(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 3.5 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4.5 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 4.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 3 Stars
Mass Effect 3
- Street Date:
- March 6th, 2012
- Reviewed by:
- Daniel Hirshleifer
- Review Date:1
- March 17th, 2012
- Game Release Year:
- Electronic Arts
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Editor's NotesThis review assumes the reader has played or is familiar with the plots of the last two Mass Effect games.
IntroductionI have a secret shame: I hated Mass Effect. Coming off of Knights of the Old Republic, not only the best Star Wars game of all time but one of the best RPG's I'd ever played, Bioware's follow up was hyped as a bold breakthrough in video gaming. A new decision making and conversational system would change the way we played, so the preview features said. The game itself was less impressive, with disappointing combat and vehicular missions that made you want to tear your hair out. I wasn't even going to bother with the sequel, but the all around stellar reviews, plus the fact that I got a bonus for importing my save game, pushed me to try it. Luckily, Bioware fixed many of the problems with Mass Effect 2, creating a compelling game with a stellar cast of characters where your actions really did have consequences. Since then, gamers have been frothing at the mouth for the final game in the trilogy. Now that it's finally arrived, does it live up to expectations?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The short answer is yes...and no. Without a doubt, Mass Effect 3 takes the template set by its predecessor and cranks it to eleven. There are moments in this game that are among the most impressive I've ever seen in the entire medium. There were sequences that made me stand up off my seat and say "Wow" out loud. The game does not lack for show-stoppers.
As the game begins, you return as Commander Shepard, stripped of military rank after the events of Mass Effect 2. Within moments, Earth is attacked by Reapers, and all hell breaks loose. You barely manage to escape on your trusty ship the Normandy and go looking for a way to save not just humanity, but the entire galaxy. Many of your past acquaintances and comrades return, not just from the last game, but from the first entry as well. The attention to detail and continuity is sharp. Characters you won't even remember will reappear and make themselves a part of Shepard's world once again.
The gameplay will also be nothing new to long-time players. Shepard gets a call for help, and goes to answer it, aided by two teammates of her choice. You then have to shoot, punch, and biotically power your way through a host of enemies to get to your objective. Mass Effect 3 sticks to this formula far more rigidly than in Mass Effect 2, which had a greater variety of scenarios. In fact, by the end, slogging through endless waves of enemies feels like a chore instead of the epic battle it's intended to be. Gone are vehicle missions of any kind. The game's saving grace is in its characterizations, which build on the already deep emotions from the last game. Some of the conversations, such as with Mordin Solus or Garrus, were quite touching. Rarely can I find a game that affects me on an emotional level, but Mass Effect 3 did just that.
So, if it's that good, why the hesitations? Unfortunately, certain decisions that Bioware or EA (or both) made dilute the experience. Mass Effect 3 is the first game in the series to feature multiplayer, and amazingly, it's not that bad. You and three teammates have to survive ten waves of enemies, with a few secondary objectives thrown in every few rounds. The nice thing about it is that the only teamwork you need to engage in is staying close enough to your teammates that if one of you is felled, another can revive them. Other than that, there's no communication, which means you can play with random people without worrying about hearing racial and/or homophobic slurs. Each game lasts about twenty minutes, which feels about right for this sort of thing.
The problem is that the multiplayer is not a standalone element of the game. One of the goals of the single player game is to gather enough war assets to take on the Reapers. Your decisions throughout the game can increase or decrease these assets. In order to get the "best" endings, you have to have a minimum of 4,000 assets, which is possible to do just by playing the single player game. However, there is a wrinkle. In addition to the overall assets, there's a map called "Galaxy At War" that tracks how ready each section of the galaxy is. By default it's set to 50%, which means that all of your assets are reduced by half. The only way to raise the Galaxy At War percentage is to, you guessed it, play the multiplayer. And not just once, you'll have to play it over and over in order to get the percentage up to or close to 100%. This might seem like an odd requirement, but it makes a lot more sense when you take EA's business practices into account.
EA cannot stand people who buy used games. They get no profit from it, and thus want to stamp out used sales completely. In an attempt to convince people to buy games new, EA initiated "Project 10." Project 10 stipulates that all EA games must offer something worth $10 that people who buy the game new can get for free through a download code included in the box. For games with multiplayer, the $10 addition is access to said multiplayer. Since Mass Effect 2 had no multiplayer, that game included an extra character as its Project 10 addition. Mass Effect 3 does have multiplayer, and now you have to buy the game new (or pay an extra $10 for those who buy it used) to get access to it, and by extension, the "best" endings. In other words, EA has set it up so you can't get the best endings in the game unless you buy the game new or pony up an extra $10 to EA as a used tax. It's a despicable practice.
