I find myself in the awkward situation of having to look back at my review of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and say “Welp! Taking your title away from you!” I genuinely thought that Skyrim would remain my favourite game for a good few years before something truly epic knocked it from that coveted top spot. Unfortunately for it, after a few months of enjoying it’s position as top dog, Skyrim has had to take a back seat (for me at least) behind the game of truly epic proportions: Mass Effect 3. It is fair enough to say that it is one of the best games of all time (even if you disagree with it being “the best”) as it has been praised and accoladed by fans and critics alike.
Mass Effect 3 is the final instalment in the futuristic, sci-fi RPG by Bioware which sees you play as Commander Shepard in his fight against a race of colossal sentient machines known as the Reapers. While the previous games have featured single Reaper ships and saw Commander Shepard racing about the Galaxy to stop the Collectors and the Geth from helping the Reapers win the final war, the final game doesn’t fuck about with any of that. Within moments of starting up the campaign the Reapers are already invading Earth and everything goes from bad to worse big-time-stylee. It’s then up to our heroic Commander to travel about the Galaxy getting support for the war from all the other races that live there for a final assault on Earth to re-take the planet and defeat the Reapers (there’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil it for you folk who have yet to play it).
The game involves you running errands and doing missions in all corners of the Galaxy to build up the Galaxies total readiness level and “Effective Military Strength” (EMS) in order to bring to maximum number of big guns that you can to the final fight. You do this by collecting war assets (which can be anything from a team of engineers to a fleet of Turian star ships) and by playing the multiplayer (I’ll explain that in a bit). You spend the majority of the game fighting Reaper ground troops, Cerberus soldiers (an evil organisation of insane humans) and some Geth who must still have a grudge with you after defeating them in the first game.
The first thing that needs to be said about Mass Effect 3 is the depth of the game. Because you can transfer your save files from previous Mass Effect games the decisions and choices you made in the past games can affect what happens in the current game. I have said it before and I will say it again, if you are ever interested in playing Mass Effect you should play the first two first. You will met characters you’ve met before and they will end up helping the war effort in some way, you’ll get e-mails from old acquaintances reminding you of certain missions you’ve done, it truly does help you appreciate the size of the Mass Effect universe and, more importantly the depth of the story. Even if you simply play through the main campaign of the previous games, the major choices can have such an impact on the story of the following games, it’s hard not to appreciate what Bioware have done. Even more so, if you play through all three games with the same Commander Shepard you will eventually get more and more attached to him as a character, not only will you become attached to YOUR Shepard but you build bonds with every single one of the major recurring characters like Garrus and Liara.
As in all RPGs there is a choice system where you can choose to play as the baddest-ass Shepard in existence who doesn’t care how many people he has to kill and crush into oblivion as long as he beats the Reapers or you can play at the opposite end as the harmonious light-bringing Shepard who unites all the Galaxy behind one banner and they would follow him blindly into the mouth of hell itself (this was how I played him). Or you can play some variation of them both. Mass Effect actually has a choice system which I believe should be used more often by RPGs. The fact that in major decisions there is always a fairly obvious evil and good choice is something I approve of as I don’t like playing through games which require me to consider all the moral implications of my choices.
Also, like all RPGs, Mass Effect 3 contains a levelling up system in which you choose to level the abilities of both your squad and your Shepard, anything from having more shields to using a more powerful biotic (magic) attack for the combat of the game. It’s a classic system and has been used through all three games with only slight variations to it each time. It’s not my favourite skill system in existence, but it works and I’ve never felt that it desperately needs changing.
The combat itself is great fun. Fast paced and frantic at times, Mass Effect 3 is definitely more challenging than it’s predecessors and I think actually better done. The combat feels weighted and strategic and it feels like you have to work at it to become properly good. I definitely think it’s a step up from ME2 and I enjoyed it immensely. The only issue from previous games which Bioware didn’t change was the fact that your squad-mates never really seem to do that much in a fight. Having their abilities is always useful and it’s a nice little strategic touch as you choose the team which best compliments you, but it seems like you never see them running around the battlefield and they almost never seem to actually shoot people with their guns, let alone kill anyone. However, that is made up by a really big improvement to the combat where you can FINALLY use all the weapons, regardless of what class of Shepard you play as. You can’t have all the weapons all at once because the more weight Shepard has on him the slower the cooldown of his powers are, but I have to say that it is SO much better to play as a Vanguard (Biotics combined with Combat) Shepard and finally be able to use a sniper and an assault rifle.
As well as being fun, the game does break up the combat rather nicely. There are corridor sections where you fight your way through a squad of enemy soldiers, courtyard/open air sections where you have to fight off masses of foot-soldiers and their heavier weaponry and then you get a section where you get on a turret or in a mech just to completely obliterate all opposition. In short, the combat of the game is fun pretty much all the time and it’s a pleasure to play.
Of course there are a couple of things I wish were a little different with it. It would be nice if you had allies more of the time, in missions where you are fighting alongside other squads or even battalions of allies it would be nice to see them throwing themselves into the fray once in a while, but that doesn’t really happen. It would also be nice if it was less obvious when there was going to be a fight. “Oh we’ve entered a large room with lots of chest high walls for cover and there’s a door on the other side of the room which is currently locked, I wonder what’s going to happen when I press this button in the middle of the room?” But these are niggles that don’t really detract from the experience.
