It’s hard to find another science fiction trilogy that is so extremely well designed, developed and formed as the Mass Effect series has been so far. There’s more often than not a weak link or inconsistent entry to a series; one installment that disappoints the fans or fails to make a mark. Whilst the first game was undeniably a little rough around the edges, the second game took things to the next level; improving on everything that its predecessor had to offer. It received much praise and topped many Game of the Year charts.
Although the third game isn’t quite the same leap as we saw going into the second game, there are many improvements, refined mechanics and the strong narrative continues, making for a sci-fi, galaxy-spanning epic.[videoyoutube]Mass Effect 3 sees Commander Shepard on his (or her!) toughest quest yet: to unite all lifeforms in the galaxy in order to prevent the impending destruction of all organic lifeforms by the hands of the Reapers; ancient, sentient machines with little remorse or mercy. Above all, the third entry to the series shows that war can be devastating for anyone involved.
Shepard’s tough choices throughout the game reflect the tone of the war – with choices from the first game coming into play and affecting your progress; the amount of different ways this could play out is marvellous and truly a technical achievement.
It builds on the already deep universe, with new elements being introduced to both Shepard’s arc and the backstory of Mass Effect; the Codex is now packed full of information about races, creatures, organisations, planets and technology, with enough reading to keep any fan happy.
The third person shooting mechanics prevalent throughout remain very similar to those of Mass Effect 2. Shepard and his squad of two companions – which you’ll usually select at the start of each mission, after recruiting them in various ways – still have an assortment of weapon combinations in the form of rifles, pistols and shotguns and a variety of powers to use against the three main groups of enemies you’ll be up against.
Weapons, of which there are many to find, now have a weight, which causes your powers to recharge slower depending on what you’re carrying. The aforementioned powers are different for each class in the game, but are mostly tactical or offensive – the more tactical powers, such as Sabotage or Cloak, won’t directly damage the enemy but will give you an edge, whereas offensive powers, such as Incinerate or the ammo modifiers will make you more powerful or modify your gun to do more damage.
These powers can be upgraded, with a redesigned skill tree system allowing you to choose between different upgrades, or you can simply let the game do it for you with the auto level up function. Along with all of these powers, grenades make a return after their absence in Mass Effect 2 and are balanced and implemented well. The omni-tool can now be used as a blade of sorts for a stronger melee attack, which can come in very useful. Shepard is also much more agile, being able to jump between and climb certain objects.[drop]Whilst the Reapers’ forces – altered, synthetic, zombie-like versions of races from around the galaxy – are your main foes in the game, Shepard will also battle against the forces of Cerberus and the Geth. These three types of enemies offer different styles of play: those fighting for the Reapers will rush at you, fearlessly, whilst Cerberus will be more likely to take cover, defensively and the Geth mix both of these styles of attack. Thankfully, the controls – despite a ‘one button for all’ cover, action and interaction approach – work fluidly enough so that you won’t have too much trouble other than the enemies themselves.
The aim of Mass Effect 3 is to collect War Assets (which range from technology, to individuals, to whole fleets and races) in order to build an army strong enough to take on the gargantuan forces of the Reapers. These assets are collected through missions, by talking to NPCs, by making certain choices, or even by scanning planets. The War Assets you have collected, along with your Galactic Readiness percentage will ultimately decide how well you do in the endgame.
There are many missions throughout Mass Effect 3, which are either listed as priority – to further your progress towards the end – or something other, which act as side missions, offering the promise of more War Assets. Side missions aren’t any less epic than the main story missions, however, offering insights into many colonies across planets and unique characters that you won’t find elsewhere. All of these missions are mostly linear, as you play through a section of one planet, but that does not make them any less satisfying.
Exploring the Galaxy in Mass Effect 3 is more amazing than ever, with the Galaxy Map showing many planets, stars and space stations and, of course, Reapers, which will chase you if you alert them. Whilst many planets cannot be visited, orbiting a planet will get you some useful information about the planet itself and, if you’re able to, either items, War Assets or credits from scanning it.
