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Mass Effect 3 review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • A very personalized narrative
  • Stellar action segments
  • Extremely fulfilling conclusion
  • Occasional graphical hiccups
  • Relatively impersonalized ending (compared to ME2)
  • Saying goodbye to Mass Effect

Like countless others, we invested well over a hundred hours into the science fiction space opera that is Mass Effect. We rose to the rank of Spectre, the intergalactic supercops working for the U.N.-like Galactic Citadel; we learned about the Reapers, an ancient robotic threat with intent to destroy all organic life; and we put together a group of soldiers to delay the Reaper attack, leading a squad on a suicide mission into the unknown. And now, with the arrival of the final act of the trilogy, we were promised a finale that would bring this tale together in unexpected yet satisfying ways.

For the most part, Mass Effect 3 delivers on these promises, with a satisfying conclusion chock-full of white-knuckle action and a narrative fitting of the Mass Effect name.


Intergalactic war

The Reapers have arrived on Earth, and their goal is nothing short of genocide. With enemies beating down the doors back on the human homeworld, Shepard is sent off-planet to bring the combined might of the cosmos back with him to fight a battle – not just for his squad, but for all biological life in the galaxy. 

Above: Check out our video review

It’s not that simple, sadly. The world(s) of Mass Effect are rife with intergalactic in-fighting, and mending the galaxy’s thousand-year-old wounds proves more difficult than convincing a ragtag group to throw away their lives on a suicide mission. Shepard isn’t helping a few people get revenge – he’s attempting to solve deep-rooted cultural issues between entire alien races that existed when humans were still rubbing rocks together and praying for fire. 

And that’s essentially the entire point of the game: get everyone ready for a grand-scale, climactic war. In ME2 we had to deal with characters arguing over their race’s histories, complaining about 400-year-old wars or political disagreements. Now, we got to tell them to shut up and deal with it. It was great to finally be allowed to take off our gloves and get with the fixing, forcing the universe’s races to put aside their differences for the sake of all life.

Our choices in how we handle the issues shape the universe, and every action we take adds to Shepard’s Galactic Readiness meter, a representation of his success in building the army that will come back with him to defeat the Reapers. From scanning remote planets for supplies (which has been revamped from the last game to be more fulfilling and entertaining) to completing objectives for strangers, everything affects the Galactic Readiness, selling the mood of a universe at war.

Above: Expect to spend a lot of time arguing with aliens


Ready for a fight

Also adding to this meter is the multiplayer, which was a somewhat surprising addition to the series. Successful play in the different maps adds to the Galaxy At War meter, which boosts the singleplayer Readiness. It’s a subtle tie-in, but it works well, and adds incentive to play even for those who usually would shy away from multiplayer. 

Even without the tie-in, however, it’s definitely worth trying out. The game’s several maps are genuinely fun, providing a unique spin on the typical wave-based cooperative play. Occasional objectives make it more complicated than simply hunkering down and defending, and each level is concluded with a mad dash to the exit, eliciting fond memories of Left 4 Dead. It’s not going to replace your nightly routine of Call of Duty, but it’s fun enough that we’re happy to see it added, and fits right in line with the story of a universe enveloped at war.

Above: Each level feels different, and defeating powerful foes requires teamwork

As expansive as the multiplayer is, we’re happy to see that it didn’t take away from the core campaign one bit. In fact, we were shocked at how massive and awe-inspiring the single-player missions are. Without warning, regular objectives escalate dramatically, going from run-of-the-mill to explosive, cinematic set piece encounters.

Heading to a remote planet to defuse a bomb will suddenly escalate to the point where it feels like it could be the final mission of any other game. The stakes are that high, and the fate of the galaxy rests delicately on Shepard’s ability to beat the odds and complete a nearly impossible task. And this doesn't happen just once. Oh, no. It's a nearly constant battle against all odds, racing from one planet to the next to prevent the entire galaxy from caving in on itself.

Yes, there’s that much pressure on your shoulders, and it’s intense. You’re constantly thrown into fantastic firefights that feel as well-developed as what you see in blockbuster action shooters like Gears of War or Uncharted.

