Review by ExtremePhobia

"Mass Effect 3 is all about what you make of it... or chose for it to be."

Mass Effect 3 is finally here and it's time to see the galaxy you've been crafting. Every decision that you've made has an impact with each situation having frequently three or more outcomes depending on decisions prior to you even starting up this game. And those decisions are nothing compared to the decisions you are about to make. While the previous two games were pretty clear cut about what was the right choice and which was the wrong choice, Mass Effect 3 starts to become ambiguous. Are you willing to shoot one person to save another? Shooting that person would clearly be a Renegade action but the person you're saving is innocent. In the previous games you would have had a chance to talk him down but in Mass Effect 3, the Reapers are here and you quite literally don't have time for that.

Let's start with the ugly first. Anyone who has played a Mass Effect game knows that the combat controls are not where the game is at. That said, Mass Effect 2 had made some improvements and Mass Effect 3 has continued those improvements. The shooting and moving feels pretty good now (with a few exceptions) and with complete freedom to hotkey three powers for yourself and a power for each of your allies, it's easy to keep the tempo going at a good pace.

The weapons themselves even reflect this. Rather than having weapons openly stated to be better against armor or shields, you are presented with a large variety of weapons and choose which suit the situation. This frequently results in you carrying a few weapons that span the spectrum from hard hitting shotguns or sniper rifles to fast firing machine pistols. As you play, the weapons become more nuanced with lots of weapons in between from slow firing Assault rifles to light, rapid fire Sniper Rifles. From there, it adds another layer of control by allowing this to affect your power usage. If you travel light (say just a couple of pistols), you can increase your power recharge speed by up to 200% but if you are playing with a weapon heavy character, you can slow your recharge to half speed or less.

This is particularly important when choosing your abilities. If you are going to play a soldier with mostly constant abilities (like ammo abilities) or boosts to your stats then you may want to go with heavier weapons since you aren't using abilities. However, if you are playing a biotic then you might want to travel lightly because you will be more interested in using your powers for crowd control.

Powers also seem to work better. The aiming mechanics for powers seem to be a little bit more forgiving and some powers develop really useful abilities of their own. For instance, the Biotic power Pull can change to effect two enemies at once. This becomes interesting because there are enemies that carry riot style shields that are strong against most powers and damage who usually come in pairs. This ability will allow you to take both enemies shields at the same time OR take the shield of one enemy while the second effect lifts him off the ground.

On the topic of power development, the level system carries over quite well from Mass Effect 2. If you played the previous game, you may remember how all of the skills were dropped down to only four levels of progress and your max level was 30. This plays perfectly into the Mass Effect 3 system which has six levels to each skill and a max level of 60. From the fourth through the sixth levels of each skill, you have two options so that you can fine tune your character and they are non-linear so you can mix and match. What this means for people who are importing is that if you finished Mass Effect 2 and were level 30 with four points into Warp and chose Heavy Warp with the fourth level then your character will transfer over at level 30 with four points into Warp and Heavy Warp chosen. I don't know if they planned this but it fixes the problem that a lot of people have with direct sequels to RPGs, namely that your character has to develop and so you have to start over at level 1. You can no fine tune your character further, carry over your progress, and still develop without losing anything.

With all that said, I did mention that there was something ugly here. The parts of the game that Bioware did for itself (leveling, skills, powers) all play out pretty well in combat. The shooting, while improved, is still lacking and the cover system is just abysmal. The introduction of arrows to tell you what will happen when you hit the A button (similar to the button/picture system of Gears of War) is a very welcome idea. Even the ability to hit RB and move around a corner while staying in cover is brilliant.

However, If you try to roll into cover, you have a small chance of actually getting in to cover and a much greater chance of glancing off the side and rolling out into the open. And that's if you roll directly into the cover. If you try to get into cover at a right angle, forget about it. Further, curved cover can make it almost impossible for you to use your abilities. Possibly the most egregious problem isn't just the system acting funny. When you are in cover, if you decide to switch weapons, you will be pushed back and out of cover completely and when you are done, you aren't put back in cover. If you've been wounded and you decide that you'd like to swap weapons since you're in cover anyway, it may very well cause you to stand straight up resulting promptly in your death. The other things I can see as a lack of emphasis on the combat system and can forgive it but this is either a huge bug or one of the most terrible ideas every implemented in a game. These may be a small gripes on lower difficulties but playing on insane (which is otherwise pretty doable for a ME vet) as a biotic, this can be quite terrible. I would say that the cover system would be largely improved for those who haven't played the likes of Gears of War or similar but for any third person shooter vet, will be painfully poor and probably result in as many, if not more, deaths than anything else.

So the RPG gameplay elements are great and the powers are awesome but this is Mass Effect. You could do away with all that and still have an awesome game (NOTE: They have actually implemented an "RPG Mode" that allows you to make choices but makes combat super easy, can't say I've tested it though). So how amazing is the story? It's honestly pretty amazing. Like I said to start, this story is going to be what you make of it.

