Review: Mass Effect 3 (Computer)

Reviewed by Zarcon, posted Mar 14, 2012
I was a huge fan of BioWare and the original Mass Effect. I was all kinds of excited for Mass Effect 2 and was the same way for Mass Effect 3. I ran through both Mass Effect 1 and 2 multiple times until I had a perfect save to import into Mass Effect 3, DLC and all. However, recent events with BioWare have left a sour taste in my mouth, and whispers of terrible things in the game made me uneasy. I fully expected the game to be terrible by the time it finally came out. Regardless, I had a completionist save of Mass Effect 1 and 2 ready for when Mass Effect 3 came out and darned if I wasn't going to see this through to the end.
Mar 14, 2012
  • Release Date (NA): March 6, 2012
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Genres: RPG/3rd Person Cover Based Shooter
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
The end of the galaxy is upon us and it's up to Shepard to unite every race under one force to face the Reaper threat. Mass Effect 3 is the finale in the Mass Effect trilogy. The Mass Effect series has been an ambitious project, allowing you to import your save across each sequel and promising that all your decisions would matter and have an impact on the ending. Does BioWare pull through on what they set out to do and fulfill all their promises? What awaits us at the end of such a long journey?
The female rendition of Shepard
gets a canon default look in
Mass Effect 3.
It has been a long journey for fans of Mass Effect, a bit over 4 years in fact. BioWare set off on an ambitious project; an RPG series with decisions that alter the way events play out. With the ability to import saves for each sequel it was exciting to see whether your choices really did anything with each new game.

With Mass Effect 2, BioWare managed to skip out on making your decisions matter by having the game take place mostly in areas that weren't in Mass Effect 1. With the final entry in the trilogy they had to follow through on their promise -- that it was actually worth importing your past saved games in order to make a unique playthrough with decisions that would impact how the plot unfolds.

Importing your ME2 save is much easier this time around, as you can import it from inside the game instead of using a config tool to prepare the saves beforehand. You get a full rundown of all your major decisions and can make any changes to your appearance and abilities as you wish. This time around they don't even try to explain why you're able to do this which is unfortunate.

The First Step

Shepard is brought before the
council at the start of the game.
As the game starts I'm immediately confused. There's no explanation as to why Shepard is where he is or why he's in his current situation. Eventually I figure it out, but the events that lead up to this point are never shown or even mentioned. If you have played the Arrival DLC for ME2 then it isn't as confusing, but the events between that and the start of the game are found within the Mass Effect novels. A short cinematic explaining everything would've been appreciated.

After all the introduction conversations play out you'll finally gain control over Shepard. Immediately you'll notice movement is much faster and fluid. Immediately afterwards you'll notice the horrendous sprinting animation when you start sprinting. Possibly followed by laughing at how poor Anderson runs. If you play as female Shepard then I feel for you as they seem to have just used male Shepard's animation which makes it even more awkward. Facial animations seem more stiff now than in previous games and the lip syncing is still quite bad. I won't nitpick, but if you don't let yourself get caught up in all the action then you'll notice plenty of questionable animations. You'll also notice some odd textures here and there. Mostly in things like piles. Piles of wreckage, piles of bodies, piles in general have odd textures. Texture pop-in is still around though I found sometimes they don't even pop-in. I've had several conversations with the C-Sec commander on the citadel where his face textures simply won't pop-in and remain a blurry low-res mess. The game does a good job of presenting a very cinematic experience though and you'll likely not notice these things as much while playing.

The game quickly introduces you to all the gameplay mechanics you'll need and you'll notice that practically everything is done with one button. This is the same as in ME2, but it's made even worse with the addition of the "evasive roll" action and the "move to next cover" action. The game isn't terribly hard on the default difficulty but on higher difficulties, or even on normal/easy, the few times you might die will be from this one button does everything mechanic. You may be trying to run and you'll take cover sideways on a pillar in the line of fire or trying to take cover and end up vaulting over it. I never felt outplayed when I died, only frustrated that Shepard wouldn't do what I wanted him to do at the time. This may never end up happening to you, but if it does you'll wish you were given the option to designate these actions to different keys.

