Mass Effect 3

From the get-go, Mass Effect 3 had a tall order to fill: to be better than Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 2 was a brilliant game and an excellent follow-up to Mass Effect… itself, a brilliant game. That isn’t to say each isn’t without its faults: Mass Effect had its fair share of irritating gameplay elements and annoying missions. Mass Effect 2 cleaned a lot of that up; the weapons system was (apparently over-) simplified, and planetary exploration went from bumming around on an ATV to quick-scanning a planet (though DLC added the Hammerhead, which was much better than M35-Mako from ME1). Mass Effect 3 introduces some not-so sweeping changes; now, you scan an area in the solar system to find War Assets. Some are floating in space, others are on planets and moons themselves. You then scan the celestial body and find what you’re looking for: much simpler, much faster than before. You can once again modify weapons, and there is a larger variety of weapons to choose from. In ME2 it was much easier to just go with the “best” weapon. While Collector’s Edition owners can now just pick the N7 variant of each gun in most cases, there is definitely more to consider now as the stats for each gun is laid out for you. You now need to pick which factor is most important for you; even weight has some bearing.

Mass Effect 3, though, has come far from its roots as a “RPG”. ME1 was definitely an RPG, and while you do a lot of customization and while you level up and so on in 3, it feels a lot less RPGish. If you’re playing it for an RPG, you’re probably in for some disappointment. That’s just how things go, I guess. It’s a lot more of a third-person shooter with an incredible story. There’s a bit of RPG, but not much — about the same amount we saw in ME2, which is to say much less than in ME1. I’ve coined this effect the “Mass Effect effect”: what they did to Mass Effect is similar to what they did to Dragon Age. Things were cleaned up, simplified, and made a lot more actiony (ME3 is mostly non-stop action, by the way). While it completely failed in Dragon Age 2, it succeeded handily in ME2.

All that said, Mass Effect 3 is an incredible game. The game’s opening hook is incredible (though admittedly not as strong as ME2’s balls-to-the-wall opening — how would you top that?) and is sure to please. The combat in general feels neater and definitely allows for more tactics: moving from cover to cover seems a lot more fluid and a lot easier than in the previous Mass Effects. Much of the upgrading and so on remains the same, though at different levels (4, 5, 6), you are able to customize your abilities more than previously. You may recall that in ME2 it was possible to unlock your teammate’s abilities for your own use on later playthroughs; now you can unlock them by gaining a certain amount of loyalty from your teammates and pick which one you’re using through the medbay. This allows you to try out certain abilities and even put ranks in them. If you don’t like the ability, you can drop it for another one and put those points back into it. All in all, pretty cool.

The game’s graphics feel quite a bit improved, too. ME2 had incredible graphics, especially in high-def, and ME3 seems to have improved upon that. Characters look more detailed in general. ME3 has a certain level of grittiness that ME2 didn’t have. ME2 was gritty, of course, but in different ways; this was primarily reflected in who you were working for and the places you’d visit. You spent a lot of time in slummy bars and the slummiest part of the Citadel, whereas in 3 you find yourself back in the pretty and scenic places of the Citadel. But each character now seems to wear a certain amount of fatigue; you see it in the eyes of your teammates and the voices of your allies. It’s also reflected more overtly by just about every character out there. Everyone seems tired or scared.

The game itself now has quests galore, and many of them (maybe too many) are of the typical find-and-fetch variety. Someone needs some artifact for some reason. There are rarely clues as to where to find the artifact, but odds are you’ll find it while fighting some mega-death tank beside some guy’s corpse or in the outer reaches of the universe on some desolate hell-hole. It does get a little old, a little fast. Most of the time you just overhear a conversation, too. Someone laments that they don’t have x, and as The Good Guy you go and get it. Dragon Age 2 had you doing this a lot: someone couldn’t find their brother or something, you find his body, put it into your pack, and give it to him. They’re happy and give you some gold. It reached levels of absurdity (like the actual scenario I just described), and while ME3 has tailored dialogue to each item and it feels less sprinkled in, it does seem a little silly.

The overarching campaign is obviously huge, and the quests have a similar level of epic-ness. All the big ones are either directly or indirectly related to the coming Reaper threat, and all that I’ve played so far have been immensely satisfying. Like in the previous games, ME3 has you making huge decisions that have a massive effect (!) on the game itself. I can only imagine the hassle it was to figure out every cause-and-effect. Some decisions result in the deaths of friends and former teammates, and some determine the future of entire species and very likely the entire galaxy. ME3 has you carefully deciding most things and a wrong decision can and probably will bite you. I had to make a tough call that seemingly killed a teammate. I was devastated, literally devastated. I sat there in front of the TV, my mouth agape, unable to comprehend what I just did. It’s incredible.

Part of what ME3 has going for it is that it is obviously the third game in the series. While one-off games (and movies, books, etcetera), only have so many hours to make you care, ME3 has the benefit of having followed these two amazing games and retaining characters throughout. Your team is a mix of characters from games 1, 2, and 3, some of whom you’ve known for perhaps over a hundred hours. You grow a real attachment to them and so it becomes a lot harder to make decisions regarding them. That said, a ton of old characters are either teammates or make significant and appropriate appearances in-game and it really feels great to see them. I’m in the middle of one arc right now involving a teammate from 2: he is currently essential and he lived on one character and died on the other, and I’m stuck imagining  what the second playthrough is going to be like (on that note, on the Normandy is now a monument to deceased friends and so on — while some have to be there [like Jenkins from ME1!], others go up there by your own actions: every time I drop down to the third floor, there it is, staring at me, and I’m left feeling like I could have done more. It’s amazing).

I think it goes without saying, Mass Effect 3 is an amazing game. Go play it right now.

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