To make matters worse, the game features day one DLC, entitled "From The Ashes," that includes a brand new squad member. Without multiplayer, this would have been the Project 10 offering, but now it's $10 on its own. Purchasers of the Collector's Edition get the DLC for free, but neither EA nor Bioware mentioned this until long after the Collector's Editions were sold out in many places. To top it all off, there are achievements on the disc that relate specifically to "From The Ashes," meaning that the only way to get all the achievements is to pay an extra $10. This leaves a really sour taste in my mouth as a gamer, and makes me wonder whether or not any game is worth this sort of manipulation.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Visually, Bioware has taken several strong steps forward since the original Mass Effect hit store shelves. Most notably, level design has taken a huge step forward and removed the linear element that frequently plagued Mass Effect 2. Rather than racing down a single path to get to the end of a level, enemies can often attack from multiple areas and flank the Commander's team with ease due to the variety of paths. Swarming husks are particularly tough to deal with and forces the player to continue to move around the environment rather than sitting behind a single barrier to shoot.
Character design is incredibly detailed and looks fantastic in high definition. You may notice occasional moments of slowdown when moving around certain planets through. It's just noticeable enough to be annoying from time to time. Planet surfaces are extremely lifelike and color schemes paint a vivid picture of each specific homeworld. The Normandy looks updated as well down to the last fish swimming in the aquarium in the Commander's quarters.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Once again, the stellar voice acting steals the show. Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale's performances as the male and female Commander Shepard is absolutely fantastic, however Hale may even be a notch above when pursuing the Renegade story choices. Other standouts include Keith David as Admiral Anderson, Tricia Helfer as the emotionless A.I. EDI, Martin Sheen as the notoriously evil Illusive Man, Carrie-Anne Moss as Aria and Seth Green as Joker.
Bioware does an excellent job using climactic swells in the music to swing the emotional feeling of tense combat or the quieter cutscenes on the various planets within the game. Sound effects are on par with previous games and there's nothing particularly out of place that we could hear within the Mass Effect universe.
One of the great things about the Mass Effect games is that your decisions have consequences. Mass Effect 2 had several endings based on a whole host of choices you make throughout the game. Bioware boasts that Mass Effect 3 has seventeen different endings, which is true if by "different" they mean "99% the same with 1% of minute, insignificant differences." Without going into further detail, let's just say that Bioware has really dropped the ball and that for a series whose entire modus operandi is based on choice, the game does nothing to reward you for these choices. This really puts a damper on the replay factor, as there's now no motivation to play again, especially since on the whole the game isn't as strong as its predecessor. The multiplayer also gets old after a few rounds, as there's no variation in play modes.
Mass Effect 3 should have been a triumph. Everything was in place, all Bioware had to do was plug in some good gameplay and appropriately epic cinematics and the job was done. In some ways, the game pulls it off, especially in the emotion department. Any game that can tug on my heartstrings without being cloying or overly sentimental is worth playing. When the game goes for broke, there's little that can match it. On this level, Mass Effect 3 is a success. But a series of cynical cash-grabs on EA's part waters down the excitement, especially since you can't get the game's best ending or all the achievements without making a deal with the devil, and that's a real turn-off. Whether or not you feel it's worth putting up with EA's chicanery depends on how badly you want to see the Mass Effect story completed.
Opposite from Dan, I really enjoyed the first Mass Effect. I also loved how the stories intertwine between the games and how some of the life or death decisions altered the cutscenes and playable characters within Mass Effect 3. When it comes to weaving intricate stories, Bioware's grasp on character development over the last three games is exceptional. I can see why someone would want to play the game over again to experience stories from characters that weren't included in a previous playthrough.
However, like many others, I have a serious problem with how the game is wrapped up. The three main choices at the end of Mass Effect 3 don't create dramatically different outcomes and the player doesn't get to see the outcome of the choice on a galactic scale. Even a slideshow with voiceover recaping the journey in Fallout form would have been appreciated. In addition, the brief 10-second cutscene that's tacked on if you have the galaxy near 100 percent readiness before the final battle is a poor incentive to play multiplayer. It's as if Bioware simply ran out of development time and gave up on completing the story.
If anything, the entire journey is extremely cheapened by Bioware's choice to end the story this way. If you have played all three games, it's the real-world equivalent of climbing to the top of Mt. Everest only to find a scenic view of a garbage landfill. In different colors, of course.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- Online Co-op
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