Review by MEPS3
Reviewed: 08/14/12 | Updated: 02/19/13
A good stand-alone title, but the weakest of the ME trilogy
ME1 introduced sci-fi and RPG fans alike to one of the most in-depth science fiction universes imagined, along the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars, with a strong story, an abundance of player choice, and the unique feature of choices carrying over to the next game. The Paragon/Renegade system was a fresh change from the typical one-sided good/evil RPG alignments where good is far too favored and evil choices have no benefit (although ME does fall into this trap somewhat as well). And unlike movies, TV shows, or even other video games, it really let the player become the captain of their starship and do things as they saw fit, with the promise that choices would have consequences in future games in the series. All in all ME1 is a great sci-fi RPG with a few gameplay issues. It put all the pieces in place for the larger story to develop in future games. It also added some fresh gender equality to the story, as the Player-Character, Commander Shepard, can be either male or female and is still essentially the same character.
ME2 is hands-down one of if not THE finest single-player game I have had the pleasure of playing. It greatly improved the Third-Person Shooter and combat mechanics, added many more player choices and Paragon/Renegade options (including the fun interrupt triggers), and really fleshed out the ME universe and characters. The overall story doesnt move forward a whole lot in ME2 save for a few new revelations and it mostly acts a bridge between acts 1 and 3, but it is an amazing experience. There are multiple Hub worlds to explore, lots of great action sequences, and one of the best cast of characters Ive seen in a video game. Most of the story is focused on recruiting a team for the famous Suicide Mission, and despite being fairly large (12 squadmates including the DLC characters), every character is well-developed with a distinct personality and back-story that helps explain their motivations. There is a lot of squad interaction both during and between missions, where you can learn more about them and influence them with Paragon and Renegade dialog. Finally ME2 culminates in the Suicide Mission, where any combination of your crew (including Commander Shepard) can be killed, or they can all survive depending on the choices you make. Its a little TOO easy to get everyone out alive, but its still a big accomplishment for a game to keep track of so many variables like that, and this mission is still an intense thrill-ride every time I play it. ME2 improves on the already great ME1 in every way and ends on a cliffhanger followed by a few bridging DLC (one great, one not so much) that left everyone with high hopes for the final chapter, wondering: how are they going to top that?
Unfortunately they didnt. ME2 was really where the series peaked. ME3 is still a good game worth a playthrough, but it just lost the magic of the first two games. The biggest problem is that ME3 traded substance for a lot of flash, losing what made the series special. The combat and weapon customization is improved, the scale of battles is bigger and there are some beautiful large scale battles occurring in the background in a lot of the missions but the story and player choices got left behind. The Paragon/Renegade system that defined the series is gone for all intents and purposes. Most dialog options are the same no matter what you choose (if there even is a choice as there are far less dialog choices in general), and Paragon/Renegade has been replaced with one Reputation score. In ME1 and ME2 Paragon Shepards and Renegade Shepards were vastly different characters, but in ME3 both act exactly the same. Its more like a watching a movie since the player has so much less control. Even the combat, which is its strong point, has some major issues. There are next to no unique enemies for one: ME2 had memorable boss battles in almost every mission, and while few and far between, the main story missions had you taking on their own unique enemies that were a huge step up from normal baddies. ME3 just throws waves and waves of Mooks at you, even in the final level.
The story loses a lot of the intrigue due to Deus Ex Machinas and a complete disregard for ME2s plot development and characters. ME2 was amazing for how it added to the already good story and made the player care about all these awesome characters that ME3 pushes off to the side and only includes in a few brief obligatory cameos just to show you the game remembers if they survived ME2. And for as much as they removed from the story, most of what they added in was just bad writing (particularly involving Cerberus). Much of it was also just a rehash of the previous games: 2 of the Priority mission arcs involve conflicts Shepard has already significantly contributed to in ME1 and ME2, but just in case a new gamer hasnt heard it before or someone wants to change their mind, a good chunk of the story involves being told the whole background stories AGAIN and choosing how to confront the same issues AGAIN. One 20-minute mission involves nothing but running around watching video logs that tell the same story Tali tells Shepard in a 2-minute conversation in ME1. Completely unnecessary. The main story is disappointing as well: Speculation about how the near-invulnerable Reapers would be defeated was rampant between ME2 and ME3, but instead of coming up with a real answer the story just has you find a magic space artifact in the very first mission and the rest of the game is just about adding imaginary points to it to level it up so you can use it. No explanation of what it is or how it works, and instead of foreshadowing it or having the player discover it throughout the game its just thrown at you from the start.