The active gameplay is pretty typical of a cover based shooter. If you're behind cover you'll basically never take damage. If you're outside cover you'll often die a very quick death. There are various options to get from cover to cover, and you also have various powers that you can use to aid yourself with which breaks up the monotony of just shooting down waves of enemies. Mass Effect 3 improves on its predecessor in that movement and shooting feels better while power usage has been sped up considerably. Shepard no longer clunks around clumsily or gets caught on random corners and for the most part you can move around as quickly as is necessary barring the occasional hiccup from the action button not doing what you wanted.

Uniting The Galaxy

The Reapers close in as the
galaxy deals with its own
The Milky Way is a large galaxy and the Reapers are closing in. A common enemy should make uniting all the races under a single force easy right? If only.

While the Reapers begin their onslaught, the various races across the galaxy are dealing with their own issues. Along the way you'll be able to listen in on random conversations and help strangers deal with those issues. This results in extra assistance on the war front in the form of Galactic Readiness (a score that determines how the endings play out), so they're worth doing when possible. Especially since if you only play the single player, as you're locked to 50% of the score you earn. That is to say, if you earn 4,000 points the game will only count 2,000 points for determining the endings you get. There's one point relatively early on that locks you out of several side quests due to how events play out -- so be sure to hold back on the Priority missions if you want to complete everything in the game or have a better chance at getting a desired ending.

The quest journal has taken an odd step backwards in ME3. It no longer updates with new information as you progress through each quest. Sidequests in general have taken a step backwards as well. Outside of the ones you receive from former squadmates, all of them are obtained by eavesdropping. You can't interact with the NPC in question afterwards or ask for more information. None have any choices you need to make. In fact, all the eavesdropping sidequests boil down to simple fetch quests for items that you find while scanning planets. You're able to find the necessary items before you even receive the quests. If you find the item first then the quest gets added and you can hand it in without issue. The downside to this is you miss out on the context of the sidequest if you're too antsy and hand in the item without eavesdropping first.

Planet scanning makes a return in ME3, but it's no longer as tedious as it was in ME2. This time you need simply ping the solar system with your radar and it'll highlight areas of interest if they're in range. Afterwards it's simply a matter of going to the spot and scanning for the one item on the planet. The catch is that whenever you ping the system you slowly alert nearby Reaper forces. If you fully alert them then you'll hear the Reaper BRRRRRRRRRRRRM sound and they'll enter the system, start chasing you down, and hand you a game over if you're caught. Dodging them is a simple matter, but you'll likely want to re-enter a system in order to achieve 100% completion of the scanning opportunities. That, and more importantly, for sidequest items or things to boost your Galactic Readiness. Unfortunately, since they're already in the system you'll be reminded of their presence with the BRRRRRRRRRRRRM sound every time you re-enter. This gets annoying very quickly. You could choose to complete another mission to let the Reapers move away, but if you're like me you won't want to risk locking yourself out of potential sidequests.

Your decisions in the previous games have a large impact on what quests are available and the ways you can complete each one. If you made someone hate you or killed/let someone die in one of the previous games, things may end up poorly for you in some cases. Those starting a new game on ME3 (without importing a past save) will likely be missing many choices, whole quests and even potential people they may encounter. The loss of certain options may even make some players cry at the consequences.

Tools of the Trade

Skills branch starting at rank 4.
Players will notice that they start at level 31 in this game which is due to ME3 building off of ME2's skill system. If you imported a save then your previous skill choices will remain. Fortunately you can reset your skills on the Normandy so you aren't stuck with what you have. Every skill now has two additional ranks you can raise for a total of 6 ranks per skill. Beginning at Rank 4, there are two options for you to choose from, allowing for a more personal and unique build for each character. Which is great since the playable cast has been reduced to 6 (or 7 with the From Dust DLC). Unfortunate, but all previously playable characters show up in one way or another, often with their own quest. Hopefully you've kept everyone alive in the previous games, as you'll get more content to play that way.

While ME3 plays more like ME2, it has brought back many of the customization options from ME1. You'll be able to pick up a vast amount of weapons this time around, with each capable of being upgraded and modified individually. Also returning from ME1 is the ability to equip any type of weapon regardless of what class you are. The catch is each weapon has a weight rating and the heavier you are the slower your powers recharge. Fortunately upgrading a weapon reduces its weight and some, if not all (I played an Infiltrator), classes have the opportunity to increase their weight limit through a skill upgrade option.

