With all the drama surrounding this game I don’t think I need to introduce Mass Effect 3, but I do want to make a couple things clear right away. I am not going to discuss the ending in detail. Everything that can be said about it already has already been said. I will touch on my thoughts on the ending at some point in the review, but I will not go into details. I do not wish to turn this review into another discussion about the game’s ending.
In addition, this review will not be going into a lot of detail about the launch day DLC issue since this review is not about EA’s business practices and my thoughts on their handling of the DLC. Both of these issues have nothing to do with the quality of the game or my score. With that out of the way, let’s find out if the game is worth your time to explore the galaxy and reclaim your role as commander Shepard.
Characters: Characters and dialog are usually some of Bioware’s biggest strengths and it is the same with Mass Effect 3; all of the returning characters are well done and the new ones feel like they belong as well. It’s hard to avoid spoilers here, but there were some parts of the game that made me feel very sad due to the exemplary character development.
There has been a lot of talk about the character James Vega. Although he is a bit of a “meat head”, Vega feels real and some of his conversations with my female Shepard were hilarious. It’s hard to explain it exactly, but the flow of your conversations with each character seems more developed this time around. Now that isn’t to say it is all perfect since there are some really bad lines here and there. Even some important NPCs feel like they were pushed in a direction that didn’t fit their characters completely.
Relationships: Thinking back to Dragon Age 2, after beating the game, I came to one big conclusion: The relationships were all horrible. None of them worked well and the idea that every character wants to “be in a relationship” with a male or female Hawke did not work at all. It all felt forced, like Bioware wanted to be progressive, but took it too far and made the characters feel fake. I bought that up not to kick Dragon Age 2 while it’s down, but to emphasize what I want to say about Mass Effect 3. The relationships in Mass Effect 3 are by far the best Bioware has ever done and I feel they’re some of the best I’ve seen in a game. The serious tone of the story extends to the relationships perfectly. Whether it’s new relationships or ones continued from previous games. The only one I take some issue with is how it is dealt with in regards to Jacob, but Jacob was a boring character to begin with.
There are some very good moments during the story that add tension and emotion when you have a relationship with certain characters. I specifically brought up how every character in Dragon Age 2 was bisexual for another reason. Where-as it felt fake and forced in Dragon Age 2 the the homosexual relationship options in Mass Effect 3 are very well done. Early in the game you find out that one of new guys on your ship had a husband and the way it’s handled is perfect. Shepard does not react at all to the character being gay or married, there is no sense of awkwardness and no “really?” moment at all. Shepard’s reaction makes it feel like that is perfectly normal and accepted in the time of the game. It was a very subtle thing and something I appreciate seeing.
On the opposite end of forming relationships, the game does not require Shepard to act like a jerk if he or she does not want to be in that kind of relationship with a person. The game makes it very obvious what options will take you down that path and if you don’t take those options you can still be nice to a character and they won’t fall in love with your Shepard. This is another nice little touch I like seeing because simply being nice to characters in DA2 made them love Hawke.
Gameplay: Bioware has steadily improved how these games play over the series. Mass Effect 1 had numerous gameplay issues from the way guns felt to the M35 Mako, and while the second game made big improvements on the gun-play, the planet scanning mini-game was a poor replacement. Mass Effect 3 has it’s own scanning mini-game, but it doesn’t require you to scan every planet for resources. You scan systems instead and the game will simply tell you where the things you need are, but as you scan the Reapers will come to you. It’s not a great mini-game and it can be tedious at times, but thankfully, it isn’t required to beat the game. However, if you don’t do the scanning missions you will need to play the multiplayer portion in order to get the “best” ending.
On the gun-play front, Mass Effect 3 is a great improvment over Mass Effect 2. Weapons feel strong and they actually have different stats. Bioware also brought back weapon mods and item levels so you can alter the base stats of the guns. Sadly, there are no armor mods and you still cannot customize your parties armors. Compared to the second game, there are a lot more weapons in Mass Effect 3, but unfortunately it still isn’t as many as the first game. However, it is a nice balance because it provides enough variety without overloading you with junk. I still would have liked to have an inventory system back in the game though.
