Mass Effect 3 - Staff Review  

Cause and Effect
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Mass Effect 3
Xbox 360
20-40 Hours
+ Great returning characters, lots of reunions
+ Deeper customization options
+ Fantastic moments, 3 games in the making
- Too few playable squadmates
- Disc swapping
- The ending felt like a big meh
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   If you have not played the other two Mass Effect games, it would be difficult to recommend starting here. I highly recommend going to play them both first, or if the PlayStation 3 version is your only option, just Mass Effect 2 with its interactive comic would work. Whatever you do, do not play Mass Effect 3 without having experienced the others. It's not that it's impossible to catch up on what happened; it's simply that this one is so much more enjoyable if you're invested into the characters.

   It's hard to talk about the story of Mass Effect 3 without spoiling something. There are so many great moments that take place, and though they might vary based on different choices that were made, they are best experienced firsthand. The story starts off with the Reapers arriving without warning and attacking Earth right in the middle of Shepard trying to convince the Alliance that this very thing was going to happen. Shepard and Admiral Anderson survive the assault attempt to get to safety, but are swarmed by Reaper ground forces. Thankfully, help arrives, but Anderson stays behind tasking Shepard with going out and getting help. And get help she does, going first to the Citadel for assistance. The council tells her they are each too involved with their own problems to worry about Earth, so Shepard does what she does best, goes to help out everyone else in the galaxy. While this somewhat ridiculous start seems silly, it leads to some of the best parts of the game. Venturing out to assist (or in some cases not) the turians, krogan, salarians, quarians, and even the geth, Shepard runs across a lot of former allies as well as some old foes. These sections help to wrap up a lot of the loose threads that have been hanging since the first Mass Effect and there might just be some tearful farewells involved. As usual, who lives or dies is all up to Shepard.

   As is standard for BioWare, dealing with characters and decisions that need to be made are the best parts. These interactions are where the role-playing really shines through, as choices made in the last two games come full circle here and truly elevate this game's story above that of Mass Effect 2's character gathering missions. It is a shame that so few characters from Mass Effect 2 are available as squad members, especially since that was such a focus last time. It's likely that since BioWare wasn't able to add as much depth to a massive squad, narrowing things down would help with focus, but it feels like too much trimming. This is especially noticeable since the new additions to the squad don't really bring much to the table, as one is not really new and the other is not really interesting. Players are able to reunite with prior love interests here, though the extent of this varies by character. There are even a few new faces to cuddle up to as well. That said, the biggest complaint is that the series has crafted so many wonderful characters, it's a shame to not be able to spend more time with them all. That's not a bad problem to have.

The one, true Shepard The one, true Shepard.

   There are a couple issues to address. One is that paragon and renegade options don't really have the same impact as they once did, mainly because this is the finale and things have to end, so leaving plot points hanging is no longer an option. There are still a few key decisions to make, but they are they are much less subtle and the consequences are much more obvious. The other more painful issue is that the ending is really awful. It is unsatisfying, plain and simple. Of course there are choices to make, and paragon and renegade options do factor in, but when it comes down to it, all of the endings are pretty bad. Despite having completed most everything possible in the campaign, there is the possibility that not playing enough multiplayer could be a factor in not getting the best ending. Regardless of what might be possible in a standard playthrough, of the three different endings witnessed none of them were as grand as the rest of the game. The best moments in Mass Effect 3 happen hours before the credits.

   And then there is the gameplay. Mass Effect 2 was derided by many for cutting out too many RPG elements. What Mass Effect 3 brings to the table is a lot more customization, so when that combines with the simple, yet responsive, third-person gunplay it turns into a very solid shooter with a lot more RPG in it than its predecessor. Shepard and crew still level up and earn points to place into a wide variety of powers. There are still six character classes to choose from, each offering a unique playstyle, but these are more flexible than in the last game, too. Classes are not limited to what type of weapons can be used, but instead are restricted to a certain number of weapons available to carry at once. A soldier will be able to be carry a lot of weapons, but a character more reliant on powers will actually benefit from using fewer weapons as powers will then recharge quicker. So not only does Shepard have a good variety of weapons to select from, they can also be modified by adding components that grant bonuses such as armor piercing rounds, better accuracy, or a larger capacity. Party members can also be customized and controlled like always, but there is less variety here due to having fewer people to pick from. While Mass Effect's gameplay is still more of a shooter than a traditional RPG, there are a lot more elements to make the case than before.

   Those who enjoy side content will be glad to know that there is a lot to do in Mass Effect 3. Not all of it is that interesting, as lots of side quests are nothing more than listening to a request on the Citadel, traveling to and scanning a planet, and then returning to the quest giver to receive a non-tangible reward that is supposed to help the war effort. While on that note, it would really have helped to be able to quick-travel around the Citadel and the Normandy, as there is a lot of pointless walking required. Thankfully, planet scanning is no longer the drawn out hassle it was in Mass Effect 2. There is a bit of a twist this time, as the Reapers will occasionally show up when scanning to chase the Normandy off. For quests that send Shepard down to a planet, expect to either run into an old friend or battle swarms of enemies to defend a resource. The former is much more enjoyable than the latter, though both end up simply being shootouts. There is also a multiplayer mode that is actually quite fun, but completely optional, even though it might actually be the key to obtaining the best ending. While it would be hard to recommend paying anything for it, as a free addition it is totally worth creating a character and trying out.

Old Friends Old friends return.

   Everything else in Mass Effect 3 runs wonderfully. Inventory management is simple and straightforward. Powers are easy to upgrade, configure, and can even be reset if players don't like the path Shepard or her teammates have followed. Everything is smooth from a technical standpoint, though the Xbox 360 version does require frequent swapping of discs, which is a bit of an annoyance. That is a minor complaint in the overall scheme of things.

   Mass Effect 3 is absolutely beautiful, from the characters to the cutscenes. This greatly helps the story scenes feel alive and adds an additional level of immersion to the galaxy and the war that is taking place. There is a bit of fatigue when it comes to enemy designs, as the same foes get reused quite a bit. That aside, all of the designs, even the enemies, are very fitting and work wonderfully within the context of the game. There have been a couple of character design changes that are not for the better, but these are few.

   Further assisting the game's presentation is the outstanding soundtrack, this time featuring new composers such as film composer Clint Mansell. For the first time in the series, the music really stands out as more than just background pieces, especially the piano piece featured in the launch trailer. It is even more touching in the game. The voice acting is on par for what would be expected here, as it's exceptional once more. It's not just female Shepard's Jennifer Hale that stands out, but all of the supporting characters and even the incidental ones are great.

   BioWare has crafted a fantastic game with Mass Effect 3. The shooting is improved once again, the RPG customization is deeper, and the story missions are mostly amazing, with the exception of the overall plot ending with a big letdown. The rest of the game is outstanding enough to outweigh most of those failings, though. This is the first Mass Effect to really impress me with both its gameplay and storytelling. The sections that wrap up threads that have been unwinding since the first game are amazing, so as the finale of a trilogy it is mostly fantastic. It's a satisfying emotional roller coaster, especially in the middle, but it's an excellent game the rest of the time as well.

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