You’ve seen the trailers…
and all the hype behind one of the most anticipated video games of 2012
…but there’s the one question that many a gamer is asking: “Is it as good as everyone is saying it is?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Bioware and EA are pulling out all the stops for this game, and even though I’ve worked through a sizeable amount of Mass Effect 3’s main storyline and scratched the surface of the new multiplayer mode, I can say that it is shaping up to be a most satisfying end to the story of Commander Shepard and the threat known as the Reapers.
Mass Effect is to Gaming what Star Wars is to Cinema, and what Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Babylon 5 are to Television. A bold statement, but I believe it is justified. As was the case with the first two games of the Mass Effect series, Bioware has made a concerted effort to place priority on the story first, insuring it has emotional weight and value as players not only see the story of Commander Shepard and his crew evolve, but shape it through their actions. Mass Effect 3 continues this tradition in truly grand fashion. Ever since the first game, gamers have been eagerly anticipating how this story ends. Make no mistake – this is The Big Dance. The story starts with Shepard relieved of duty and stripped of command of his ship, the Normandy, after surrendering to the Alliance after the events of the superb Arrival DLC from Mass Effect 2. He’s asked by the Alliance to confirm suspicious of a Reaper presence when the unthinkable and the inevitable happens – The Reapers attack Earth, with thousands of them descending on every major city, slowly exterminating humanity, and converting whatever resources for their purposes. To make a long story short, Shepard is quickly reinstated, has to get off Earth, raise the largest fighting force the galaxy has ever seen, and launch a counteroffensive to retake Earth, stopping the Reaper threat once and for all.
When it comes to the story, the scope of the Mass Effect Series is already quite vast. With Mass Effect 3, the story’s scope is even loftier, with the stakes being much higher than what’s presented in either Mass Effect 1 or 2. It is no mistake that the developers have presented the Reapers as the threat they have feared since the first Mass Effect hit shelves five years ago. They are that big, that powerful, and that relentless. If you were to compare numbers, let’s just say the Reapers make the Borg, the Cylons, and the Shadows look like schoolyard bullies. And your job as Shepard is to stop them. And in order to reiterate that the story and your choices have consequences, the game establishes very quickly that all-out war has occurred, and casualties will happen. In fact, there are moments that will have you yelling “Oh, that’s not fair”, and when you do, Bioware has done their jobs in creating a story where the stakes are as high as they will be.
Even though the story is no doubt the driving force of the game, the developers have not sacrificed the action. And for the first time in a Mass Effect game, there are three modes for varying levels of gamers, so as to take into account the casual gamer (who wants to make choices and do less shooting), fans of the series (having the option of balancing story and action – the base experience for the Mass Effect series), and a gamer that wants to shoot first and ask questions later (where it’s action heavy at the cost of you having no control over how Shepard will react). And if a gamer has not played the first two games, as was the case with Mass Effect 2, Bioware has accounted for that and created a base story that will account for that possibility, allowing for any newcomers to the series to jump right in. However, if you truly want to experience this story as it was intended, go back and play through the first two games and have one character play throughout the trilogy. With all the nods that go back to the first game, including a few friends you haven’t seen in a while, and your decisions shaping the overall story across all three games, you will not regret it, and it will result in a richer gaming experience.
The enemies of Mass Effect 3 are relentless, now armed with a much smarter and aggressive AI that will have little trouble seeking you and your team out. In addition, they use grenades and flank your team, forcing you out of cover to be more mobile. Because of this, the weight of your chosen weapon loadout now plays a factor in how you prepare for a mission. The good news is that every class in Mass Effect 3 allows the player to use any and all class of weapon in the game without having to worry about point allocation to become adept (as in the first Mass Effect) or being locked in by class (as is the case with Mass Effect 2). The bad news is if you do choose to play like you’re a one-man army and bring every weapon you can get your hands on during a mission, your movements will be restricted and your power recharge rate will be vastly decreased. This forces you to think tactically before going on a mission, with the selecting specific weapons for your mission loadout.
In addition to this new aspect of weapon choice, Bioware has brought back the two-mod weapon customization system from the first Mass Effect, with those modification either being acquired during missions or bought in stores throughout the various venues in the game. In fact, when you add mods, not only does a weapon’s ratings change, but for the first time in the series, its appearance will be altered as well. You can also buy the next model up for each weapon. Even though you’ll burn through credits getting the weapons you prefer, it’s much more streamlined and much less frustrating compared to Mass Effect 2’s requirement to mine for elements on many a distant world in order to get a certain weapon upgrade. Not to mention that when you purchase the next weapon level, it replaces your previous model weapon, so you don’t have 30 to 40 weapons in your inventory you have to continually scrap for Omni-gel or sell for credits from the first Mass Effect.
And the customization does not stop there. When designating points to your skill set for you and your team, the final levels of a certain power will branch off into two choices, each with their own advantages, allowing for flexibility in how you want a character’s powers to benefit you and your crew.
In order to prepare for the eventual confrontation, Shepard and his crew must get help. If it’s through primary missions or a side quest, there is usually a benefit of acquiring some form of war assets, which are used as the basis for an allied fleet. The more you play through the campaign, the more assets you acquire. But even with as many war assets as possible at your disposal, you need a way to get the galaxy ready to take the fight to the Reapers, which leads us to the most noteworthy addition to Mass Effect 3 – the inclusion of a Multiplayer mode.
Indeed, one aspect of this game that has been piquing interest of gamers everywhere is the new Multiplayer mode, in which you are one of a four member squad from Alliance Special Forces. Your job is to eliminate the waves of enemies that swarm your position while at times accomplishing certain objectives such as eliminating a certain enemy, accessing certain stations for a hack or download, or approaching a landing zone for extraction. The mode here has potential, but is currently restricted by having the one team make a stand, so there is currently no team on team elimination play, nor is there a single player free for all mode, but that may change with future DLCs. But what’s interesting is that Bioware has tied in the multiplayer mode to the single player campaign. Whenever you play multiplayer, the readiness of your allied forces in the primary storyline increases, regionally and galactically, which will influence how the final battle will play out.
Speaking of DLCs, there has been unrest concerning the “From Ashes” DLC that costs $10, or is free if you have the Collector’s Edition. When you play this, you do get a new team member, and some more insight about the Reapers and what happened the last time they arrived in this galaxy. It may not be essential must download content, but if you want to see more of the story, it is worth it for players to download and play.
Even with the very few shortcomings of the multiplayer mode, the main storyline is why players will be drawn to Mass Effect 3, and rightfully so. As stated before, this is the end chapter in one of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed trilogies in videogame history. I highly recommend this game on its own merits, if it be on the basis of the story, the gameplay, or even the graphics, which is presented beautifully through the game in both the main campaign and multiplayer, but as I stated before, this is best experienced if you have played through the first two games with the same character. Bioware again delivers an experience that has emotional weight, the right balance of action, incredibly hard choices, and enough jaw dropping moments to make this a most satisfying end to Commander Shepard’s story.
I hope you enjoyed this review, and I hope you purchase this game and enjoy it as much as I have. To say this is not just a game, but an experience is an understatement.
And with that, I should go. This is Chris Bunye. So long.