I laughed. I cried. I cheered. I sat in stunned silence. I watched an alien race become extinct, while I watched another achieve their dreams. I forged alliances between the unlikeliest of allies and I took on the biggest threat known to Galactic civilisation with the largest armada ever seen. Mass Effect 3 can be summed up simply as an emotional rollercoaster; for every high moment there is a cripplingly low one which makes you consider your very reasons for fighting, and for every victory there is a painful loss to contemplate.
This isn’t just the ending to any game series; Mass Effect 3 marks the conclusion of gaming’s most recent pop culture phenomenon. Back in 2007 the release of Mass Effect was met with widescale appreciation, but no one would have predicted that just 5 years on the series would have been elevated to the sci-fi elite alongside the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek. It may seem ridiculous to utter those franchises in the same breath as Mass Effect, but the fact is that the stories told within the Mass Effect universe are easily on par with the greats, and may even exceed them. In Mass Effect 3 we have the closing chapter of the series, and it goes out in spectacular fashion.
What You Need To Know
Mass Effect 3 is the finale to BioWare’s ambitious Mass Effect trilogy, which takes into account every action you have taken in the past two games to create a unique experience for every player. The game sets you as Commander Shepard, who is tasked with saving Earth and the Galaxy from the Reaper threat by amassing an armada through unifying the species of the Galaxy.
The finale of the trilogy is the ultimate realisation of everything that has been hinted at and alluded to in the previous two games. The Reapers are here in force, taking out the major planets and scything through any defence the Galactic community can muster. Once again you reprise the role of Commander Shepard as (s)he is tasked with leaving a burning Earth to forge alliances and bring back a fleet to take down the Reapers once and for all. This is war on a big scale, and it shows throughout the game.
As with the previous two entries, the choices you make throughout this adventure are pivotal in ultimately deciding the fate of trillions of lives throughout the Galaxy. For long-time fans of the series, characters can once again be imported, with almost every decision you made in the previous two games playing out to fruition. Small events from the previous games now have big consequences, and the relationships you forged throughout become vital to your survival.
It’s this choice that creates such a unique feel to Mass Effect 3, as characters from previous games return and can recall missions you took them on. Favourites such as Garrus and Liara return from the first game, while Mass Effect 2 characters take more of a backseat throughout; this is largely explained by them having another mission to take care of which you will ultimately resolve in some way. Nonetheless, everyone returns from the previous games in some form, making this a true celebration of everything that has made this series a gaming icon.
Iterating what works
While the story is hugely ambitious, the gameplay mechanics have undergone a more iterative approach, and you will find the game in largely the same state it was in Mass Effect 2. The upgrade to the Unreal 3 engine has made a difference in the graphics department, with the lighting and character models looking incredibly sharp throughout, and anything but the most careful inspection results in a very impressive looking game.
The upgraded engine also allows for a more fluid combat system, with Shepard now able to use cover much more effectively thanks to a range of rolls and dives. The improved AI intelligence also adds a great deal to the experience, with enemies working as cohesive units, attempting to outflank and surround you. However this does show up Mass Effect 3’s Achilles heel; while the combat is smooth and fluid, it is still not perfect and pales in comparison to the other giants of the third person shooter genre. As a result you will often die due to being outflanked and simply have no answer, or ever worse, jumping over cover when you meant to hide. It’s a small issue which doesn’t happen that often, but it is a problem worth noting.
The audio has also been bolstered thanks to work with the team at DICE. Weapon sounds now pack a lot more punch than before, and this is coupled with a mesmerising score by Clint Mansell. The music will often sit in the background to add ambience, but during the more powerful moments of the story it comes to the fore and takes great moments and makes them unforgettable.
The real star of the audio show is the voice acting, which once again is almost peerless. It’s incredible enough that there are numerous branching dialogue paths to take throughout the game through your decisions, but what is more incredible is that every line is spoken with such conviction and real raw emotion. From the smooth tones of Martin Sheen’s Illusive Man to the commanding Lance Henriksson as Admiral Hackett, every character has a distinct and deep personality, brought to life through stellar voice acting.
And it’s a good job that the voice acting is of such high quality, as you will spend a lot of your time conversing with teammates and allies. Mass Effect’s strength has always been in storytelling, and Mass Effect 3 does not disappoint. Your crew always have something to say about the mission at hand, and actually interact with one another now, no longer staying in one room calibrating guns – instead the characters will move rooms after each mission and meet each other to discuss everything from the past few years, to sharing jokes about Turians. It adds a great deal of personality to the crew and adds that extra touch to the whole experience. As an added bonus the dialogue is genuinely funny at times, and at others heart-wrenchingly moving.
Epic and gripping story
The 30 hour story moves along at a brisk pace, as you attempt to pin back the Reapers by forming alliances across the Galaxy, while also picking up old friends and making new allies, ultimately meaning the Normandy’s crew will always be in flux. The missions themselves are also reasonably diverse, and the characters during these missions are usually at least relatable, if not always memorable.
Choice is still a big factor throughout, although many options will be lost or altered based on past experiences, adding a distinct replayability to the game and series. The Quarians for example are far less receptive to Shepard if Tali was killed in Mass Effect 2, and characters will die if you did not help them in the past. And given how emotionally crippling the loss of any character is, you will be surprised how attached you have become to them, every mission completed without casualties is a huge relief.
However, not everything is perfect with the mission structure, and it often feels like you are following a very linear path, no matter what choices you made previously. Take for example the Rachni mission – if you saved the Queen then she appears, but if you killed her in Mass Effect then the Reapers simply made a robo-Queen in her place, effectively negating your decision. The minor side quests are also reasonably dull, often only requiring you to fly to a planet, scan it, and retrieve an artifact which inexplicably helps the war effort.
As a result of all this though, all your decisions and actions are fed into a War Assets generator – everything you collect or gain can affect your total war assets and as a result, the readiness of the Galactic community to take on the Reapers. Your overall aim here is to simply build up this total to a strong enough level to take Earth back, something which is surprisingly difficult and results in some tough choices. It is however a shame to see every decision come down to a number total, although it probably is the only way in which to catalogue everything you have done.
The readiness meter can also be boosted by the brand new multiplayer mode, which allows up to four players to take on enemies in a Horde style mode online. Multiplayer is reasonably fun, but it once again highlights the combat weakness that Mass Effect has always had, and with only one mode the novelty wears off fast.
You may have noticed that I have been avoiding the elephant in the room, so let’s address that. The ending. It’s been well documented that the ending negates everything that you have done in the game, and to a certain extent that is true. But a large amount of evidence is there that suggests that the ending is far deeper than what it presents at face value, and as a result your reaction to the ending will depend on how invested in the lore you are. As it stands, the ending is either the most brilliant piece of writing ever seen (and as a result indicates that the real ending is en route), or if we ignore all the evidence to the contrary, a complete disregard to the franchise as a whole. The former seems most likely, but only time will tell.
Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic culmination of one of the most ambitious projects the games industry has ever seen. While it does have some minor issues, BioWare have to be commended for tying up almost every loose plot thread that has been created over the past 5 years, and creating a cohesive and most importantly, gripping story. The characters are wonderful and react dynamically to your decisions and the world is so believable that you can lose yourself in it for days. Mass Effect 3 ends the series on a very high note, and after spending around 120 hours in the Mass Effect universe, there is only one thing that will be on everyone’s minds – we want more.
Review copy of the game purchased in-store
Game completed ~30 hours