The third installment of BioWare’s epic sci-fi franchise Mass Effect 3 is the culmination of one of the biggest video game franchises of this generation.
Mass Effect 2 took the series to another level and ended on an exceptional cliffhanger, but Mass Effect 3 proves to be a worthy conclusion for the series. The game brings just enough role-playing game (RPG) elements to flesh the personal interface out, improves the gameplay mechanics and incorporates objective-driven multiplayer that feels like an intricate part of the main storyline rather than something tacked on, which some fans had feared.
With Mass Effect 3, BioWare truly brings to fruition the intersecting storylines and character arcs that have developed since 2007’s Mass Effect. Though the game’s conclusion has proven to be extremely controversial with fans, any disappointment still can’t take away from the characters and the emotional weight of the tough decisions you have to make to take back Earth.
Despite the warnings of protagonist Commander Shepard, the mythical mechanical entities known as the Reapers have returned to the galaxy after 50,000 years with an all-out assault on organic life. Forced to leave Earth behind, Shepard must travel across the galaxy to recruit war assets and fighters from other alien races to stop the Reapers and save the planet.
Whether one’s played the previous two games contributes a lot to the emotional investment of the player to the game’s events and the amoral diplomacy the player must achieve to get the various galactic races on his or her side. Experiencing the triology from the very beginning gives more weight to the game’s story arcs and context, such as the Krogans and their genetic plight, or the war between the Quarians and the sentient Geth.
And certain character arcs are all the more fascinating if one has been able to see them progress from the first game to the third. Seeing someone like Liara T’Soni, the Asari biotic, turn from a naive graduate student into a callous and calculating information broker shows the strength of BioWare’s storytelling and the commitment shown to really fleshing out these characters, especially in the case that the decisions the player has made in the last two games directly affect a particular character.
For a gamer playing for the first time, it’s nice to note that BioWare offers different ways to play. Action Mode offers automatic replies for interactive conversations and normal combat difficulty, Story Mode has manual replies and minimal combat difficulty and RPG Mode strikes a balance with manual replies and normal combat difficulty. Considering how crucial the storytelling and the player’s moral and tactical decisions are to the game, however, RPG Mode is definitely the way to go.
The gameplay works about as well as it did in Mass Effect 2. The action is fast and exciting, the powers are a blast to use and there are just enough strategic elements to prevent the combat from being too monotonous: The surprising thing is how much more difficult the game is compared to the last two. The Xbox 360 version can also use Kinect for voice commands — the capability of which isn’t groundbreaking but works effectively, and there’s a certain gratification in shouting “Garrus, concussive shot!”
The galaxy exploration has been trimmed down even further from the last game. The player no longer tediously gathers elements but rather primarily collects “war assets,” which are used against the Reapers. Unfortunately, side missions are reduced to gathering quests, which is disappointing considering Mass Effect 2’s great variety in exploration possibilities.
The game offers a multiplayer co-op mode called “Galaxy at War” where you play with three other people against continual waves of enemies — think a more objective-based version of the Horde mode from the Gears of War series. The more you play, the more you raise the effectiveness of your war assets in the single-player campaign, increasing the odds of attaining a “perfect” ending to the campaign. It’s a welcome synergy between the two modes and adds a compelling reason to try multiplayer.
The graphics look fantastic, and the game’s aesthetics are helped greatly by the incredible design work of the BioWare art team. There’s hardly any texture pop-in, and though the lip-syncing can get a bit sloppy, the character animations work overall. The voice-acting helps with a cast featuring celebrities such as Carrie Anne-Moss, Keith David, Seth Green, Freddy Prinze Jr. and Martin Sheen.
Mass Effect 3 is an amazing experience that flaunts top-notch graphics and entertaining gameplay despite the simplification of certain elements. The game’s true strength, however, lies in its story. It’s not only one of the best stories in modern video games, but it stands on its own as one of the most enthralling science fiction stories of all time — akin to Star Trek but with the intensity of 24 and the production values of an HBO series. BioWare has certainly fulfilled its promise in creating a truly engrossing sci-fi universe.