Review by MJEmirzian

"A franchise in terminal decline"

Mass Effect 3 is the end to the action RPG Mass Effect trilogy, and represents the shift from Bioware to EA/Bioware. While it's an improvement over ME2, it continues to hang on to old flaws and manages to pick up a few new ones along the way.

ME3's combat is a mixed bag. Combat is an improvement over ME2 in terms of enemy and location variety. You're not mowing down the same rows of color coded mercs or boring collectors, and there's more power customization available. Cerberus, geth, and reaper enemies all have different abilities and strategies to deal with, although I think they should have gotten access to more. Where are the enemy biotics or enemies that use high level tech powers like in ME1 for example? The lack of boss fights is disappointing, as well. Fight locations are no longer obvious and boring horizontal rows of cover as in ME2, so there's a bit more variety. However, fights do tend to consist of long waves of the same enemy types, which might grow tiring. Even with the improvements to ME3's combat, it's still a second rate cover shooter compared to the best of the genre, and barely makes the "passable" mark.

Unfortunately, the combat controls are about as bad as before, mainly due to the horrible decision to map run and cover to the same button. It's made worse by the presence of enemy grenades or flanking tactics that will force you to run out of cover, only to inadvertently cling to another nearby section of a wall and end up dying. This sort of horrible control decision was infuriating in ME2 and it's infuriating now. I don't care what reason they came up with to force this control scheme on PS3 or 360 users, but there's no excuse for the PC version with its expansive keyboard controls. On a minor note, the squadmade move and attack commands are mapped to the same button, meaning that if you have an enemy autotargeted (forget about manual target switching), you can't actually order your squadmates to move someplace, as they'll be ordered to attack the current autotarget instead. Bizarrely, there is a button for "Squadmate Attack" and "Squadmate Move/Attack" but not "Squadmate Move", which makes absolutely no sense from a control or design perspective.

Moving on to the plot, again the results are mixed. Unlike ME2, you aren't running a lot of inconsequential side quests to solve your teammates daddy or family issues, and the side quests are a little more substantial. The main story quests are certainly better, providing major consequences for your actions in attempting to unite the races of the galaxy. The overall Mass Effect plot as it's revealed, though, is sci-fi junk food. This is endemic of hard sci-fi wannabe writers who think adding a bunch of factually implausible zeroes to their backstory makes their shoddy plot more impacting or dramatic.

The original Mass Effect felt reserved and a bit Star Trek-ish, focusing on the morality around new technologies, while ME2 and ME3 are more concerned with emulating a Michael Bay movie. The additions of Diana Allers and James Vega are endemic of the rot setting into Bioware, obsessed with monetization, Mary Sues, and focus group oriented marines to appeal to the shooter crowd. The little boy's fate in the intro to the game and the resulting dream sequences are cynical hollywood manipulation at its worst, even if you believe the speculation that there's more to it than it appears. a cyborg ninja as major villian is another absurd addition, screaming "let's add cool ninjas to the game!" rather than any sort of consistency or refrain. Asimov, Clarke, and Scott Card this aint.

Bioware has cynically tried to maximize their profit from ME3 at a level far beyond post-launch DLC. Despite what the developers claim, the day 1 DLC From Ashes is an integral part of ME3 and its backstory with its Prothean companion. This isn't like Zaeed who had a minor role at best. From Ashes gives you several lengthy cutscenes showing the time of the Prothean empire, for example. Having played both a default New Game and an imported ME2 game with all survivors, it's ridiculous how much content you miss out on by not owning ME2. You miss out on not just most of the ME2 roster, but on several major story choices. The memorial wall on the Normandy is about to run out of space by the time you're near the end of a default ME3 game even if you do your best to keep people alive. Not to mention that starting ME3 at an imported level 30 makes most of the game significantly easier. I would go so far as to say that having ME2 is a requirement to experience a significant amount of ME3's content.

Online multiplayer is required to raise your Effective Military Score to the point where you can get the best ending. The online multiplayer is second rate cover shooter co-op with a microtransaction store. It was clearly added to further monetize the Mass Effect franchise rather than out of a need or demand for such a mode. It has no longevity to it, quickly gets very boring, and will be swiftly abandoned, despite the cynical attempts to force gamers into playing it to get the best ending.

Say you've got the 360 version - you'll need ME2, ME3, From Ashes, and an Xbox Live Gold subscription to get the complete ME3 experience and best ending. And of course if you buy your ME3 used, be prepared to pay for an online pass so you can play multiplayer to raise your Effective Military Strength so you can see the best ending. All told, you'll probably end up spending about $100 just to experience most of ME3's content, not even considering ME1, the ME2 DLC like Zaeed or Kasumi or purchases in the ME3 multiplayer online store. ME3 is a prime example of monetizing excess that is consuming the big budget game industry and EA/Activision in particular.

When factoring in the monetization, combat, and plot issues, there are quite a lot of problems with Mass Effect 3. It's a decent game when considering the positives, but there are far too many flies in the ointment to call it a good or even great game. Unfortunately it seems EA/Bioware will continue its terminal decline as its bean counters and consolized controls and awful writers tear the development teams apart.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 03/19/12

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

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