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Mass Effect 3 Review

Mass Effect 3
MASS EFFECT 3
Release Date: 3/6/2012
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Sites: Official | IGN | Gametrailers

The Mass Effect series has always been the gold standard for single-player RPGs (The Elder Scrolls notwithstanding), and it is an understatement to say that the latest installment, Mass Effect 3, has been highly anticipated. Can it possibly live up to its expectations? More importantly, what is the solo gamer to make of the new multiplayer component?



STORY

Reapers on Earth
This is just the beginning
Mass Effect 3 begins with the Reaper invasion we all knew was coming, and Shepard must escape an Earth under siege in order to rally the rest of the galaxy against this unprecedented threat too all civilization. This involves tying off all the loose threads that have developed in the previous games--some small and some large--and uncovering one last Prothean secret that holds the only hope for victory. Your decisions in previous games affect how difficult these tasks become, though the trajectory of the narrative is predictably uni-directional.

Your team this time around is relatively small, though you will encounter all your previous surviving crewmembers should you engage in all the side quests. Many of these old friends are glorified cameos--especially the main characters introduced in Mass Effect 2--but each is given a weighty and deserved conclusion. There are also two or three new characters in your crew (more if you include your shuttle pilot, the optional embedded journalist, and the day one DLC character). These new characters are as deep and interesting as your returning colleagues, but they simply can't compete with the time you've spent with the likes of Garrus or Tali.

Ultimately, though, the story is more about bringing races and resources together to engage in the galaxy's last stand (and dealing with Cerberus) than it is in developing personal relationships with your crew. Fans who have been paying close attention will be rewarded by several references to seemingly forgotten events, such as the Bring Down the Sky DLC from the first game or finally coming face-to-face with Kai Leng, a character who previously only appeared in the books. In many ways, Mass Effect 3 exists just to wrap it all up and place a bow on top, but it does it in clever--and at times unexpected--ways.

Kai Leng
Shepard's replacement at Cerberus
Having said that, the choppy inclusion of all these various plotlines isn't entirely cohesive. While each individual story is excellent, it starts to feel a little too convenient that every Mass Effect 2 character is somehow tangentally involved in what's going on and has an excuse for not joining your crew, or how all these various threads are coming to a head at exactly the same moment. Without spoiling too much, it seems odd (and forced) that the three biggest storylines--the Reaper invasion, the Krogan genophage, and the Quarian/Geth conflict--all climax in the same week. This is of course necessary for the narrative, but it doesn't feel like the writers put enough effort in connecting the dots to make it all logical.

I'm now going to devote two paragraphs to the ending, so SPOILER ALERT! If you don't want to know how it all ends, you might want to skip ahead.

So, if you've spent any amount of time on the Internet getting gamer opinions on Mass Effect 3, you've no doubt heard that the ending is so god-awful and terrible that it ruins the entire Mass Effect universe and should be reason enough to forsake BioWare forever and loudly decry any heretic who still thinks Mass Effect 3 is a good game. I do not share this opinion, so if you're here to read more bitching about the ending, just stop reading now, because I won't do it. Though I tend to have a moderate, see-both-sides-of-the-argument kind of personality, in this case, I am willing to say that I do not understand at all where these haters are coming from and that they are utterly and completely wrong. Those loudly bitching and moaning about the ending of Mass Effect 3 need to keep their fanboy expectations in check and learn to appreciate a good story when they fucking see it, pardon my french.

The overarching Mass Effect narrative has always been a single storyline, and I don't understand why anybody expected any different this time around. Sure, your choices and personality have an effect on how the story is told, but no matter what you do, it is always the same story; it's always the same destination with slight variations in the journey. I was surprised that the ending offered you any sort of choice at all--I expected that it would end with you defeating the Reapers and that would be it--so I don't see why a lack of variation on the three possible outcomes of that final choice is a problem (nor do I believe that the slight variations are meaningless; the conclusions are wildly different if you use an ounce of imagination). Sure, they could have done a better job showing you how your previous actions play into the final battle; sure, they could have made the endings a little more varied; and sure, it makes no sense that characters you had in your party during the final battle can be magically transferred to the Normandy before the end; but these complaints are incredibly minor in an ending that is, as I see it, a master stroke for the series. That's all I have to say on the subject, so if you want to bitch and moan some more, don't expect me to read your comments.

[STORY: 9.0 - It wraps up every dangling plot thread from the previous games, but in the rush to address them all, it sometimes comes across as a long string of conveniently disconnected vignettes instead of a cohesive story.]



GAMEPLAY

Screenshot
Organizing your load-out is essential
Mass Effect 2 was a huge leap from the gameplay mechanics of the original Mass Effect. Many of the RPG elements were stripped in favor of more tightly designed action and gunplay. Mass Effect 3 brings back a few RPG mechanics, but on the whole, it isn't as big a leap. This isn't a bad thing, because it takes the best aspects of the previous games and finds a perfect sweet spot, while adding a few third-person action game staples (like a better cover system, ladder climbing, turrets, and seemless action cutscenes) that have been conspicuously absent in the past. It also trims many tedious aspects, like resource mining and hacking mini-games, which are missed by exactly no one.

The result is the most balanced and refined game in the series, by far. One particularly notable advancement is the way you choose your weapon load-out. Different weapons have different weights, and the more weight you take on, the slower your powers will recharge. This forces you to prioritize, to keep your weaponry light if you're going to focus on biotics or tech damage or to rely more heavily on your allies' powers if you want to rush in with a shotgun and assault rifle.

Weapons can also be upgraded and modded, much like they could in the original Mass Effect, but the system is far less confusing and tedious. Still, the system isn't perfect. For instance, you cannot compare the stats of weaponry you want to buy or upgrade to the stats of weapons you own, nor can you switch your weapon mods around mid-mission without using an all-too-rare workbench. The latter is a painfully arbitrary decision, especially since you can change your load-out whenever you pick up a new weapon.

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-e. magill 3/20/2012










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