Michael Black and Michael Graff
It has finally come: the conclusion to the mighty space-epic RPG, Mass Effect. The series has so far distinguished itself with fairly decent shooting mechanics, stellar storytelling, and a fantastically implemented plot; which sucks you in and truly makes you feel part of the action. Through your every decision, you distinguish who the main character, Commander Shepard, is and your decisions often have massive effects on the rest of the galaxy.
All puns aside, Mass Effects One and Two were fantastic. The themes of impending doom from an ancient evil were poignant despite their cliché roots. The fact that all the tantalizing interactions you had with aliens and humans alike in the previous games would be coming to a head in Mass Effect 3, was what kept fans so excited for this final installment. For the most part, Mass Effect 3 delivered. Improved combat mechanics, despite one button controlling all actions other than shooting and reloading, have turned Mass Effect from an RPG-first and a shooter after, to a game where the quality of the battles matches the quality of the narrative and the roleplaying. Each of the six combat classes are a blast to play and experiment with, as are the multitude of weapons both new and familiar. While the dialogue trees, with their Paragon/Renegade flavorings, may not be as exhaustive as they were in previous entries, there are still innumerable ways to role-play anything from a unifying icon, to a ruthless conqueror — thereby manipulating the story to your will.
There is one aspect of the game that hinders the roleplaying depth and diversity of Mass Effect 3 and that is the “Galaxy at War system.” Introducing an out-of-game percentage rating, based on the numerical value of the war assets you collect in the campaign, apply the same percentage to any and all play-thoughts you do. This hampers players looking to experience the full range of Mass Effect 3’s potential endings though multiple play-throughs; as the value of your war assets plays a critical role in determining how things play out with the Reapers.
The first 20 to 40 hours of the game shine bright: old romances are rekindled, the Ancient Reapers loom dark and menacing in the background, and your every action is a struggle for all life in the galaxy. One moment, you overhear a weapons technician reassuring his wife, as he is shipped out to battle, and within the next ten minutes you are presented with stopping the Reapers from ravaging the home world of one of your allies. Such the personal and grand scale events like these, make the war with the Reapers feel real, immediate, investing, and all-consuming. Tough choices are everywhere, and often you have to choose between two evils, all the while the ultimate fate of humanity resting on your shoulders.
All ends are tied up, as Shepard crosses the galaxy in search of allies, often finding them in old places. As alliances come together and Shepard plans to take back Earth, the forecast looks grim for Humanity; the massive and imposing Reapers look ready to shred all opposition down to atoms…
Without spoiling any elements of the story, let us simply say this: Mass Effect 3 is the best game in the series in every way, right up until the last 20 minutes. The grand and powerful story, full of challenges and decisions that feel wrought with consequences beyond measure, culminates in a poorly-written mush of a finally, that completely fails to fulfill the scope, scale or quality that the series had upheld for the last decade. It’s a disappointing end to a thoroughly powerful series, one that has angered fans and caused a fair amount of drama online, including a charity-driven petition, as well as foul-mouthed critics piling judgment on smarting fans.
Such a downer for the end of the game and the trilogy only comes after a disappointing number of missteps on the part the Makers, leading up to and at the time games launch. The “From Ashes DLC” contains content that is basically integral to the game’s universe and adds a great character and appreciable depth to the narrative. Charging for this content on launch day, when it has become apparent that the developers would have been able to include it for free with every basic retail copy, has left many gamers feeling cheated. Some of the series most devoted fans, ones who have made a custom face for their Commander Shepard in ME1, and kept that face through ME2, have encountered a maddening bug in ME3 that prevents their custom face being imported for the final part of the trilogy.
You could say that Mass Effect 3 is a paragon of a third-person shooter RPG. You could also say that the Developers went renegade when it came to delivering a fitting end to the series, one that should have catered to each player’s choices, given their emotional investment throughout the three ground-breaking games. While it was surly a disappointment, Mass Effect 3’s ending doesn’t make it a bad game overall, nor does it diminish the enormous satisfaction to be had from seeing how one person’s actions over the course of a whole trilogy, impacts a galaxy on both a personal and a cosmic level.