The lights are on
This review has been a long time coming, though it took me a while because I wanted to make sure I gave myself time after I had beaten the game to decide exactly how I felt about it. First off, some praise/back story for those new to the series. Mass Effect is a series from BioWare in which the player is given an experience seldom experienced elsewhere: a story that is forged from the choices and actions of the player. Though different games have installed this element in a single title or separately in several games in a series, Mass Effect attempts to meld the experiences from each title continuously. The story telling, characters, and story elements have been one of the most compelling I have ever experienced as a gamer of over twenty years. Last month, the final installment of the trilogy was released, and the question remains; does this title live up to the hype? Without a doubt.
From this moment on, I will most likely refer to the main character, Commander Shepard, often. My play through consisted of the male Shepard, so if I use "him" or "his," assume that the same could hold true for a female protagonist. The game opens to a grounded Commander Shepard whose actions in the second Mass Effect created a world of problems for as much good as was intended. He is called in to meet the leaders of the Alliance when they observe signs of what Shepard had warned them all along; the Reapers (sentient machines designed to eliminate intelligent life) had arrived. No sooner had he given them the much-needed snap to attention, then all Hell breaks loose as the Reapers begin their assault on humanity's home planet. After a quick tutorial that follows Shepard's escape from the destruction, he is given the task to journey to the other civilizations and races in an attempt to form the Universe's largest coalition to counter the onslaught against Earth. As one could imagine, the fight was not merely in the Sol System, as every other race was under the same threat. From here, the actions and decisions made by the player would decide who would join him and the Alliance in the fight.
The game itself plays very similarly to the second Mass Effect, which had much more responsive and fluid controls than the original title. The experience for the player varies depending on the player's history with the series, what class they choose (which can vary from the basic soldier to classes such as the Vanguard which incorporates both combat and biotics, etc.), and what style they select for the game play (mostly reserved for new players). The play style can either create a heavily story-based play that eases the combat for the inexperienced, a combat based that eliminates the "hassle" of decisions and discussions, or a balanced play, which is the traditional (and true) experience. Combat is often intense and fun, the story is as engaging as ever, and in this aspect, the game seems to have fine-tuned much of what it already improved in the last installment.
The highlight for me, not only in this game, but in this series is most certainly story delivery. It had not hit me at first how much time I had originally invested in this story-intensive series until I started running into former allies from the previous titles. This game creates what many styles of media strive for; the feeling of attachment and sympathy for the characters. It is almost elegant how the player develops a relationship with these individuals. I can recall one character whom I really enjoyed talking to in Mass Effect 2. He had been quite enjoyable, and you could understand his desire to right his past. I do not want to spoil much, but when and how he was lost in this installment, I genuinely felt sorrow and almost teared up at this loss, something quite rare for me. These moments of companionship are frequent throughout this series, and the decisions made by the player in both of the previous installments continually come up in the third installment, sometimes simply in discussion, but also potentially aiding in the effort to gain support for the fight against the Reapers. Truly, this series is one that will prove to be a milestone in how to provide players with the feeling of a unique experience, at least in this aspect.
Finally, a note for those aware of the controversial aspect of this series, the ending. I do not wish to spoil this for those who have not played the series or at least this title yet, but I feel this does need to be addressed. The controversy seems to be two-fold, some dislike the variety and options in endings, while others seem to dislike what they feel is a "vague" or for some "generic" ending. In truth, it appears that three major endings are available, with mild differences based on how much time was spent gaining support and also playing the multiplayer, which is considered a sort of side-line support for the main mission. After spending some time debating this topic, I can see both sides to an extent. I also imagine that to try and calculate the outcome of all three games tied together with all variations included would inevitably be difficult, and in truth could create countless endings that would be almost illogical to try and determine. I feel the problem also comes from the same aspect that was also the crowning achievement of the series; the time and emotions invested in the game. I could see where the endings might feel bittersweet, but in my honest opinion, it had to be. The tone set for this game would have been offset by the endings that people wanted to see, and it wouldn't have fit. I also disagree with the sometimes obsessive attacks against BioWare, though I must also applaud those who addressed and voiced their concerns with respect for the individuals who, to be fair, provided us the entire experience in the first place. I will admit the ending was one of many different emotions, from shock to sadness to irritation to noble acceptance, and back again. My only true concern came not from the ending of the story, but the final fight leading up to it. Though the final mission begins and continuously attacks the player relentlessly, the "final battle," if you will, seemed to run out of steam. I wanted an epic boss battle of some sort, an epic final confrontation, but that doesn't exactly happen. Again, I do not want to spoil the game.
In the end, what more can be said? Over the progression of three games, I have been taken on a journey that I did not expect from the humble and noble beginnings of the series. The promises of a story that felt like it was my own were met for me, and in the end I felt myself unwilling to leave this fictional world behind, eager to hear more of the story of "The Shepard," as a young boy once said. I can only hope that what BioWare says is true, that this will not be the true ending to the series, because I most certainly would continue my experience if given the option. Perhaps it is nostalgia or my inability to separate the prior two games from this one, but despite the few flaws I found in the game, I cannot give it anything less than a perfect score, or perhaps that could be considered my score for the entire Mass Effect series. Take it as you will. If you have not played this series thus far, might I highly suggest you make time to do so, for you are surely missing out on one of the greatest gaming experiences of our time. To those who disagree with my opinion, I apologize, but every opinion is simply one in a sea of many. Until my next review, hold fast, make every moment count, "Don't Fear the Reaper," and keep playing.
As far as I know regarding my experience on BSN, this is the end of Shepard's story, but not the end of the ME universe. Nice review.