Review by Great_Khan
"Gets pretty much everything wrong, but I can't hate it 6/10"
Mass Effect 2 was a simple enough game really, it wasn't much of a shooter, it wasn't much of an RPG gameplay wise, and it wasn't much of a story in a narrative sense; on a purely gaming front, it really didn't have much going for it. However, it had different goals and different successes, namely it was well written in it's dialogue, well acted, and had very emotive animation and direction. All of that story and gameplay stuff was really quite secondary to characterisation and bonding, and it worked a treat since Bioware knew it and were sure to keep the actual gameplay sections short and unpadded, and to keep the story simple and each of the subplots focused on the characters and fleshed out the little things. Mass Effect 3 really hasn't changed much, but what it has changed has almost entirely been for the worse. The shooting sections are longer, a large portion of the careful direction and facial capture acting has been cut out, and most of the sidequests have been stripped down into fetch quests instead of being vehicles for character insight. These little changes, while minor, along with a couple of new issues, namely glitchiness and EA's executive meddling, do leave the game a shadow of what came before it, and draws more attention to the series basic flaws which previously were easily ignored.
The extension to the shooter passages is more of an annoyance than anything else, Mass Effect 2 was never a good shooter, and in some ways the sequel has improved upon it; as a rule all characters have more powers to use than before, allowing your arsenal of attacks to expand a bit, admittedly making the game laughably easy as you'll almost always have a set up capable of slaughtering any opposition thrown at you, but you do have a fairly nice bag of varied tricks at your disposal. Likewise, technically speaking your general range of movement has improved, climbing is easier, you can jump little gaps and what not, and you can move from cover to cover, making the game a somewhat modern standard cover shooter. Of course, cover shooters are the single worst gaming genre in the world, so this is a negative as you can now get stuck jumping between cover and have to fiddle with frustrating lock ons, whereas the previous game was so simplified it more or less played like a PS2 era GTA game with some ducking, so being up to industry standard in a terrible genre isn't a positive by my book. By and large these changes are pretty insignificant though either way, and most apparent change to the shooter side of the game is just how much of it there is. Many of the more important levels last multiple large areas and loading screens worth of faceless hordes to blast away, and the ones which aren't as major frequently fall back on the terrible game padding technique of making you shoot your way through the same places multiple times, and I'm not talking there and back, some of these levels have you shoot your way front to back up to four or five times. The end result is that all the shooter parts of the game now feel fifteen minutes longer than they used to which builds up to a game duration about twenty hours longer than the previous outing but makes you feel like you've achieved half as much.
Adding to the generally padded out nature of the action component of the game is the side quests and war assets acquisition stuff, which is now exceptionally fetch quest and odd job oriented. Odd jobs revolving around scanning planets or finding items left in levels are numerous, with about ten new ones added every time you have to visit the Citadel. Obviously yes a few of these existed in the past, but here they feel particularly prevalent here, and they actually need to be done to boost your war effort score and by extension your endings. None of them have any additional entertainment value and do take up a fair bit of time overall. The minor tinkering to the mission layout brings the pointlessness of these tasks right to the forefront; like Mass Effect 2, you get given your end goal in the first 10 minutes, namely taking back Earth from the invading reapers, and then are given a longer task to slowly amass your resources to complete it. In ME2, this was heading off meeting all your squadmates and getting them into the right mindset, in ME3 it's about bringing each of the races together to fight for you at Earth, a similar approach but ever so slightly different, namely Mass Effect 3 feels like an actual narrative, while ME2 felt like a bunch of fleshed out side stories. As result, anything that isn't part of the basic plot, from War Assets to fetch quests, feel like pure, obvious padding to the skeleton of the game rather than something exciting to do while exploring the galaxy, making the experience feel more like a chore than it should.
