Review: Mass Effect 3
It's time to take back Earth. And end the war once and for all. Shepard will teach the galaxy to not fear the reaper.
- Worth The Time?Worth every cent and then some.
- Things LovedReturn of the RPG elements from the first game, deep and engaging story, interesting characters, well-written interactions, meaningful choices, multiplayer is awesome-sauce.
- Things HatedClumsy cover system, odd bugs and glitches, random online disconnects.
- RecommendationHow could you not have bought this already? Seriously, go buy it. It's only one of the biggest game releases this year.
- Name: Mass Effect 3
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online Co-operative
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: BioWare
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R550
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
The last few days have been a very happy time (gaming-wise) for me. BioWare fanboyism notwithstanding, it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt so rewarded as a gamer. Perhaps it’s just the style of games, but there’s something special about the Mass Effect series. It has a certain charm to it that is near impossible to ignore, you simply cannot help but fall for it.
The first Mass Effect with its deep focus on storytelling and cinematics, was very much a space opera. One in which a newly promoted human soldier accidentally became the messenger for a great warning: The reapers are coming. Throughout the game, the overall aim was to stop a rogue Spectre but how you went about doing so — at least missions-wise — was entirely up to you. Well, to some extent. Exploration of new worlds was something different, combat was relatively decent but the game’s real charm came with the way it told its story and the many hours you would spend listening to various characters and responding to them in kind.
Mass Effect 2 held nothing back thereafter, taking a far darker and mature approach to storytelling while also tightening up the combat and simplifying the RPG elements. BioWare’s direction was pretty clear, with the game upping the difficulty and taking some of the emphasis off storytelling, yet keeping things cinematic and entertaining. The game posed some difficult questions to the player and, more importantly, allowed the player to craft a story that was truly their own, based on both their choices in the first game and their eventual choices in the second.
Mass Effect 3 aims to strike a fine balance between those two games.
For the most part, it has succeeded.
From the get-go this time around, your objective is pretty clear. No more faffing about, no more trying to convince the council of their existence. The reapers are here, and they’ve taken Earth hostage. Expect no prisoners as humanity and inevitably the rest of the galaxy, face down their pending demise.
Not if Commander Shepard has anything to say about it.
The game’s catch-phrase leading up to release, has been simply: “Take Back Earth.”
This is your objective in the game. This is why Mass Effect 3 exists. You must take back Earth, and the only way you can do so is by destroying the reapers.
Shepard takes it upon himself after narrowly escaping Earth during the invasion, to enlist the help of any who will hear his pleas, and then bring them back to take on the ancient race of sentient machines and reclaim Earth for all humanity. Because humanity’s kind of important to the reapers for some reason…
Make no mistake, this game plays out on a truly epic scale. The entire galaxy is under reaper attack, meaning you must travel through systems and fight them on various battlefronts.
To add to the already complicated situation, The Illusive Man is after revenge for Shepard’s abandonment and wishes to carry out his own ends during this game, going straight hostile on Alliance forces — to which Shepard is now re-instated — and pretty much anyone else who opposes them or has opposed them in the past.
There’s a lot of story in Mass Effect 3. It’s mind boggling, just how much there is to do in this game. It does start out a bit on the linear side but it doesn’t take long before the entire galaxy is free to explore. An understandable approach since many would be overwhelmed by a hundred different priority missions straight-up, as was the case with previous games.
Don’t you worry though, once you’re in the thick of the game’s campaign, you will have loads and loads of missions, be they secondary missions, miscellaneous fetch-quests or proper main story missions.
Most of these missions can still go in a number of ways depending on your morality and choices, however it must be noted that a lot of the emphasis has been taken off morality choices in the form of your typical ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ — Paragon for life — with the focus now being on whether helping or hindering someone provides the best benefit for your cause. It’s refreshing and leads to some incredibly interesting situations, but more on that later.
The thing about Mass Effect 3 is that it doesn’t want to bog you down unnecessarily. So it offers up most things with a hint of… let’s call it: optionality.
If you go looking for story by exploring every area of your ship or for example the Citadel, between each mission, you will find a lot of story. If you go searching systems for secondary missions or miscellaneous quests, you will find a lot of story. The game has a lot for you, if you’ll only put in the effort to look for it. If not, it won’t punish you for it. You may simply progress through the story as you please.
As a result of this so-called ‘optionality’ many conversations don’t occur as they did in previous games. They’re far more streamlined this time around with less actual dialogue options but more words being exchanged and effectively more conversation occurring per dialogue choice. There are some conversations that won’t even occur as your typical cutscenes, further emphasising the ‘optionality’ of the deeper story elements on offer.
