After completing Mass Effect 3 a total of four times on two platforms, countless hours of multiplayer, and numerous podcasts covering the story and controversies around it, I still don’t know if I’m ready to talk about the game. My career with Mass Effect as a series has meant completion of every game on both Xbox 360 and again on PS3, reading comic books and novels, and pulling everyone I could into the series with me. There is deep emotional attachment that I have to the characters and the world mythology, more than any other game, and more than most book series, so saying good bye to my crew, my friends, was difficult. Writing a review about the end of this journey is eerily similar to writing a eulogy. In the end, that’s really all you need to know about Mass Effect 3. It has managed to create such an emotional resonance that we are discussing the end as if we lost a loved one. There are precious few entries into any medium that can claim that type of personal involvement, and while nowhere near perfect, Bioware set out with a goal in mind, and brought it to stunning fruition that people will strive to recreate for decades.
Mass Effect 3 will be a vastly different experience for each person, entirely predicated on your choices in the first two volumes. When reading reviews or discussing the outcomes with people, conversations quickly become disjointed and divergent, ending up with something no one understands. This is a double edged sword. While Bioware followed through with their promise to carry choices from all three games through, those choices can often backfire, and for PS3 players, understanding the gravitas behind certain events will be completely lost. The comic book featured at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 only told the story; it didn’t provide the context and resonance necessary for many of Mass Effect 3’s conclusions. That doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, just be warned.
Despite the vast gulfs between players’ stories, there is a lot of the experience that will remain the same. The third-person action that was such a leap from the first game to the second is further improved here. Part of the surprise in the multi player portion is just how well Mass Effect now translates as a shooter. Taking out the RPG elements, the massive story and responsibility of galactic salvation allows you to appreciate the depth of combat. Cover movement is improved, weapons have more diversity even before you modify them to fit your style, and the level designs allow for more verticality and strategy instead of being large, flat areas. Climbing ladders and hoping platforms isn’t always smooth, even annoying at times during the campaign, but when it works, there is a new thrill involved that gives the world more life and more vibrancy. There is a fever pitch that builds with combat now, and a level of escalation that mirrors galactic events, keeping you in the same frame of mind during action and story scenes. It is a small shift, one that took me a while to understand, but it makes a world of difference.
Improving game play to the point that it is in Mass Effect 3 seems to be an open hand to new players. It is no secret that EA wants to pull in new fans, especially the more casual gamers and fans of straight laced shooters. From a pure game play stand point, they succeeded. A fan of the third-person shooter genre could jump into multi player and have a blast. Even playing through the campaign in “Action” mode, which makes all decisions for you and speeds up the game to be primarily action, would be a treat. For most people though, this is the end. This is the wrap up to Shepard’s story. All the bells and whistles are just talking points. All that matters to most players is how the story ends, and how fulfilling the ending to their personal stories is.
From that perspective, Mass Effect is an absolute success. There is a storm of controversy over the game’s final 15 minutes, and while there are conversations to be had about it, people are missing the point. The closing moments of Mass Effect 3 aren’t the ending. In fact, Mass Effect 3 doesn’t really have an ending, it IS an ending. The 30 odd hour campaign is the ending of the series, not the last montage. Stories that have been percolating since you first stepped on Eden Prime 6 years ago are wrapped up, to varying degrees of success. Questions of relationships, species integration, territory disputes and concerns or loyalty are all addressed. Many of them are unpleasant, and no matter how Paragon or Renegade you try to be, you can’t have everything the way you want it. People will leave you, they will die, and they will betray you.
The most impressive part of Bioware’s simulation is how there is no perfect run. If you thought you were a bad ass for keeping everyone alive through Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission, then you’ll definitely pay the price in 3. Decisions you made in the first Mass Effect will decide the fate of you and your crew, with no way to back track or fix what you did. Just like in real life, you have to live with your past, and chances are you won’t like it. That is what resonates for days and weeks later. I have not gone a single day without lamenting what I chose to do so many years ago, or wondered how things would have turned out if I had chosen different paths, just like I have with my real life. It’s impossible not to wonder about individual conversations and how they could be different if you had picked this romance, or that one. I tried to make radically different choices each time through, and I still wonder about what could have been. There will be a mark left on you that won’t be easy to shake.
As an individual piece, Mass Effect 3 is a great shooter with a mostly compelling plot. However, with such an ambitious project, you have to look at it as a whole. Judging it on its own is a disservice to the achievements of the series as a whole, and ignores the incredible ambition. Much like judging a book by its cover, judging Mass Effect 3 by itself ignores everything that makes it a work of art. It is a masterpiece, one that will invoke the same strong feelings of love, hatred, disappointment and obsession that all works of art do. Even the cracks in its veneer make the experience more robust. The Mass Effect series can now be argued as the greatest video games series to date, and one that is paramount of every fan of the medium to experience. There is no experience like it out there, and there may not be ever again.
|Amazingly gripping, Phenomenal combat, Powerful story and ending to a beautiful series||The PS3 has countless graphical hiccups and freezes, The final few minutes will leave some people cold|