Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rating Guide: How I Review Games
Written by: Jeffrey Strike aka Deadly Cyclone
“I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite…” oh, forget it. By now you all know the drill. Commander Shepard is the savior of all that is good (or renegade) in the galaxy and it is now time for him to face the ultimate test, a full-on Reaper invasion of the known universe. Are you up to the task?
In Mass Effect 3 Bioware sets out to create the ultimate sci-fi, fantasy, space opera, epic RPG all in one cohesive living (and dying) universe. From my time with the game I would say they mostly succeeded. The game looks great, the acting is superb, and the gunplay is tighter than ever all while maintaining most of the RPG undertones the series began with (and even some the franchise lost in part two of Shepard’s story). Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here though, there is a lot to talk about in regards to the end of this massive trilogy; both good and bad.
Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay. Everyone loves gameplay. It is both the most needed and most difficult aspect of any game, and the thing that defines the word “game” in terms of interactive entertainment. Mass Effect’s gameplay has always been the subject of debate among fans and critics alike. On one end of the spectrum are those who feel any step the gameplay of the series takes toward better feeling shooting and action, is a step away from the traditional RPG roots. Directly opposite are those who believe that a game with any shooting must have good shooting first and foremost, with other gameplay systems formed around that mechanic. Place me somewhere in the middle; more towards the solid shooting mechanics end. My personal beliefs are such that a game should own the mechanics it presents, not excuse bad gunplay because it is an RPG or vise-versa.
Mass Effect 1 was an RPG first and foremost. The shooting felt serviceable at best, and it was clear that Bioware wanted the story and dialogue as the primary driving mechanic to the game as a whole. Mass Effect 2 began to blur the lines of RPG and shooter, creating a solid playing game but removing some of the deeper RPG mechanics people loved about the first game. Mass Effect 3 feels like the culmination of all feedback Bioware had received about combat and RPG elements. While not quite as quick and precise as other third person shooters like Gears of War or Ghost Recon, Mass Effect 3 will make you feel at home in the way it plays during combat. I found myself dropping enemies with much more precision and accuracy than in previous entries, and being able to move out of the way of enemy fire with much more grace and control. Needless to say, if you liked Mass Effect prior to 3 but felt the shooting and moving could use some work, Mass Effect 3 is for you.
The only negatives to the combat that I experienced were things that crop up in a lot of cover-based shooters. I found myself occasionally getting “hooked” on a wall when I was trying to sprint by it, or just feeling a bit clumsy when trying to sprint long distances in general. This presented itself in a frustrating way in one of the latter scenarios in the game during which I was tasked to guard a set of missile-holding vehicles. The game prompted me to press “A” on the control panel to launch while being fired on by practically every enemy I had faced up until that point. As I sprinted past a Banshee and jammed hard on the A button I took cover (twice) instead of activating the console, which lead to my death causing me to repeat one of the most unnecessarily hard segments of a not necessarily hard game. Overall the combat and movement mechanics are leagues better than Mass Effect 1 and quite a bit better than 2 even but could still use some tweaking to pull me completely on board.
As a not so subtle transition, even though the combat and movement mechanics are vastly updated in Mass Effect 3, the RPG mechanics are still alive and well. One major complaint with Mass Effect 2 was that Bioware sacrificed too much of the customization and RPG feel of the game to work in better gameplay. They have taken this issue and resolved it well. Mass Effect 3 brings back certain options like gun customization and adds back a deeper skill tree that involves multiple paths you can choose per skill.
The weapon customization is as deep as it needs to be in this kind of game; Bioware has added “slots” to each weapon in which you can add things like scopes, extended magazines, barrel enhancers, etc. You find these parts on missions or purchase them from various stores on the Citadel.
The added depth brings back the feeling of making a weapon your own, even though there are only a few slots to equip parts in. I would have liked to see the weapon customization “screen” (called the workbench) be a bit better at telling you which piece is better and how weapons stack up to one another, but it didn’t cause me too much pain. The armor customization fits in here too. Shepard’s main N7 armor has a bunch of different pieces that give bonuses to various traits like health, biotic power cooldown, damage, etc. I love the armor customization in the game but wish it applied to the other armor sets you can buy at the stores in the Citadel.
Leveling has also seen some addition of depth in Mass Effect 3. In 2 you could only assign points to a handful of skills (both active and passive) and that was that. In Mass Effect 3 you still assign points to skills, but on a deeper level. Each skill has a pronged tree of sorts that allows you to add points up to a certain skill level, then decide between a split in the “tree” for the next upgrades. Take Incinerate for example. Each time you add a point to it a certain aspect of the power increases. Things like cool down time or damage change when a point is added. Eventually you reach a split in the tree; at this point you can choose one of two options. The top pick may be more damage, while the bottom pick may be a greater area of effect. The system could be a bit deeper, but I like how it works. It gives players a bit more choice in how they want that power to work, and for what purpose.
Let’s talk story and story-based gameplay. After all, the story and relationships are the primary reason most people love this franchise. I won’t go deep into end game spoiler talk here, but I may hit some basic story points that may be a bit spoiler-y so be warned. If you have read any game news or forum at all since the game launched you’ll see that many people are upset with how Mass Effect 3 ends. I am not as upset as most of this horde, but before talking about that let’s start at the beginning of the story, after all the journey is what Mass Effect is all about.
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