Mass Effect 3 is the most jaw-dropping experience that you will have in a video game. Yes, that is how I am starting out this review, and it is the truest most cliché thing that I can say. Players who have invested themselves in the Mass Effect series are going to get a huge payout for experiencing every twist and turn in this saga.
This series has set the standard for story telling in gaming, with beautiful cinematics, detailed animations, and deep yet understandable dialogue. This is the next level of integration between fans and story, if the Star Wars series was a set of games instead of movies, Mass Effect would be the result.
Mass Effect 3 starts out darker than the previous two titles. Earth is being invaded by the Reapers and you happen to be there after being grounded for your actions in the Mass Effect 2 “Arrival” DLC. This is the first chance the players have been on Earth in the series, and ironically enough the destruction occurring on the planet is beautiful.
After battling through an Earth that is being destroyed you escape to the Normandy. Your job is to gather as much as support as possible to fight back against the Reapers and give the galaxy a fighting a chance.
(NOTE: You should already know a great deal of the above information, and I assure you there will be no spoilers below, I value the story/players too much to ruin this experience.)
Gaining support is the equivalent to putting together a rag-tag crew in Mass Effect 2. I enjoyed putting that crew together in the previous title, but obviously things were sort of repetitive. This has changed for Mass Effect 3 and all sorts of things can earn you forces and support in the war. Things like befriending reporters, finding lost items others are looking for, choosing the right words in conversations, and of course going into battle are just some of the ways to start rallying support.
When I say “finding lost items” I am talking about probing planets. Bioware has done a great service in changing the material gathering that was the main objective when traveling the galaxy in Mass Effect 2. Now players get to experience a game of outer space Pacman. Players now will fly the Normandy around a solar system and can hit LT to do a scanning pulse around an area. This pulse has the ability to find hidden items on planets or just around the area. Things like fuel for your ship or something hidden on the planet are most common, and a quick probe of a planet will find you credits, tech, missing ships, or random items that people are missing.
There is a catch of course. Performing a scanning pulse will alert the Reapers of your presence, a loading bar will show up in the bottom left and if it fills up they will invade the solar system and chase you around in ships that look like tiny lobsters. To escape you simply must reach a mass relay or hit the edge of the solar system. If you do not escape you simply die. Obviously this is a little simpler than last game, but it is so much better when you are a completionist and find yourself OCD about probing every planet in the game.
Another change is the squad for Mass Effect 3. The last game gave you what felt like an endless supply of characters to bring with you into battle, this game gives you about four to choose from throughout. Without giving anything away, I wish that I was able to finish this fight with certain characters that just weren’t available…although they do make appearances in this game. It isn’t the worst decision to minimize your character armory, I am just being picky about who I would want to take into battle with me.
On top of that though, Bioware does a really great job at making me want to have sex with every person on my ship. I don’t know where they gain such great ability in creating new characters like the new…what I would call personal assistant that informs me on new e-mails and the like, but needless to say it took about two conversations to make me want to sex her up in the captain’s quarters. I have restrained myself thus far though, simply because I feel like if I sleep with every piece of ass on the ship it might give me a poor reputation in the end for being an intergalactic poon hound.
Sorry if that last part got a little steamy, Bioware forced my hand right off the start by making me decide to reject previous romances. I didn’t want to break hearts but come on, I am the first human spectre, get in line ladies.
In Mass Effect 3 you don’t have the luxury of visiting other planets for recreation like you could in the previous titles. Most wandering around takes place on your ship or the citadel, not a huge deal as you get to chat with people while you are on missions during brief pauses in battle. It just threw me off after the two previous games.
Luckily Bioware didn’t skimp on the dialogue even if you don’t have a lot of recreational settings to hang out in. The dialogue hasn’t changed a bit, you still have options to how you want to handle conversations and you can still learn more about the game world by “investigating”.
A cool bonus that is easily overlooked is the little conversations you will hear throughout. You can be walking around the citadel and overhear information and get a new quest or for more entertaining results you can keep hitting A to cause certain character to say some words of dialogue and can see everything they say (with most being hilarious as you keep going). For example there was a button I could press next to a Salarian and everytime I hit A he insisted that I stopped pressing the button. He would say things like, “Hey, don’t touch that”, “I told you to not touch that”, “please stop”, “do you humans not know what don’t touch means?”, and then finally will say, “You know what?! Touch it, I don’t care, you don’t know what it does anyways.”
The world is alive in this game and little things like that just pulled me deeper and deeper. I highly recommend surround sound or a gaming headset like TurtleBeach. I have worn them throughout and it has immersed me so much deeper. Whether it is hearing space ship and battlefield noises in conversations or hearing the dramatic soundtrack in parts, it is amazing. One of the very few titles that I really notice audio and can really appreciate it.
Time to get to the juicy parts now though, and that is the actual gameplay. The gameplay has become increasingly better with each installment and this one really takes the cake. With a slight increase in armor options that offer different boosts to stats, different aesthetics and most importantly weapon variety/customization you now get much needed depth to the combat.