That said, there is some amazing story-writing on offer here. As with any BioWare game. We’ll come back to that in a bit.
The game has some amazing set-pieces, directly resulting from the scale of the story. Remember that reapers are huge. Extremely huge. World-swallowing in some cases. However, there are smaller versions of them as well.
The reapers have also converted many of the existing races which allows for some new, unique types of reaper that you’ve not encountered before. Along with husks, you now get corrupted, severely disfigured versions of batarians, turians and even asari. It gives the game an almost eery edge, offering up some spine-chilling variants that stare down the player and go: “You could look like this some day.”
Getting one over the reapers involves recruiting allies to your cause, which again lends to the set-pieces on offer as you attempt to enlist the aid of the turians, the krogans, salarians, asari and pretty much anyone else who will hear your call. At times in suitably over-the-top fashion. The things you are required to do in order to win over these races and others provide the basis for some of the most amazingly well-written pieces of story that I have played, probably ever. Seriously.
The writing in this game is in true BioWare fashion, and is truly as epic as the set-pieces themselves.
Some of the choices that I was asked to make had me spending extremely long periods with the game paused, mulling over the consequences of the choice I would eventually make. Some are more straight-forward such as an ethical choice versus a choice that yields more allies, whereas others are a little more complicated. I won’t spoil that for you all.
This being the third game in a series, there are lots of familiar faces all over the place, as well as a few fresh and interesting new ones. Throughout the story, you will meet pretty much every surviving squad member from both of the previous games, with some even joining your squad — Garrus, we love you so — once again. The new additions are suitably unique and, to be frank, turn the Normandy into even more of a freak show than ever before. But in a good way.
The squad choices on offer in this game are reduced in number from the previous game but more than that of the first, striking a balance but typically allowing for an ideal member for each situation if you’re of the preemptive type.
Romancing characters has returned, where you have the option of rekindling an old romance, starting a new one, or starting up something of a love triangle between characters you previously romanced. Worthy of mention if only for the addition is that Shepard may now engage in same-sex relationships, which is fine if you’re into that. If not, shut up and bang someone else.
Each character on your squad, as well as various crew members aboard the Normandy, lend to the excellent writing on offer in the game, with a fair amount of humour thrown in as well as many references to previous games that true fans would instantly recognise and laugh at; running jokes if you will.
Garrus really loves to calibrate things.
The combat in the game has been vastly improved, but is still imperfect. Mass Effect 3 attempts to bring better action elements into the game and as such, your character now boasts a combat roll, quick-mantle and context-sensitive moves for when you’re in cover. These work well to make the combat faster and more accurate than previous titles, however it is clumsy at times and doesn’t quite feel right.
Most of the popular weapons from previous games have made a return, together with some fresh new additions. Each weapon is upgradeable on its own, which means no longer having to leave behind a favoured weapon because it has become inferior. You can also mod weapons again, re-introduced from the first Mass Effect because everyone loves having modified weapons.
Combat sections are diverse, with multi-tiered levels and complex skirmishes that involve either avoiding hazards such as energy fields or staying clear of fire from turrets, as you attempt to rid the world of whatever it is that’s shooting at you. For the most part, battles seemed tough and engaging, but fair, and the introduction of a manual revive option for teammates is a godsend. No longer do I run out of medi-gel that I could be using to heal myself, because I have to keep reviving a useless teammate. But also: teammates are actually not useless this time around.
Some story levels focus purely on combat, whereas others mix in various forms of exploration and cinematics as well. There are darker areas around that require weapon-mounted flashlights for some Doom styled fun, outer space sections that put you in the vacuum of space for some Dead Space styled fun, and slightly stealthy sections that allow you to get up close to enemies for some, uhm…
Most of the time, regardless of the level, you will find yourself exploring every inch of the map for such things as weapon upgrades and credits.
Okay, let’s talk multiplayer.
For the first time in the Mass Effect series, there is a multiplayer component to Mass Effect 3. While it might have initially had people sceptic, predicting something tacked on and broken, what BioWare have actually delivered is something that is both well thought-out and highly engaging.
So it’s definitely a huge plus, straight up.
The multiplayer is stylistically similar to that of horde mode, where you fight off waves of enemies, increasing in quantity and rank as you approach the latter waves. There’s only eleven, with the final wave being a simple hold-point extraction wave.
There are three difficulties from bronze to gold, and three different enemies on offer, namely; Cerberus, geth and obviously reapers.
Players work in squads of four to not just hold off attacking forces but also complete miscellaneous objectives every few waves. Teamwork is essential and if even a single person doesn’t work with the unit, expect a quick and resounding failure. As such, players are encouraged to work in a team with experience and credits are shared once the game is completed. I appreciated that addition, but I do see the possibility for exploitation as well. Still, something I can live with.
