BioWare had their work cut out for them with Mass Effect 3. As the final act of one of the most acclaimed sagas in video game history, it had a lot to live up to.
In our final adventure with the galactic hero Commander Shepard, the Reapers (the sentient race of machines that has been wiping out civilization once every 50,000 years) have finally emerged. Earth is one of the first planets to get hit, ending up in a state of near-annihilation within the opening segments. Faced with a fight-or-die battle ahead, Shepard once again has to step up.
I wish I could say that the game was the satisfying conclusion that fans wanted, but I can’t.
Player choice was what defined the series: making choices that defined your personal Commander Shepard, and what was to come of the universe. Ultimately, the decisions you made would come to affect how the games themselves ended.
Mass Effect 3 completely squanders player choice, abandoning a fundamental element in order to present a predetermined deus ex machina ending in which you essentially press one of three buttons to decide what happens. The scenes that follow leave you with little to no closure. The triology just ends. There’s not even so much as an epilogue to show that what you did had any impact.
This is veiled behind a mechanic called “war assets,” which is the accumulated military strength you have acquired throughout the game. Most of this is determined by the decisions you make during the game, and to get the best results you have to be thorough in your completion of side quests. It was also questionable from a design standpoint as to why the multiplayer gameplay mode tied into these mechanics. The more multiplayer you play, the higher your “galactic readiness” is, which acts as a multiplier for your overall asset total.
The game would have you think that this is what determines how well the ending goes, but in the end the efforts don’t even matter, as the variations in endings don’t really differ, no matter what assets you have.
Fortunately, the plot opens in excellent form. The atmosphere took on a fitting dark, almost melancholic tone, which really gave you an idea of what was at stake. It made you think, “Why are we fighting? We can’t win—the giant robot ships from space are in my base, killing my dudes.”
The main quests were extremely strong. I found myself captivated by uniting the different races of the universe and solving outstanding problems that have persisted throughout the series. There were a lot of loose ends to tie-up, and it was satisfying to see them resolved.
But for everything in between, the cohesiveness of atmosphere and plot disappeared as I ended up running around doing fetch quests for NPC’s who weren’t really reflecting the fact that a race of machines was out there obliterating everyone.
To make it worse, the majority of Shepard’s conversations with other NPCs were hackneyed and cliché space marine big talk. It was ridiculous how formulaic some of the lines were.
I can’t help but feel that the absence of Drew Karpyshyn—one of the most talented sci-fi writers around and who was present for Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2—was the major reason the game fell short in the plot and dialogue departments.
Still, the game does have strengths. The gun upgrade system that was scrapped in Mass Effect 2 is once again present, and the process of upgrading abilities and skills has been expanded, allowing for deeper character customization than the previous installments.
Also, the multiplayer suite, which many were skeptical of at first, turned out to be a welcome addition. I found playing with friends to be quite entertaining, as well as a bit of a challenge. The variety of characters to play and the level up system make it a worthy time sink, although the selection of maps could be improved.
I left Mass Effect 3 with a bittersweet feeling. It was fun to play; I enjoyed my last bout with the strong cast of characters who I have grown to appreciate, and the refinements to the already solid gameplay improved the experience. However, I mostly just feel bitter—bitter because I had faith that BioWare would find the proper way to wrap up the trilogy—and bitter because they fell so short.
For the renegade edition of this review please click here