These firefights still play out like that of a typical cover-based squad shooter. Added in to the mix is a new melee “power attack” that knocks enemies off their feet and weapon customization that allows for every gun to be tweaked, upgraded and enhanced. Beyond that, the engine’s improvements are subtle, refining the experience with tiny changes. Cover is better, bounding over objects is faster, powers and abilities have been changed. The modifications aren’t dramatic, and feel so natural and they might go unnoticed if you haven’t played Mass Effect 2 in a while …

Above: Each class has its own, slightly different melee power move


New arrivals

…Or if you haven’t played Mass Effect at all. BioWare has gone out of its way to ensure that Mass Effect 3 would be accessible to newcomers, and it did a fine job crafting a game that anyone could jump in without being too lost. There’s an in-game journal filled with information, and the ability to create a new character, with a few options to make slight customizations to our back-story.

Even so, we really wouldn’t recommend starting with this entry. While it’s a sound experience on its own, the ability to import a cleared save file from ME2 – complete with your life-or-death decisions –make ME3’s tale significantly more personal, profound, and emotional, and ME2 is a good enough game that it’s worthwhile to start there to get the most out of the new game.

 
Above: Watch the trailer and prepare for the end

Those choices weigh heavily on the third game’s plot in very serious ways. It can be as passive as characters off-handedly mentioning choices made two games ago, and as dramatic as major plotlines hinging on decisions made in the prior game. Characters from ME2 will play massive, important roles in ME3… unless they died, in which case the story will shift dramatically, and you’ll be reminded of it throughout.


The missing catalyst

The choices made in the third game are as exciting as ever. By now, BioWare has nearly perfected the craft of weaving morally ambiguous choices throughout its story – but this time our decisions affect the future of entire races, making most of the first game’s choices seem pedestrian in comparison.

But while the decisions are bigger and bolder, the climax just can’t live up to ME3’s predecessors. ME2’s conclusion was arguably one of the finest in recent gaming history. It genuinely felt like the final level was a payoff for all of our previous decisions, with characters living or dying depending on our actions. That sense of build-up and delivery is missing from ME3. Our choices and decisions didn’t really feel like they contributed nearly as much in the finale, serving mostly as nods and winks instead of integral elements. If anything, we felt like the choices we made in ME2 had more of an influence over that story than the choices we made this time around.

Above: Don't worry about loose plot lines - ME3 ties things up nicely

When the credits rolled after 40 hours invested (and, of course the 40 hours invested in ME2…and 40 hours in the original), we felt like we didn’t really have all that much impact on the overall finale, and that was a slight letdown. The ending was tempered to how high our Galactic Readiness was, but that's not really the same as being driven by choices, as a large chunk of the Readiness is tied to multiplayer and scanning countless planets for additional assets. It was still a tremendous, amazing, phenomenal achievement in interactive storytelling, and the ride to that conclusion is unforgettably wonderful, but it falls just short of the expectations when it comes to interactivity, especially when you consider the nearly five years and scores of hours that BioWare built up. It's disappointing to see that after all of the emotional investment in choices, the fate of the galaxy is decided by how much you can collect.

Playing through Mass Effect 3 with a canon save expanding back to the first game is a sublime experience – ultimately exceeding BioWare’s original promise of a long-term gameplay legacy. Developers often say that choices made in one game will carry to the next, but never before has it been achieved on this level, providing a radically branching experience that feels as personalized as any game ever has. Even if the end destination of this final chapter isn’t quite as magnificent as we hoped for, we’ll never regret the hundred-hour, three-game journey we took across the galaxy to get there. Mass Effect 3 is an incredible experience that rewards you for those years of investment and devotion to its stratospheric tale.



Extended Cut DLC: By now you've undoubtably heard about Mass Effect 3's controversial ending, which prompted BioWare to quickly announce work on an "Extended" version of the conclusion. Now, only a few short months later, the revision has been released as free DLC, which mostly takes the form of expanded cutscenes, some new dialog options, and still images further explaining the events that take place once the credits roll. Though we stand behind our enjoyment of the original ending and didn't have an issue with the way BioWare decided to conclude the series (we had more of an issue with the final act than the final moments, as we discussed in the review), we feel as though the Extended Cut does clarify some plot points for those looking for more answers or clarification. Those looking for a smoother, more fleshed-out end will likely be pleased with the revisions BioWare made, while those demanding a full-blown rewrite are still going to be left unsatisfied.
XBOX 360: On the box for the Xbox 360 version, a purple banner says that the game is “Better with Kinect,” and to our surprise we actually agree. While opening doors by saying “open” might not be all that useful or practical, the ability to issue orders to our squadmates with our voice was freeing – adding more than we expected to the gameplay. We even found that we'd often prefer to read our answers aloud instead of choosing them on the dialog wheel, feeling more immersed in the story because of it. Small glitches aside, we’d recommend using it if you have Kinect, though it’s not worth changing consoles over or rushing out to the store to buy one just for the functionality.

