Review by Mattvento
Hampered by a few human flaws.
A few years back, when I was trying to decide between and 360 and a PS3, one of the biggest factors in my decision to choose 360 over PS3 was Mass Effect. It sounded so cool that it was an RPG in space and would take place over 3 games, not just one. I'm not going to lie, Mass Effect wasn't everything I was hoping it would be. The story was pretty reminiscent of other RPG's with an ancient evil returning that only your PC can stop, there were just blue aliens in place of elves. Plus the combat wasn't all that great. ME2 improved the combat a lot, and changed things up storywise, by focusing on the teammates you were assembling, but its overarching story was lacking, and a the way over redundant loot system was suddenly under redundant and there wasn't enough loot or character customization. And now comes ME 3, and it strikes the best balance in the series between the RPG and action elements of the other games. There are still some problems that I'll get to when I break the game down.
Let's start with the sound and visuals. This is the best looking Mass Effect game, probably because its the newest. I didn't notice any of the texture loading problems that were common especially in ME. There wasn't any real lag either, which is always nice. I can't speak to the multiplayer, but more on that later. The music was good as it has been for the other ME games, but one problem I had was not being able to hear the conversations going on around that sometimes led to missions. After getting a bunch of pop-ups that I had heard about a possible mission, I decided to turn on the subtitles and saw the conversations I was missing. The sound effects in battle were all good though.
The gameplay and controls were pretty similar to ME2, which was good. The control scheme seems about identical, except you can now roll into and out of cover, which sounds more useful that it is, since all of this is done with the "A" button. I found myself rolling around sometimes when I just wanted to stand up. I would have preferred if there was a button to enter and a button to leave cover, and thought they could have gotten rid of hotkey button for this. Considering the increased difficulty from ME2, you will probably run across a time or two when cover issues get you killed. Fortunately the game autosaves frequently so you'll never have to repeat too much. The difficulty increase is a welcome change since it was too easy in ME2 to sit back and pick off enemies. In ME3 they will try to flank you, and there are very few positions that you can defend from all angles, so moving from cover spot to cover spot is necessary. It makes the game much more active.
One of my favorite parts of ME3 is that it doesn't force you to start your character over again like ME2 did. If you were level 30 at the end of ME2 you're level 30 at the start of ME3. To give you something to do with your skill points all the way up to level 60, there are now a few more skills, and 6 instead of 4 levels for each skill. The last 3 levels of each skill also have two options you can choose from, increasing the options for how you customize your character. Another gameplay change to ME3 is that each weapon now has an encumbrance that slows down your power regeneration speed. If you want to carry lots of weapons and just shoot stuff, feel free, but if you want to only carry a light pistol and use a lot of powers, thats an option too. It's much better than ME2 where certain classes only had access to certain weapons. Also gone from ME and ME2 is the paragon v renegade meter. This time around they are added together to create your reputation. This means paragon players can do the awesome renegade interrupts that come up without ruining their ratio and ability to make certain speach prompts activate. I was paragon through ME1 and 2 and I still got one of the best renegade interrupts in the whole series even though I had few renegade points but a high reputation. I wish ME1 and 2 had used this reputation system instead of forcing players to be pure renegade or paragon to get the best results. I don't have XBox live gold so I won't be addressing multiplayer now.
Now onto the most important part of the Mass Effect series, its story. ME3 starts with the reapers invading the galaxy and arriving on Earth to begin conquering it. Its now Sheperd's job to stop them by trying to unite the galaxy and build a weapon to destroy the reapers. You do this by collecting war assets that can be found by scanning planets in a much better minigame that it was in ME2 or through the story itself. The story is better than my description made it sound, but the real highlight is seeing how your actions in the past games play out. To that end the missions involving the Krogans, Salarians and Turians and the Quarians and Geth were the best in the game, maybe even the series. Choices made in ME1 and 2 really impact these missions and there are several choices you can make throughout these missions that effect the amound of war assets you'll be getting from these groups. There are some really good moments in the game, and characters you've grown attached to over the other games can have mostly satisfying roles in ME3 even if they aren't a part of your team this time around. How you treated certain characters can really matter to the war assets you can gather which effect the endings you can get.
Now, so far this review has been pretty glowing, but I only gave this game an 8 and said it had flaws, so what are they? The biggest one I can't really get into without spoiling the game, but I doubt anyone will be satisfied with the ending itself. I want writiers and game designers to have creative freedom, but the ending isn't coherent. It's like they had a few ideas for the ending, couldn't decide and patched together parts of 2 or 3. You spend the whole game gathering war assets and there is a Effective Military strength bar that goes up to about 3,000. The problem is to get the "best" ending, you need an EMS over 4,000, which is only possible through playing the games co-op multiplayer. Most of what I've heard about ME3's multiplayer isn't bad. But ME is a single player RPG, so why is it impossible to get the best ending without playing the tacked on multiplayer? I'm not usually one to complain about optional features, and the "best" ending has only minor differences from the other 3 base endings you can get just from the single player game, but when the rest of the game did such a good job of building on my decisions from the other 2 games, the ending should have been based on that, not whether or not I'm willing to set up a new email account, use it for a new XBox live account and get a month of free Gold. Which for all I know that offer's not even good anymore. And this brings me back to the real problem, no, not corporate greed and the need to sell multiplayer map packs. The ending itself, which doesn't make much sense. After 3 great games, there were so many possibilities for a good ending, but the final ending was a letdown. At least the post credit epilog was kind of nice.
My recommendation is to play this game, because all but the last 5 or 10 minutes is awesome, and then just make up your own endings, or google what other people think the ending means. If you have XBox live gold and enjoy co-op multiplayer this game is a 9, I don't on both accounts, so its an 8 for me, but it definitely had 10 potential. Now I'm having trouble ending this review like the ME3 team had trouble ending there game, but the difference in quality between the ending of almost all the other missions each of which wrapped up a major chapter in the ME universe nicely and the final ending was too big to ignore. It doesn't ruin all the great work on this and the previous 2 games, but it certainly tarnishes them a bit, and it especially knocks this game's score down some.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Mass Effect 3 (US, 03/06/12)
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