You can find weapons throughout the world whether by purchasing them or finding them lying around on a mission. Trust me! Search high and low on missions because you can find some pretty incredible guns. Although the heavy weapons aspect has been greatly minimized in Mass Effect 3, they make up for it with quite the variety of weaponry in all other aspects.
Players now choose their weapon loadouts and can equip specific weapon types before battle but as an added catch the less you carry the faster your powers recharge and vice versa. I mostly used the sniper and with customization that allowed you to find gun parts/upgrade the overall weapon it became a one hit machine. Gun parts included damage upgrades, scope zoom increases, higher clip capacity, lighter weapon material, et cetera and really allowed players to fine tune their play style.
The sniper of course wasn’t enough in some instances, so I carried a pistol for extra measure. This wasn’t some ordinary pistol though, I found it on a mission and was intrigued by the design. This pistol had a high damage stat so I figured I would test it out. I added a pistol barrel that increased the damage even more and a scope for the pistol, and took my first shot. Imagine my surprise when a purple ball was on the Cerberus soldier’s head, and as I watched in confusion…his head suddenly explodes. Expletives left my mouth in excitement. That is just one of some very cool weapons that you have to experience on your own.
Fighting enemies is fun and killing them is even better. Taking cover and getting into gun fights is a blast, ripping heads off of enemies, throwing people in the air with your abilities, using ‘lift grenades’ that blow up and throw enemies across a room, and an improved melee system you CAN’T get bored of the fighting. Now you can even set yourself up on cover and if you are close enough to an enemy you can hold down B and perform a ‘quick-kill’ that goes into a cool animation.
Mass Effect also takes a page out of the Gears of War playbook making missions more fun and adding a wow factor. On a lot of missions you will experience unique actions that make them even more memorable. You can be using overpowered weapons that you have never dreamed of wielding, commanding pieces of technology that make you a killing machine, and other things that will have you murmur “no way…” to yourself.
To top all of this off and the most surprising part of this review will be my praise for Kinect. Players might not agree with me and we already know the implementation of Kinect delayed the release of this title, but Kinect works.
Kinect works and it works well. I would even go as far as to say that Bioware utilized the Kinect better than Microsoft has for voice commands. I didn’t really enjoy using it to open doors or choosing dialogue because it felt strange to me, but I did use it in combat all the time. At first I was skeptical so I tried it out and was impressed that my team never misheard an order, then when situations became intense I found myself shouting things like “Liara, stasis!” or “James, grenade!”, and it would get me out of sticky situations all the time. It was useful and made it so I didn’t have to constantly pause for a designated attack.
Keep an open-mind and try it out, I highly recommend it and you might surprise yourself at how good it feels to bark out orders while you are sprinting towards an enemy and you have a teammate grenade a group of enemies coming up on your right.
This gameplay works so well that the multiplayer is even more satisfying. It is amazing how this game has succeed in all aspects, the multiplayer is no exception. Players band together in a 4 player co-op mode that has you playing missions that are also available in single player.
You choose a male/female human character to start off with that you can customize and choose its class. Players then embark on these missions, leveling up and earning credits to buy special packs. These packs give you a bunch of random items and range in price (more expensive the chance of better equipment.) This is how you go about unlocking new weapons, customization options, weapon upgrades, new character races with different abilities. In true EA fashion you can also buy these packs with Microsoft points, the highest one cost only $2 but still.
You earn credits on missions by completing objectives that are present during the 3rd, 6th, and 10th wave. You can choose the difficulty of the mission for more experience and can also choose the enemy types you will be facing.
All of this can influence your single player game. When you are setting up the mission you are made aware of things like experience bonuses for setting it up certain ways, but also you are told that setting it up “this” way or doing a mission in “this” part of space give you a chance of increasing your galactic readiness by a certain percentage.
It is a pretty neat addition and not so huge that hardcore loners should rage about it. I don’t see anyone hating teaming up with three friends and combining powers and play styles to destroy enemies. Trust me, it is awesome to have a friend knock a shield out of a guardian’s hand and then ripping his head off with a sniper round.
Everything I have experienced in this game and series in-general makes me never want it to go away. We know that the Mass Effect world is not done with forever and there have been a wide variety of rumors, some of my favorites being an MMO. Only because I feel like the gameplay is strong enough to support a console MMO and that being in this universe with other players could be mind-blowing. I went even as far as putting together 5 features we would love to see in it.
Mass Effect will have you tangled up in its story, and its cut-scenes and cinematics will, as I said before “drop your jaw”. I found the loading a little tedious but even the loading screens had me impressed.
Do you know how every big AAA title has one cutscene that blows you away? Mass Effect has them littered throughout, from the very beginning to the very end, your inner voice will be repetitively saying, “Holy shit!”
This is a must buy, for all gamers. For those who have yet to experience Mass Effect at all, I highly recommend picking up the first two titles before you even touch this. I am not saying you need to, but you won’t regret watching decisions that you have made in the previous titles unfold.
A copy of Mass Effect 3 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for review by Bioware/Electronic Art.