The lights are on
Mass Effect 3. Probably one of my biggest challenges to date on this blog is trying to write a review for this game. I've faced Sovereign and the Collectors without fear. I've turned down the Illusive Man's temptations. I kept everyone alive after the Omega-4 Relay. But nothing could prepare me for what was to come in Bioware's finale to what may be one of the biggest franchises to mark this console generation.
This review is for both the PC and PS3 versions of the game.
Or as they'll later rename it "Mass Effect: Let's be pretentious and rewrite it with a subtitle"*
For the few people under a rock, Mass Effect 3 is the final entry in the science fiction shooter/RPG trilogy developed by Bioware. Formerly an Xbox 360 exclusive, the third entry is now even available on the Wii-U. It centers on a human soldier, Commander Shepard, and his crew aboard the Normandy SR-2 as they try to gather enough allied species in the known universe to fight an ancient machine race known as the Reapers. This is also the first entry to feature a multiplayer component.
The story is heavily narrative focused, so if you're only in this for the shooting, you're missing the point. Still, this entry does feature the ability to have the game auto-decide things for you, and you can just enjoy the game's dialogues without so much as a single decision, but I repeat -- you are playing the game wrong. Any game can provide shooting, but the Mass Effect series is about choices and their impact, even if they may sometimes get overridden because a writer "forgot" something they'd not too long ago written. So if you are coming into this green, do yourself a favor, and get either the first two games (they're dirt cheap) or at least Mass Effect: Genesis 2. Either way, you'll have at least some vague impact on your story, although you'll only make fourteen out of the thousand or so choices that can impact your journey at any point. Some of them may have only mattered in Mass Effect 2, but their effects on your experience there impact the choices you make in this entry.
I intentionally tried a purely green, new character in Mass Effect 3. It was awful. A majority of the "default' choices and impacts by Bioware are the worst kind. You'll never meet Jack, Wrex, or Grunt, and when you do meet a long forgotten face, they'll barely be worth noting because their cameo like missions are merely built to get older players up to speed, and what short screen time they bother for newcomers is wasted space in an already dialogue heavy game. So if you haven't played the first two games, stop reading this review, and go play them.
I'll wait here.
Okay, so if you're still coming back that means you're totally jazzed and want to fight the Reapers. Or you already played the games and want me to get on with the damn review already. No worries, now we get to the part of the review for everyone else:
What do you mean this lab coat clings tighter than a body suit? Have you seen Ashley's "armor"?**
Expect disappointment. I say that not just for the truly badly handled ending, but for the majority of the campaign in general. For every good moment and absolutely breathtaking alignment of choices, there are two dozen fetch quests and half-hearted attempts to keep the pace going. Everything wrong can be best explained with this example: This is a game where you're fighting minute to minute to stop the Reapers, and yet it actually rewards you for avoiding your primary objectives until every other option is done. Instead of rushing to stop the Reapers, you'll find yourself doing scout missions for diplomats and tacticians. Instead of going to Tuchanka and curing the Genophage, you're off saving Grisshom Academy. Some of these missions (such as the aformentioned Academy) are actually quite good, but still, it doesn't fit.
Mass Effect 2 had it's pacing down, solid. There were good amounts of risk-reward after you got the Reaper IFF and the finale didn't start until the Omega 4 Relay. That pacing is lost here. After a certain point, side missions almost fall off the map, but not before you complete easily fifty or so odd jobs to get War Assets. War Assets are necessary for the fleet you use to retake Earth from the Reapers, but you're never sure quite -how- necessary they are. You'll get every important asset without so much as trying as you wander through the main campaign. All you have to do after that is grind in the multiplayer to get your "Galactic Readiness" (which can also be raised by an iOS application and web browser) up to at least seventy or so percent, and you'll find that before you've even got the Asari on your side, you're apparently ready to take back Earth.
