This is an issue I must address – I am a fan of the Mass Effect franchise. I have played the two games prior to Mass Effect 3. I had considerable control over how I chose to save the galaxy. Mass Effect, in allowing me to play with a character I could customize down to his or her face and background, gave me a rich and rewarding experience that made me love the franchise. Does the latest game in Bioware’s trilogy live up to its lineage? Let’s find out.
Mass Effect 3 is the story of Commander Shepard as the character battles apocalyptic machines called Reapers to keep them from destroying all sentient life in the Milky Way Galaxy. Shepard must unite the species of the galaxy to fight these mechanical monsters or else face galactic annihilation. Despite his or her efforts, and the game likes to remind you, Shepard cannot save them all.
The story begins with Commander Shepard in the custody of the Systems Alliance, humanity’s governing body outside of Earth, for destroying a Batarian colony. In order to slow down the Reapers’ advance, Shepard smashes an asteroid into the Alpha Mass Relay, which is one of many mass relays which are used to “throw” ships from one point in the galaxy to another. The Reapers would use these relays to assault Earth and then to conquer the rest of the galaxy. However, this action only bought the Alliance six months to prepare. The Reapers invade en masse, annihilating the fleets protecting the Solar System and laying waste to Earth’s cities. Shepard is forced to flee in the Normandy SR2, your ship, in order to gather allies to eventually retake Earth.
When the game first begins, you are offered a choice between creating a male character, a female character, or to import a character from Mass Effect 2. After choosing a gender, you are asked to choose between the default Shepard or create a new one. You insert a first name for your Shepard and then alter his or her face to your preference. Neither of these aspects has any bearing on the game; it is solely to personalize your Shepard.
Next, Shepard’s class must be chosen. Six classes are available for choosing. First is the “Soldier”, who is skilled in each of the weapon types available Shepard can carry with him or her. This class has powers to make the weapons more effective. All classes can use each type of weapon, but each class has bonuses for certain weapons. The second class is the “Engineer” who uses solely technical (tech) powers to disable, weaken, or otherwise harass the enemy. The third class is the “Adept” who uses solely biotic (Mass Effect’s term for psychic) powers to kill or disable the enemy without weapons. “Infiltrators” have a mix of weapon and tech powers that make them deadly at long range. “Vanguards” mix weapon powers and biotic powers to perform full frontal assaults on the enemy. “Sentinels” mix tech and biotic powers to weaken enemies. The classes are well-balanced and only affect how the player conducts combat.
Next, you must choose Shepard’s psychological profile and background. Your choices slightly alter how people interact with you, but these issues do not come up often. Certain backgrounds affect the ease of gaining reputation points for the paragon or renegade path. Paragon points are obtained by being tactful, compassionate, and showing a belief in certain actions being too reprehensible to justify. Renegade points are obtained by being curt, hostile, and showing a belief in the ends justifying whatever means taken, no matter how horrible the means are.
If the player has not imported a character from Mass Effect 2, he or she must choose who died in Mass Effect 1, Ashley Williams or Kaiden Alenko, or choose that multiple people died in the past two games letting the game itself decide who is still alive.
One more choice needs to be made before the game may begin. Mass Effect 3 differs from its prequels by offering three game modes for the single-player mode – Action, Role-Playing, and Story. Action mode allows the game to make dialogue choices for you so you can focus on the combat. Story mode makes the combat significantly easier so you can focus on the story and dialogue. Role-Playing keeps both dialogue and combat up to you so you can experience both instead of one or the other. This is an attempt to reach out to a wider audience. For this review, I went with Role-Playing mode in order to achieve the full experience.
If you choose to import a character from Mass Effect 2, then the game imports data from that game onto your Shepard, and the only choice to make is Shepard’s class. The face code is kept and adapted to Mass Effect 3, though you are free to change it. Your accomplishments and actions across all two games, including downloadable content (DLC) events, have a significant bearing on events in the third game and are addressed often. For first-time players, the backstory is predetermined and Shepard needs to be reminded of these events. Your level and powers at the end of Mass Effect 2 are all retained for Mass Effect 3. If you try to import a face created in Mass Effect 1, then the face recognition program of Mass Effect 3 will fail and a new face will have to be made. Mass Effect 1 did not use face codes so Mass Effect 3 cannot import the face. This is rather disappointing for returning players that have played since Mass Effect 1, and they will have to try to recreate their Shepard’s face as accurately as possible if they want to keep it.
