Version played: PC
Also available on: PS3 & Xbox
Time played by reviewer: 45 hours
There have been many defining moments in gaming history. Pong, Mario, Playstation, Xbox, the list goes on and the games and consoles that define a generation will get added to this as gaming moves on. To me, as those of you who have listened to our fortnightly podcast i’m sure will have already picked up, the Mass Effect series would be firmly attached to that list. I’m declaring my position now, so that you can appreciate my background and where my thoughts already lie on the previous iterations of this fantastic series. I’m not sure what it is that I love about these games, as i’ve said on more than one occasion, they are my generations Star Wars. Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars, but this is more relevant to me. I wasn’t around when the original Star Wars came out in the cinema, but have been fortunate enough to experience these games when they are still considered part of this generations must play gaming.
Right, where to start? How about the start… So earth is getting fucked up. There’s more eloquent ways of putting it but that’s what’s happening. Shepard, as always, is there. It’s six months forward from the ending of ME2 and in the first 30 minutes of the gameplay we learn about what Shepard has been up to. In this stunning opening sequence we also learn a few new gameplay tricks that have been added since we last visited the Normandy. They are integrated as if they have always been there and introduce you back into the controls at the same time without ever coming over as patronising. Once you’ve been reintroduced to some old characters the title screen pops up, you have a quick think, and you quickly come to realise you are playing something special, very special.
The overarching story is that you are travelling the galaxy on a unifying mission to recruit the various aliens and races to come together to fight against the ongoing Reaper invasion. As you play, you are forced to make many difficult, and I do mean difficult, decisions. Sorry Lee, but I mean more difficult than which woman for your Shepard to take to his quarters.
I have played the first two games as a renegade, something that I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. The problem I had with this in ME3 was that the game really made me feel responsible for my every decision and in some cases I had to walk away from the computer to reflect on my options. Something that no game has ever made me do before. There was genuine sadness with a number of the decisions that I made but I had to make them for the greater good. That’s what I told myself at least.
As the story progresses you bump into many of the old crew from the first two games and, depending on how your relationship was with them, will depend how they react to you. You won’t even get to meet some of them if they passed away in your version of ME2. Kasumi died in my ME2 and a passing mention of her was all I got in my story. I’m sure that in Lee, Phil or Al’s playthroughs she was featured more heavily, the save game carry over being one of the outstanding features of this series.
As always, there are many planets to visit, many many missions that you don’t even have to do if you don’t want. I’m a completionist. I made sure that I did, but that’s by the by. They label the missions that you have to carry out as “Priority” and ultimately there’s maybe 12 or 13 of these. There are many side missions to go along with these, they are often shorter than their Priority counterparts but expand the story and gain you useful equipment and experience. On top of this, to help you improve your galactic readiness, which is basically your army’s current strength, you can scan the various solar systems (whilst being chased by Reapers!) to discover war assets, fuel, technologies and useful items that will help persuade other races to fight with you, this will become very useful as you progress towards the end of the game. I thought that introducing the Reaper threat was a particularly good way of reducing the necessary planet scanning whilst still keeping it useful.
A particular favourite mission was called Rannoch: Geth Fighter Squadrons, which I have to say is definitely one of my favourite levels I have ever played in a game. There are many reasons for this but i’m at risk of spoiling the experience for you if I go into anymore detail.
The conclusion of the overall story has been subject to a lot of criticism which I will try to avoid discussing too much here, we’d be getting too heavily into spoiler territory, but it does definitely feel like it could have been better handled but that us all I will say here.
The AI in the game has certainly been improved from the second iteration and the numerous enemies that you fight throughout the campaign. The introduction in particular of the Riot Shielded Cerberus enemies and the Reaper Banshee’s can prove a challenge if you don’t coordinate and utilise your teams fighting strengths in a focused manner.
There is a lot to be said for the various characters that you meet and play with / against on your way through. The acting and character animation is cutting edge, similar to the way that a Pixar movie will draw you in to feeling for them. I was fortunate enough to play this on a fairly modern PC and they felt like an evolution graphics wise. As always, you will pick your favourites as you go through and I have to say that this game, more than either of the previous ones, made me play through with the same couple of characters, I enjoyed the personalities of those characters and their abilities when in combat formed a good partnership with mine. The Prothean character Javik, an additional character available to you courtesy of the From Ashes DLC, was definitely a particular favourite.
The graphics overall add to the atmosphere of the game and some of the vista’s that are presented to you can really distract you from what you’re doing as you take a second look at what Bioware are presenting you with. The soundtrack is subtle when it needs to be and really ramps up as the key scenes play out to add extra emphasis to the overall mood of the moment. The voicing of the characters is strong with the star names such as Jessica Chobot, Seth Green and Martin Sheen sitting comfortably alongside Mark Meer as those of you have played ME2 would come to expect.
Not as significant a leap from Mass Effect 2 as that was from the original but it didn’t need to be. I feel privileged to have played and experienced not just this but the previous games as well. My mind was never away from the universe even when I wasn’t playing it.
I have to say that the conclusion is definitely the weakest part of the journey, especially when you give yourself time to consider the way it plays out, but to be honest I don’t think with the amount of pressure they were under to make this game perfect they ever would have satisfied everyone. I have spent over 150 hours in this universe and I think that whatever was put in front of me in the form of a conclusion would have always felt, in part, a letdown.
That said, I won’t be playing this again and that is a reflection on the game, but in a positive way. The story that got me to my conclusion of this game is a combination of all three Mass Effects and the sum of the way I played them. No game series has ever made me go through the emotions that this game made me play out. I wouldn’t want to dilute or change that story or outcome by playing it again in a different way.
If you call yourself a gamer than you must play these games. It’s as simple as that.
Without any hesitation I’m adding it to my list of defining moments in not just gaming but in culture generally.
– Mass Effect 3 has also seen a clever interweaving of apps and multiplayer that can have an impact on your overall game and your galactic readiness. To explain this briefly, without using this additional resources, your galactic readiness rating sits at 50% of your war assets. For example if you have 4,000 war assets, taking into account your galactic readiness you will sit at 2,000 war assets. The apps and the multiplayer will not give you additional war assets but they will allow you to impact your galactic readiness rating.
– By playing the multiplayer section of this game, a 4 player co-op, 10 wave, based experience, your percentage will increase the more you play.
– The apps are specific to iOS, the first is a free datapad app where you send your guys off to certain planets to achieve certain goals that you really don’t have much influence over. The more you play, the more your galactic readiness rating will improve and you will be rewarded with additional credits in order to improve the speed that you can carry out missions by, your fleet size and improve the reward you get from each mission.
– The second is much more fun and is called Mass Effect: Infiltrator. It’s a fiver granted, but is created by the people that brought you Dead Space on the iOS and involves the story of a rogue Cerberus Agent. As you go through the game you pick up intel which can be traded in via the in game store to improve the galactic readiness in your main ME3 story.