Except when you get there it won't matter because everything is scripted. As are a lot of the final moments, to the extent that choice doesn't stop having impact at the last fifteen minutes -- it stopped having an impact roughly two hours before the game was even over. Around the time you revisit a famous location from Mass Effect 2, you're basically riding the rails of a last-ditch effort to wrap up all the major plot points in the game. There's a few moments where choices can signify on screen, and they can be noted by your companions, but overall your decisions matter little outside of whether up to three out of four factions alongside the major ones are fighting with you or not, with at least two of them joining you no matter what anyway. It really does make the whole effort feel pointless, especially with all the new tweaks and updates making improving your War Assets a breeze. I wish I could call this a hard-hitting, tense finale but it just isn't.
Don't even get me started on this publicity stunt...
There are some great moments earlier in the campaign, such as the Quarian/Geth missions and anything relating to the Genophage storyline, but as I said, after a certain point, things just start to go downhill, and I think the only way Bioware decided to fix this was by releasing around roughly four story-centric DLC packs for players to purchase to add to the campaign. That would be fine on it's own, Mass Effect 2 had a similar string of DLC, but there's a problem with that. Mass Effect 2 was a midquel. It was buying time until ME3 and gave us some additional story and choices. Instead of offering more, most of the DLC seems to either be recycling cut content (Omega) or patching up a lot of holes left by the out of nowhere sudden focus on robotic synthetics and organics in the finale of the main campaign (Leviathan, From Ashes). The only DLC that feels like it adds something to the story is Citadel, and really, feels like the only DLC that should have been expanded content added after the game's release, save for the numerous free multiplayer expansion packs.
It's this illicit nature of how the game was handled that leaves me questioning recommending it. I'd argue some of the gameplay elements are the best in the series, uniting aspects of the first game with the second to give us a real RPG/TPS hybrid the likes of which we rarely see. I actually see reason to invest in character builds like out of D&D that I never would have in Mass Effect 2. And yet... my gosh are some of the decisions made about how this game was done cringe worthy. Everything from the above referenced worst gaming "journalist" (I'm using that term so loosely here) cameo in a game ever to probably one of the worst twist endings I could think of. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth... and yet there's still something compelling about it. I'm even tempted to go through New Game Plus or try to platinum it on my PS3 running through on Insanity, in the face of everything wrong with it. Perhaps the best way to sell the game would be to call it a guilty pleasure.
Probably the only aspect that can be given a mere single criticism though is the multiplayer. It can get a bit repetitive and grindy, what with no story focused maps. However, as a horde mode with plenty of action to be offered, it may be the best selling aspect of the game alongside the brighter moments of the campaign. It's all really a matter of perspective, as you have to put up with a bad ending (even the Extend Cut can't make up for the fact that every single conclusion either ruins something personally or has such long-stretching effects on the universe that you can't even begin to imagine the consequences) and some really rushed end game content. For every satisfaction, there is a stinker. For every high, there's an equal or heavier low.
As a send off to the franchise, with Citadel DLC as your real finale after you beat the main game, it may do some justice, but I can't call it a masterpiece. I can't even call it done, as it feels incomplete before we even reach that finish line. Perhaps that's for the best though, that it not be complete. Because if this were truly all we had -- if this were what all our choices and impressions on the world of Mass Effect amounted to... then I would have to say my Shepard died in Mass Effect 2.
A 7.5/10, as that apparently is the score Game Informer thinks games with "a few good aspects" deserve, based on repeated observations.
Hold The LineCheers,Paradigm the Fallen
There's a difference between fear and art. One is something a coward lives by. The other is something only the bravest souls can share without breaking, whether accepted or not.
P.S. I realize this review may not be my best, and it may have devolved into a rant, but I hope that to at least someone, this review is helpful. If nothing else, maybe you can do yourself the favor of bracing yourself for whatever lies ahead in this series. I wish you the best whether you hated or loved the endings, Extended or otherwise. I just also wish we could stop talking about them, Game Informer's editors included***.
*It's a reference to Dragon Age 3, or should I say "Inquisition".
***You know that some "community opinion" or editor discussion pieces have purely been given spin by this game. It's been a year since the game came out, can we please move on?