It is hard to properly convey how important of a game Mass Effect 3 is. Last year was what I called the "season of 3s" with Gears of War 3, Uncharted 3, Saints Row: The Third, and Battlefield 3 all coming out within 2 months. Yet none of those games have the same fandom that Mass Effect has. Mass Effect 3 is the finale of the trilogy, and due to that fandom the series has created, it has created a controversy in gaming that could have ramifications beyond its release.
Mass Effect 3 has you in the role of Commander Shepard, humanity's greatest hero who will have to face his ultimate mission to save not only humanity, but the entire galaxy. Taking place after the Mass Effect 2 Arrival DLC, the aliens known as the Reapers have begun their attack on Earth. It's up to Shepard to gather forces from around the galaxy to take down the Reapers to save the lives of billions.
A SCI-FI EPIC
Some Tough Choices - As you play through Mass Effect 3, there are going to be some very important choices made. Choices have always been an important element in the Mass Effect series, but in this game, there lies a severity in these choices that makes for an emotional experience. The tough choices you have involved certain characters in the game. Your decision may not only decide if that character lives or dies, but could even decide the fate of a whole alien race. Multiple times I found myself deeply regretting a choice I made once I saw the results, more so than any of the previous Mass Effect games. In most games where you have moral choices, the effects of my decisions don't last with me as much as the ones I made in Mass Effect 3. Also, as in previous games, you'll have a selection of lovers to select from, each with their own special connection to you. New this time around is a choice of being in a homosexual relationship, adding a nuance to the game. The biggest choice in the game is the most controversial one as of late, but I'll hold off that until later in the review.
The Beauty of the Galaxy - Every Mass Effect game has looked incredible, with its wide array of alien models that have such amazing detail. But what stands out in Mass Effect 3 is the vast scope of background action shown throughout the game. On several planets there are huge battles, aerial dog fights, and giant Reapers going on throughout the background to create an intense yet beautiful battlefield. While in Mass Effect 1 and 2, you mainly saw this kind of action towards the end of the game, in Mass Effect 3 you'll see it many times in your playthrough.
Sounds of Greatness - Another staple in the Mass Effect series is the music, and Mass Effect 3 succeeds in having a score that adds to the enjoyment of the game. From the most furious of battles to the saddest moments, the music sucks you right into the moment. There were several composers who worked on the game, and they did a fantastic job of creating epic pieces: the choir signing in "Reaper Chase" along with music with a high tech sound such as "The Scientists." Then there's "Leaving Earth" that starts off so sullen and peaceful yet is interrupted by this huge tone that has become so synonymous with the Reapers in the game and so ingrained into my brain that my heart rate speeds up a bit whenever I hear it. When music affects you physically, in a positive way, you know it's good.
Truly Worthy Voices - Once again, BioWare has shown that quality voice acting is an essential part of making a great game. All the cast members from previous Mass Effect games return to reprise their roles lead by the male voice of Commander Shepard, Mark Meers, and the female voice of Commander Shepard nicknamed "FemShep," Jennifer Hale. Every one of the returning Hollywood actors provide an on-point performance, especially Seth Green (the voice of Joker) and Tricia Helfer (the voice of EDI), who have these great conversations with each other that are touching as well as pretty funny. As I mentioned in the Mass Effect 2 review, Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man is a treat to listen to with his diabolical plans. The notable newcomers to the cast were Freddie Prinze Jr. and IGN booth babe, Jessica Chobot. Surprisingly, with Prinze's performance, I quickly forgot that I was listening to a former teenage heartthrob as he worked pretty well in the role of James Vegas. Chobot as Diana Allers, on the other hand, made it clear that those who have no acting ability at all should never provide voice to a character as her mind-numbing delivery was a painful reminder that it takes talent to be a voice actor, and talent doesn't come from licking a PSP.
Multiplayer Greatness - When the announcement of multiplayer being added to Mass Effect 3, I like countless others, were skeptical about this addition to the game. I became even more disgruntled when I heard that playing the multiplayer is a requirement for getting the "true ending" (something we'll talk about later in the review). Fortunately, all my worries over the unproven multiplayer were for naught as I really enjoyed it. At its core, the multiplayer is a glorified survival mode which has become the standard for tacked-on multiplayer for games in which deathmatch won't work. However, where Mass Effect 3 multiplayer excels is that the survival mode has variety to it and a purpose. The way it works is that a group of four players can go to certain stages to take on one of three different enemies - Reapers, Geth, Cerberus - with three different difficulties. Your character is one of five classes, each with their pros and cons along with a set of skills that's unique to them. When you start on a map, you fight waves of enemies like in every survival mode, but every few waves, you have an objective to complete. Sometimes it's killing certain enemies, other times it's hacking computers, but most importantly, it requires you to leave the area you and your team has used to barricade yourself. As you take down enemies and complete waves, you get more money and xp. The money can buy supply boxes with random items, weapons, abilities, and even playable characters. There are three different levels of boxes, each one costing more than the other, with the most expensive boxes giving more of the rarer items. It's reminiscent of doing instances in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft where you play through a dungeon in hopes of getting something good; the randomness makes the multiplayer addictive.
