The lights are on
The end of the world has been theorized and prophesied for eons. Will a giant dragon eat the Earth? Will the oceans run red with blood? Will there be horsemen? In the world of Mass Effect, the end is coming, sooner by the minute, as the menacing race of sentient machines known as the Reapers begin their cyclical crusade of extermination. Over the course of two games, gamers have come to build, know, and love their Shepards and have waited to see the day when the cataclysm arrives and Shepard’s team is forced into ultimate, defining action. Now that Mass Effect 3 is upon us, the end is here and it’s time to meet it.NOTE: This review will be free of spoilers, but may hint at certain events.Mass Effect 3 picks up after the events of Mass Effect 2’s final DLC, “Arrival”. Shepard has been grounded and is waiting judgment on his/her actions. Seemingly without warning, the Reapers invade the Solar System and descend upon Earth. From there, it’s a mad race back to the Normandy and the beginning of the biggest recruitment mission in history. The crux of the action in Mass Effect 3 is Shepard’s quest to get every species of alien to cast aside generations of deep-seated distrust and hate, to band together, fight the common enemy, and beat back certain extermination. Needless to say, the scope is grand.That scope is partially dependant on the gamer’s investment in the universe. One of the big appeals to the franchise is that Shepard’s decisions carry over from entry to entry. The smallest action taken in Mass Effect could have amazing repercussions in Mass Effect 3. Likewise, the more time you have spent with your Shepard, the more you will invariably care about the story. As a heavily invested gamer, I found Mass Effect 3 to have the strongest, most gut-wrenching, heart-string-pulling story. If there’s a hard choice to make, Mass Effect 3 will force you to make it. In the end, it’s a bold choice. There are no “mega-happy” endings in war. At this point, I won’t be spoiling anything to simply say that sacrifices (both large and small) will be made in Mass Effect 3 and those choices shouldn’t be taken lightly. While some gamers may decry a lack of variety in the ending(s), the overall experience is so varied and nuanced (thanks to the variety of decisions made from Mass Effect all the way to Mass Effect 3) that no two gamers will experience the exact same playthrough experience.A crumbling universe sets the backdrop for the action as war ravages every planet. The visuals are depressingly gorgeous and the universe devolves into a smoking crater of destruction as the Reapers systematically lay waste to entire civilizations. Whether it’s a burning building or the charred remains of a battlefield, the cohesiveness of the vision is so startling and luscious that stopping to admire the view is both appealing and depressing. The only graphical drawback is the return of those heinous pop-ins. While nowhere near the egregious level of Mass Effect they do rear their ugly head in the customization screens and occasional cutscenes.Like the graphics, the sound design is also top-of-the-line. Ably assisted by the wizards at DICE, the team at BioWare has given every weapon a great feel. The sound of each firing weapon rings unique and is a downright joy; pulling the trigger has never felt more satisfying. The rest of the foley design work further succeeds in submersing the gamer into the crumbling world, just be ready for when the Reaper enemies start converging as some of their sounds can chill to the bone.It almost goes without saying that the voice acting is also top notch, as every performer turns in solid work and gives each character a life beyond their pixels. Gamers should expect nothing less from BioWare.The gameplay, heavily changed between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, stays relatively constant. A few additions and tweaks, like the inclusion of heavy melee and takedowns and the return of weapon customization, make Mass Effect 3 feel much more visceral than its predecessors while bringing back some of the RPG roots of the original. Unfortunately, when held to the gold standard of “third person shooters” (Gears of War 3), the controls can feel a bit sluggish and sticky, especially in the multiplayer.Speaking of the multiplayer, the “Galaxy at War” suite is a highly addictive co-operative mode that encourages squad cooperation. With three different challenge levels, experience multipliers, a robust character customization experience, and perk/weapon upgrades, I have found it to be the most addictive multiplayer of the year. The multiplayer experience doles out credits and experience at a pace that will keep gamers thinking, “Just one more round.” The variety of weapons, powers, and characters only serves to keep gamers coming back to try new tactics.The achievements, on the whole, are relatively easy to gain and most can be garnered with one or two playthroughs and a modicum of investment in the multiplayer. The two exceptions involve kicking the game up to the highest of difficulty levels. Video games are full of harrowing journeys: saving the princess, defeating a God, avenging a loss, but none are bigger than saving the galaxy. The story woven across the three games of the Mass Effect is iconic and will be discussed, dissected, and disseminated for years to come in both good ways and bad. BioWare has been creating this story, this universe, for the better part of a decade and gamers have come to know it, love it, cherish it, and heavily invest in it. This journey is one of the highest points in gaming for this generation and represents a pinnacle for developers. In short, if invest yourself in one franchise this generation, make it Mass Effect, you won’t be disappointed.
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