It is completely feasible and even desirable to only carry a single light weapon depending on your chosen class as you're able to gain a recharge speed bonus if your weight is small enough. Combined with the sped up power usage in ME3 you can be firing off powers near every other second. There's enough variety in weaponry that everyone should be able to find something they like.

How it all Unfolds

Some of the dialog can come off
cheesy or cliche.
As I previously mentioned, if you imported your save all your past decisions will show up in one way or another. This is where the game really shines. You'll run into old characters you've interacted with and hear about all the shenanigans that you did with them or for them. You'll hear about what they've done since they met you or how things turned out after you meddled in their business. Some of it is direct such as old squadmates talking to you and asking for your help, or indirect by way of the NPCs talking in the background.

This is wonderful as it really makes it feel like you've had an impact on the world. The character interactions between Shepard and characters from the previous games feature the best writing that ME3 has to offer. They'll bring up your past adventures, reflect on the things they've done with you, and even poke fun at some of the things you've done. This works as much for the game as it does against the game. The two new additions to the team, James and a mildly spoilish other member, will likely get left behind for long time fans of the series. The returning cast members have so much history and bring up things you've experienced together constantly. You almost miss out on some of the best dialogue if you don't bring at least one of the old members with you at all times.

That said, I found the writing that didn't involve any of the previous games somewhat weak. Some missions have particularly cringe-worthy dialogue. Others just didn't catch my interest. Whether this is actually the fault of the original writing or just a side effect of the writing in reference to previous characters/events being so much better will be up to the player. Perhaps I just enjoyed the writing between the old characters to the point of it overshadowing any of the original writing. Overall the story in ME3 is great. The execution and presentation in some sections were a bit awkward or strange. Sometimes conversations will overlap or get cut off which is especially annoying when it's important dialogue, but for the most part it's a fine farewell to the trilogy. Up until the ending starts to play out.

I found the endings to be disappointing. Perhaps I got a bad ending? Unfortunately, I did everything nearly perfectly and had almost as much Galactic Readiness as was possible without any multiplayer time spent. Perhaps it was just the ending I chose? This was the worst part, all the endings were basically same in the long run. The cinematics themselves were nearly identical for each ending with the main difference being different coloured beams/explosions. If you simply compare the premises of each ending then yes, they're fairly different. Once you take into account the entire story up to that point and the situation of the galaxy as a whole the end result of each ending doesn't really differ much.

The events leading up to the ending (once the final showdown ends) are almost ridiculous because of how far from left field they come. The reasoning behind why the Reapers return every 50,000 years or so doesn't make any sense. Not that I don't understand what they meant, I do, I just meant no one would come up with this system because it's so backwards it doesn't make any sense. In fact, if you made all the right decisions in all three games, you solve the problem they give as the reason for the Reaper cycle. To top it all off, all of your decisions, everything you've done up to this point, has absolutely no effect on the endings. None. The only thing that matters is that last decision you make right at the end of the game. Your Galactic Readiness score determines what endings are available and the state of Earth, which is in turn affected by the decisions you make. Ultimately you're shoehorned into picking 3 endings that don't depend on any of your actions up to that point. There's also a short bonus scene that occurs if you have a high enough Galactic Readiness score, but it's literally impossible to get enough points to see this scene without multiplayer.

Fun With Friends

You can increase your Galactic
Readiness multiplier from 50% by
playing the multiplayer mode.
I'll tell you right now that I didn't expect anything out of the multiplayer mode. Mass Effect has always excelled in being a single player game so I couldn't imagine that any multiplayer mode would be any good. After playing 4 hours straight of it though I have to reconsider my opinion.

When you first start the mode you'll be given the option of choosing a class and human sex with the other races locked. These are similar to the single player counterparts with minor tweaks and a shorter list of powers. The Infiltrator gets Cryo Blast instead of Incinerate for instance. This is to compensate for the inability to have a "slow mode" while scoped on a sniper rifle. The shorter list of available powers also gives each class more focus so you do what you need to do without spreading your resources too thin.

You start with the basic version of each weapon type and a free "Starter Pack" in the store. This is where you gain new items, weapons, mods, and races. The Starter Pack gives you a few random items and possibly a weapon or weapon mods. There are three other packs in the store that offer varying chances in getting more rare items. You earn credits through playing the multiplayer to spend on these packs and that's where the "Just one more game..." element comes into play. Beyond that your character will level up as they gain experience and you can rank up your skills as expected. This provides a sense of progression even if you end up with bad luck and don't get anything nice from the packs.

