The lights are on
Mass Effect 3
PC - Xbox 360 - PS3
Release Date: March 6th, 2012
Mass Effect 3 marks a close to a series that has been going strong since November of 2007. Bioware has crafted a space epic that has been shaping choices through two major titles, and is looking to close the trilogy out in style. It's hard to say goodbye to this expansive lore, but Bioware manages to deliver a compelling narrative that starts off strong and rarely slows down.
It All Comes Down to This
The third installment picks up with Commander Shepard's recent disbarment from the military landing him/her on Earth and right at the start of the Reaper invasion. Shepard escapes and must now assemble every asset possible to retake Earth, while hatching a plan to stop the Reaper's endless cycle of wiping out human life. The burden of becoming a glimmer of hope falls heavy on your character, and the sense of dread intensifies as each world falls to the Reapers. The feeling of despair in seeing buildings toppled and hearing the cries of fallen troopers over the radio as you progress never lessens, and drives you to push onward. Between a memorial of the lost on the wall of the Citadel to the growing number of Reapers on the galaxy map; you get the feeling that time is running out before the last stand.
The emphasis on loss is heavy in this game, as showcased in the opening somber melody that accompanies the invasion of Earth and Shepard's haunting visions. It's an emotion filled powerhouse, as characters you have come to know and love over the span of two titles stand at your side with each one having the potential to fall. Those captivating scenes of sharing a last moment with a companion can melt even the hardest of hearts, and devoted fans of the series that have been with their Shepard since the beginning will find themselves fully invested in every line of dialogue.
Empowering this space epic is top notch production value. Even in war, Mass Effect 3 showcases its beauty with some of the most incredible backdrops to grace a game. The lively backdrops make it feel as if you are simply a small part of a much bigger conflict as battles are waged in the distance. Sharp textures, vivid lighting, and cinematic action sequences make ME3 one of the best looking games out there. Complimenting the look is an original soundtrack, mixing electronic melodies with movie-quality symphonic overtures. Coupled with a perfect voice cast and satisfying sounds in everything from firing a weapon to the bass-inducing Reaper warcry; and this game is downright marvelous to behold.
Assemble the Fleet
In the end, Mass Effect 3 is shaped by your own choice. The sheer
possibility of variables that is now three games in is impressive, and
most players will have a unique experience depending on the outcomes they
obtained in previous titles. Major decisions from the past will come to fruition,
and you begin to wonder "what if" as their events resonate to the
current situation. It's enough to warrant a few additional play throughs,
just to see how some situations play out differently.
The crux of the Mass Effect gameplay is conversational choice and cover based combat. You travel from planet to planet looking to recruit every alien race you can to your cause, each with varying outcomes depending on your Paragon or Renegade choices. Each recruitment nets you a war asset, and you soon find that even the slightest actions can boost your armada. Decisions from the previous titles can even impact your assembled army, with such simplicities as choosing to save Zhu's Hope adding resources to your regime. With each new addition you begin to see your army grow, and with it, your anticipation to see everything come together for the final assault.
Amassing a great army proves addicting, but the finale to the game fails
to really showcase all your hard work. While the impressive fleet
number will have you smiling with pride as they allow you to punch
through the Reaper forces, you have no real control over your assets or
even your additional squad mates. It's disappointing, considering the second
installment had you issuing orders to your team to utilize their
strengths and made you feel like a commander. The final missions for
this game simply feels like another mission with an influx of baddies.
When not on missions you will be touring around your ship or the Citadel to engage in the popular conversational dialogue. Your crew mates will wander about the ship and even the Citadel itself, warranting a few visit to see what they have to say in different surroundings. They still default to the robotic "Shepard" reply when they run out of issues to talk about, and some conversations have been completely cut out in lieu of gaining quests or picking choices by eavesdropping. There aren't many new faces, with the only new party members being James Vega or the DLC character of Javik; but the previous cast holds up well and their interactions and emotional heart to hearts are worth a break in the action.
