Mass Effect 3 Review: Is It A Shepard… or the Sheep?

Finally, Mass Effect 3 is here, and has smashed into the face of the gaming public like a ship traveling through a Mass Relay station. It seemed like BioWare couldn’t push this title out fast enough after the impressive Mass Effect 2, but they may have taken mach speed too seriously and lost some vital components. We’ve got the long and short of it, pitting a Paragon against a Renegade for an important debate on the recently-docked Mass Effect 3. Is the game as polished as Joker keeps the Normandy, or did BioWare’s shields sustain too much heavy fire while working towards their trilogy-capping title?

Platforms: PC, PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Genre: Spaceballs… If It Were A Serious RPG
Release Date: March 6, 2012
ESRB Rating: Mature

One of BioWare’s greatest achievements with the Mass Effect is the wide variety of choices they peppered throughout the trilogy. No one played the same game and in the end, we thought that any review of the game needed as many voices as possible. So that’s what we did.

John Martin, Paragon: Oh, Mass Effect. What a ride it’s been over the last five years. The final chapter is here to get me all choked up and provide some amazing third act thrills. I jumped immediately into the campaign to see all of my old friends (sans Kaidan, I haven’t seen that dude since the first game, mainly because I was never a fan of Carth Onasi) and to check out how the Mass Effect universe was dealing with the Reaper threat that was established in the first game. Seeing the galaxy at war was exhilarating, but at the same time, I felt as if everything I did as Shepard was just moving everything closer and closer to impending doom. Or salvation. It’s open to interpretation.

Each action I performed felt like it carried more weight, since I was trying to stop the annihilation of the known galaxy while tying up loose ends from previous games, bringing several storylines to a close. The genophage, for example, was always an interesting tidbit to hear about, but now I was given the chance to either cure it or make sure it continues to subdue Krogan populations. I was reminded of being given the choice to poison the waters of the planet Manaan back in BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic back in the day. After years of hearing about it, my Shepard was given the choice of influencing history in a big, bad way.

These types of branches in the storyline seem a lot thicker than in previous installments of Mass Effect and seemingly have far greater consequences. Each Priority Mission featured similar choices that carried great weight while also concluding, or at least giving a sense of closure to, a character’s story arc.

But what made the game for me wasn’t the large, sweeping influences my Shep had; it was the number of poignant moments Shep shared with his crew and their interactions with each other. In RPGs like this, party banter can deepen one’s emotional engagement. Seeing the crew of the Normandy look back at their adventures and express their mutual fondness and respect for each other gave me warm, fuzzy feelings inside. It didn’t matter where the ride took them, because they were in it together. Ahh, the beauty of camaraderie.

Ryan Littlefield, Renegade: Obviously, the main selling point of Mass Effect 3 for me was the resolution to the trilogy’s story. From the beginning of the game to my 38th hour, I loved every second of it. The majority of the game held some very deep, very intense, and very gripping moments. In my opinion, the original Mass Effect spent a lot of time on Commander Shepard while leaving the scope of the story fairly distant, allowing a lot of more vague detail and base-level story to be established. Mass Effect 2 seemed to zoom in further on Commander Shepard, and identify his situations with Cerberus and the rekindling of his former crew. Mass Effect 3 did what I thought was best – took the focus further away from Shepard himself and allowed all of the characters/races to completely identify themselves. The interaction between these characters and Shepard seemed to magnify the tremendous amount of character development that is suddenly realized here. The game does a great job of ramping up the player’s emotional investment with the characters who they’ve spent the last five years with. It’s like taking the cast of Cheers, putting them on a ship, and having a few drinks in space. Well, almost.

And especially after a few drinks in space, nothing is more refreshing than multitasking, Mass Effect-style. Emptying a round of ammo, using Biotics to throw a Husk across the room, and finally taking cover while you spam Garrus’ Overload ability on that giant Atlas mech walking towards you. Gameplay, specifically combat, is the only improvement between the original Mass Effect and its sequel, in my opinion. Mass Effect 3 continues to carry the torch as far as combat goes, but there were a few things that I was left scratching my head about.

The Weapon Upgrade mechanic was an interesting and simple one: paying credits to raise your gun to its next level, increasing combat damage, adding more ammo capacity, etc. The Weapon Bench with the gun attachments was fine too, but I really would have liked to see the two combined somehow. Leveling up a particular weapon left me feeling somewhat cheated, because I felt like I was simply taking the game’s word for it. “You want to pay 2700 credits to get this pistol to its second rank? You got it!” Okay, great, but I’m not really sure what I just bought. I would have loved to see the Weapon Bench’s attachments go hand in hand with the upgrades; this would display exactly what was upgraded, and would more fully let the player customize their whole play experience, let alone their guns.

John: The best new mechanic in the game, for me, was the heavy melee. I enjoyed seeing the different classes bust out their heavy melee animations. There’s just something really satisfying about seeing an Adept bash a Husk’s face in with a biotic blast, or watching a Sentinel go all Wolverine with dual omni-tool blades. The option to mount an Atlas was fun, but ultimately nothing too exciting. There’s probably more enjoyment to be had from destroying them, rather than clunking around in one. The inclusion of turrets are nothing out of the ordinary, but they at least added some variation to the shooting and power blasting in battle.

