Mass Effect 3
In the interests of full disclosure it would be best to admit that I am a huge fan of the Mass Effect series and have been eagerly waiting for Mass Effect 3 since it was officially revealed during the 2010 VGAs. This makes the task of reviewing the game all the more difficult. Do I approach it as an individual title for the benefit of those for whom Mass Effect 3 is their first game of the series or do I examine it fully in the context of the series that I am so intimately familiar with? Either way in writing up my review of Mass Effect 3 I will tear my hair out trying to explain just how conflicted I am over what is the most epic entry in the series.
This is the end of Commander Shepard's story and it begins with the attack he - and every seasoned Mass Effect player for that matter - have been expecting since that took down Saren Arterius and his Geth fleet at the end of the first game all those years ago. The Reapers are falling on the galaxy in devastating attacks on all the major races. The Batarians have swiftly been decimated and now the Humans are bearing the brunt of the Reaper's wrath. Shepard has to escape Earth to rally the remainder of the galaxy's inhabitants to fight back and find a way to defeat the Reapers.
Leaving Earth behind is hard but as it transpires, the future of the galaxy will be decided when you return with the collected might of the galaxy to liberate Earth from the Reaper's mechanised clutches.
If you ever thought some of the choices that have been presented to you in the previous two games are tough then you're in for a massive shock. The Mass Effect series has been built on the premise that every choice you make will have an effect on how the story pans out from the Eden Prime incident at the beginning of Mass Effect to the final battle to save Earth in Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3 presents some of the toughest tests of your moral mettle forcing you to decide the fates of whole races of people not just individual team members.
There is only so much I can tell you about the story of Mass Effect 3. You will feel emotionally exhausted at a variety of points and if you have carried on your saves from previous games the events that unfold will feel more poignant than ever before. Narrative-wise this final episode of Commander Shepard's battle with the Reapers will present some of the most involving choices and gaming moments that have ever appeared in role-playing games.
Story plays a heavy part in Mass Effect 3 but it is only part of the picture. There are a lot of gameplay changes and refinements over how Mass Effect 2 played. In fact, the gameplay from Mass Effect 3 feels like a very effective compromise between the contrasting styles of the first two games. Mass Effect 2 was criticised for dropping a lot of the RPG elements that featured heavily in Mass Effect and much of those have actually made a return.
One notable difference is the amount of gear that is available in Mass Effect 3. There's a long list of guns, suits of armour and upgrade mods for guns and Shepard's iconic N7 Armour available from merchants and from the remodeled armoury in the Normandy's cargo bay.
The way characters level up has also been reworked. It returns to the much more comprehensive style of levelling up that was available in Mass Effect allowing players to tailor much more of the abilities of Shepard and his team. It is also pretty noticable that the potential size of Shepard's team is also much smaller and, without any DLC, the choice of companions never really rises above five or six options, considerably less than the huge crew he Commander amassed in Mass Effect 2.
The biggest change is in the way you explore the galaxy. The planet scanning makes its return but it has become more measured than it was in Mass Effect 2. Firstly you now need to fire a scan pulses in each star system to locate items of interest. It these are found on planets then you get to go and scan the planet to find the item. You don't need to go around searching for resources though to upgrade the Normandy which is a bit of a relief. An element of urgency has also been introduced with the presence of the Reapers. If you fire off too many scan pulses in a system you will attract the attention of Reaper warships that you will need to evade by making a using a Mass Relay or leaving the system edge. The Reapers have also destroyed many of the fuel stations meaning that you need to scan for the wreckage of these stations or destroyed warships in order to find the fuel in these systems.
The planet scanning actually makes up the bulk of the game's side-missions. There are a few short side missions that require you to combat the Reaper's minions and Cerberus operatives on the ground but most of the missions require you to scan to find relics and other items of intelligence left behind on a variety of planets. You can also find combat resources for the fighting the Reapers like special-ops teams and even warships that have been force into hiding.
Earlier I was praising the narrative in Mass Effect 3 for its hard-hitting nature but there are some problems with the way it is presented. It feels very linear. You are essentially given one objective after another with very little scope to complete missions in the order that you want. In part this can be attributed to the nature of the game's story but in the shadow of the ability to construct your team in the order you want in Mass Effect 2 it really limits play in Mass Effect 3. This is exacerbated by the large number of scan-a-planet side missions making Mass Effect 3 feel disappointingly linear especially when held up against its predecessors.
Mass Effect 3 is a spectacular ending to the series. You will laugh and cry. You will lose characters that have begun to feel like friends and, most importantly you will uncover the mystery of the Reapers and have the opportunity to deal a final blow to them in your own way. The linearity of the game, while understandable, does place constraints on player freedom that are uncharacteristic for the series and make it feel a little less like the Mass Effect that has already been established. As a single game Mass Effect 3 is fantastic sci-fi adventure. As the conclusion to the trilogy, it offers answers to many of the questions asked by the first two games.
Despite its disappointing linearity Mass Effect 3 is still undoubtedly the first must-play title of 2012.