As everyone who’s read my blogs should know, I’m a fan of the Mass Effect series. I admire the game’s unique style and the wealth of lore waiting for players to dig up inside it. I play with every possible class, both genders, and every variation of alignments possible, so I’ve had quite a bit of experience with the games and a chance to see the effects of countless decisions I’ve made whenever I transferred my saves over.

One thing I do like though, is to play through the game on default just to compare the game’s standard experience to that of a player who transfers their character from a previous save. I wasn’t as forgiving the first time I tried this with Mass Effect 2; however, I did like how Bioware took fan concerns into consideration and have drastically improved the default playthrough experience for players new to the series. It’s still nowhere near the kind of experience you’d expect to get by transferring saves, though. Avoid if you don’t like spoilers.


One of the first things I’ve noticed is that those who import their saves automatically get to use any leftover squad points they have on purchasing abilities for their new character in ME3, as well as maintain the same level they were when they completed Mass Effect 2, etc. Tactically, this gives players a tremendous advantage over those who choose the default playthrough, especially when it comes to playing Mass Effect on harder settings like Insanity. Those who don’t will have their work cut out for them; facing heavily armored opponents like Atlas Mechs and Brutes is a noted example.


Aside from the obvious bonuses that come with importing a save, the most significant comes through War Assets. Yep, all those choices players made in the past actually ends up mattering in ways you didn’t expect, and certain choices will give you penalties while others grant bonuses. Under the system that Bioware originally used pre-Extended Cut, I have to say it was monumentally terrible; the ridiculously high EMS requirements made it hard for players who didn’t play multiplayer to get a decent ending. That has changed with the patch Bioware has added on to the game.


Now, it’s far easier to get to the ending you’d like with the EMS patch, and I’m happy to say that the new patch makes obtaining an optimal ending possible through a default playthrough also. However, being able to see the people you established a rapport with in previous games adds the necessary layer to the gaming experience that simply is incomparable otherwise, especially in terms of how the story plays out. Towards the end, having established these relationships with the characters prior to this arc in the Mass Effect saga gives players an experience that dwarfs anything default could offer you; including the final mission. So, how does default compare story-wise?


I’ve already mentioned the perks players who import their saves get in contrast to other players, so I won’t repeat myself here. On the other hand, Bioware tries to improve the newcomer’s playing experience by offering different playthrough styles – you can choose who survives the Virmire mission or choose to have the deaths of several former allies weighing on you, which fortunately shakes things up somewhat. It would’ve been nice to see the latter aspect randomized so that players would have greater replay incentive, but such isn’t the case here. It is a far better improvement than before, though those who’ve played with imported saves will probably notice a considerate lack in depth and in respect to certain characters, a lack in quality.


Playing through default is an excellent litmus test for identifying which characters fans were drawn to most, since you won’t find any characters that weren’t originally very popular in your squad, with the automatic exception being the Virmire survivor. Some of them in fact are not even referenced, alive or dead. While I can understand DLC characters not being included in default, I found the treatment of Samara and Grunt especially awkward.


However, Bioware makes a modest attempt to handle this issue with James Vega, a newbie to the series and kind of an unspoken avatar for those new to Mass Effect. He serves as an excellent foil and is one of my favorite characters to get acquainted with, considering he is essentially a blank slate for both the seasoned and uninitiated. Aside from him, I have to say this area does suffer; the “replacements” they have for the characters who aren’t featured don’t measure up, and when a few of them endure otherwise melodramatic deaths, you don’t really feel much attachment to them or the events at hand. Certain sacrifices players will have to make are also tarnished by this aspect if the player has – which I assume for those first playing Mass Effect 3 – no prior experience with them, notably in Mass Effect 2.



The most provocative possible criticism concerns a task which is only accomplished with an imported character: obtaining peace between the Geth and Quarians. This difficult task is perhaps the most controversial, since players will have to choose from two incredibly monumental choices with steep consequences. If this task wasn’t hard enough to obtain for those who have imported their ME2 saves I’d probably react to it more harshly than I have now. However, the most I can say is that it would have been nice to see an alternative means open to default players to accomplish this task. Shepard’s mission inside the Geth consciousness opened an entirely new possibility for plot development surrounding the history of the Geth/Quarian conflict that was never explored; a series of missions centering around it would’ve been an excellent concession, but alas, bygones are bygones.  


A couple other missions also feel forced on the player rather than organic due to a lack of proper backstory, although they manage to sufficiently give newcomers a brief primer through conversations with the characters behind these missions. Yet, it is important to note that players still have to play the game a certain way to get the best results due to a lack of extra War Assets. Whether this should be seen as a fault is something I’ll leave up to debate.


Bioware manages to give players a fairly decent default experience this time. It still sucks terribly in comparison to those who import their saves, but I didn’t think it was dumbed down to the level the last entry was; even that was improved with Genesis, and with the exception of character DLC, the story events chronicled in-between games are referenced for players, though it might seem jarring. Aside from the more important faults I’ve mentioned, the default experience is modestly satisfying… if you have the Extended Cut DLC. Otherwise, players find themselves missing out on a very important aspect of the game due to a flawed EMS system without the patch. Do yourself a favor and download it – the DLC is free, after all – so you aren’t left in the dark.


On a final note, don’t expect the level of depth that you’ll get by importing a save. That’s a mission no one can accomplish. While the game could benefit from a tad bit more customizability, it’s nonetheless a step in the right direction.