Mass Effect 3 Review
Want the definitive verdict on Mass Effect 3? Read our review…
WARNING: VERY MILD SPOILERS WITHIN. DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO GO INTO MASS EFFECT 3 SUPER, ULTRA FRESH.
Mass Effect 3 is depressing. Well okay, no. That’s an exaggeration. Mass Effect 3 is depressing at one very specific moment when Shepard thinks he (or she, Femshep fans) has failed. The universe has lost. The sense of defeat is suffocating as Shepard, the unbeatable hero, is beaten. The Spoiler Police are probably prepping their tear-gas should we spill anymore but we’ve said enough.
Forget games being emotional just because they can make you cry. Mass Effect 3 crushes you like no other game has ever managed. Most games are happy to see you endlessly hurtling towards your end goal of saving the world, only stopping to pick up bigger and better weapons on the way. BioWare drags you to the absolute lowest point imaginable and beats you down. It’s a powerful, wonderful thing and proof of how much a game can draw you in when you care that much about what happens.
A huge part of your investment in Mass Effect 3 is the influence you wield. Being the final part of the trilogy means the long-promised universe versus Reapers battle looms large and the template here has echoes of Mass Effect 2, as it quickly shapes up to be a recruitment drive for that very showdown.
It’s not as transparently obvious as Mass Effect 2 – sometimes you need diplomacy, sometimes aggression, sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And these are genuinely tough decisions, with ‘who lives and who dies’ posers popping up more often than ‘should I annoy this character I’ll likely never to meet again’ pondering, where you would have likely picked Renegade just to see if Shepard knocked their lights out.
Your decisions from Mass Effect 2 don’t have the sheer game-distorting weight you would have hoped, so the gravity of your decisions in Mass Effect 3 really does make up for it. It draws you in. It makes you care. This is a world shaped by your choice.
When Mass Effect 3 hits its stride, you can’t wait to see what happens next – it’s a glorious mix of hell yeah highs and hell no lows, of major characters living and dying, of cute in-jokes and nods to Mass Effect fans, of stunning imagery as the Reapers tear the universe apart as the background to most of your actions. This is nothing new in the Mass Effect series but knowing this is the end gives BioWare carte blanche to go out all guns blazing, the finality of the trilogy only adding to the strength and pull of the storyline.
“What about the combat!” shouts EA’s marketing department, finally able to relax after months of pumping out trailers focused on running and gunning, dudebro action and explosions. Yes, the action is better, beefed up with the addition of grenades and meatier melee moves that slot neatly into the gameplay but this is hardly the wham-bam gameplay that was promised (threatened?) by those trailers.
You’ll still spend most of your time ducking behind cover, picking your moments well, nervously waiting for your shields to recharge if things go wrong. It’s Space Invaders with special moves, as you aggressively chip away at the health of slowly advancing alien forces before they reach you.
Yet it’s the smart variety of enemies and BioWare’s willingness to mix things up that really makes the action in Mass Effect 3 shine when compared to its predecessor. It seamlessly flips from survival horror nods in Asari Commando training camps to Aliens tributes complete with flamethrowers to mystery as you track down Volus hostages and more. Using further examples would ruin the surprise but the point is that the variety is no longer found in the dialogue and characters joining the dots between the combat scenes but in the combat itself.
It has to be said that some templates are repeated throughout – survive this wave of enemies, use this gun to kill that thing, and so on – but while they become familiar, Mass Effect 3 never settles into a predictable pattern.
It feels like BioWare now has the confidence and know how to understand what works and what doesn’t and they apply that knowledge well. There’s rarely a foot put wrong here – no Mako, no planet scanning, no weak links.
Well, except for one, and it’s surprisingly the one area you’d expect BioWare to nail – the ending. Where Mass Effect 2 pushed the gameplay and squad to its furthest extremes in its suicide mission, this swaps out that idea in favour of a gimmick to carry Shepard through to his final act, which is resolutely disappointing. It’s hard discussing the specifics without alerting The Spoiler Police, who still have that teargas prepped, so to put it plainly – it’s not enough.
Your decisions throughout Mass Effect 3 cause friction between various species, which is constantly relayed through warnings, emails and chatter. Things are simmering. “Where will this lead?” you ponder, desperate to see what happens next.
The actual ending then shoves that tension aside for sci-fi mumbo jumbo that’s hard to swallow even by Mass Effects, which has worlds full of Asari and Salarians, and the ending leaves those big questions unanswered.
Yet that does little to diminish the brilliance of the 30-odd hours leading up to it, which is awash with drama, surprise and excitement. It’s Space Invaders meets Choose Your Own Adventure. It’s a game you can describe as an emotional rollercoaster without cringing too much. Most of all, Mass Effect 3 is a worthy ending to, arguably, the best gaming series we’ve seen this gen.
Shepard’s story ends with a journey that’s exhilarating and dramatic, with fantastic moments that beg to be replayed so you can see what other outcomes are available. It’s just a shame the actual ending itself means Shepard bows out on something of a downer.