The Mass Effect series has spanned over five years of epic, science fiction storytelling. Aside from the three main games, there’s been DLC episodes, novel tie-ins and even comics released; it’s a rich universe that even now still feels barely explored. Mass Effect 3, the apparent final game in the trilogy, continues the story of Commander Shepard and the battle between the various galactic civilisations and the life-destroying Reapers.
The game does open poorly, with a rather mawkish set-piece involving a too-cute kid who dies when a fleeing shuttle is shot down during the Reaper invasion of Earth, and the opening missions are very much meant to teach you more about the game’s controls and mechanics than rush you into the story. It’s necessary, too, as with each new game BioWare’s tweaked the formula, and ME3 is definitely more focused on action shooting than previous titles. The cover and sprint mechanics in particular take some getting used to, and are in fact the weakest part of the Mass Effect 3 experience this time around.
A good story
It’s a good thing, then, that you can choose to drop the combat difficulty to almost zero and just play a narrative version. Similarly, if you hate all the annoying talking – and really, why are you even playing Mass Effect if that’s the case? – you can focus on the combat.
However, Mass Effect 3 is really at its best when the whole experience is balanced, and if the start of the game is weak, after an hour or two you’ll be totally hooked on the struggle to defeat the Reapers. The real beauty of the game is just how many layers there are to it; sure, you’ve got the now classic mix of shooter and roleplaying game, with all the nuance that BioWare’s become known for in that sphere, but this game’s about fighting a war. To win it, you need to gather the biggest fighting force ever known; each successful mission will add to your War Assets, as you recruit new units and races, rescue scientists to work a super weapon program, or even just scanning planets for raw materials.
Watching your War Assets increase is oddly satisfying, and even simple choices in the game can have impact here. In one instance, a media interview you take part in about the ongoing conflict can actually improve the morale of one of your fighting units; good PR is actually important! Similarly, the game now includes a co-op multiplayer mode; this is fun in and of itself, but success in these spec-ops style missions, where you can play and level a whole new character, feeds back into your singleplayer experience. You don’t have to do the co-op missions, but they will certainly make things easier in the main game.
But it’s the core RPG part of the game that is most satisfying part of Mass Effect 3, and easily the most cleverly designed. The dialogue is all voiced, and while some of the voice cast do seem a little overworked by the reams of lines they would have had to master to cover all possible combinations of character death, party composition, and player choices, it’s still some of the best acting you’ll find in a video game. Backed up by great plot arcs and missions, and some truly hard decisions, it’s hard to think of a more immersive game. And given the range of endings and NPC deaths that could happen in Mass Effect 2, that BioWare’s managed to make Mass Effect 3 so seamless is nothing short of miraculous.
Of course, Mass Effect 3 must end, and it must be said that BioWare’s choices in how this plays out, while brave, have not been well-received. There’s such an almost jarring shift of tone that it’s easy to think you’ve discovered the conclusion to another game; it’s a suitably epic ending, but not, perhaps, the one most players were expecting. Still, it’s an essential game, and one that must rank highly in the great RPGs of all time, despite its flaws.