Thursday, 22 March 2012

Review: Mass Effect 3

Writing a review for Mass Effect 3 poses somewhat of a challenge as there is a dichotomy between the vast majority of the game, being to the same standard as players of the series have come to expect, and it's truly awful conclusion. The shocking ending goes far to spoil the experience, but does it make ME3 a bad game? No, not by a long shot, but it prevents the trilogy from delivering on all the promises BioWare started with the first game. Not only does the ending lacks the scope that the whole game was gearing up to, but your choices make little difference and the outcomes, whilst only briefly explained, violate much of the lore established in the other games, books and comics.
The Reapers take a much more prominent role in this game.
Mass Effect 3 is a third person shooter set in a science fiction setting. The developers created an impressively vast Galaxy for the original game with varied races, each with their own complex histories, and a lot of locations with greatly different environments; it's a testament to their creation that it is still interesting and largely unexplored after all these times. The first Mass Effect had quite deep RPG elements, and whilst the second game streamlined much of this, ME3 brings some of this back. There are a lot more weapons this time round, and each can be levelled up and modded with credits to improve their stats. Any class can carry any of the five weapon types now, but each weapon has an associated weight, and the total weight affects how quickly your powers recharge.
The Galaxy may be burning but renegade Shepard always has time for a drink.
The game starts on Earth with the cataclysmic arrival of the Reapers. The second Mass Effect was very much character focused as you travel around the galaxy recruiting a team for a suicide mission; this game tasks you with uniting all the races in the galaxy to take back Earth and destroy the Reapers. Over the course of the game you visit the home planets of many of the most prominent races in the series to try to persuade them that their only chance is to stand together. Your old employer, Cerberus, has other plans for how to deal with the Reapers, which leads to conflict as they are at odds with your own. With the Reapers, Cerberus and the Geth making a return there are plenty of different enemy types to face, this keeps the game interesting over it's twenty to thirty hour length. 
The Harvester is one of many new and interesting Reaper forms.
Throughout the game you acquire characters for your team, including some from previous games, to back you up in combat. The line-up this time round is smaller than what has been seen before, but it is probably the strongest line-up yet with many favourites returning and great new characters being introduced. You nearly always have two of your team members with you with you and you can control what powers they use in combat. Many characters from the other games and media also return, even if only for brief cameos, and this really helps to make the Mass Effect universe feel immersive. Throughout the game there are many touching moments, with characters new and old, which bring the characters alive and makes you actually care about them. It's a shame that this high level of care is missing from the finale as story and characterisation have always been just as important as game-play to the series.
Every single member of the line-up is strong this time round.
Missions are accessed through a galaxy map aboard your spaceship and whilst you can blaze through the main quest-line quite quickly it is highly recommended that you do play through the side quests too. As you complete missions you increase the galactic readiness which affects the outcome of the choices you make at the end of the game but little else. The side missions are mostly very boring fetch quests that task you to fly into Reaper controlled space to retrieve an item of cultural significance by scanning a planet. Each of the major races provide one or more side missions, much like how the characters in the previous game had loyalty missions, which are more suitably padded out and well worth doing.
I wish developers would make being in London more subtle; I think there are more red phone boxes in this game than in actual London.
The game runs on an updated version of the engine used in Mass Effect 2. The upgrade in graphics may only be slight Mass Effect 3 is still a very beautiful game. The levels may be overly linear but the backgrounds are massive, distinct and really help to set the tone for the game. Pristine cities, ruined worlds and derelict ships are all handled perfectly. I was disappointed at how few setting the PC version of the game has. I had a problem with freezing at a certain point in the game and had to restart a mission because of it, but apart from that the game ran perfectly.   
Prepare to be repeatedly amazed by the environments.
The multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3 is done well and there is a lot of options for customisation, but if you don't like it you will probably resent that the multiplayer effects your total galactic readiness. I cannot agree with BioWare's decision to have the campaign and multiplayer so intertwined; the multiplayer may be fun but, especially if you play Mass Effect for the story, you shouldn't be forced into having to play online. The multiplayer itself is a hoard style mode; a team of four has to hold off against waves of enemies and occasionally complete objectives. The classes, weapons and powers are the same as in the single player but you do not play Shepard.
Working as a team is really important for success in the multiplayer component.
I went into the game knowing that the ending had been widely criticised but was determined to keep an open mind. Until the point of no return Mass Effect 3 hit every note right with me; the missions are epic, the characters and writing are great and the pacing of the game keeps it interesting throughout. However, when the final mission starts you don't get the feeling that there are thousand (or hundreds of thousands) of people fighting and dying by your side, you only encounter enemies and hear friendlies by radio. You go around the galaxy collecting forces but in the end it doesn't matter you joins your army because they all add up to just a number and you don't see them in your actual army. If you can get over the disappointing ending then Mass Effect 3 is an amazing game and still a worthy addition to the much loved series.

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