Looking back, Mass Effect 3 was always destined to become one of the most divisive games to ever launch. In truth, I can’t say I was all that excited upon hearing the game’s announcement. It seemed like an inevitability more than anything and there was always a part of me wishing BioWare would have waited a year or two more to give it that proper sequel feel.
This indifference soon fell away, however, as I went back and replayed the first two games. A few years wiser, I could now truly appreciate the amount of effort put into forming Mass Effect’s enriching setting, not to mention its cast of unforgettable characters. After ploughing through Lair of the Shadow Broker and swiftly tying up The Arrival I couldn’t wait to see what BioWare had in mind for the grand finale.
I started collecting the novels and comic books, delving into fan-made sites and wikis just to get that extra bit of context or background. The hype train was pelting down the line at full steam but only too late did I realise just how invested I was.
My dedication left me with some huge expectations and plenty of ideas as to how certain arcs would come full circle in Mass Effect 3. Despite its abundance of characters and intertwining narrative threads, I never questioned my faith in BioWare. They had taken us this far, after all.
It came as an absolute shocker, then, when I approached the final quarter of the game. Mass Effect 3 had some amazing set pieces and some really touching scenes, but I started to notice certain characters fading into the periphery.
Companions who I had spent hours in tow with simply milled around uselessly, occasionally dropping the odd line of dialogue. Others were short-changed one step further with Thane and The Illusive Man being two particularly haunting examples. Expecting to have access to Shepard’s entire crew during missions was a radical concept, though something that could have remedied a number of issues I had with the game.
Mass Effect 2 had built towards each of its characters individually in a way that put them at the centre of experience. In a way, its sequel did the same, though hardly to the same effect. From the get-go I had no connection with Ashley or Vega whatsoever though luckily there were other characters who picked up the slack, namely Garrus and of course, Javik.
As the story continued to play out, I became increasingly aware that particular moment would come. The moment in which everything came together. The conclusion. BioWare’s one shot to propel Mass Effect 3 into gaming’s great hall of game.
Sadly, they missed. By a long shot. Leading into the final mission I had already started to worry. Whether due to hardware limitations or a rushed development cycle, the sense of gravity surrounding the last conflict felt somewhat diminished. Shepard’s speech was flat and lacked emotion, as did the reactions from squad mates. For a fight that would determine the fate of the galaxy, the scale seemed embarrassingly small too. The CGI cutscenes did a great job though their in-game counterparts struggled. After hearing Wrex leading into a Krogan battle cry I expected a booming legion of soldiers to take up the call, not a handful.
There was still hope for a perfect ending, however, and this is where things completely fell apart. I won’t go into explaining the entire set-up but it essentially boiled down to players making one of three choices. Regardless of every choice made during the past 60 or so hours, it all came down to one choice. Unaware of the sheer stupidity at the time, I went along with it and sat back as the “Red” ending began to play.
I was disappointed and, much to my surprise, pretty angry too. It felt like a slap to the face after riding the on the series’ roller-coaster of emotions for so long. I wanted BioWare to go back and just do something, anything, to sort it out. This desire soon faded, though; that ship had already sailed and no amount of lobbying would force such a creative team to go back on its own decisions. If this was really how it all ended then that was fair enough. I didn’t want to join the ranks of enraged fans hitting the web and demanding a redress.
Everything else was fine though, and more or less exactly what fans were expecting. Gameplay had been tuned that little bit further, galvanising Mass Effect’s innovative bridge between the role-playing and shooter genres.
The game’s graphics also saw a slight boost and, though not perfect, successfully channelled the power of the Unreal Engine via creative art direction. This was matched by ever-brilliant voice acting and soundtrack, the latter benefiting from the presence of Clive Mansell.
Even the multiplayer, which many had been cautious of, turned out to be a good co-op romp, dodgy pay models aside. Adopting the conventional Horde Mode template, it produced intriguing online experience as players experimented with an array of biotic powers and skills to clear wave after wave.
If the writing team at BioWare had only nailed the ending then Mass Effect 3 would have been absolutely perfect, to me at least. Some will no doubt appreciate how Shepard’s arc came to a close and you may be one of them.
With that said, I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off playing Mass Effect 3. Even if you’re in the same boat as me, you still need to experience this magnificent series. Just be warned that it may not conclude in the way you had envisioned.