Mass Effect 3 – Video Game Review
By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja
Five years. That is how long I have been anticipating the release of Mass Effect 3. Since the first game was released and Bioware promised that the series would be a trilogy of games where your choices in the games would carry over to an epic conclusion. Well, that time has arrived, and gamers have already played to the conclusion of the Mass Effect series for a few weeks now. I beat it earlier about two weeks ago, but my love for the series and the almost impossible to describe sadness in the ending has made it hard to put my experience into a review.
After two games of dealing with their minions, the Reapers have arrived from beyond our galaxy and have laid siege to Earth. Our hero, Commander Shepard, is given command of the Normandy and one assignment: gather as many allies as he can and destroy the Reapers once and for all before all life in the galaxy is exterminated. To do this, he must resolve conflicts that are centuries old, save planetary leaders, and deal with the Illusive Man and his pro-human organization Cerberus, who are working their own agenda that could destroy everything you have worked for.
Despite my incredibly strong feelings for the ending, there are still so many things that this game does such an amazing job on that it makes what is wrong with it seem not so terrible. The graphics have not been the best of any video game series, but they have been cleaned up for the last game and look better than the other games in the series. There are a couple of bugs and glitches but nothing that is completely game-killing. The first game was more RPG and the second was geared more towards action, but the third has found the best possible balance between the worlds. The third person shooter aspect features more intense fights, a refined control scheme to make movement in the fight seem more graceful which keeps the player one step ahead of their foes, and weapons that all have their own strengths and weaknesses that suit whatever play style that the variety of gamers have.
One of the biggest improvements that the developers have made is creating a new set of challenging enemies. You have your standard enemies like the Geth and Husks, but now there are Brutes and Banshees, who will charge you no matter where you are and have the ability to kill you in a single hit. These new enemies present a real challenge that hasn’t always been the strongest part of the game, but the developers have truly improved on that section while also bringing back more RPG elements. Weapon customization from the first game is back with an easier to manage interface and visible weapon improvement. The level-up system also gets an overhaul, which it desperately needed. The branching skill trees allow for differentiated playing styles and different upgrades; the upgrades aren’t as noticeable but the system is a vast improvement over what was in Mass Effect 2.
The part that Mass Effect 3 does an insanely good job of doing for most of the game is the story and making the universe they created come to life. The third game is all about the entire galaxy being at war, and Bioware has done a great job of conveying this sense of hopeless conflict across the galaxy. The Reapers start at Earth, but expand from there to all points in the galaxy. Seeing your map filled with systems that are being occupied, trying to complete exploration missions behind enemy lines before you are discovered and killed, watching the homeworlds of your allies being destroyed, and every news broadcast or random conversation you hear contributes to this sprawling world that is in the middle of the war to end all wars and the player is completely immersed in the whole thing.
For the most part, the story of Mass Effect 3 is just as great as players have been anticipating for the past five years. Most of the choices you have made in the past come back to either benefit you or hinder you; although some feel like they don’t make a huge difference. So many big events that have been built up over the trilogy come together perfectly and are built up to epic level that they deserve to be at. The characters that fans have played with for the past games in the series all have their moment to shine and feel like they are all having their story wrapped up for the most part.
The multiplayer is an addition to the franchise that doesn’t seem like it should be a part of the series, but it is a fun addition even if it’s not the most innovative. It is a simple horde type of gameplay with 10 rounds and three levels of difficulty. It is a fun distraction to break up the single player experience and add to it by maximizing the effectiveness of your war assets. The war assets system is kind of hit and miss; it serves of a good indicator of what is needed to get the best ending and a way of reflecting the cost of the war and the consequences of the decisions you have to make. It misses the mark though when you see the endings.
So now we come to the worst part of not only the game, but also the entire trilogy. After all, we have gone through the entire trilogy of games, all the choices we have made, and assembling the largest armada in the history of the galaxy; we get three endings that are essentially the same and don’t take into account all that we have done. Not only do they wrap up in pretty much the same way for all three endings, they destroy everything that was great about the series’ mythology. The best thing about the Reapers is the fact that they are these creatures of unknown origin whose intentions are only hinted at but never fully understood.
If Bioware wanted to give us the full origin story of the Reapers, then the best way could have been to trickle out important info over the course of the game with the final reveal in the end and avoid any and all godlike beings being used as a cheap storytelling shortcut that is completely out of place in the Mass Effect universe. Bioware decided to introduce all the wrong things for the ending, [SPOILER ALERT] including a godlike being/AI in the form of a friggin ghost child, and they not only make little sense, they also ignore some important parts in the logic of the Mass Effect universe and the ending feels so rushed that some gaping plot holes appear (and as others have mentioned, the similarities to the original Deus Ex endings is pretty striking).
There are two grievous errors that happen with the ending. The first is the fact that all three endings are the same with some exception in terms of color and how some slightly different cinematics depending on your assets and final choice. I can understand limiting the ending to a degree because as much as the game has been about player choice there is still a narrative that has to be fulfilled. The problem is the narrative is rushed, falls apart in the end, and all the choices the player has made over the past three games makes no difference apart from the supposedly “best ending” where the only difference is the color is green is used instead of red or blue.
The second flaw is that Bioware forgot that the appeal of the series is not only your Shepard, it is the other members of your squad or allies who have been with you all along and how your actions have affected them. I want to know how Tali, who has grown from lone Quarian on her pilgrimage to a leader of her people, or Wrex, a mercenary from a dying people to a leader of a race who are thriving once again, will handle this new future and how my actions will shape their future. The lack of true closure for the universe and the characters that inhabit it is just another indication of how terrible the ending is.
Some reviewers have said that everything that came before the ending makes the whole experience worth it, but this is where I vehemently disagree. This is a franchise that has built itself up to landmark status because of its ability to integrate player choice, its story, and the incredible universe they create that fans want to spend hours upon hours in. The final 10 minutes pretty much destroys everything that the franchise built and all that made it wonderful. I am angry at Bioware for the ending because they have done amazing work with the franchise and up to this point have knocked it out of the park, even with the licensed material (the tie-in novel, Mass Effect 3: Deception being the exception).
The creators of the franchise have proven they can craft a compelling narrative and that makes the final result such a disappointment. I have heard rumors that Bioware changed the ending because of leaked spoilers or EA got involved in the creative process which any gamer knows is an absolutely terrible idea or DLC to fix the ending. But those are rumors I’ll touch on later, I have to judge the game on what it’s in front of me and I am disappointed by the end result.
I wanted to believe that this ending was fine, that it was just a weak ending but didn’t kill the game’s replay value. I took a break and when I went back to play again, I didn’t feel that rush of excitement to see how my different choices would affect the game or handle my characters in a new way, I felt nothing that I felt for the past games, and I know that there are other fans of the series that felt the same way.
Five years of waiting and this is what we got.
Front page images and screenshots courtesy of Electronic Arts.