MASS EFFECT 3 concludes one of the generation’s most talked-about videogame epics. How have BioWare balanced action with roleplaying? How does the multiplayer work? And does it live up to its astonishing predecessor? Read on and all will be revealed…
All life is fragile. Earth may be under attack from the Reapers, but the rest of the galaxy is also in turmoil. Mass Effect 3 is an emotional ride. It’s been a long time since a game has made your goals seem so lofty.
The action starts on Earth. As Shepard, you’ve been placed under house arrest and removed from active duty. With prior warnings about the Reapers ignored, you’re is known better as a traitor for working with the enemy than as a two-time galaxy saviour.
Of course, there are those who recognise the good work you’ve done, and remain loyal. But you’ve also made enemies and, more than ever, you’re at their mercy.
However, when the Reaper threat turns out to be very real – families screaming and running for cover, Alliance military killed in cold blood and famous landmarks obliterated unmercifully – the Council recognises the need for you once more. You know more about the Reapers than anyone, and might be the only person who can stop them. It’d be a tough task for anyone: thousands of Reapers have come to wipe out all civilisations, preparing to start the universe anew.
Mass Effect 3 is a political masterpiece that encourages unity, inspires thought and thrusts you into one action-packed set-piece after another. Naturally it helps a great deal if you’ve played the first two games – you’ll have already learned so much about the races and rivalries in the series. But Mass Effect 3 still stands proudly as its own entity.
It’s when importing a save game, though, that Mass Effect 3 truly comes to life. Here you’ll learn just how important your earlier decisions were, and how much they directly impact the ongoing events in this epic conclusion.
You’ll also become painfully aware of the finality of death. Any crew members you may have lost in the previous games will stay gone. Later in the game there’s a plaque listing every dead squadmate and crew member who’s served with you over the series. No game has never made me feel so guilty about my previous indiscretions. The fragility of life.
It’s not just death that Mass Effect 3 focuses on, however. For those characters who remained, you’ll see that their lives have been changed immeasurably since encountering Shepard. The evolution of the likes of Liara is enormous. From her early obsessions with the Protheans, to tracking down the Shadow Broker, to now, Liara has lived a full life under your watchful eye.
It’s like being a proud parent. I’ve crafted her via my decisions, I’ve explored her strengths, and I’ve helped shape her identity. It’s quite the thing to see how much your actions have affected your companions in this story.
The way your unique previous tales intersect with this new one is mindblowing, yet it’s something BioWare have achieved effortlessly. From every Earth-shattering decision, to the slightest, most subtle detail, Mass Effect 3 treats what came before as important.
With the game so focused on war, Mass Effect 3 has had to readjust its focus on combat. Once again, there’s a marked improvement in the way everything handles – it’s more reminiscent of Gears of War, although lacking the fluidity of Epic’s crown-jewel. Utilising biotics is as important as ever: Overload to destroy shields, Singularity to send enemies spinning into the air, making them easy targets for your bullets.
No longer will your character’s head pop out of cover just because you turned the camera. No more do characters occasionally stand out in the open thinking they can absorb a casket full of bullets. Shepard can also roll in and out of cover with greater ease, leap over low platforms in a single bound, and switch positions with a quick button press.
Even the weapons feel more physical and effective in the field, and the addition of the Omni-blade – allowing you to impale your enemies up close – is a fantastic one. Mass Effect 3 is tailor-made for the carnage of crushing the galaxy. At least in terms of action, it’s a drastic, much-needed evolution for the series.
That’s to be expected, though. The biggest surprise is perhaps the Kinect support, in which you command your squadmates via voice recognition by calling out their first name, then telling them which power to use, or weapon to equip to attack their target. It works flawlessly, allowing the combat space to breath without the need for regular pausing. It’s an unobtrusive use of Microsoft’s motion control system, and that’s to its immense benefit.
In a change to the series’ much-discussed roleplaying elements, the points and rank system has been replaced by a small talent tree for each power. After getting past rank three, powers are split into two sections, which you alternate between, customising them how you see fit. It’s not going to be enough to appease those who demanded a more stat-focused RPG, though. For all the talk of a renewed focus on roleplaying, Mass Effect 3’s feels sadly limited.
There’s also Galaxy at War, of course – Mass Effect 3’s new co-op mode – and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Bonuses and elements you’ve collected online sync up with the singeplayer campaign, during which Shepard receives regular updates as to the galaxy’s readiness for war, the updates tracking every race and planet. Some of these people are recruited by Shepard; others have been inspired by his sentiments.
Online it plays a bit like a horde mode with teams of four, but with set objectives in-between missions – downloading key intel, protecting a piece of technology, and suchlike. By wave ten, a final stand-off that brings to mind Left 4 Dead, you’ll be extracting on an incoming ship while fighting for your life.
Whether Galaxy at War will have any staying power beyond initial curiosity remains to be seen, but for now it’s a fun diversion, and proof that there are perfectly good ways to incorporate multiplayer components into an existing singleplayer experience.
The good news is that Mass Effect 3 is a fabulous conclusion: an epic finale which brings closure to one of the most epic tales in videogame history. Many have worried that BioWare would lose sight of what’s important. They haven’t. In fact, they’ve given the series a thicker skin, and a firmer backbone.