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.
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
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
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
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
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.