in Review

Mass Effect 3

Commander Shepard certainly was aptly named. Over the course of the Mass Effect series, the Commander has continually grown her flock, enlisting the support of politicians, soldiers and organizations. Mass Effect 3 poses her biggest challenge, a threat so big she can no longer win with a small team. Instead, she must rally the entire galaxy to her cause. Yes, the Reapers are coming and the fate of sentient life hangs in the balance.

Bioware always said that Mass Effect would be a trilogy, and this third game exists mainly to pay off all the big tensions of the series. That means just about every character you care about (who’s still alive) will show up in some capacity to help Shepard, which, if you care about this story, is pretty awesome. Sure, it does feel way too coincidental, but the alternative – them not showing up – would be significantly more disappointing. There is a pervasive sense of desperation and finality to Mass Effect 3, and getting to see everyone again, to take my romance to its conclusion, to cement alliances and friendships, was pretty great.

Really, where the story steers wrong is the new stuff. The new party members are all right, but not as interesting as the amazing collection of heroes we got is Mass Effect 2. There’s been a shockingly vocal and negative response to Mass Effect 3‘s ending, which I can sympathize with, but think is going way too far. There’s a new character that ends up being the crux of the game’s final moments who was never handled well at all. Maybe I’m used to living with disappointing finales after shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Seinfeld, but the end of this game didn’t bother me that much. Nothing could live up to the expectations set by Mass Effect 2, but I was pretty content with this being the end of this saga. I certainly didn’t want to file a complaint with the FTC.

Playing Mass Effect continues to swing further toward the shooter side than the RPG side, with the introduction of turret sequences and the return of the ability for every class to use all the weapons. I hear a lot of people complain about the gameplay in this series and I think they all must play as soldiers, because yeah, if you just shoot people, play like Gears of War, it’s not going to fare well. But I played as a vanguard and was constantly flying around levels, blowing enemies up and hardly ever shooting, and I had a great time. Then I played the game again as an adept, freezing and throwing my enemies around with mind powers and had even more fun. The use of powers and squad tactics elevates this game into its own category of gameplay, and I love it.

While armor management is the same as the last game, weapons are once again individually upgradable and compatibile with a variety of mods. There’s a ton of weapon variety, perhaps too much, but it pretty much guarantees everyone will find at least one gun they like. Side quests have been changed into mostly fetch quests for people who Shepard hears complaining about needing something. Scanning was dumbed down to just one item per planet. It’s weird that side quests are even in here at all, since everything is so desperate and it just feels weird for Shepard to waste her time on these mundane concerns.

Also somewhat controversially, Mass Effect 3 introduces multiplayer into the series. To motivate players to hop online, Bioware rewards people who play online with a boost to single player preparedness, meaning how easy it is to get what I imagine is the best ending. If you play enough, you could probably get to the ending without completing a single side quest. If you don’t play any, you’ll have to do damn near all of them.

But that wasn’t an issue for me, since I enjoy playing these games and relished to opportunity to compare my skills against others. There’s only one mode to play in, a team wave-based affair akin to Gears of War‘s Horde Mode. Really, the only thing I don’t like about multiplayer is that it doesn’t feel deep enough. You play as all the classes and a variety of races, but you can never customize their appearance beyond coloring them. More importantly, you can’t choose what you want to unlock. Instead, you spend your in-game (or real-life) money on booster packs, like a card game, randomly getting unlocks you probably don’t want. I’ve played a ton of multiplayer and still haven’t gotten the Asari Adept card, meaning I can’t play the one class I really want to. And forget about getting the weapon you want, unless you play a ton or throw down some serious paper.

Mass Effect 3 is a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, it was a solid conclusion to one of the best franchises this generation, maybe ever. I’m more certain than ever that Mass Effect 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. And this whole experience, this five-year journey were every choice I made, every shot I fired counted and stayed with me from game-to-game, is one I’m am infinitely happy that I got to experience. The Mass Effect trilogy is one-of-a-kind, not just among games, among all media.