Really, the whole war assets concept here reeks of padding despite actually having a (small) influence on your endings. War Assets are more or less your "score" for the game, which decides what endings will be available to you, and what specific flavour of each ending you will receive, you are awarded points for completing missions, making correct choices during missions, and finally by scanning random planets and finding them sitting around. The later one of those feels exceptionally needless, and serves as nothing more than a pointless mining exercise to send you on. On the plus side the War Assets do get a nice little blurb in a codex-esque descriptor, and many of them are quite interesting making it quite a shame they didn't get the voiced narration. Sadly these little backing details are hindered a little bit by EA/lazy, rushed incompetence, causing little updates to be frustrating to go look at, but I'll get onto those issues in time.
The most damning change though is the change to the dialogue set up, while the decision wheel hasn't been changed at all when it's used, a very large portion of your interactions, at least a quarter of them for sure, are now done in real time without a cutscene as you stand around awkwardly and wait for people to finish talking. Again, this doesn't seem to be too big of a deal on the surface, but it really does wreck the general intimacy and relatability of many of your conversations. You don't get any emotion in faces, you don't get carefully edited back and forth shots, it takes these particular conversations closer to the old prompt box with a wall of text from 15 years ago. It more or less takes you out of the drama and sucks the life out of it, and when you consider this exact feature was the primary strength of the series thus far it's quite a damning loss, I'm not sure if this is a sign of the game being rushed, or an active decision made by the developers, but it really does hamstring the games primary appeal. Once or twice would be ok, but the fact it happens so often, even in what should be touching farewells to your friends makes this change unforgiveable and my biggest complaint about the game.
Although, I must say that putting all the acting and dialogue into formal cutscenes wouldn't be a total godsend here, because the acting here has gotten waaaaaaayyyy more first year drama class quality. Maybe it's the scripting put in front of them, maybe it's the overall mood of a hopeless future, and the constant heavy handed reminders of what's at stake and what's been lost, but the speech here is disgustingly fake and melodramatic. Almost all the characters, even many of the tougher characters like Jack and Garrus have adopted an "introverted and caring" demeanor that gets on my nerves big time. It's a softly spoken, "I AM TOUCHED" voice which just reeks of bad, entry level acting, more or less channeling a a fake sob story invented by some "professional pickup artist" wearing a colourful scarf and bowler hat. Everyone has these moments, even formerly solid performers like Mike Meer (Shepard) and Ali Hallis (Liara) dive head first into this scenery chewing nonsense and make their characters feel phony and lame, the later almost exclusively, suddenly making her unbearable despite being a previous favourite of mine. It's genuinely hard not to start messing your game up by choosing renegade options over and over again just to avoid the ham-fisted whimpering.
Something also needs to be said about the only new character here, James. He is not only the worst character to ever grace the series, he's also the one of the worst characters to ever exist in any RPG. Basically, he's a horrid mash up of a hyper muscled jock war cowboy and the super sensitive fake caring guy mentioned above. The end result is a massively cartoon musclebound megajock, who is honestly bulkier than what Grunt, a superpowered Krogan was, who is always up for dodgy "LET'S KICK SOME ASS BOYS, HOO-RAH!" nonsense, who also drops his voice to a smooth caring whelp and laments on orphans, the people without homes, and the importance of hope. He's just the worst.
On a similar enough note, the second quasi new character EDI, formerly a spaceship AI, is similarly pandering on the physical side of things, since she gets a [i]sexy robot body[/i] and joins you on missions, because of course she does. Obviously her character is still good, and actually has some interesting developments, if not the best developments within the game, about life and her general implied importance among her organic counterparts, but like James' cartoonishly muscular figure, it still feels quite tacky having her walking around like a stripper-bot all the time, and it feels like they're pandering to a teenage male audience pretty blatantly in a game which formerly handled sexuality with some semblance of tact.
