Year in and year out, game developers strive to introduce us to new worlds and experiences that’ll engage us with their characters, gameplay, and graphics, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a developer that has been as successful with a new ip this generation as Bioware has been with the Mass Effect series. Starting out on the Xbox 360 and PC, Bioware introduced us to Shepard, a character that we’ve followed through what is now three installments of the franchise, and numerous downloadable adventures. They’ve built a massive world, one that teems with life, highlighted by the relationships that you build with characters from across the galaxy. More importantly though, if you’ve played the franchise all the way through, you’ve had to make some tough decisions along the way. Decisions that you’ll have to live with, and decisions that both follow and haunt you in your Mass Effect 3 adventure.
The franchise has taken quite a few twists and turns over the years, what started as an RPG with gunplay elements in the original, leaned more towards action in its second offering with a much more streamlined approach to the RPG mechanics. More tinkering to be done and a trilogy to be concluded, can Bioware possibly go wrong in Mass Effect 3?
Spoilers aside Bioware puts you at the cusp of a galaxy on the edge of destruction. The Reaper invasion of Earth has not only decimated Shepard’s homeland but now threatens to eviscerate the entire galaxy in the same fashion. For those that played Mass Effect 2, you’ll be on a similar mission set. You alone cannot defeat the Reapers, an alien life-form who “cleanses” the galaxy every 50,000 years, and will need allies. Though you aren’t exactly picking up squad members for your “crew”, you’re forming a galactic army to push back this grave threat. The tried and true formula from Bioware is one that really didn’t lose it’s touch in the transition from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3. The developer dives into a ton of backstory behind the many different alien races across the galaxy, some that you’ve come to know quite well throughout the series, and topics that had been touched on, but not nearly as deeply as in Mass Effect 3.
Franchise mainstays return in Mass Effect 3, allowing Shepard to shape his character by the decisions that you are constantly forced to make. What has always helped this franchise stand out in a crowd of games that force you to make choices between good and bad, is their impact on the game world. How characters interact with you going forward, relationships that are formed, and much of the minutiae that comes with making decisions with levity, make Mass Effect a game that people can relate to. Mass Effect 3 is no different in this regard, right down to the very last choice that the Commander is faced with.
Bioware really built onto the Mass Effect 2 formula for Mass Effect 3, and in many ways improved on it. Traversing the galaxy via the Normandy will now find you at times in hostile territory, with Reapers that’ll track you down if you stick around too long. It’s a neat addition that adds some flavor to the planet scanning mechanics that were introduced in Mass Effect 2, taking away most if not all of the monotony of the exercise. You’ll be rewarded for surviving these encounters, especially if a galaxy scan scores you fuel for your ship, an unseen mission, or technology that will increase your Galactic Readiness level. Weapons can be improved upon, leveled, and even given attachments that’ll buff specific stats. Outfitters can be accessed via the Normandy or on their home world which will give you access to a wealth of customization options for you and your squad-mates. A wider variety of ways to play Mass Effect are definitely in place, and the customization features are probably the best iteration yet.
Galactic Readiness plays a large part in Mass Effect 3. The Galactic Readiness meter will be added to by the missions you accomplish, allies you make, secrets you uncover, and by basically seeing all there is to see in the Mass Effect universe. Tracked on-board the Normandy, you can always see where you stand, and whether or not it’s the right time to start pushing towards the end-game. For the first time in franchise history, Bioware has also included multi-player into Mass Effect 3. Here you’ll fight wars with many different enemy types across the galaxy in cooperative fashion via whatever network you’re playing the game on. You’ll earn points that also go towards this Galactic Readiness Level. While it’s not mandatory to play both, you’re more than capable of readying the forces by simply playing the single player campaign, but it was definitely one of the more ambitious ways that a developer has ever tied their single and multiplayer experiences together in a game. More importantly, how much you uncover in the Mass Effect universe will determine your fate when it comes time to face the Reapers and the unforgiving end-game enemies.
For fans that have seen this game through all iterations, Mass Effect 3 tells a story that you simply cannot miss. Especially for those that have kept a continuous save with all decisions from previous games. For that player, Mass Effect 3 is like a great book that just can’t be put down. At least it was for me, as I was really engaged by the story telling that Bioware had to offer this time around. Familiar friends will pay the ultimate sacrifices, decisions you make can mean life or death for characters that have been with you for three games. On the other hand, new players may not find it to be as engaging as those that have been through Shepard’s previous adventures, from lack of familiarity, but they might be enticed to go back and play previous games to get a clearer picture.
Story has never been Bioware’s problem in the Mass Effect franchise. From the slow plodding pace of Mass Effect 1 with it’s heavier RPG elements, to the faster paced and more streamlined approach the developer took in Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3 is more action packed than ever before, complete with obligatory turret sequences. Mass Effect 3 isn’t a short game by any means. Between the massive amounts of dialog, core missions, and side quests, there’s quite a bit to do and see. However, the bulk of the gameplay comes in the form of a cover based shooter and it allures wear thin long before you reach your final destination. It’s not that there aren’t enough enemies to deal with, or great battlefields to play in, it’s just that the mechanics grew tiring for me around three quarters through. Beautiful visuals helped each new encounter that I ran into, but they really did little to curb this feeling of boredom in the actual combat of Mass Effect 3. Not so much in the beginning of the game when it was fresh, but in the end, after similar fights had been fought seemingly hundreds of times. It’s not Bioware’s strength, and it shows. Combat can feel blocky at times, and for as challenging as the game can be, it’s easy to get frustrated with the cover and vaulting mechanics in the game.
Most of this seeps over into the multiplayer experience, but that’s not to say it’s bad at all. Tackling these enemies with buddies is a fun time, it’s just not quite on par with other games that do similar “horde” style multiplayer offerings. The multiplayer has quite a few levels of engagement. It can be used to level your character, amass weapons and tech, or just have a good time with others that enjoy a solid cooperative multiplayer experience. The fact is, there’s just better playing games on the market that offer pretty much the same style of gameplay, that are probably more fun to play.
As a long time fan though, the story was my major concern and I didn’t believe that Bioware let me down one bit. It’s a rarity nowadays to actually get that sense of accomplishment without something looming over your head that has you asking what’s next, and wondering when you’ll get to pay to see it. If Bioware never released another bit of downloadable content or standalone game, I’d earnestly chalk this adventure up as one of the best I’ve ever taken in a video game world. That said, I lived with my decisions along the way. I didn’t go back to see what would have happened if I… That’s the beautiful thing about this game, your experience might be completely different than the person next to you, your cooperative partner, or your friend that might be just getting started on the original Mass Effect. My unique experience was nothing short of amazing.