MASSIVE FAIL EFFECT
Wha' happened? - So let's talk about the elephant in the room: Mass Effect 3's ending. Of course, ****SPOILERS**** ahead. The source of so much controversy it caused gamers to go as far as to send multi-colored cupcakes to the BioWare offices to show their disdain for the ending. I have two theories on the ending. If you take the ending at face value, then my theory is that the writers were being lazy hacks. I mean come on, guys, if you can write several in-depth romances, multiple variations of one event, and find a way to make Commander Shepard dance horribly once again, then you could have spent a few more minutes coming up with a better ending. It's short, it's terrible, and it's one of the worst ending for a RPG that doesn't have "Elder Scrolls" in its title. My second theory is that the Indoctrination Theory is true, and the last segment of the game was a hallucination of Shepard's as part of his being indoctrinated by the Reapers. I call this theory the "OMG I'M A PRETENTIOUS TV WRITER" theory. While this kind of ending is hardly ever used in gaming, it's been done several times on television. St. Elsewhere, Lost, The Sopranos, Newhart, and Dallas are all television shows that had some sort of ending revolving around a dream or that had an ending that was open to interpretation. So if the writers thought that playing the Indoctrination angle in the game was a way for writing in video games to transcend the media, they forgot that it was a hard pill to swallow when TV shows were trying similar things 3 decades ago.
In any case, as I and many other video game journalists have been saying, the ending does suck and Bioware deserves to be called out for for it . By all means, dissect every second of it and show it to the world as an example of how not to finish an important trilogy. However, when you start filing reports with the Federal Trade Commission, create charity drives solely for changing the ending, and sending cupcakes to BioWare as a form of "protest" then as we've said before, you're just being a douche.
Where Did All These Missions Come From? - As you make your way through the Citadel, the main hub for the galaxy where you interact with key characters in the game, you'll notice that a random dialogue will occur when you pass by some people. You can stay and listen or simply walk on by, yet in either case, you may have found yourself with a new quest. Now call me old fashioned, but when I want to be burdened with a quest, I'd rather have the choice of adding that mission to my log instead of having it thrust upon me with only an on-screen message stating that I now have a quest. These side missions usually require traveling to a planet, using a probe on said planet, and recovering some item or intel from the planet. There are some that require going down to clear out a base of some sort, although not as many as the non-combat ones. Towards the end of the game, I decided to spend an hour or two clearing all these side missions. My rewards, for the most part, was money. Here I was, expecting to grow the Allied forces to take down the Reapers, and some jackass that blurted out how there's something special on some planet resulting in me having a new mission that in the end, gave me some money that I already had plenty of. I would have avoided these wastes of time if the mission log had actually told me what the rewards were, or if, you know, they let me pick the quest myself knowing what I could get rather than letting me find out when it was completed.
Why the Hell is There a TSA Screening on my Ship? - As gamers were picking up their torches and pitchforks in preparation to find out who caused this debacle of a story, I was wondering who the hell decided to put the TSA on my ship. For some ungodly reason, someone at BioWare decided that there should be a security screening on the Normandy resulting in a exaggerated security sequence that makes ZERO sense to have. It doesn't add to the storyline, it doesn't offer any insight to the crew, and instead, infuriates you as you have to move back and forth through the ship. Maybe, just maybe, this is another move from our pretentious writers trying to give some social commentary on how the TSA is infringing on the rights of Americans in present times. If that's the case, on behalf of everyone that had to deal with this needless waste of time, I would like to say FUCK YOU, YOU PRETENTIOUS FUCK.
Previous Choices Not Nearly as Powerful - While I've played the previous Mass Effect games, they were not on the same console thus I was unable to transfer over a game save to keep certain decisions and stats from previous games. Many fans of the series did, and unfortunately, they are not seeing a huge reward for their dedication. In Mass Effect 2, certain team members were killed off at the end of the game, and in lieu of those members appearing in Mass Effect 3, instead there's a "placeholder" in their stead. This "placeholder" acts in a similar fashion to how your team member would have acted if they were still alive, so it makes that death of the team member have less of an impact. For example, without having a transferred save, Legion from Mass Effect 2 doesn't survive and is replaced by a geth that goes by the name Geth VI. Aside from some dialogue, the two do essentially the same job in the game, so it makes it a little less special that you still have him saved on your game. In general, while dedicated players were expecting huge waves of change from the choices made in previous games, the results were actually just some small ripples in the great sea of Mass Effect. It also didn't help that the Commander Shepard models used from previous games didn't have that proper look to them in Mass Effect 3, something BioWare had to address with a patch.
Not Entirely the Right Stuff - In Mass Effect 1 and 2, your final lineup of teammates were connected to you. In most cases, you could do multiple missions with them to gain their trust. There was a bond created which made for painful choices in both games. In Mass Effect 3, however, a portion of the team is made up of ancillary characters. There are a total of 8 members that you end up with (1 of them DLC) while in Mass Effect 2, you could have 12 members at the end of the games (2 of them DLC). In comparison, you do much more with your Mass Effect 2 team than you did with your Mass Effect 3 teams as characters like EDI and Vega don't have major story arcs that involve them. There is still a connection with your team at the end of Mass Effect 3, but it didn't feel as strong as it did in Mass Effect 2. Oh, and regarding that on-disc day 1 DLC character, there is no proper excuse for it and it should not have happened. Developers needs to understand that while Day 1 DLC may sell more, you're doing a disservice to your fans. We're not stupid, we know what's on-disc and what isn't, so stop the crap already.
Reviewing Mass Effect 3 is one of those tasks that most reviewers dread. When a game is released that raises such emotions from gamers, in this case very negative, it easy to have one's opinion on a game be quickly dismissed. For me though, this game is a masterpiece with the exception of the ending, and for me, that didn't amount for much. For me, the 20+ hour journey that I played through was far more entertaining than most of the great games I've played in the past year. While I have no problems discussing the less than perfect aspects of the game, the sum of the positive aspects far outweighs them. I was staying up later than I should have to play the multiplayer, which says a lot. In addition, I was rushing home from my job at top speed just to find out what happened next in the game. When a game is so hard to put down and makes me think about it so often, what else can I say but that the game is more than just great, but unfortunately, came one ending shy of being perfect.