So seeing as this is a Mass Effect 3 review and I'm in the story and character area of it, I guess I'm kind of obliged to discuss the endings somewhat aren't I? Honestly, they're not [i]terrible[/i] for what they are, the later DLC certainly pads them out a little, but doesn't really change a lot. For what they are, they certainly provide some form of closure to the series, and do give a little summary of what your final decision means for the galaxy at large. The problem is, as I'm sure you've read before, is that they completely ignore absolutely everything you do throughout all the previous games beyond showing you a list of names of crew members you got killed on a wall in the final scene. The only thing that changes the endings is a dialogue option with how you deal with the Reaper threat, and the ending will only discuss the ramifications of that choice specifically. Didn't actually cure the genophage? No matter. Left the Krogans with full breeding powers and a warhungry leader in charge with no one to temper him? Who cares, the Reapers are gone so the problem should sort itself out. Let the Rachni live on leaving them with another chance to return to full force? Bah, like anyone wants to see what happens with that. Let the Geth take over the Quarian homeworld and then made them feel sympathy for who they destroyed? No one needs to see the fall out from that. Helped the Illusive Man at every step? Oh well, he didn't gain any extra advantages and doesn't steal your glory. If anything, these ending pretty much demonstrate that your presence in the galaxy was worth precisely diddly squat, and that's disappointing.
Basically, the endings are both unsatisfactory in that they're all bittersweet endings which don't really let you bask in glory or have the errors of your ways came back to haunt you, and that they only discuss the immediate future of the world you left behind. What's more they only discuss the major parties in the near future, so you'll see about the reapers flying off or dying, you'll see the mass relays getting repaired or destroyed, if you get a DLC, you'll see various races celebrating, but much like how Mass Effect 2 neglected to show your crew reacting to the loss of their friends, the actual reaction of your party is pretty much ignored. If my final choice means that Joker's girlfriend died, I want to see him heartbroken, I want to see him curse my name, I want to see him dig up my corpse and defecate on it (Ok, I admit that one is asking for a bit much). If my party have turned into robot/human hybrids, I want to see them come to terms with it. This just doesn't happen, and the impersonal nature of it is very underwhelming.
The ending is actually a pretty nice place to cover my last couple of issues here, starting with the dreaded Executive Meddling. Now obviously, I can't be sure how much EA was an influence here, maybe Bioware got lazy and couldn't be stuffed, and maybe they were really proud of their online ideas and honestly couldn't live with the concept of them not being explored by everyone, but I've gotta say I think it's more likely EA rushed them and forced them to make online stuff a big deal. On the rushed front, the complete lack of acknowledgment of the games leading up to the finale seems quite obvious, it seems downright strange that Bioware would actively choose entirely unrelated to the events preceding it ending to their saga if they had the time to flesh out something better, considering they were willing to set up various smaller plot thread endings two games ago.
But, that's pretty much entirely guesswork on my part, more convincingly EA related is the DLC and online content stuff. As someone who has limited internet access, namely a USB stick receiver with an 8GB a month limit, who also lives in a rental with no phone jack in the living room even if a hypothetical cable connection existed, DLC and online play are not real options for me. I don't know for sure if I can get internet on my PS3 since I haven't tried to ever connect it, and that's fine; I've always kept my online games on the PC, and if a game is an online based game, I'd get it on PC. Mass Effect is a single player game, I should not need the internet connected to it to finish it properly. But I do.
As I discussed earlier, the War Assets feature of the game determines which endings are available to you, the big thing is that there simply aren't enough war assets in the game by default. Unless you play online, or download the "Extended Cut" (Read as: less half assed) ending patch, you cannot get the "best" endings. They're completely and admittedly unattainable. In a single player game. You cannot finish a single player game unless you download stuff or play the tacked on multiplayer for a few hours. On an RPG with no team work features which has never required online play. Let that sink in. Because god damn. God damn it so hard!