The only currently available game mode has you team up with up to 3 others fighting against waves of enemies. Every few rounds you're given a simple objective like capturing random points around the map or needing to stay within a small area while an objective gets hacked. It's a bit simple at the moment, but it works. There's enough variety and random prize incentives to keep you wanting to play just a bit longer. There's a lot of potential here and if BioWare supports the multiplayer with more game modes, maps, weapons, and maybe even more races for each class then this will greatly extend the life of the game.

The Final Step

The Mass Effect series has been a grand undertaking. Whether it lives up to all your expectations is up to you if you've been a long time fan. Mine is but one perspective in the many possible in the world of Mass Effect. I've thoroughly enjoyed my journey and though I didn't agree or like the way things ended I can safely say that my experience will likely be different from yours and yours will be different from others.

I'll note that I played through the standard version of the game, and that it took me approximately 35 hours to complete everything. Although I bought the DLC for the previous games, I couldn't support the "From Dust" DLC. I actually don't mind day 1 DLC, but this DLC added a new character as a squadmate. A new Prothean member. That mysterious race that they've been playing up for the past two games. With proper dialogue and insight into the Prothean race. If at any time they thought of adding a Prothean squadmate, it should've been added to the main game. Even if it had to be a free update after the game came out like with Zaeed for ME2. It's such a huge slap in the face to fans to make the character paid DLC regardless of time frame. It's an even bigger slap in the face when they say the DLC was meant for dedicated fans of the series. Fortunately I didn't feel like I was missing anything without the DLC so it isn't necessary, though I'm saddened that I'll miss out on all the dialogue and potential insight into the Prothean race.

Note from Costello: Related

Don't let my complaints dissuade you from playing the game. It's a great game and every fan of Mass Effect should play it. The gameplay is a step up in every way and the immersion from being able to import your save and see how all your decisions affect the world are wonderful. Even without being a long time fan it's worth playing the game, though I'd highly recommend at least playing ME2 and ideally ME1. It's a long journey, but worth it for the experience.
+ Gameplay is the best of the three games by far
+ RPG elements are reintroduced and/or better
+ Good amount of equipment and upgrades/mods
+ Planet scanning is no longer tedious
+ Past decisions affect events/quests available
+ Interactions with past crew members are great
+ Writing is great when referring to past games
+ Can get good endings easily with a save import
- Animations range from wonky to horrible
- Textures pop in often or stay low res at times
- Quest journal is unintuitive and doesn't update
- NPC conversations sometimes overlap
- One button handles almost all actions
- 50% Galactic Readiness score without multiplayer
- Past decisions have no real impact on the ending
- All endings are effectively the same
8 Presentation
The graphics are nothing too amazing. There are many areas with lazy textures and blocky models. Many animations are awkward or plain bad. Music is good, but personally falls short of ME2's more grand soundtrack, though I did find the softer/sadder tracks better. Sound effects are great, though the Reaper sound quickly overstays its welcome. The overall presentation is very cinematic and fits the final entry to the series well. I'd rate this lower, but the game really is presented nicely.
9 Gameplay
Gameplay is smoother, faster, more fluid, and generally better in all aspects. RPG elements are back from ME1 and is arguably better in some regards. The single point is docked for forcing an "awesome button" that handles most actions in the game, sometimes leading to death because it did something you didn't want it to do.
9 Lasting Appeal
The single player game is actually rather short, I personally clocked 35 hours after seeking out every sidequest, scanning each solar system to 100%, and talking to everyone between every mission/quest. Multiplayer is fun enough to keep the game alive. The classes, leveling, and random loot keep it interesting enough to provide that "Just one more round" feel. It's currently a bit barebones, but if BioWare supports multiplayer then it should extend the life of the game quite well.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I genuinely enjoyed the game, even with my bad impressions of BioWare recently. It's a great game and worth a playthrough. The points are deducted due to the From Dusk DLC and the endings of the game. The DLC is just a slap in the face and as much as I liked the game, the endings undid almost any enjoyment I had. If it seems like an extreme deduction, that's just how sour the endings left me feeling. Perhaps I simply expected too much from this great series.


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