This game was reviewed on Xbox 360 as the lead platform. We also played through sections of the PS3 version to see if there were any distinct differences, and we found no technical shortcomings during our playtime.

More Info

Release date: Mar 06 2012 - Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: BioWare
Franchise: Mass Effect
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Mild Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Sexual Content
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

126 comments

  • alex-roy-bristol - November 3, 2012 8:16 a.m.

    Why does the side say that ESRB rated it for "Mild Violence"? That is surely not accurate! XD
  • Gamer_Geek - July 30, 2012 12:41 p.m.

    I completed Mass Effect 3 a few weeks ago, a really enjoyed the storyline and the themes of sacrifice and friendship throughout the game's story. Although, having a great story, the free roam doesn't really feel like a true free roam, as mentioned before in other user's comments, the lack of truly explorable worlds the detail of options available to do in these worlds, gives Mass Effect 3 a very short "shelf-life". After gaining most of the achievements and completing the side quests to gain greater war assets for the ending, I grew very bored of the game and struggled to find anything to do. In short, very good story which really captures the drama and emotion you experience throughout the game, however, dull free roam and lack of interesting and difficult side-quests, make Mass Effect 3, a play in between big releases game.
  • code_r - July 7, 2012 7:24 a.m.

    The extended ending still fails to fix the real problems, and as the name suggests simply makes it longer. The endless focus on the finale also detracts from the other, perhaps bigger issues that the game has, such as lack of real sidequests, explorable worlds and vehicles which still leave it feeling, unfinished, messy and badly written.
  • thing1amc - June 28, 2012 3:30 p.m.

    I was okay with the original ending, and I don't like the fact that Bioware had to change their ending because some people didn't like it, but I can admit that these endings are better (though dammit I wish I knew which one was the "good" ending). Whatever. Regardless of the endings, the mass effect games are my favorite games of all time, and in a lot of ways, this one is the best of the bunch. Great review, though I personally would give it a ten.
  • Rambo 11 - June 27, 2012 11:05 p.m.

    Google Deus Ex Machina. Just do it.
  • robotdickens - June 27, 2012 10:22 p.m.

    Wait why are reviewing the game now?
  • HorriBliss - June 28, 2012 10:34 a.m.

    The extended ending thing was DLC just this week, that's why.
  • Darkhawk - June 27, 2012 10:04 p.m.

    I actually liked Extended Cut less. It had me right up until the moment Bishop started narrating a montage of still images. 1.9GB and all they could manage was a clip show? Plus, the original intention (which I liked) was to leave the Normandy crew to settle and repopulate on an Eden-like planet. To just show them up and picking up 5 minutes later lessens the impact of that original scene.
  • zombi3grim - June 28, 2012 11:44 a.m.

    Why does this not surprise me...
  • esteban-ramon - June 27, 2012 7:49 p.m.

