Mass Effect 3 released last week, after a much anticipated development phase, to almost instant success with nearly a million copies sold in one day in the U.S. alone, and nearly 4 million overall worldwide to date. Despite controversy surrounding the decision to release Day 1 DLC, and the disappointment of some fans regarding the ending, this game is well worth the wait, and the cost you put into it.
Have you played Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2 yet? If not, you are surely missing out. True, this story stands on its own, but I found that decisions made in the previous two games affected various outcomes and themes in part three, as it should. But I was honestly surprised at HOW MUCH of these decisions came into play, and to what extent they affected the overall story. While I know it is simply a matter of transferring saves from one game to another, I have to say I was impressed. The integration of the old and new was nearly seamless. It’s hard to describe the story behind Mass Effect 3, simply because there are so many variables that can affect each person’s playthrough. Still, the main concepts are there. Commander Shepard, of Earth’s Alliance Forces, is on a crusade to stop an ancient powerful enemy from wiping out humanity and the rest of the advanced organic races in the universe. The Reapers came into play back in Mass Effect as an race of inteligent machines bent on wiping out advanced organic life in the universe every 50,000 years. That time is now, and the first two games have done nothing but stall them.
Events from Mass Effect 2 carry over into this sequel, so you may actually start somewhat differently depending on which choices were made, or which DLC you have played. Regardless, Shepard finds himself on Earth, relieved of command and under investigation due to his previous activities with the organization known as Cerebus. A force of unmatched size is inbound to Earth, and the folks in his chain of command are finally starting to believe Shepard’s claims, right about the time the Moon is attacked. Seconds later, the top Commanders in the Alliance are killed as the Reapers touch down, and begin attacking the planet. Shepard must escape Reaper forces, and make his way back to the Normandy.
From there, the game takes you on a trek across the Galaxy, brokering agreements between races for mutual support, and conducting specialized missions against both the Reapers and Cerebus, who seem to turn up at the most inconvenient times. In between all of this, Shepard must also recover war assets to help with the readiness of the force tasked with taking back Earth, and to help build a super weapon, which may end the Reaper menace once and for all. Previous characters resurface from time to time, and some even join the crew once again.
Spoilers? I can’t do it, not because I don’t want to, but simply put there are so many choices in this game, it would be nearly impossible to have the same playthrough between different people. Whom did you order to stay behind in the first Mass Effect? Who died in Mass Effect 2? Who do you allocate to complete tasks in this game? Each choice has a consequence, and they are as unique as they could possibly be. Some complain about the ending, but there are three possible outcomes, and those three outcomes are governed by previous choices. Was the Illusive Man right? Will the Reapers be destroyed once and for all? Will life transcend boundaries as they are known? Will it all happen?
Having played the previous two games, I can definitely see a progression in the quality of the graphics among all three. Mass Effect was rather jumpy at times with the characters suddenly shifting from one pose to something radically different. For the most part, that has been rectified here but not entirely, of course it would be impossible for the designer’s to predict every possible factor that would come into play during character interaction, so it is understandable. There are times that you can find yourself boxed in by several NPC’s who will not move. With no way to forcibly move them out of your way, you flop about until you reload a previous save, which can cause other problems, which are addressed a little later.
Despite these issues, the game’s graphics are remarkable, with stunning visualizations. Small details, such as a character actually blinking, or being able to see the lips move of non essential NPCs as they move about and converse with one another show an incredible amount of dedication. Some of the characters we are already familiar with look even better, it’s hard to find fault. Just keep your distance from those NPCs…
Whether it is the in game music score, the special effects or the voice acting, Bioware hit the 10 ring on this one. Certain editions of the game even come with the music as playable MP3 files, and it sounds pretty good. It’s almost like watching a movie, the score changes at appropriate times and actually gets you more involved, as opposed to being a nuisance or a distraction. The actors themselves return to lend their voice talent once again to the characters, with Lance Henriksen (the android Bishop from Aliens) as Admiral Hackett, along with Martin Sheen, Jennifer Hale, Keith David, Michael Beattie, Mark Meer and various others all teaming up to create what is really a masterpiece of work.
