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
…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.
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.