A nice small change to the weapon system is that you are no longer class limited to specific weapons, every class can use every weapon. That isn’t to say you can load up on all the weapons though, every weapon has a weight stat and the more weight you’re carrying the longer it takes your powers to recharge. Basically, you need to balance out the weight with how often you want to use your abilities.
Leveling up changed once again and I think it’s probably the best in the series. You don’t have the wide selection of abilities like in Mass Effect 1, but it is a lot deeper than Mass Effect 2. Every ability has six levels. The first three levels are basic, but once you get the 4th you are given two choices on what bonus you want for the power. This system continues through the sixth level letting you customize your characters abilities quite a bit.
Like Mass Effect 2 you do not gain experience for killing each enemy, but the game seems to balance out levels very well. Bioware decided to reward players for importing a save by having your level stick from the previous games. So, if you are importing a level 30 character from Mass Effect 2 you will start at level 30 in the 3rd game.
Multiplayer: Now I am not usually a fan of most multiplayer in games. Quite honestly I think most multiplayer modes feel exactly the same and are tacked on simply so the studio can say they have it. While I think in some way the multiplayer mode in Mass Effect 3 was put there simply because EA has this weird aversion to single player only games, it does not feel tacked on at all. The mode is nicely fleshed out and it works very well. I have not spent a ton of time with the multiplayer, but I’ve played on each stage and tried out a couple of the classes so I think I have a good feel for it.
The multiplayer is a Horde style cooperative mode pitting you and three others against waves of enemies. Occasionally the game will tell you to complete small missions during a wave within a specific time frame. If you fail those missions you will fail the the entire stage. Like any cooperative mode you do need a good group of people to do things well, but during my time I did not run into any problems. Like most modern multiplayer modes this one has a leveling system, but you don’t earn perks or whatever by leveling, instead you get skill points and there is a stripped down version of the single-player’s skill tree.
In order to earn new weapons, items, and characters you have to unlock them by spending in game or real money on item packs that give you a random set of items when purchased. I am not sure what to think of this system. It would be nice to earn things by level, but it does give you something to continue working towards. Having the option to use real money is interesting here since it doesn’t mean you’re going to get anything major due to the randomness of it all. I had some spare Bioware points laying around from buying Mass Effect 2 DLC so I decided to use them to see if it made any difference over purchasing the packs with in game points, it really did not seem to matter.
The Story: It’s time to touch upon the ending a bit. I am going to be blunt here: I think the ending is complete shit. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move onto why I’m putting the story as a negative. I don’t think the bad ending by itself drags the entire story down, it certainly doesn’t help it, but if the rest of the story had been good it could have been forgiven a little easier.
I talked above how I felt Bioware had some very powerful and emotional moments in the story and that is true, when the story is good it is damn good and the opposite is true as well. When the story messes up it does so in a grand fashion. I mentioned that some of the things characters do seem to go completely against who they are and there are two pivotal moments in the story where that happens. I will avoid spoilers, but I think both of those moments were handled monumentally bad and on their own they almost completely ruined the story.
Another thing I want to mention is the writing. For all the plot holes and other issues the previous games had the writing for the most part was good, not so here. Drew Karpyshyn was not the senior writing on Mass Effect 3 and it clearly shows. The team of Marc Walters (who was the lead writer on the previous games) and Neil Pollner (the new senior writer) is not strong at all. Karpyshyn worked on some of the game and I feel that those are the moments where the writing is the strongest where as at other points the writing is quite frankly crap. I am a stickler for writing and if I don’t like how something is written I am one heck of a harsh critic. The poor writing on it’s own is enough for me to mark the story as a bad thing, but everything combined together just makes for a very poor end to Shepard’s journey.