The thing Bioware do best (and have always done best really) is with the story and the characters in the games. They do it so well that they don’t really get much credit for it any more as it tends to be just a given. The characters and story is just fantastic with the story itself keeping you entertained and happy for pretty much all of the 30 hour long campaign. The characters themselves are just fantastic to interact with and enjoy building up friendships and relationships with. In fact I will say that having my Shepard “romance” Liara again (as he did in the previous games) was an excellent choice because the interactions between the characters is absolutely fantastic. I do think that the love that Bioware created between the two is absolutely amazing and it made even my cold heart of stone feel that true love and romance is possible.
Also, there are some moments where I was genuinely moved close to tears throughout the course of the game. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but suffice to say that it involved the deaths of some of my favourite characters and I was so moved by the way the game carried out their last moments.
It’s also nice to see the characters interacting with each other, chatting in the halls of the ship or via radio as it does make it clear that they don’t only talk to you AND NOBODY ELSE! Actually, it’s also worth mentioning that Bioware have changed it so that if they have no specific dialogue to share with you they don’t always make the same excuse for not being able to talk. In fact there were so many jokes about Garrus and his calibrations near the start of the game that I spent a good few minutes rolling around with laughter (another thing you wouldn’t get if you didn’t play previous games).
That does bring me to another nice point about the game. Despite the serious and threatening tone of it, there are moments of romance, kindness and joy and some simply downright funny moments in the game. Meeting Conrad Verner (a recurring character from both previous games) was probably the funniest short 5 minute mission of the game.
The missions themselves are all nice and varied and the main story missions are quite simply stuffed to the brim with awesome. And I mean, I don’t think they could have squeezed more awesome out of it if they had tried to make every single one of your new squad-mates suit up for each battle. The graphics are actually bloody awesome as well, everything in the game looks pretty fucking epic at every turn of the game. I do wonder what it would look like on a PC though and whether it was much better than on the Xbox.
That’s not all either, in fact I wish I could hold your attention indefinitely so I could just sit here ranting and raving about how amazing the game is. But let me sum up a few bits and pieces I have yet to mention. The music is worth a special word or two. The music for the ME games has never been particularly special, it’s not the sort of Sons of Skyrim stuff that you can hum as you walk around feeling epic and awesome, but in ME3 I made sure to pay extra attention to it and I have to say it has been masterfully done. On it’s own most of the music (not all) wouldn’t be worthy of note, but the way that Bioware has worked it into the game and made it so crucial to the atmosphere is nothing short of genius, it definitely added an extra layer of emotion and feeling to the game that would be otherwise missing.
The multiplayer is also particularly good. Each multiplayer “mission” sees you and 3 other members of the ME3 community dropping into a location in the Galaxy where you have to fight off ten increasingly tough waves of enemies, conduct a few special assignments and then bug out without dying. It’s really just more of the combat from the singleplayer, but it’s so much fun to do and I can definitely see myself sinking an awful lot of time into it. Also, each time you complete missions you increase the readiness of the Galaxy at War system. Essentially the war assets I mentioned earlier only function at 50% efficiency unless you do multiplayer missions to increase their efficiency, it’s a really bloody cool system.
As an MMGamer I do have to say that there are some issues with an otherwise perfect game. The mini-game in ME3 is not the greatest of things, it involves flying around the Galaxy Map (similar to Mass Effect 2) and scanning the system for hidden war assets, but scanning too much leads the Reapers to attack and then you have to run away. It’s not a bad little system, but it’s easy to get around and so only provides a nuisance when traversing the Galaxy. It also bothers me that there is no way to fight back against the attacking Reapers, despite your ship having a REALLY big gun. Speaking of that, it does bother me a little that there is absolutely no emphasis on the ship to ship combat in the game, it would have been nice to see some more examples of fighting in space.
The non-essential NPCs on board your ship and in the Citadel are a bit of a shame as well as, for the most part, they might as well just be part of the furniture, and that does take away a little bit from the immersion of the game.
But do you know what the worst thing is? And brace yourself for a massive dose of cliché because everyone else agrees, but the worst thing about Mass Effect 3 is the ending. After a full 30 hours of unrelenting awesome and joy, 30 hours of being completely immersed in the Universe and the story and the knowledge that this game was indeed the final instalment that the series deserved I was suddenly catapulted into the worst 10 minutes of my life playing games before the credits.
I will say I do believe the game is worth getting despite the ending, and even despite the ending I am still adamant on it being the best game I’ve ever played (sorry Skyrim). But as a true fan of the series, my heart did break a little inside when I finished it. It broke so much that I decided to actually do a separate rant here explaining what was wrong with the end (WARNING SPOILER HEAVY)
But honestly, it was truly one of the best 30 hours of gaming I have ever spent I would heartily recommend that you ALL get this game and play it. After having played number one and number two. And of course you should wait until the extended edition is released so that the end doesn’t ruin it for you… But fucking buy it!!