It feels like a living, breathing galaxy, not because of the missions you’ll play, but the parts where you simply engage in conversation with another living being. You’re able to find certain things strewn across the Galaxy for people, or simply take someone’s side in a conversation. It’s the moments like these – full of character – that make Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect 3 does have its problems, though; with several glitches including one that causes characters to disappear completely as you speak to them (in the PC version, at least), along with cover mechanics that can be hit and miss, encounters that soon become repetitive and some sections that simply fail to make a mark. It ends up feeling less polished than Mass Effect 2, which shouldn’t be the case.[boxout]For such a deep, well-crafted universe, the main narrative of the game is affected by some odd, amateur writing choices that make very little sense or feel forced and fake. Shepard’s reactions, at times, don’t make sense and break the emotional connection, whereas the lack of character-building for certain people will leave newcomers confused: this is definitely a game for those that have been following Shepard’s story from the start and if that’s what you’ve been doing, there’s no doubt that your heart strings will be tugged with full force as the game reaches its final act.
Whilst Mass Effect 3 as a whole looks great, there are some odd, jarring parts of the game that are very poor in comparison to other games that we’ve seen recently. Ugly textures affect parts of the scenery; the main character’s faces look brilliant and life-like, whereas the features on other NPCs just don’t compare.
There’s also a few sections where the background, in the distance is quite literally just a picture, breaking the illusion of these being populated planets; though many other parts make up for this by providing wonderful, dynamic backgrounds – it’s certainly odd that some sections are so polished and others are nothing but a flat background.
The sound design is very successful, with excellent voice acting throughout an abundance of lines, coupled with incredible, powerful background music that lies behind the sound of guns, explosions and emotion as you not only play the game, but connect with Mass Effect 3’s plethora of characters.[drop2]Multiplayer integrates with the story in that it furthers your Galactic Readiness with each match played, as well as offering levelling and unlocks for your multiplayer character. Rather than a competitive multiplayer mode, Mass Effect 3 features a four player co-op mode, which bears some resemblance to Gears of War’s Horde mode.
In this mode, you and your comrades must fight through ten waves of enemies, whilst completing certain objectives along the way, involving the activation of terminals and destruction of particular enemies. There are Bronze, Silver and Gold difficulties, which provide harder challenges respectively. You’re even able to select from six maps and three different types of enemies: Reapers, Cerberus and Geth.
It’s all very balanced and works very well, providing a lot of fun in a somewhat unique way. There’s no narrative here, though the style doesn’t really demand it due to the fast-paced nature of the games. Points are awarded for damage, rather than kills, which is a nice little touch and makes the multiplayer all the more worthwhile; it certainly does not feel like an afterthought or as though it has been thrown in for the sake of it – Mass Effect multiplayer is a great way to extend the game even further, offering countless hours of co-operative action.
- Warfare on a galactic scale.
- Being a long time fan is rewarded, with previous choices coming into play.
- Generally a well-paved story throughout.
- Immense, deep and believable universe.
- Fun, engaging, co-operative multiplayer mode.
- Some of the writing is sub-standard.
- There are a couple of sections which fall flat.
- Cover mechanics are somewhat flawed.
In some ways, Mass Effect 3 isn’t as fresh or as satisfying to play as its predecessor. In others though, it’s a much grander game with the true galactic scale being fully realised in this final instalment of the trilogy. Whilst there’s some issues with writing, some of the mechanics and various other glitches, the epic scale and relatively strong narrative push these aside, giving Mass Effect 3 its rightful place amongst the great, sci-fi epics of our time and acting as a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
Whilst Mass Effect doesn’t tower above its predecessors in terms of innovation, sheer entertainment or narrative, the scope of this Galatic War is unmatched in most games. Playing Mass Effect 3, you’ll truly feel as though you’re a Commander, saving not only the human race and Earth but many more planets and races from the brink of extinction.