The option to give weapons attachments was welcome, although I feel as if most of the attachments weren’t very useful. Weapons also have weight this time. The heavier your loadout, the slower your powers recharge. While this gives players some balance and more options for combat, I felt that a pistol with a scope on it served the dual purpose of having ranged munitions while letting you use powers faster, so why use any other loadout? Ultimately, it’s up to the player to decide what loadout they want to suit their style of play. Other than those changes, gameplay is just more of the same shooting and talking fun. Oh, and they’ve mercifully gotten rid of that scanning and probing mini-game. You can still scan and probe, but it’s more focused now and won’t lead to hours of hoarding minerals and eezo (element zero). Instead of tediously gathering resources throughout the game to achieve a better outcome, BioWare decided to incorporate a multiplayer mode to achieve the same end.

The multiplayer is actually a pretty solid addition to the game and a lot of fun to play — that is, if you can actually connect to a game, a host maintains connection, and you don’t glitch through the floor. The Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is basically a horde mode with three challenge levels and can be played with three other people. There are few maps at the moment, but I’m hoping some patches down the line will give us more theaters of combat. The combat is the same as the game proper, except you have the choice of class/race combos, all with access to different powers depending on their class. An Asari Adept will have a different set of skills from a Human Adept. And some races, like the Krogans and Turians, cannot somersault to dodge. It can be addictive to build up credit to buy packs and unlock different combinations. A personal favorite of mine is the Krogan Soldier because it’s big, angry, and is capable of trucking an Atlas with heavy melee attacks.

Everything you do in multiplayer also helps add to your Galactic Readiness, which will determine the outcome of the final battle in the single player campaign. It’s not necessary, but it helps. If you don’t play well with others or do not play online, you can still get enough points for the “Good” ending.

Ryan: It was very rewarding to see a game that knows how to handle its Multiplayer aspect without ruining everything it has established already. Mass Effect 3 definitely does that, offering a glorified “Horde Mode” with challenges that switch up from round to round. A majority of the waves will be spent simply killing armies of Geth, Reapers, or Cerberus Troops, but there are some nice base-capture, command-point, and assassination missions as well. I played through Multiplayer long enough to reach the maximum level and prestige my character, and didn’t get too sick of it, despite the arguably low amount of content there. The only thing I really suffered from was a surplus of networking issues – hosts leaving and the system not re-assigning, sudden dropped games, and one system freeze in particular which corrupted and ended up making me re-download my Mass Effect 3 settings file from my PlayStation Plus Cloud Storage, which I luckily had enabled.

Once I raised my Galactic Readiness to maximum through multiplayer, I pressed on and finished the game. Initially, I appreciated the ending for the most part. But after speaking with some friends about the game’s resolution, I can see why people are becoming upset with it, and I now understand the issues that the ending contains. By no means am I a BioWare freak/Mass Effect lore enthusiast, but I agree that something needs to be done to remedy the ending’s inconsistencies with what could have happened, or more importantly, should have happened. Although the actual events of the ending were out of whack, I will give BioWare credit for incorporating the right mood. It sure feels like an ending, and it sure feels like an ultimate one. But still, this ending reminds me of the “Simpsons” episode where Poochie is quickly introduced and removed from the Itchy and Scratchy show, explaining his final departure by saying “I must go now. My planet needs me,” and erratically flying off of the screen. They both come off as quick fixes, and, given the context, neither make any sense.

John: Mass Effect 3 ending, Y U NO SATISFYING?! There has been a lot of flak over the conclusion of this game, and for good reason. For those of you who haven’t seen the ending(s) yet, I’ll spare the spoilers. For those of you have seen it and are up in arms, I completely understand why. While I stand in the middle, I also can’t help but feel that the ending was out of left field, and created more questions to be answered rather than wrapping up the series. If this is truly supposed to be the final chapter in Shepard’s story, shouldn’t we feel some sort of catharsis and tie up all the loose ends?

I’m not 100% sure, but I believe video games are probably the only medium in which the consumers can change a product. In this case, all the rallying from fans who were less than pleased with the conclusion has led BioWare to release a statement saying that they will work on an amended ending. Not quite sure if this is a good thing, but it’s definitely interesting to see these guys appease the unhappy masses. I just hope the revised ending is free to download and that the crew is having a ridiculous party on the Citadel, complete with Shep’s awkward dancing.

Mass Effect 3 was simply too good to be a complete disappointment. Even though the ending is spontaneous and unprecedented, the heart of the experience before it was amazing to be a part of. Everything was spot on, even up to the scene right before the final sequence of events! Throughout the game, the combat remained interesting and challenging, enemies continued to intimidate Shep’s squad, and every single crew member on the Normandy showed how great of a friend you really were to them. That’s the mark of great storytelling.

Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Mass Effect 3 was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.

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