ME3 also gets a lot of deserved criticism because the developers way over-hyped it and exaggerated certain features of the game. When fans complained about the smaller squad and absence of all the ME2 characters their response was that it would allow for much more squad interaction: conversations, character arcs, squad banter on missions, etc Except the ME3 has way LESS squad interaction with its 6 squadmates than ME2 had with its 12. Most squadmates have only one or two actual (very short) conversations with Shepard, with most of them being Zaeed dialog where the conversation just takes place in the background with no interaction. Theres no more squad banter than ME2 had (and squad banter itself is unnecessary IMO. A nice extra, but I would have much rather preferred to have more squadmates than a handful of throwaway background lines on missions). Then it was implied that ME2 characters would still get their moment in the limelight as part of the squad ala Lair of the Shadow Broker type missions. They dont. Theyre never temporary squadmates and you rarely even see them on their missions. And of course, the consequences of previous choices: aside from a few imaginary player points there really arent any, even for the seemingly crucial end-game decisions of ME1 and 2. Despite the foreshadowing and implication in previous games that they would have a huge impact on the state of the galaxy and the impending fight against the Reapers, they have next to no impact on none of the other characters seem to remember or care what you did. Essentially ME1 and ME2 were retconned to canonize a series whose appeal was having no canon. This is apparent right from the opening: while ME2's opening cutscene and 'Star Wars'-esque prologue crawl vary and have different dialog reflecting choices made it ME1 (or the Genesis comic) and describe very different states of the galaxy, ME3's opening dialog and prologue is exactly same regardless of how ME2 was played and is nothing more than a brief 'the Reapers are coming...be ready.'
A note on Multiplayer: its good and very addictive at first although it gets boring fast due to repetition. It is ultimately unnecessary though. Im not going to bash it for taking resources away from the single-player campaign since it was made by a separate team and thats simply not true, but I will say that I waited 2 years for ME3 to see how my Shepards story ended, what the consequences of my choices would ultimately be, what the fates of the awesome characters would be, not to try and get the high score in a multiplayer match. I do that plenty in other games (with much better multiplayer I might add), its not why I play ME. Also, the whole multiplayer affects single-player is VERY irritating. I normally play online on my PS3 since its free, but play ME on 360 so I can play the whole trilogy. As a non-Xbox Gold subscriber, having to pay to play online to increase my Galactic Readiness score and get the best ending is just obnoxious. Not everyone plays online and single-player and multi-player should be separate. Period. I know it was an innovative idea, but if you have to pay to play online it just becomes another way to charge people more.
And finally its time to discuss the much talked about ending (that oddly many professional reviewers like Game Informer completely ignored or praised unilaterally without mention of the huge controversy). First of all, the final mission feels entirely out of place in ME. In a rich science-fiction universe the place for the final epic showdown is the same urban warfare bombed out city setting seen in just about every other shooter out there, from Call of Duty to Resistance: Fall of Man. Despite being discussed a few times, the main antagonist from ME2 set up as Shepards arch-nemesis (and replaced by a lame ninja who comes out of nowhere) makes only s brief appearance and has no lines. The final ending makes little sense, is full of plot-holes, is completely unaffected by prior choices and Paragon/Renegade alignment, and leaves the player wondering thats it? instead of enjoying a fitting end to a great sci-fi trilogy.
All in all, the problem with ME3 is that it just tries to hard to show the player how awesome it is with flashy visuals and set pieces, but without the strong story and characters the series is known for. The type of appeal it went for is already far oversaturated in games: basing a game around ACTION, EXPLOSIONS, EPIC!!!! and then just putting a story around it is what MOST games do (Modern Warfare 2 and 3 anyone?). ME was special because it filled a particular niche, but by trying to gain widespread appeal it lost what made it cool in the first place. Its still a good game, but its not ME1 and ME2-type good. The first two are on my all time Top 10, or even Top 5 games ever played. ME3 eh its not bad. This is why it got so much hate and 1/10 user review: it was good, but nowhere near expectations. To be fair though, with so many possible consequences to choices and branching storylines going in its unlikely that it would have turned out how every single person would have liked because every had their own vision of what the right choices were, what would happen, etc.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Mass Effect 3 (US, 03/06/12)
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