PlayBack: Mass Effect 3

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.

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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.


Worst Bit

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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.


Best Bit

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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.

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9 Comments

  1. It seemed to me that in the end the whole plot of Mass Effect was copied from Babylon 5. From the old races trying to control new species through chaos to the fact that the Citadel is very much like Babylon 5 itself. That being said I really enjoyed all 3 games, even the ending. I felt it was blown way out of proportion.

  2. pretty spot on, great game for the most part, the multiplayer even seemed fun.
    but that ending.
    stupid in so many ways.
    firstly, all that you’d done over the three games, all the decisions you made, all reduced to a number that had little to no effect on the three different colour endings you get.
    the ludicrous logic behind the the existence of the reapers.
    organics and synthetics cannot coexist without killing each other so create a race of synthetics to kill all organics.
    like stopping two warring countries from fighting by nuking them both.

    and it also came out of nowhere.
    no build up, no hints.
    just out of the blue they introduce this new element in the last ten minutes of the game.

    personally i kinda think they either painted themselves into a corner with the storyline and just didn’t know how to finish it.
    or maybe somebody came in at the last minute and changed the ending to something they preferred.
    because clearly that’s not the ending the rest of the games were leading to.

    i’d really like to know what the original ending they planned on was going to be like, because i can’t imagine that was it.

    the fact that it’s a downbeat ending is not a problem, i’ve played lots of games, seen lots of movies, and read lots of books with downbeat endings that were great, but those made sense with the rest of the story.

    i have to say, this had a worse ending even than Lost, far, far worse.
    but like Lost, the journey was damn enjoyable.

    • I loved the ending of Lost lol.

  3. Good summary. Such a shame as it was building up to being one of the best video game series of all time. It’s still great, but with that broken ending I’m not so sure if people will be recommending it in ten years time like they do for other classics.
    I’m still replaying 2 & 3 though, despite the problems with the ending, as overall it is very good.

    As much as I enjoy the online co-op, perhaps if they had spent less time on that, and more time on the story working it would have worked out. It did seem they needed a few more months to make it th game it needed to be. I read the writers of the first two games were long gone by the time ME3 came along, I can’t imagine that helped. For such an epic series, simply making it up as you go along when fans are that invested, it’s just not good enough. They should have known how it was going to end much earlier instead of deciding at the last second. Hopefully future trilogies will learn from this.

  4. Good write up. Guess the whole “ending fiasco” is an example of video games finally starting to come of age as a credible means (in terms of budget/technology) of telling an in depth story. So while this example was not handled that well, I’m hoping Bio-ware and the industry as a whole has learned a lesson.

    That being said, I played the multiplayer a lot…like, seriously, a lot :P

    • Good point. Let’s face it, until not too long ago, the story of most games was complete garbage, and all the studios concentrated on was how the game played, e.g. shooting/cover mechanics, graphically impressive environments, etc. Mass Effect, however, was different, the story was excellent, and that is why so many could have a problem with the ending at all. I enjoyed ME 2 and 3 immensely, I just didn’t care that much about the ending.

  5. ME1> Awesome
    ME2> Phenomenal
    ME3> Disappointing

    I played all three games back to back and going from ME2 to ME3 was very jarring. This might be down to the fact that I didn’t play any of the DLC packs in between, I don’t know. But the pace felt so much more natural in ME2. ME3 felt like a race to the inevitable end (which was also disappointing). I think what it comes down to is expectations not being met. ME3 is a great game in it’s own right but all I wanted was a direct continuation of ME2. ME2 was perfect so the changes they made to the gameplay/character actions/tone in ME3 felt forced and unnecessary.

  6. I remember feeling quite angry at the time that I was being forced to play the online mode to max out my galactic readiness. The actual online gameplay was decent enough but I never would have touched it had EA not forced me into doing so. I guess I’m in the minority in this regard as I am simply a gamer that never usually plays any online multiplayer.

  7. Regarding the whole budget thing, I don’t have any exact figures, but Mass Effect 3 had an estimated budget of $40 million. So add another couple years of development and that turns out to be $80 million.

    I think it boils down to simple business, rather than greed, as many tinfoil hat gamers like to point out. Game companies are in business to make money. Put a game in development for another couple years, you need to recoup those costs somehow.

    Ending was fine, and there was more than 3 color difference between the endings. The whole ending bit did not come out of nowhere as many claimed. There was a mountain of clues throughout the game to see it coming. Even little subtle hints throughout Mass Effect 1 & 2 as well.

    Personally, with Mass Effect 2, the entire suicide mission from the time you launch it till the credits is considered the ending. For Mass Effect 3, this would be from when you launch the Priority Earth mission right until the credits roll.

    Like the suicide mission, the Priority Earth mission in its entirety does play out differently based on your choices and actions in past games.

    Saying the only difference between the endings is the color of the explosion is insulting and extremely short sighted.

    Regarding the whole synthetics joke thing. Reapers are not synthetic life forms, they are a hybrid of organic and synthetic.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9hOwg62BL4&t=7m38s

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