Review: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 (2012) – 

I love the Mass Effect series. They are easily some of the best games I have played in recent years, so when Mass Effect 3 was released back in March, I was overjoyed, safe in the knowledge that, like the previous two games, I would receive it for my birthday in April. Unfortunately, by the time my birthday came around, my older brother had moved out, taking with him both his über-PC and my ability to play the game. Without his PC, I was forced to install the game on my girlfriend’s über-laptop, but she just happens to live on the Isle of Wight, so my opportunities to play the game became somewhat sporadic. Now, finally, after eight months of on/off gaming, I’ve finished Mass Effect 3.

And it was worth the wait.

*

Mass Effect 3 had a Hell of a lot riding on its shoulders at the time of release. Not only did it have to continue and match the exceptional quality of its two predecessors, but it also had to finish the truly epic series in a satisfying and rewarding way. Whether or not the game managed to do these things is a subject that is still being hotly debated by fans across the internet. In my opinion though, the answer is yes. The game more than lives up to the standard of the first two, and I personally found the ending to be very fulfilling, both emotionally and enjoyably.

I’m going to start by reviewing the end of the game, not because I forgot to write the rest of the review, but because the end of Mass Effect 3 is the most talked about part of the game. It is important to note that, because of my late completion of the game,  I didn’t experience its original ending, an ending which caused so much nerd-rage among the fans. I’ve read first-hand reports of fans being left feeling empty, angered, and betrayed by the original ending, feeling like BioWare had abandoned them and sold out their integrity, putting a release date before their fans. BioWare listened to the fans, took their complaints on-board, and released a free Extended Cut of the game, which added extra scenes to the ending and gave the player a greater sense of closure, solving many of the complaints fans had voiced.

Despite this, or possibly because of it, Mass Effect 3 still has its haters, lurking on the BioWare forums, ready to flame the game at a moments notice. I personally think this venom is unfair and unfounded now that the Extended Cut had been released. The extended ending is heartbreaking, inspiring, uplifting, and, most importantly, emotionally satisfying. It showed that BioWare did care about their fans.

There are also players who have issue not just with the ending, but the choices, particularly the now infamous ‘three colours’ choice, that get you there. I have heard complaints that it takes control away from the player, that it feels out of place in the Mass Effect universe, that it’s a deus ex machina…

Some people are so against the final choices of the game that they have tried their hardest to discredit it, claiming it all happened within the mind of the protagonist, that he was dreaming. I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen an ending come up against such unfounded bile. I personally thought that the ending worked very well, and while it does sort of take control away from the player, it’s effective, because it makes you really think about your final choices and the consequences they will leave behind.

And as for the complaint that it doesn’t fit in the Mass Effect universe, I always find it strange when people complain that something is ‘unrealistic’ within the science-fiction genre. Besides, I personally thought it was more in line with the universe’s lore than the ‘ZOMG! Human Reaper!’ ending I was faced with in Mass Effect 2, and no one seems to complain about that.

While some of the criticism aimed at the original ending was justified, bashing the ending since the release of the Extended Cut seems completely pointless. You will have undoubtedly heard many a bad thing about the end of the game, but most of what you can read on the online forums is largely unfounded and bitter. While the game’s ending is hardly faultless, it more than makes for a satisfying end to an outstanding game. Hell, it’s a satisfying end to an outstanding series.

*

I am tempted to say the BioWare saved the best ’til last, and that Mass Effect 3 is the strongest entry in the trilogy. One of the main reasons for this is because BioWare listens to their fans.

They have carefully listened to the complaints and praises that fans had laden on the first two games and, from this, have created a conglomeration of the elements people liked and duly dumped the bad bits. Highlights include a more refined version of the frenetic and nerve-shredding combat from Mass Effect 2, and the return to a smaller, more intimate squad like the first game featured. In terms of gameplay, Mass Effect 3 is everything you could wish for, and plays like the game you secretly wished the first two were. Tragically though, the Mako didn’t make a comeback…

The new multi-player feature, which had me wrinkling my nose when it was first announced, is fantastic, and a worthy addition to the game. Players can finally live out their long-standing Mass Effect fantasies, playing as Turians, Drell, Quarians, and, thanks to a recent upgrade, even Volus. What sounds quite simple – four players have to survive eleven increasingly difficult waves of enemies – turns out to be deliriously addictive and ridiculously entertaining. The multi-player adds a whole new and incredibly welcome layer to the gameplay experience.

*

As good as the gameplay is, the story is where the game really shines. BioWare has a reputation as a company that knows how to tell a story, and this game reinforces that reputation. It’s always hard to tell a story, but it’s even harder to finish one, and BioWare have embraced the challenge with open arms, concluding the series with both intimacy and grandiose.

When you stop to think about how the trilogy must have been plotted, the sheer complexity makes your mind boggle. BioWare always said that even the smaller decisions made in the previous games would have repercussions later in the series, but the way they have managed to pull it off is truly phenomenal. Quick decisions you made in the first game are suddenly pushed back to the forefront, and their consequences are not always pleasant. Just how well the interconnectivity of the series is achieved shows how tightly plotted and planned the games were.

One of the strongest aspects of the Mass Effect is its large cast of characters, and this game continues to build on that strength, introducing brilliant new characters and bringing back the (equally brilliant) old ones for one last hurrah. The game features some of BioWare’s most emotional and powerful moments, and the perfectly cast characters help to sell those emotions. I’ve never seen so much character development in a computer game before, but the playing experience is made so much stronger because of it. These are not just characters in a game, they’re your friends and your companions. You know these people and you care about them. You care enough to cry and laugh with them, and trust me when I say that the game will make you do both.

Despite spanning three games and a whole galaxy, with some of the most heart-pumping combat you’re likely to experience in a while, the story and the characters are always at the front and centre of this game, making Mass Effect 3 more of an emotional journey than an action RPG.

*

Mass Effect 3 ends an incredible series on an absolutely blistering high, soaring to new heights in both gameplay and storytelling, and manages to deliver a game that feels both truly epic and incredible intimate. The game has been somewhat marred by the controversy surrounding its ending, but now that the Extended Cut has been released, there is nothing holding back the near-perfect experience that is playing this game.

It’s just a shame it’s over.

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