Mass Effect 3 employs a mix of third-person shooter and role-playing game. You gain experience by interacting with the environment and completing objectives during missions. These experience points help you level up and gain points that can be used to purchase powers and upgrades. Powers have six levels. Starting from level four, you must choose between two different upgrades for your power.
The third-person shooter element plays out during the missions. The objectives change with each mission, but you are tasked with killing the opposition with two other teammates. Your character can take cover at any formation of rocks, crates, glass barriers, etc. similar to “Gears of War’s” covering system. These are invincible even in the face of rocket attacks. However, enemies still have a chance of hitting you in cover and their chances are greater if they are at a higher elevation than you, but you can also obtain this advantage. Sometimes, when enemies get too close, you must engage in melee combat. For heavy melee attacks, you have an omni-blade that kills enemies without shields, armor, and or barriers (biotic shields) in one hit. Sentinels have two omni-blades.
To change weapons during combat for you or your team, access the weapons wheel. Accessing this wheel pauses the game so you can change weapons without being harassed. The power wheel gives access to you and your team’s powers. Each member can only activate one power at a time, but up to three powers can be used at the same time. Each power has a cooldown time – the time it takes for a teammate or Shepard to be ready to use another power. Whenever any wheel is accessed, the game is paused so you can check the battlefield and make plans. A radar appears with any of the wheels to tell you where enemies and teammates are in relation to you. With so many elements to combat, the third-person shooting element is a fun and challenging aspect to Mass Effect 3 which requires the player to stay calm and be strategic or else face defeat.
Before combat, you are given the option to select which weapons you will carry into battle. There are five weapons Shepard and his teammates can carry with them – assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, sub machine guns (SMGs), and pistols. These weapons all support up to two modifications that boost their stats. The Normandy has benches where you can switch out weapons and or attach mods. These benches can be found on the longer missions, but they are very rare. Guns can also be upgraded in the Normandy’s shuttle bay for credits, the standard sci-fi mode of currency. Cooldown time is increased by 200 percent by carrying one of each weapon, or it can be reduced by 200 percent by carrying no weapons. To use your powers effectively, you need to find a proper balance between weapons loadout and cooldown time.
The missions in Mass Effect 3 are rather straightforward – run in, kill bad guys, and complete the objective. These missions are varied enough in location and mission objectives that they do not become too repetitive. They are varied enough that no obvious pattern emerges on how to complete the missions. If you look in every nook and cranny of each level, you can find weapons mods, credits, ammo, health items (medigel), and items that tell you more about the story or mission.
A major aspect of the Mass Effect series is the dialogue. For the vast majority of conversations between Shepard and anyone else, you must choose what Shepard says and does. These choices affect his or her reputation score, boosting his or her renegade or paragon scores. The dialogue wheel appears during such choices, and the game waits for your choice. The right side has the reputation choices (paragon or renegade) and is geared towards ending a conversation. The left side has conversation options that expand on the conversation through questions and help you learn more about the story, situation, setting, etc. You can even eavesdrop on others’ conversations without interacting, but you can take sides in some arguments to increase your reputation score. Making these choices has an impact on how you proceed during the game, with some having a small impact and others changing the course of the story itself. All you can really do, if you do not have a game guide, is make your choices and hope for the best.
In comparison to previous games, the dialogue choices are rather lacking. In Mass Effect 1, you are given a paragon choice, a renegade choice, and a neutral choice for nearly every conversation you have. Mass Effect 2 sometimes has only two of the previously mentioned choices for dialogue but often had three choices. In Mass Effect 3, you are only given a paragon choice and a renegade choice. This can be explained, however, because the Reaper invasion is no time to be neutral. Strangely, charm and intimidate options are largely absent. In prior games, Shepard could charm (with enough paragon points) or intimidate (with enough renegade points) others into doing something he or she wants. Within the first ten hours of Mass Effect 1 or 2, Shepard could charm or intimidate multiple times. In Mass Effect 3, Shepard can only do this once. This feels like a step back from the rich dialogue gameplay of prior games.