Mass Effect 3 includes many of the elements that were found in the previous two games. The interior of the Normandy has overgone a bit of an overhaul, but will still be familiar, while the concepts of space travel and spending money for fuel remain in place. Gone is the migraine inducing hacking mini games, which were necessary in order to advance in some cases during Mass Effect 2, as well as having to scan each and every planet for resources. That doesn’t mean you won’t be scavenging however, as various systems house War Assets necessary to build up your overall military strength, expressed as a Readiness Rating in percentile. You’re overall strength is increased by acquiring these assets and completing missions, and then modified by the rating. The math is simple, but not necessary for you to know, and beyond pushing you a little harder in various areas, is unclear how it would impact the game play.
Playing the multiplayer Co-Op affects your Readiness by adding to the percentile based on your performance. It does offer a little incentive to get out there and do a bit, but largely unnecessary, as it is reported you can play the entire single player campaign without it. It can be fun as you increase your character’s abilities, much as you do in the single player, but in the end, you are running around the same environments you’ve already visited as Shepard, shooting AI bots with a few other players. The multiplayer lobby is a complete waste of time, since one person not hitting the space bar to ready up can hold the entire game back, or if the hosting player just decides to spontaneously leave for whatever reason, you lose everything.It’s a nice distraction, but I only played it long enough to get my readiness rating about 90% and then put it down.
One thing to bear is mind is you have to explore a bit. Weapons upgrades, credits and other items are sprinkled liberally across the game world, but are not always in plain view. Likewise, taking the time to walk around areas like the Citadel, help to unlock other missions, which contribute to the overall readiness of the fleets. These side missions are often little more than travelling to a system and scanning the area for possible anomalies, but can lead to fun when you are trying to outmaneuver five Reaper Dreadnoughts chasing you down. HINT: If you make it to the edge of the map, you actually escape the Reapers; you can then reenter the system immediately. Each time you reenter the system, it will be at a random location, eventually you will be within a reasonable distance to your goal and far enough to get to it before Reapers can get to you.
The only real headache I noticed was in the Single Player storyline, and has only been reported on the PC. For some reason the save file can become corrupted at random times; when resuming from an autosave or when reloading a previous save to redo an event, you can lose everything. By that I mean, no fuel in the Normandy, no credits to buy fuel, and no character abilities whatsoever when you try to rank up. Another issue was the game crashing during IM chat windows that would pop up on a separate monitor. Even though the pop up was on a completely different monitor, the whole game would crash, requiring me to use the Task Manager to manually kill it. Not only did I lose what I was doing at the time, but I also had the corrupted save file when reloading. This caused me to have to revert to previous saves, sometimes taking more than two hours to complete a thirty minute sequence. This problem happened when getting boxed in with other NPCs as I mentioned in the Graphics section, and nearly caused me to put the game down altogether. I haven’t heard of these issues affecting the console versions of the game, but other PC players have reported the same thing.
Like many role-playing games, Mass Effect 3 has a large number of alternatives and actions to choose from. You could conceivably play this game all the way through multiple times, and have a unique experience each time. Even the ending, where one of three choices affect the outcome of the game, makes you want to reload that last save and see it through again. Various interactions in the story hint to possible DLC in the near future, something that Bioware has always been good about.
All told, my total playtime was about 40 hours, and I still only saw two of the possible three endings. Different possible outcomes tempt me to go back to the very first title and play differently, just to see how this one would turn out.
Mass Effect 3 will set you back about $60 USD for the standard edition and $80 for the N7 Digital Deluxe. The N7 comes with the soundtrack I mentioned earlier, along with some artwork, a digital poster that would look good on your wall, but will just sit in your documents folder, the From Ashes DLC (which costs about 10 bucks if bought separately), and a digital art collection that gives some insight and background behind some of the character concepts.
The standard edition is the better deal, with just buying the DLC separately. All the other stuff is just useless hard drive space. You might load up the soundtrack onto your MP3 player, but you probably won’t. Skimming through the artwork is interesting but has no bearing on your experience. Still, when you consider that you’ll be spending thirty plus hours just to complete one playthrough, coughing up 80 bucks is not unreasonable, plus you might get a little more out of the multiplayer.
Longtime fans of the Mass Effect series will not be disappointed, and those new to the series will have a reason to go back and try the previous two. The level of quality and work that has gone into this title rival that of a big Hollywood release, and the story is one of the greatest I have seen. Multiple endings and outcomes guarantee that each of us will have unique playthroughs, while the choices at the end hint at even greater projects down the road.