feel for the alien cultures, geographies, psychologies. That's what role-playing games are about, right?

I won't get into the ending, but if you think that's just my personal bias, other parts of the game also seem incomplete. We see Aria from ME2, and after completing a mission for her she swears she will recapture Omega. Nothing more is said of it, and as a gamer that kind of dropped thread feels bad. This is the end of the universe in ME3! Loose ends like that come off as laziness.

I give the story 6/10. It is enjoyable enough, and if you haven't played the first two games you will not care as much about the lore anyways.

Looking at ME3, it seems as if BioWare and EA set out to make a really fun third-person action game with RPG mechanics, and they succeeded. The variety and customization of the guns has blown up, and although the stats don't go as deep as they do in ME1, there are way more things to play with than in other third-person shooters like, say, Gears of War. In addition, the ‘magic' (my term) system in the game - biotics and tech - has also been improved, where biotics can now be used almost constantly and have better combo effects, while tech abilities do more damage and can strip different kinds of armor, but don't really combo.

The enemies are essentially all new, and have improved variety and AI. This is the gameplay that captured my attention in ME2 and it's better on all levels here. I give the gameplay 9/10.

So if we add that up:
7/10 Graphics
9/10 Sound
7/10 Control
6/10 Story
9/10 Gameplay

That about 7.5/10, a solid game - so why does it seem like I'm complaining about it? Fans have, to put it bluntly, been subjects of bait-&-switch by either EA or BioWare or both. BioWare began two incredibly promising RPG franchises in Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect. In every sequel, what were RPG's started to look more like action games.

And it absolutely worked, because ME3 is, in the end, a solid game with a good amount of content. The quality of the RPG elements doesn't even matter as much, because the games are obviously being developed with simpler action-oriented gameplay in mind. But someone should have told us before the games were released. If you're a company who's going to release a sequel to your RPG, and BioWare must have known darn well that ME3 was all about combat, market it as such.

The fact of the matter is, there's less and less of a market for gamers like me, who fell in love not only with games like Mass Effect and Diablo 2, but Pokemon and Zelda, and dreamed of versions with many times the amount of areas to explore. Can you imagine a Mass Effect 3 where there are hub cities on every alien home planet, which would total around 8, over the four in ME2? Now that would be a heck of a game. Unfortunately, it's clear that developers have no incentive to make a game so immersive or encompassing, when there's ample profit to be made with merely fun but significantly smaller games.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/10/12

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

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