Game Review - 'Mass Effect 3'
'Mass Effect 3', available from Amazon.
For some, this is likely to be one of the most anticipated releases in the history of video games. For others its likely to garner little more than a shrug and a moment of idle curiosity. Either way, it's finally here. Mass Effect 3, the conclusion to the story of Commander (Insert Name Here) Shephard and the final game of a long-planned trilogy has recently been released – allowing long-time fans to finally bring the story to a close. To say that the expectations are high for long-time fans of Bioware would be a pretty severe understatement – so, does it live up to those expectations?
Well, mostly yes. But also, no. The game itself is a remarkable achievement – giving many moments of emotional pay-off to players of the entire trilogy, and a continued development of the action-focused game-play of the second game. But, there are problems. Potentially severe ones.
First, though, the good stuff.
For the first time, the player is able to set foot on Earth, where Commander Shephard has been grounded by his superiors, following increasing tensions with long-time enemies of the Human race, the Batarians, and uncertainty about Shephard's loyalties following an association with the pro-Human terrorist group, Cerberus (tensions which may have been caused by the player themselves, if they happen to have imported a save file after playing the DLC for Mass Effect 2). Shephard's ship, the Normandy, is under lock-down, and his former team has dispersed – each pursuing their own goals. Shephard, as the most recognizable face of humanity, following the events of the first two games, is a potential target of retaliation – so, Shephard is called back to Earth as both a means to placate the Batarians and for his or her own safety. However, Shephard's incarceration comes to a sudden end when the Reapers themselves (the ultimate foes of the Mass Effect trilogy) make a sudden appearance in orbit around Earth itself.
There's no need for a slow start, or a gradual revealing of the tale, here – there has been two games for that. This game's position as the final in a trilogy means that it can jump straight into the action, and it does so in style – you will be hastily fleeing from Earth, watching as a city is torn apart around you by towering robotic monstrosities, within moments of starting. And, within the first hour or so, you will be forced to leave Earth behind as the true focus of the game becomes apparent. For the next thirty-odd hours of play, you will be gathering resources and forming alliances with alien races – preparing for an attempt to reclaim Earth – and knowing that, while you do so, the home of the Human race is being ravaged.
Though, of course, it wont be easy. The Reapers intend to wipe all life from the galaxy, and the home planets of your potential allies are also under attack.
Game-play in Mass Effect 3 can be seen as something of a combination of the best elements of the first two games. Overall, it still leans heavily toward the more streamlined action of Mass Effect 2, but some of the complexity of the first (weapon variety, and unique weapon modifications) have been brought back. Enemy AI seems to have undergone a significant overhaul since the second game, also – with enemy squads now displaying an intimidating level of teamwork, particularly on higher difficulty levels. Intelligent use of grenades, to flush you out of cover, and smoke bombs, to conceal troop movement in key areas, are really just the start of what enemies are capable of now. Circling around to flank your position, working with snipers to flush you out for the moment it takes for them to take their shot, or even falling back to pick at you from a distance while some larger unit (a mech, or some larger alien creature) comes in for the kill, are also strategies you will need to contend with.
For those importing a save file from Mass Effect 2, this becomes one of the most personal experiences in video games you are likely to find since, well, Mass Effect 2, probably. There are many moments that are direct call-backs to the decision you made in the first two games – you will see the results of your earlier actions in ways that may help you, or hinder you. Making all of the correct decisions can lead to some inspiring victories – and, moments that can often be both awesome and, on occasion, heartwarming. On the other hand, though, some of the most tragic moments you may see are directly tied to your own mistakes, and poor decisions, throughout the trilogy.
Characters remain a significant strong-point in Bioware's games. And, the characters you meet here are an overall interesting and likable bunch – both the long-term companions of Commander Shephard, and the newcomers. Like with all of Bioware's games, there is a great deal of fun to be had by simply talking to them. And now, in one of those 'why wasn't it always this way' sort of changes, the crew of the Normandy will now move about the ship throughout the game, and spend a fair bit more time talking to each other. Also, for the romantically minded, relationships begun in both the first and second game will continue here – adding yet another emotional layer to the proceedings.
Now, for the bad. The usual niggling details that often pop-up in games are very much present here. Textures that take a moment longer to load than the scene itself – giving you a distracting moment of staring at bland and shapeless objects. Graphics glitches that leave enemies or allies stuck on objects of the landscape. Squad mate AI which just doesn't seem to match up to the improvements made to enemy AI. All of these form unnecessary distractions to an overall great game – but, none really do much to distract from its quality. Less forgivable are the moments of awkward dialogue and poor voice acting (something which I noticed a fair amount of in the opening sections of the game). Thankfully, though, this seems limited to side-quest and minor characters – and, overall, things proceed with the level of polish that Bioware is known for.
The major weakness of Mass Effect 3, though, comes where you would expect it to be at its strongest – its ending. Fan response to the various endings of Shephard's story have tended toward extreme dissatisfaction, and it's easy to see why. While I wont go so far as to say that a disappointing ending ruins the entire trilogy (and, I have no intention of demanding that anyone at Bioware be fired over it), I can't really pretend I'm particularly satisfied with it, either. I wont go into any detail here, for fear of spoilers, but let's just say that a last-minute twist that leads into an abrupt ending wasn't necessarily the most satisfying way to end an epic trilogy.
Whether a disappointing end to an awesome game (or, a trilogy of awesome games, in this case) will spoil the games as a whole for you is, ultimately, a personal matter. For my part, it didn't – as disappointed as I was, there was still the fact that the game as a whole was filled with some of the most satisfying moments I've had in a long history of gaming. Mass Effect 3 can be deadly serious at times, hilarious when it wants to be, or tragically sad on occasion. It's everything a fan could have wanted from the final game in the Mass Effect trilogy. Except for the ending.
© 2012 Dallas Matier
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