Here we are looking at experience of playing Mass Effect 3: Special Edition on Nintendo’s Wii U and how it differs from the experience on the PS3 and Xbox 360. If you are looking for a review of Mass Effect 3 as a game you will not find that here. Instead you should read our review from the game’s release earlier this year.
First off, the game looks great. It equals the appearance of the other home console versions and for a Wii U launch day title that must bode well for the console’s near-term future prospects. Think back to how long it took PS3 versions of cross-platform titles to regularly come close to parity to the Xbox 360 versions.
ME3:SE keeps up with its peers when you are in motion too. In fact, subjectively, it looks to run smoother than the PS3 version in many areas. This appears in a large part to be attributable to faster load times on the Wii U.
Compared to the PS3 there is also a noticeable, and significant, reduction in stuttering during saving thanks to faster save times to the console’s on-board flash than the PS3 and an HDD. It would be interesting to see whether the same improvement can be see on the new 12GB PS3 ‘Super Slim’ or on a PS3 fitted with an SSD.
There are areas where the frame rate does drop, for example sweeping your gaze across the Presidium Commons on the Citadel, one of the game’s largest open areas and one with far more character models present than are usual for the game. This is somewhere the PS3 also struggled though.
In summary then, compared to the ME3 on the PS3, all the gameplay is intact, the visuals are just as great and the game actually runs smoother in many places, something that is particularly welcome during mid-mission autosaves.
So what is special about the Wii U’s Special Edition? It’s not the bundled DLC which is either free on other platforms (Extended Cut and Resurgence, Rebellion and Earth Packs) or available as premium DLC if you did not buy the N7 Collector’s or Digital Deluxe Editions of the game (From Ashes).
It does have a unique weapon, the M-597 Ladon which fires multiple small homing rockets, but it is not like the game is short of a variety of weaponry already. It has an extended version of the Mass Effect: Genesis choose-your-own-adventure comic that we first saw with Mass Effect 2 on the PS3, which now covers the major events of that second game as well for those playing part three on the Wii U, though even calling it edited highlights still feels overly generous.[drop]What actually is special about it is how the Wii U’s Gamepad changes and adds to the gameplay experience. The first visual thing that your attention will be drawn to is that when you are in combat situations the Gamepad’s screen displays a top-down tactical map of your immediate surroundings with a limited amount of zoom available.
Coloured chevrons depict you and your squad. The larger blue one is you while your squad members get smaller chevrons in appropriate colours, e.g., Liara’s is pale blue and Javik’s is red, matching his default armour.
Red dots pinpoint enemy locations on the map but do nothing to indicate their type so you might know that there is something around that corner but not whether it is a husk or a brute. Being able to see the enemy locations ahead of your position on the map can be an advantage in some circumstances though it in no way detracts from the combat experience.
There are some nice touches in the map’s implementation too that show how much thought has gone into the overall presentation. For example, at the start of the game as you are fleeing across the rooftops during the reaper assault, each time one of the reaper dreadnaughts fires its main gun there is a burst of interference on the tactical map. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.
You can also use the Gamepad’s touchscreen to trigger squad powers or command them to move to locations. However triggering, and targeting, powers using the ‘power wheel’ as you do in the other console versions is more accurate, efficient, pauses combat and does not take your gaze away from the action on screen.
Similarly, commanding your companions to move or attack using the d-pad is easier than the touchscreen equivalent. It would not be so bad if you could trace out the path for them to follow to their commanded position but you are still just giving them an endpoint to reach and you are at the mercy of the suspect AI routing that sees them merrily wander into the path of salvos from Ravagers at the most inopportune moments. They are two features you will try when the game first introduces them and then probably never use again.
When you are in more the more peaceful surroundings of the your ship or roaming the Citadel the Gamepad display switches to a ‘deck plan’ view. This gives you an overview of each level or deck showing who or what are where. This is essentially the same as the map available from the in-game menu and is simply easier to access than that equivalent.
The Gamepad’s advantage is that you can choose to view any of the accessible decks or levels with a tap on the touchscreen whereas the map in the in-game menu is restricted to the level you are currently on. This removes the ‘guess which level the person/objective is on’ annoyance that the game occasionally suffered from.
A few paragraphs back I said the “first visual thing that your attention will be drawn to”. I make that distinction because the first thing you are actually likely to notice about the Gamepad is the sound of your footsteps issuing forth from its speakers.
It is not just your footsteps but also your weapon fire and reloading that exercise the Gamepads speakers. While the sounds do suffer from the lack of bass weight available to them in issuing from the Gamepad (at least compared to my full size surround sound setup, it will be less noticeable if you normally play using your TV’s speakers) the fact that your sounds are coming from your physical location does add to your sense of self in-game.
Obviously this is something that would work even better for a first-person game rather than a third-person game but does attest to another of the advantages of having a controller that can itself offer a rich experience.
Straight Right, the developers responsible for porting Mass Effect 3 to the Wii U, have overdone it a little and brought a few too many sounds ‘onto’ the Gamepad. The most jarring occurrences are when you are interacting with the lifts (or elevators if you prefer) and shops on your ship and the Citadel.[drop2]They have brought the “please select your destination/product” voice prompts onto the Gamepad but not taken the next (and surely obvious) logical step and brought those selection interfaces onto the Gamepad’s touchscreen. As the choices are still displayed on your TV screen and that is where you make your selection using traditional button and stick controls it would make sense for the audio prompts to still come from your TV.
Equally unfortunate is that if you elect to play using the Wii U’s Pro Controller the sounds still come from the Gamepad which just sounds wrong even when the Gamepad is simply on the sofa next to you.
As far as the online multiplayer goes, the experience is just as good as that found on the other consoles before the latest Retaliation DLC which introduced challenges to the mix. It can be hard to find a game as there are few people playing online yet but time will likely change that.
In multiplayer games, the Gamepad does not display a tactical map but gives you a simple information display listing fairly inconsequential details like the current wave number, which map you are on and which enemy you are facing. The only remotely interesting detail it gives you is a
Tali tally of each individual’s XP total for the current mission.
The final thing worth mentioning about Mass Effect 3: Special Edition on the Wii U is that if you hold down the Select button for a couple of seconds you can switch the display from your TV onto the Gamepad. So there is no need for your game to end when Eastenders comes on or it is time for bed (assuming your Wii U’s signal reaches that far). Awesome.
In summary then, this is another great way to play Mass Effect 3 that offers some unique additions to the gameplay thanks to the Wii U and delivers a smoother presentation than the PS3 version. The downsides are that for the same price you can now pick up the Mass Effect Trilogy on Xbox 360, PS3 or PC and the question of whether any of the more recent DLC, such as Leviathan, Omega and the Retaliation Pack will make it onto the Wii U.
EA have said that they have no plans to bring the Trilogy to the Wii U and that does not bode well for future support. Sadly, despite its strengths that makes this Special Edition hard to recommend if you have the option of playing Mass Effect on any other platforms. Make no mistake, Mass Effect 3 is one of the year’s finest games and this is a fine version, but how many people are going be be keen to jump into the final part of a trilogy?