Mass Effect 3 is the third and most epic chapter in the saga of Captain Shepard and his crew. ME2’s last scene hinted at ominous things to come – Earth’s invasion by the Reapers, a seemingly-invincible race of sentient machines bent on destroying and assimilating organic life. Those unfortunate to survive a Reaper attack are turned into grotesque cyborg horrors.
At the outset, the Reapers’ invasion begins and all hell breaks loose. Shepard barely escapes the invasion and makes it to his spaceship, the Normandy. At this point, the game begins in earnest and Shepard must find a weapon capable of destroying the Reapers. In order to do so, he/she (depending on your choice of gender) must play politician and unite various races of the galaxy, nearly all of whom are under Reaper attack. However, many of these races are mired in deep-rooted conflicts, which will be familiar to series veterans. Before these races will take up arms against the Reapers, Shepard will have to resolve their conflicts one way or another. Along the way, Shepard will encounter nearly every familiar character from ME1 and ME2, provided they are still alive.
The stakes have never been higher in the Mass Effect series. Save the galaxy from annihilation. No big deal, right? Fortunately, Shepard has new and old allies to lend a hand. There are six allies, two of whom you will select for each mission. Three are old, three are new, and each has his/her unique skill set. One of the allies is only available via the “From Ashes” DLC. I would not be surprised if more become available in future DLC.
The in-game action remains largely unchanged from ME2 and will feel familiar to veterans. The gun load-out is a hybrid of ME1 and ME2 and is better than either. Before each mission, you select your guns from a wide variety purchased or accumulated during the game. Each has its own stats, based on rate of fire, ammo capacity, damage, weight, etc. You can equip as many guns as you want, but the total weight affects how quickly you can recharge your special abilities. It’s not a factor early on, but as you progress, the faster recharge is a godsend because ME3 is much more difficult than its predecessors. For the most part, combat works well, but the cover mechanic seems clunkier than it did before. I died several times trying to get in and out of cover. I think at times ME3 tries too hard to be like Gears of War, but just doesn’t pull it off as well. Running from cover to cover is awkward, especially in intense battles. Still, it’s a minor complaint.
The presentation is, as one might expect, the best in the series. The environments capture the feeling you are in a galaxy at war. On several planets, you can see the massive Reaper ships in the sky, raining down hellfire. The detail is outstanding, and the alien worlds are unique and well-designed. The soundtrack is outstanding and further enhances the omnipresent desperation, especially at the end of the game when all seems lost.
A lot of fans complained (and one even filed a federal complaint) that, for a series depending heavily on individual choices and relationships, the conclusion doesn’t have much to do with those choices and relationships. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I was quite satisfied. I loved the last scene after the credits. Would I have written it the same way? Probably not, but we’re not talking about Jar Jar Binks or anything near the disastrous Matrix Reloaded or Matrix Revolutions, both of which took a massive dump on the first Matrix. Not even close. Instead of complaining to Bioware, write George Lucas a letter and tell him to remake the Star Wars prequels without Jar Jar and cast a new Anakin. I’m sure he’ll get around to it in the fifth version of the films. There are inconsistencies, ambiguities, and questions unanswered. It isn’t perfect. But it’s not like Mass Effect is dead and there’s no going back. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of Commander Shepard and his crew (those that survive). Hopefully Bioware doesn’t cave into the complainers and completely change the ending.
Bioware faced a huge challenge to deliver a closing chapter to a beloved series, and I think it delivered. In a series that is heavily story driven and has so many choices, there are bound to be a few inconsistencies, but there’s nothing unforgivable. If you’re a story junkie like me, you will love Mass Effect 3. If you are strictly a shoot ‘em up fan, you might be turned off by the extensive cut-scenes and character interaction, but those are large parts of the Mass Effect series. The year is early yet, but I think it’s safe to say Mass Effect 3 will be among the few titles in the running for “Game of the Year” when the dust settles. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to kick the Reapers’ asses all over again. — HB
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