Side-Quests: If Mass Effect 3 had been an MMO, 99% of the side-quests would feel right at home. Most of the side-quests you get are fetch quests and the game does a phenomenally poor job of telling you where you need to go in order to fetch the items. Once in a while the game will tell you what planet an item is on, but that is very rare. Most of the time you are left searching the systems randomly trying to find the items. On top of that the quest log does not update when you find an item. If by chance during one of your searches for one item, you found another item for another quest you didn’t get yet, let’s just say you better hope you remember you found that item when you get the quest for it.
There are Cerberus side missions as well that are nothing more than extremely poor excuses to introduce the multiplayer levels and the missions are basically surviving waves of enemies while doing a few random things (sound familiar?). If there is one good thing about the side-quests it is how you get most of them. As you walk around the Citadel you will overhear conversations and pick up the missions that way. Despite making Shepard some kind of stalker, it is kind of neat.
Before getting into my conclusion I need to say a little bit about the launch day DLC. The character you get from it is interesting and for the most part well done, but the mission to get him is bland and feels like the Cerberus side-missions. However, anyone that tells you this character is important to the game is outright lying to you. Despite who he is, he is little more than another Zaeed or Kasumi in terms of his story involvement. He has some really good lines and provides some interesting back story, but at no point does he contribute to the over-all plot. I got him because I bought he Digital Deluxe Edition but I do not recommend buying him, he simply is not worth the money EA is asking.
With that said, there are a lot of things I really like about Mass Effect 3 and there were many moments where I felt Bioware nailed the emotion and seriousness of the threat, but for every moment that brings you closer into the story, there is a moment with some insanely stupid things. If this were just a shooter I could excuse the story problems, but the Mass Effect series has always been about its story and its characters. Bioware got most of the characters perfectly, but the story was such a major let down.
Mass Effect 3 leaves me at a weird point on how to fully express my feelings. I wish I loved the game. I wish ME3 was as good as 1 and 2 and I wish I could spend this entire conclusion praising the entire series and praise Bioware for pulling off a great trilogy, however that simply cannot happen. I did not realize how many major issues I had with the game until I started writing this review. I can excuse a bad ending, I’ve seen far worse in games, but I simply can not excuse a bad story in a game that is supposed to pride itself on the strength of it’s writing and it’s story.
With all my problems with the game, I am left wondering how much the good of the game overrides it. My thought process on this is both simple and complex. I have been waiting to write this review for a number of reasons, partly because I wanted to see what Bioware had in mind for the ending and mostly because I’ve had trouble figuring out my final verdict. I’ve come down a couple of easy questions and answers to help myself figure it out.
1. Do I regret buying Mass Effect 3? No, I do not. Mass Effect 3 is not Far Cry 2, Force Unleashed 2, or Front Mission Evolved. Mass Effect 3 did things right that made it fun and it did not falter in a couple important points. So all-in-all I don’t regret my purchase.
2. Will the problems with the game prevent me from playing the game again and will they damage any play throughs I do of the previous games? Yes. I think this is more important than the first question. Not only does the failure of the story make me not want to play Mass Effect 3 again, I really don’t want to take that journey again through 1 and 2. I still think 1 and 2 are great games, but I will no longer feel that same attachment to my Shepard as I did before playing the 3rd game. The game has forever tainted my experiences with the previous games and I think that really says almost everything.
Mass Effect 3 was supposed to be the end of Shepard’s journey, the final fight with the Reapers, and the wrap up to everything from the previous games. At the end of the game we should have been able to say “that was a great journey” and feel satisfied with the answers and the conclusion. Instead of satisfaction, Mass Effect 3 has only created anger from fans and further damaged Bioware’s reputation. Mass Effect 3 had plenty of sad moments, but the saddest of them all is the realization that the Bioware I used to love and call my favorite developer is gone forever.
Mass Effect 3 Review by Derangel