This year’s behemoth of a game, another end to a trilogy that also started in this generation, is finally here; if there’s a more widely anticipated game coming this year, I’m not aware of it. Many familiar faces return, some just for cameo appearances, others for something more substantial, but it’ll be a short reunion, as the singular theme that runs throughout is that this is a bleak, do-or-die, last ditch effort finale.
The Reapers have arrived, there are lots of them, and they’re not messing around. If you’re just joining the Mass Effect show (firstly, go pick up Mass Effect 2, it’s fantastic, maybe even Mass Effect 1), the Reapers are an advanced machine race who wipe out all advanced life in the universe every 50,000 years or so. Commander Shepherd, the protagonist, has managed to put off the early arrival of them for the last two games, but they won’t be denied this time, and Earth is the first to fall.
From the outset, Shepherd is on Earth, having turned himself in to the Alliance forces after his stint with Cerberus to stop the Collectors. Caught in a weird limbo between being a celebrated hero and being dishonourably discharged for being AWOL and consorting with known terrorists, Shepherd is locked up, but when the seat of power gets too hot because of an enormous invasion force, Shepherd is sent spaceward, to find as many allies as possible, to combat the menace.
The premise is straight forward enough, and there’s a good sense of bleak desperation permeating the world this time around. Occasionally the activities you find yourself doing may seem at odds with the urgency of the situation, rather like stopping for a snack when you’re an hour late for work, as Shepherd catches up with some old friends or finds some relics for some merchant, but it’s probably just as well, given how crushingly depressing a galactic crisis of this magnitude would be without some relief peppering it.
The action is pretty solid, though I wouldn’t call it ‘best in class’ any more, but playing it right after Syndicate will probably leave most games lacking more than a little. There’s more depth of customisability now, not just with you powers and how they’re upgraded, but with weapons and how they’re upgraded, and how your selection interacts with your powers, as the amount of weaponry weighing you down will now negatively impact your cooldown time for powers recharging. A lot of the same mechanics from ME2 return, health, shields, armour, biotic barriers, and the various ammo types and attacks which will be effective or ineffective accordingly. New enemies enter the fray, though, with Cerberus guardians which carry heavily armoured shields in front of them, large heavy units that you’ll want to keep at a distance and some other nasty additions to compliment them. Subtle changes, like the cranial explosion that you can get with the perfect headshots now, have been made throughout the combat, but there’s a much larger and ambitious addition to the action that is actually surprisingly great. Multiplayer
Mass Effect 3 now features four player online coop, with waves of enemies to take out. In amongst every few waves, an objective may be laid out to discourage players from simply playing it safe, if they want to rack up the points. Not that the AI and enemy’s capabilities are so feeble as to make cheap play an easy, lazy option. Enemies will lay down smoke screens, snipe, send in heavy units, and even have sneaky wretched enemies to rush in and melee you if you’re not careful. The progression works via a kind of ‘card’ system, packs of which can be purchased with earned points, or real money. These cards unlock weapons, one time use items, modifications, and class-race combos. It’s considerably expansive and has the entertainment value of many, many hours.
One of the most exciting features of the whole Mass Effect series, is the ability to import your previous game’s save file and carry on with the outcome from that game affecting the new one. Mass Effect 2 had a lot of ways for your companions to no make it, and ME1 had some rather integral plot points which will continue to hold. If someone died on the suicide mission in ME2, it likely doesn’t lock content out from you experiencing it in #3, but it will make for a less memorable sequence when they’re not in it. There’s a quite a few joyful reunions and more than a typical games worth of heart-wrenching circumstances which I dare not elaborate on further.
Without delving into the controversy surrounding the outrage over the ending, I will say that I found it to be adequate. It was always going to be a bittersweet moment at best, testament to the craftsmanship that went into creating the Mass Effect universe, and particularly the characters within, it’s difficult, too difficult, to say goodbye.
The (Brief) Bottom Line: It’s a predictably fantastic experience. It’s a must for fans, and enough of a reason to badger non-fans to start playing from Mass Effect 1.