Mass Effect 2 was one of the hottest games last year, proving that not all sequels have to suck. It was the perfect telling of the classic Space Opera, and everyone had hoped that Mass Effect 3 would be able to build on the fantastic groundwork that was laid and create something beyond magical. The hope from those of us that love this series was that BioWare would be able to make a finale so grand, that everything else before it would pale in comparison. So how did they do? Did Mass Effect 3 reach the stars they were shooting for, or did it fail to get off the ground?
First things first here – I love the Mass Effect universe. I’m a huge fan of the space opera genre – I remember watching Babylon 5 when I was younger (if you could have changed Shepard’s name I would have made it Sheridan), and constantly find myself drawing parallels to it while playing Mass Effect. I also love the Mass Effect universe – it has so much detail put into it that it is mind boggling to think of how long it must have taken to come up with this stuff. The codex entries alone are impressive because they give all the back story someone new to the story could need, and they are all fully voiced. They also provide a nice little refresher for those of us that didn’t go back and replay the first two before popping this one in (although that’s something I am definitely going to work on now). I feel I had to put that in there so I could deflect some of the mail that I will end up getting because of the rest of this review.
Mass Effect 3 is not Mass Effect 2 – not by a long shot; this doesn’t mean that Mass Effect 3 is a bad game, it just isn’t quite the game I was hoping for. It doesn’t completely suffer from Dragon Age 2 syndrome, but it still feels like a year was too short of a time to have worked on this. There are parts of the game where things happen that will make you say “wtf?”; case in point being the side missions. Commander Shepard must be one of the biggest freaks in the galaxy, because he’s eavesdropping on literally everyone in the Citadel (must be that C-Sec training). In order to get a side mission, you don’t go and talk to someone about what they need; rather you just happen to overhear them talking to someone else about something they need and take it upon yourself to solve their problems. This “mechanic” serves to effectively take you out of the moment, and the game isn’t better for it.
How you accomplish most of these side missions it do go and scan planets – yes, some of the missions are completed during other missions, but the majority come from scanning. There is no more scanning for materials like there was in Mass Effect 2, as all of the upgrades are streamlined to only take credits (another mistake in my opinion, but it was done to make the game more accessible). In order to be able to scan a planet now, you need to hit the left trigger button to scan while you are flying the ship around. This will cause a little pulse to be sent out, and if you are near anything that can be further scanned, it will get a red ring and EDI will say something; got that? Okay, now while you are doing this left trigger system scanning, the Reapers will become aware of your presence – this is represented by a bar in the lower left. When the bar gets full, four or five Reapers will enter the system. You then have the option of running (but the Reapers won’t leave the system until after you complete a mission), or just let two of them catch you and die. No, there is no firefight scene or anything cool like that – just a black screen with the words “Critical Mission Failure” with the option to retry; now here’s the kicker – when you hit Retry, you are dropped back into the system with nothing on the Reaper bar, so the best option is to find where everything is by spamming scan, then dying and going right back to get everything since nothing ever changes location.
Another thing that has been simplified way too much for me are the interactions between your crew mates. In Mass Effect 2 you had to work for them to be loyal and give you access to their specialty, but here all you need to do is talk to them – no more loyalty missions. Things aren’t all bad on the crew front though – the writing is better than ever, with a lot of really moving moments. Mass Effect 3 is full of moments that will elicit emotional responses though, from the fates of old crew members that you have come to care about, to seeing places get completely wiped out; the game definitely gets that part right. There are some parts that are foreshadowed, but when things actually happen they can be pretty brutal to watch.
The multiplayer component just feels like it was tacked on for an extra bullet point on the back of the box – it boils down to being a basic eleven round horde mode. By playing the multiplayer you effect your “Galaxy at War” score, which helps out your single player game – but it isn’t necessary at all. I finished the game with the best ending before I even touched the multiplayer aspect. One of the worst part of the multiplayer is that you can spend money to buy; that’s right – Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is fueled by microtransactions. This makes the whole experience feel cheap, and is something I don’t really care to go back to. I didn’t think that BioWare was really hurting for money that bad that they had to resort to this.
The day 1 DLC for the single player game isn’t bad – the mission takes about 45 minutes or so to complete, and while you don’t need Javik the Prothean to finish the campaign, he is a pretty decent character. Being able to see how the ancient Protheans actually were and hear the dialogue between him and Liara is totally worth the cost of admission. In reality, the DLC mission is better than the N7 side missions in the game itself. The other reason to give the DLC a shot is that Javik’s abilities are all different from what you would normally see in the game – I especially like the Dark Channel power.
The last thing I want to hit on is how well the game works with Kinect. Thankfully it doesn’t require you to do any unnatural motions, or dance around for a stupid mini game – the Kinect integration is really natural here. You use it to issue commands to your squad mates in real time during combat, or put your controller down during any dialogue scene and choose what you want to say by actually saying it. I had a lot of fun with it, and I swear to God my macaw has been trying to say “Liara Singularity” since I said it so damn much throughout the game – if every other game used Kinect this way, it would really be great.
The Bottom Line: While Mass Effect 3 has some flaws that keep it from achieving the perfection that Mass Effect 2 had, the game is still a good game, and a has a decent ending to the story arc started in the first game.
- The writers are at the top of their game throughout Mass Effect 3
- Combat is extremely fluid, and feels much improved over Mass Effect 2
- Thrasher Maw vs Reaper = EPIC
- Most of the good systems in Mass Effect 2 have been streamlined to nonexistence
- The way you acquire side missions is completely lazy programming
- Why do Geth, a mechanical construct, have Medi-Gel packs on their flagship?
You can pick up Mass Effect 3 wherever games are sold including Amazon. It is out for the Xbox 360 (reviewed here) and PlayStation 3 and PC for $59.99