    I play for the story. I enjoy the game play, but it is the ending that will tie it up for me. Unfortunately Bioware screwed the pooch on that one. Everything else is fine, but seems rushed. We could of had all these side missions deal with, maybe an extra 5 to 10 hours alone with all the crap we had to find, but hey whatever. The combat was great, i don't know why everyone said that they had issues with combat, i never had any. And i still can get over how people could accept that god awful ending, the first batch, so easily. Its like reading harry potter and think, oh look he finally defeated voldermort and saved everyone, then go to the next chapter to read that it was all a dream of a dying abused child underneath the stairs. Yeah, that is what it felt like. Think about, enjoy that feeling of despair and hurt? Thats what it felt like. See, where final fantasy 13-2 leave off with a twist ending, at least you know what you got and they tell you there is more to come. I was generally please with it, if somewhat confused on the story. Not like the surprise baseball bat to balls that ME did to us. Anyways. I can't play it a second time. I tried, but knowing that everything i will do amount to 'nothing' to change the ending, just killed it for me. Even with this new 'Extended Cut' it did nothing to make me want to play it again. Oh at first i was fine. Ok, they cleared some things up. But they still didn't exactly explain why synthesis works or why Catylast had this backwards ideal in the first place. I mean geth are fighting against them too, disproving that point entirely. Then there was the cut scene when your friends decided force Joker to leave. Gee thanks buddy for leaving my ass behind. The slide show didn't even make things better for me, lets add green to it or the reapers in the back ground. What i really want to point out is just how stupid Bioware truly is. I mean we gave them an out! A fucking theory on Indoctrination on Shepard , thus making it possible for them to make a new DLC and continue the mission. But no, they stare at it like it is some sort of fucking 4th dimension monster out to get them. I mean for fucks sakes man, we gave you something to work with and you just ignored it. fine. Then the Refusal ending comes, and instead of using the oh so useless Military Rating system to gauge our chance against the Reapers, they flat out say, nope you lose, eat you loser. Don't tell us what to do. Artistic Integrity!!! That only had at least 2, maybe three different endings to work with. If it was time constraints, we could of waited MONTHS for them to finish it up. If they could figure out an ending they want, they could of just gone to fanfiction.net or spacebattle.net or whatever fanfiction site there was and pulled up hundreds, nay, thousands of stories with dozens of would by writers and asked them to make an ending for them. I can promise you that they could of came up with a better ending that shit. You know what. Fuck Bioware. They fucked up Dragon Age 2. They fucked up Mass Effect story for me. They just fucked up. I'm done with them. Fuck them assholes and fuck EA for fucking them up. Who wants a ME3 game before i toss it into the fire bin?
  • birdman1041 - June 27, 2012 7:54 p.m.

    I do. Mail it to PO Box 86134, Tucson AZ 85754.
  • esteban-ramon - June 27, 2012 7:59 p.m.

    Sold, give me a few days so i can find a way to send it to ya. Give me about a week since i don't have a dime on me. I want this piece of crap out of my sight.
  • birdman1041 - June 27, 2012 9:03 p.m.

    Cool; I will refund your cost to ship it. And: hey man, sorry you hated the game. I am much less emotionally invested in the storyline, so I'm willing to give it a try. But I do appreciate that you were disappointed, and that's valid. I haven't finished ME2 yet...maybe I will feel the same when all is said and done...anyway my real name is Phoenix Michael (for the envelope)
  • esteban-ramon - June 28, 2012 8:30 a.m.

    Gothcha...wait phoenix? Why can't my parents named me something mystical! D:<
  • birdman1041 - June 27, 2012 7:54 p.m.

    I do. Mail it to PO Box 86134, Tucson AZ 85754, I'll replace your postage.
  • Person5 - June 28, 2012 11:35 a.m.

    Yeah Esteban has a point, Phoenix is an awesome name.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - October 5, 2012 11 p.m.

    Finally just finished the game, and I agree with everything you say. I still feel fucking sick to my stomach.
  • t_skwerl - June 27, 2012 7:46 p.m.

    Looks like a few people haven't actually played the EC yet. I'm one of the people who hated the original endings. Not the choices, not the AI/Child Reaper King, but the fact that you don't see what happens to the overall universe after you make your choice. So, the EC pretty much cleared up most everything for me. Synthesis is my favorite ending now. I know there's an ethical dilemma here about forcing the option on the entire galaxy, but... that memorial wall scene... man tears. That's pretty much all I wanted. To know that the sacrifice was worth it. The galaxy will be okay.
  • Jacko415 - June 27, 2012 6:58 p.m.

    Im sorry, but am I the ONLY one who noticed that the extended cut shows a quarrians face!?
  • hullonotna - June 27, 2012 7:32 p.m.

    I noticed it too. I kind of want to replay with the synthesis ending just to see that ingame. Then again if you romanced Tali in ME2 and ME3 she reveals her face in the form of a picture frame. My opinion is that they look way to pretty and to much like the artist interpretations.

Showing 1-20 of 126 comments

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