While the game sets you on a distinct path, side missions can be acquired that vary from well thought out operations to tacked on fetch quests. The bigger side missions will usually involve you helping out a previous squadmate from your suicide objective in the second game, and these prove the most enjoyable way to gain additional war assets. The majority of side missions acquired will involve planet scanning, which has been reworked to scan a remote area instead of individual planets. Scanning an area too much calls in the Reapers, and if they catch you it's an immediate game over...which can just easily be reloaded and doesn't act as much of a penalty.
Combat has seen little change, but it carries over well. Mass Effect's combat utilizes cover based shooting combined with an ability wheel. Calling up the wheel stops the combat, allowing you to use class powers and plan your next move. Your most common abilities can be mapped to specific buttons for immediate response. Bioware has even utilized the Kinect, which despite its occasional misread, can help keep you in the combat and out of the menus.
New enemies help to add to the variety the game offers. A developer at Bioware clearly thought what Mass Effect was missing were dragons and ninjas...so they threw those in this time around. Cerberus Phantom troops close in for deadly melee strikes, smoke grenades shroud the field of view, and Reaper indoctrinated Rachni pummel you from afar with a barrage of missiles. Topping it all off are the Banshees, which apart from their piercing shriek, can teleport around and devastate you at close range. The new enemies essentially drive you out of cover and force you to stay on the move, something the friendly AI is incapable of performing without assistance. There are occasional times that you will run from a Brute, while Garrus attempts to stay and shake hands.
The melee combat has received a slight rework, but still proves mundane compared to the shooting mechanic. Oftentimes you will end up overshooting a charged hit or coming up short, in addition to completely missing an opponent if they are stunned on the ground in front of you. While there is an overall satisfaction in landing a hit or pulling an enemy over cover for a one hit kill, it doesn't have the natural finesse that really makes it work.
Your enemies may be bigger, but your arsenal is sure to match up with some minor tweaks. A slew of weaponry will be at your disposal, and each weapon is upgradeable with various attachments to personalize them to your preference. Weapons now have weight, and the more weapons you carry the more time it takes to recharge your powers. This offset works well in freeing up the gun type you prefer, no matter the class. Armor can also be customized like before, with new pieces boosting certain stats or complete suits for a full package. There is enough customization offered and variety available to outfit your squad into your ideal deadly force.
New to the Mass Effect franchise is the co-operative multiplayer. Players choose from the same classes offered in single player and work to survive ten waves of either Cerberus, Geth, or Reaper enemy types with a final evac wave to close it all out. Wave objectives will vary, with some demanding pure survival and others more objective based that require eliminating specific targets or hacking various devices. There are also different levels of difficulty, ranging from Bronze to Gold level challenges with bigger and better rewards from each mission accomplished.
At the end of each game you will procure experience and credits to spend on upgrades. The leveling system is akin to the single player and allows you to customize each class to strengthen your favorite abilities. The credits can be spent on one of three packs, each more expensive than the last. The packs almost act like trading cards, providing random in-game bonuses. unlocks, and weaponry to give you an edge in your next battle.
While the item procurement adds an addictive element to the game, the multiplayer remains a decent experience. Increasing the difficulty can make for an enjoyable challenge, but the waves of enemies soon grows stale. The same limited enemy types make their reappearance, and the base weaponry you start out with will makes you feel like a kid shooting robots with a BB Gun. There is incentive to play for a boost to your military effectiveness in the single player game, but once that is achieved the lack of variety may have you jumping back into campaign. It's fun if you give it a chance, just don't expect anything that will revolutionize the co-operative experience.
Mass Effect 3 has a few technical issues here and there, but provides an impressive close to the trilogy. It has been quite some time since a game has carried such an emotional impact, and the experience is tripled if you've stuck with your commander from the beginning. This lore-enriched world is hard to say goodbye to, but Bioware makes sure that the last goodbye is one filled with joy, tears, and utter bliss. I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite game on the Citadel.
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