Credits earned in games will go towards purchasing reward packs, of which there are once again three — such is the theme of the game it seems. These packs include such things as once-off power-ups, equipment packs that aid you in missions, weapons and weapon mods, as well as characters.
The characters themselves are quite varied, although most will require unlocking via said reward packs. All six classes are available to play, with some characters having different skill-sets within the same class. Levelling goes up to 20 for each class and is persistent for each character in that class, meaning if one levels up, all in the class level up.
Currently there are only six maps available to play, however there is room for much more, perhaps through DLC packs that are hopefully not exorbitantly priced.
The big hook to playing multiplayer, apart from how truly addictive it can be, is that your efforts in the multiplayer contribute to what’s called your ‘Galactic Readiness Rating’ which starts off at 50% and rises per game played in multiplayer, up to 100%. Over time this rating drops a few percent, encouraging you to go in and play more every now and then.
What is the “Galactic Readiness Rating” used for? I thought you’d never ask.
See, in Mass Effect 3 your profile is persistent across singleplayer and multiplayer, meaning that for example your kill count increments over both modes. But more importantly, your ‘Galactic Readiness Rating’ is a factor in your attempt to recruit allies as Shepard.
When Shepard recruits allies in the singleplayer, they are added to what’s called ‘War Assets’ which effectively lists the recruited allies and works them out to a number which is then totalled. There is a minimum number that must be reached before you can ever hope to take on the reapers, however that number is factored based on your ‘Galactic Readiness Rating’. This means that, let’s say you have ‘War Assets’ of 3,000 with a 90% ‘Galactic Readiness Rating’. Effectively, you’re only allowed to take 90% of that 3,000 (or 2,700 for those who are bad at maths) into the final battle. A huge factor for any who care for perfect playthroughs and the like. But since the ‘Galactic Readiness Rating’ never drops below 50%, you’re free to ignore it if you so please.
Speaking of things to ignore, character customisation has made a return, allowing one to completely change the face, armour and now weapons of their Shepard, as they see fit. Don’t like the buzz-cut standard male Shepard? Swap him out for your own, original design. Not too keen on the armour you’re wearing? Swap it out for something else or change the colour. It’s all more of that ‘optionality’ for you, if you so desire it.
The level cap in the third game is back up to sixty, which allows for some revised RPG mechanics in the levelling system. Each skill starts off on a linear path before branching out on the higher levels. This allows you to craft a character more suited to your style, and gives you some freedom of differentiation where, for example if you and say Garrus — still busy calibrating things — have Concussive Shot levelled differently, you effectively have two unique variants of the same skill. Very handy.
Further customisation of skills is available once again through advanced training, where you may teach yourself a special ability that is unlocked through conversations with squad mates. This can be very useful for say, a soldier who lacks anti-barrier capability. They may then go and learn warp ammo and win ALL the barrier fights. Unfortunately in my playthrough I was unable to learn that beauty of a special ability; Reave, because it was unavailable to me, having killed off (in the first game) the person who unlocks it for me.
I still miss you, Kaidan.
The engine that powers Mass Effect 3 looks very similar in style to that of Mass Effect 2, with the dark contours, blue hues and glare and of course, beautiful visuals. Mass Effect 2 was a huge step-up in graphics so it was fully expected that on the same hardware, Mass Effect 3 couldn’t be that much of an upgrade. As such, it isn’t. But this is like comparing revisions of a high-end Porsche. The game is still breathtaking gorgeous, especially during some of those over-the-top, epic set-pieces I mentioned earlier.
The game’s sound is as on-target as ever, providing an atmosphere and feeling that lets you know that not only is this a BioWare game, but it’s a Mass Effect game in space and you will submit to its allure. It moves from up-beat and action-packed to haunting and chilling, depending on what’s happening on scene.
If I had to find something to complain about, apart from the clumsy cover system, it would have to be the number of bugs I encountered in the game. In Mass Effect 2, you’d be hard-pressed to find many bugs. A few exploits, sure, but no real glitching to speak of. Here, player conversations can get a bit weird with whomever you are speaking to suddenly disappearing from the screen while their audio dialogue still plays, or either party suddenly turning their head perpendicular to whomever they’re speaking to. At a few points in the game, my Shepard simply got rooted to the spot and would not move, forcing a save-game reload. Bad design, or lazy bug-testing. You decide.
It’s a crying shame because apart from that, the game really is incredibly polished and borders ever so closely on that shiny perfect rating. It’s definitely the best game this year so far, and might well prove to be the best overall by the end of it. Only time will tell. Until then, it’s back to multiplayer for me. I have a galaxy to save.