Speaking of dialogue, the lines themselves are largely superb, as usual. Each line given to the voice actors is realistic and well-written. The voice acting is also excellent. There is a significant sense of realism for each of the characters lines. How each character acts, speaks, and talks in each situation feels natural and believable. The characters’ faces emote very realistically and the player can truly read the emotions on all of them, even on non-humans. The only exception to this excellence is the character Diana Allers, a news reporter stationed on the Normandy who stays on at your discretion. Her face emotes properly, but she is voiced by a reporter for IGN named Jessica Chobot. Her outfit is rather overt on its sexuality and is unpleasantly distracting as a result. She is new and inexperienced, but she sounds very out of place when compared to the excellent voice acting talents of Jennifer Hale, Seth Green, Tricia Heifer, and everyone else in Mass Effect 3.
The graphics are crisp and clear for the entire game. The settings are more vibrantly colored, and the lighting is applied to every corner of every level correctly and believably. The graphics and the great music help set the atmosphere and mood for the game. The characters’ faces are rendered beautifully. However, it is not perfect. Character animations sometimes have their hands going through their legs or hips, their fingers sometimes grab through the objects they are holding, and a small number of items are rendered either improperly or incompletely. These glitches are minor, but they appear often.
Using the Normandy, you can go to any open star system in the galaxy. This is accomplished using mass relays, and once in a star cluster you may leave the mass relay’s star system to visit other star systems. A glitch that exists for this part is that you can select, but not visit star systems that are not available yet. Visiting star systems uses up fuel as you use your faster-than-light engine. You can visit any planet to learn trivia about it, sometimes valuable trivia. Unlike the first two games where you had to visit planets to unlock potential secrets, you can simply scan within the star system to find useful items, such as war assets, artifacts, fuel for traveling in-between star systems, and credits. Do this too often, however, and the Reapers will come after you. Learning about planets, dodging Reapers, and exploring systems to find helpful items is very fun and exciting.
A useful feature of Mass Effect 3 is the codex – a detailed and informative encyclopedia on the Mass Effect universe. It is updated as you play through the game. Given that Mass Effect 3 has significant backstory, it is necessary for new players to spend some time reading it. Returning players may also need to skim it as some parts of the story are properly and sometimes only explained in the codex.
Mass Effect 3 boasts a cooperative multiplayer mode where you fight enemies encountered in the game. You can have at least one character of each of the six classes, which includes humans and aliens. Unlocking aliens costs credits which are earned through playing the game. You are restricted to two weapons and three powers, but you cannot pause during multiplayer and cannot access the wheels. Instead, weapon changing and power usage is “hotkeyed” to some buttons, like in single-player gameplay. There are six maps to choose from with at least one corresponding to each fifth of the galactic map. Unfortunately for those uninterested in multiplayer, the multiplayer mode must be player in order to achieve the best possible ending in Mass Effect 3.
A new aspect to Mass Effect 3 is the war asset. By accumulating war assets, the galaxy becomes more prepared to make their final push towards defeating the reapers. There is another aspect called galactic readiness, which is how willing the galaxy is to battling the Reapers. If galactic readiness is at 50 percent and your fleet strength is at 500, only 250 points of total will be effective. You build readiness by winning matches in multiplayer. Galactic readiness falls quickly so you need to play multiplayer often.
This game is a very long game. Playing through the game fully should take about forty to fifty hours. Playing multiplayer to 100 percent readiness should take another eight to ten hours. Overall, this game will take up to sixty hours of time.
The price of this game is rather prohibitive. Mass Effect 3 costs the standard $60. DLC released on launch day allows a character you encounter in-game to be a teammate in missions. For comparison, DLCs with story content for Mass Effect 2 that added another one to two hours to the game cost $7. To get the full experience, you will pay $70, not including tax.
Mass Effect 3 is an excellent game that will glue you to your chair for hours on end. The gameplay is addicting and the engaging story draws you in even more. Despite its strengths in multiplayer, combat, weapons customization, strategy, exploration, dialogue choices, and the ability to change the storyline, there are some problems. The number of glitches present makes the game feel somewhat unpolished. Mass Effect 3 lacks the involved dialogue gameplay from the past games, but the combat is the best in the series. This game feels very accessible for new players, but returning players can access much more of the story by playing through the previous games. The high price of the game may turn-off some people. The necessity for multiplayer to be played for the single-player story may also drive away others already nervous about the length of the game. Still, Mass Effect 3 is an excellent game on its own merits, and I highly recommend that you give it a try.