Now, heading back to to stuff I can't in goon conscience blame on EA, the general product is quite rushed and buggy. On the rushed front, a lot of menus are just plain laid out poorly. Your mission log defaults into the middle of your completed missions, forcing you to scroll up through half the missions you've ever completed literally any time to see what tasks you have, and your war assets screen adds your progressive updates with no discernible order, as in the fourth update you get may get listed in the second segment of updates for some reason, making it far too fiddly to hunt through and actually find the new little factoids that are genuinely fun to read about, small issues yes, but they are annoying.
The glitchiness is another minor, but mood breaking issue, other than the odd crash, not many of the glitches will really harm the way the game plays as such, but they're just so damned sloppy. Many, many objects that fill up space on the ground in environments flat out don't have clipping, so you can find yourself walking through a reaper base and just straight up walking through the remains of inhuman monstrosities scattered about, or you could just walk along with your legs passing through the tragic waste of the Asari homeworld, this happens a lot, and it's just embarrassing that these sort of major, conspicuous clipping errors were left in. Equally conspicuous are the weird, and completely atmosphere breaking cutscene animation glitches. Unlike ME2, which seemed to have fully set up cutscene shots, even with the scenes which don't leave you in control of Shepard seem to be more or less camera angles applied to your regular in game characters. The reason I say this is reasonably often, at least five or six times for me, your character will be looking somewhere else than where the camera thinks you are. This leads to awkward scenes where Shepard will be talking someone, with the camera focussed on him as his head or eyes turn 120 degrees in some random direction while his body faces who he is talking two; it's a bit funny, but it's a stupidly obvious glitch to be left in.
So, Mass Effect 3 is a buggy, poorly written, terribly acted, artificially drawn out, broken game which can't be finished in its out-of-the-box-state, obviously it's a total abomination with no merit of its own which can be safely trashed and ignored until the end of time right? Wrong, ME3 has one thing in its corner which makes the whole thing amazingly still worthwhile: Carryover goodwill from the previous outings resulting in frequent punches to your feels gland!
Despite all its efforts, Mass Effect 3 can't ruin the fact that it's following up Mass Effect 2, meaning we've got a lot of well formed, time invested characters who the audience already know and love, and what's more their long, arduous story arcs are coming to their devastating endings. So, who cares if the actual game doesn't add anything to the characters in question, you already know and care for them so the hard work is done. The various live or die equations for various characters or pairings can be absolutely devastating, as you watch hopelessly as your minor screw ups from a 150 hours ago suddenly come back to doom a race or kill a close companion, and while I'm not the sort to cry at games or movies or junk like that, I admit it certainly did make my stomach sink a little a fair few times.
While yes, saying "The only good thing about it is the goodwill left over by its predecessor" does seem quite harsh and like a bit of false praise, but I'm actually quite serious. The positive effects of these previously set up character arcs coming to an end is really more than enough to make the game worth playing, and hell, maybe even worth playing more than once which is a pretty impressive achievement given the suckiness of the product in general. Honestly, if they had have fleshed out the endings to really reflect on your choices and efforts in the previous games a little bit more, I could honestly see myself giving it a genuinely high score, based purely off capitalizing on their previous good work, and it's a damn shame they didn't.
So in the end, I'm conflicted a little. This has a lot wrong with it, it has an unforgivable amount wrong with it really, but what little it does wrap up really does kick me in the emotions as hard as any game ever has, so a little bit of me wants to still heap praise on it for a little bit of "games are art" cred, but I don't think I really can. Maybe if it delivered a conclusion as final and as determined by your overall actions it'd get there, and maybe if it wasn't so padded out meaning the moving moments would come in faster succession I could turn a blind eye easier, but I really just can't. 90% of the time, Mass Effect 3 is an underwhelming, poorly executed and disappointing conclusion to one of the most promising character based sagas of late, and it really failed to deliver any of the believable writing and professional standard of acting that made it so successful in the first place, and a few successfully moving parts just isn't enough to fix all that.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 09/24/13
Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (AU, 03/08/12)
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