Mass Effect 3 Review

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Mass Effect 3 Review

Shepard goes out with a very big bang

OUR SHEPARD LOOKS like hell. He’s got shadows under his eyes that’d frighten the seediest of back‑alley dwellers. Even when he smiles—for instance, while warmly embracing an old friend—there’s a palpable weariness to the gesture. This man, this hero we’ve piloted through countless near-apocalyptic trials and tribulations, is at the end of his rope. The Reapers have decided that all organic life is ripe for the picking, and Earth’s looking mighty juicy. Shepard’s got the weight of the entire universe on his shoulders, and little by little, every agonized step forward breaks his back a bit more.

After playing through Mass Effect 3, we look a lot like our Shepard, but for different reasons. We clearly haven’t slept, and basic hygiene has become so foreign a concept that we reply to the word “shower” with, “Yeah, it’s about 4:27 p.m.” Mass Effect 3, you see, is one of those experiences. By no means is it perfect, but it’s a tale so gripping as to have its own gravitational pull. It's Shepard’s darkest hour, and we had no intention of seeing the sun until its credits roll.

Seasons don’t fear the Reaper, but everyone else does, and they should.

By and large, it was quite a ride, too. There’s a renewed sense of urgency to the proceedings that all but evaporated under the relaxing afternoon sun of Mass Effect 2’s leisurely jaunt. The Reapers have finally arrived. Humans, Turians, Krogans, and probably Count Choculans are dying right and left. There's no time to stop and smell the roses—or help, like, 12 supposed intergalactic badasses deal with serious daddy issues, as it were. Mass Effect 3 is a race to the finish from start to, well, finish.

Well, mostly. The game does occasionally get bogged down in “go here, grab this for the War Effort” fetch quest-ery. Granted, these missions are generally quick and relatively painless, but they add up to the point of threatening to overwhelm. Moreover, being the universe’s own personal Boy Scout—say, by finding a Medi-Gel formula for one doctor while every passing second supposedly moves all life closer to certain doom—sometimes creates an experience that's jarringly at odds with itself.

By and large, though, Mass Effect 3 is an incredibly satisfying conclusion—especially if you’ve been along for the ride throughout the whole series. Without spoiling anything, previous choices come back in a big way, and closure-packed cameos abound. Despite the depressing finality of it all, Mass Effect 3 left us with big, goofy grins on our faces more times than we can count. BioWare’s galaxy-size ambitions paid off in spades, creating a fascinating universe full of friendly faces—something, in other words, that we desperately wanted to save.

Mass Effect 3 continues the series’ penchant for lovely maps.

Fortunately, we had quite an impressive suite of tools at our disposal with which to do it. Combat this time around feels impressively weighty, and class skills take branching paths as they level up. For instance, one level of our Vanguard's bone-shattering charge attack allowed us to pick between a wider impact radius or higher single target damage. So it’s a matter of tailoring different skills to your play style over time. Copious weapon modifications, meanwhile, gave us a similar degree of control over how our enemies met their exceedingly painful fates after they said hello to our little friends. No, it’s not a return to the Good Olde Days when RPGs required reams of spreadsheets and a friend you suspect may have been bitten by a radioactive calculator, but it's a welcome step up from Mass Effect 2’s straight-and-narrow progression.

Level design, similarly, won’t have first- and third-person shooting's finest quaking in their combat boots, but we did find quite a few areas with multiple paths and vertical structures that let us get the drop on our foes. On the downside, squad control is still a console-centric mess, with only extremely imprecise line-of-sight targeting to dictate where your thick-headed, squishy-brained squad members end up. We would have killed for a Dragon Age: Origins–style isometric tactical view, but instead, enemies just killed us while we shouted, “No! Use the other side of cover!” in protest.

It’s not all Gigeresque biomechanical foes; sometimes you just gotta fry a mech.

By comparison, the much-vaunted addition of up-close-and-personal melee attacks and rolls have a much softer impact on the experience. Sure, we dodged and flopped around like the universe’s most deadly beached dolphin, but it didn’t factor too heavily into the actual effectiveness of our battle strategies. Moreover, while “SHEPARD SMASH”-ing baddies across rooms was especially satisfying for our biotic, borderline‑psychotic Vanguard, the latter half of the game basically made it suicidal with a couple of insta-death melee enemy types.

Oddly enough, the refined combat doesn't truly get its chance to shine until three other players have joined the fray. Yes, defying all odds, Mass Effect 3’s co-op multiplayer is shockingly solid, and it even manages to tie back into the main story. It’s basically Horde Mode (read: fending off waves of increasingly tougher baddies) meets RPG character progression, but BioWare knocks that seemingly simple pitch out of the park. Overwhelming chaos tends to produce all manner of class-based amusement—for instance, an Adept’s black-hole-like singularity lifting enemies off the ground just in time for a Vanguard to come screaming in and punch them into an infinite abyss—and experience points roll in at an addictively satisfying pace. Sadly, however, lacking level and enemy variety relegate multiplayer to the status of particularly potent distraction—not full-blown lifestyle choice.

It’s not all Gigeresque biomechanical foes; sometimes you just gotta fry a mech.

Then there’s the glue that holds multiplayer and single-player together: Galactic Readiness. In a nutshell, it's an in-game location-based score that ultimately contributes to Shepard's success in the big Final Showdown. Admittedly, the main plot beats stay the same even if you never detach from your symbiotic relationship with single-player (and you can technically obtain needed War Assets via single-player side quests), but multiplayer’s the most straightforward route to an optimal ending. Somewhat frustratingly, your Galactic Readiness score also drops a percent every day you don’t join the multiplayer fray, so flying strictly solo is quite an uphill battle.

Ultimately, multiplayer’s a not-entirely successful step off Mass Effect’s well-worn path, but hardly a deal breaker. Really, the main issue is that swaying the tide of a giant, galaxy-wide war is a notion diametrically opposed to what BioWare does best: the little things. Plenty of games can be “epic,” but Mass Effect’s much-loved heart circulates lifeblood made up of rich personality and detail.

And in that respect, Mass Effect 3 is perhaps the most massively effective game in the series. We nearly wept as our new transport pilot, Steve, struggled to come to grips with the recent death of his husband, yet giggled to the point of tears thanks to jabs at the expense of Garrus’s calibrations and Mass Effect 1’s elevators. And then—all the way on the other side of the figurative room—there’s Shepard’s face, which quietly tallies the toll of a truly atrocious war. No, Mass Effect 3 isn't perfect. Yes, it occasionally steps on its own toes in terms of both game mechanics and writing. But honestly, as far as long, tearful goodbyes go, it doesn't get much better than Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect 3

THE END

A fitting conclusion to one of gaming’s finest trilogies; improved combat and character progression; surprisingly solid multiplayer.

THE END... ?

Fetch quests occasionally get in the way of storytelling; sometimes-frustrating squad controls; multiplayer lacks longevity, variety.

9

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