If you're the CoD type, you're probably not going to think much of the story because you'll be looking for a constantly high paced action story and that is not what this is. There are some epic space battles and a few very action oriented scenes but the truly amazing moments are in the decisions you make and the effects they have. So similarly, if you haven't played the previous two games, you might not be as invested in some of the characters which you've spent 100+ hours with in previous games but play major roles in only a short segment of this game. For instance, Ashley Williams might seem incredibly inconsequential if you're a new player but if you played Mass Effect 1, then you would know that she's alive because you chose for her to live over someone else and that perhaps she's Shepherd's on again, off again. Coming to the rescue of Jack or not being able to find a way to save certain characters can be both incredibly moving if you know who they are or incredibly unmoving if you don't already know.

The Reapers, a race of sentient and ancient machines, have returned for another cycle of organic elimination. Every 50,000 years or so, they return from the recesses of dark space and harvest or kill all advanced civilizations in the galaxy. Before Earth's forces can even confirm that it is actually the Reapers causing all the destruction to colonies, they are already attacking Earth and you must make a desperate escape so that you can round up the other civilizations in the galaxy to aid you. At the very start of the game, the Reapers are already destroying Earth.

So you set off to convince everybody to help you and while the rest of the races are now willing to admit that the Reapers are here, in a lot of cases they can't help you unless you find a way to help them first. You'll tromp from star system to star system trying to alleviate just enough pressure to gain support for Earth. All the while, you'll have to make difficult decisions and see the results of almost all of your previous decisions. We are talking about the extinction of all of civilization so expect a turnout from all sorts of old friends that you've bumped into, both major and minor.

Talking about the decisions you will have to make is hard because that's where the bulk of the story is. In fact, most decisions would involve spoilers if I told you so you'll have to figure them out for yourself but it's important to note that almost every decision has some result in this game and you may not always like the result but you have to respect the honesty. You may have saved a character only to see them sacrifice themselves at a point where you have absolutely no control over it (meaning that it was decided before the game started based on your previous decisions). You'll find that in a lot of cases, even the decisions that you know are the "good" choices aren't the ones you want to make. Will you let a few die to save many? What if that will mean the death of one of the previously important plot characters? There are many truly difficult decisions to make and it'll make for a lot of variety depending on who plays the game.

In many cases, there are multiple choices that factor into the result so don't expect completely linear cause and effect. There are lots of gray areas between everyone lives and everyone dies and it's not uncommon for you to see these types of outcomes. All in all, you will not be particularly disappointed in the outcomes of things because you made the choices. You may have chosen to inspire some people and they may have acted in a brave heroic way that results in their death but deaths are generally never pointless and almost always due to your choices. For instance, if you hadn't been such an inspiring example, that person may not have acted so bravely and might have survived (though frequently at some other cost).

The multiplayer takes the form of co-op and is actually tied into the main game. As you play the main campaign, you will acquire "War Assets" which come out to a numerical score of your military strength. However, without playing the multiplayer, these War Assets will only come out to 50% effectiveness meaning that you only get half of that number (which affects your ending). It is (supposedly) possible to get the best ending without playing the multiplayer though I have to imagine it's rather difficult because at 50%, it's going to take a lot of points to make that mark.

The multiplayer raises that percentage. If you play it frequently, you can increase one or all of those numbers to near 100%. It doesn't take a particularly long time to do and the multiplayer is actually rather enjoyable. You'll play as a squad of four people and must fend off waves of enemies while occasionally accomplishing various side objectives. The game plays almost identically to the single player here except that you have players at your side and the pace is a little bit faster. As you play games, you will level up whichever class you were playing and each class levels up separately.

As they level up, you can pour points into powers as well as buy weapons, mods, and upgrades. Some of these come as single use items like Medi-gel or heavy weapons while others are the standard weapon and mod fair from the single player. Of particular note is that the classes are much closer to the classes of your squadmates in single player than to Shepherd since you will have far fewer abilities to choose from. The reason for this is that during multiplayer, you don't have access to either the power or weapon wheels. This forces you to communicate about the location of enemies and doesn't allow you to pause and think. Each power will be mapped to a shortcut and you have to swap weapons with the previous weapon button (usually holding the reload button). My only major gripe here is that the game still seems to allow you to equip three or more weapons despite only having access to two of them during the course of play.

The multiplayer isn't necessary but it isn't bad either. It's a fun little diversion to the single player campaign and I encourage players to check it out for a couple of rounds. The pace is fun and there's always a lot to be said for playing survival modes with friends. My only major concern is the lack of documentation covering it. For instance, a lot of the parts in the in game manual tell you to refer to the same section in the single player manual where it tells you to bring up the weapon wheel (which you don't have access to) to switch to other weapons

This is a rather lengthy review, to be sure but what this comes down to is that this is a great game. The gameplay itself really only suffers from a very weak cover system and the multiplayer actually works pretty well. Even if two people played almost entirely identical stories through parts one and two, it'll be hard for two people to make it through this third installment and come out with the same experience. As cliche as it may sound, you'll find that Mass Effect 3 does a much better job of forcing you to be yourself rather than choosing to be a "good guy" or "bad guy." It does this to wonderful effect and makes the game that much more enjoyable.

Mass Effect 3 is easily a 9.0 for anybody who has played the previous two installments. Since I can't unplay those games, it is harder to give a good score for those who have not. I would say, however, that while you may enjoy the game far less if you haven't played the previous installments, the game itself is not at fault here and still deserves the same rating.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/14/12

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

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