Monday
Mar192012

QCF: Mass Effect 3

This review was freelanced by writer and friend of the cast James Wells. 

It’s hard not to come at Mass Effect 3 without the squeal of a fanboy who has invested five years of his life into the series. Bioware’s space opera is one of the best things to happen to sci-fi in the last 20 years, and with the third installment bringing the epic story of Commander Shepard to a close, the big question is whether Bioware could  live up to its promise of making your decisions matter to a story five years in the making. For the most part, the Edmonton studio has achieved that promise, however impossible it may have seemed.

If you have been following Mass Effect since the first game, you pretty much know what’s going on here. After the events of the first and second Mass Effect, the Reapers have finally made it to Earth and start immediately ravaging the planet, as any mile tall robot squid alien would do. Shepard narrowly escapes the planet, and must band together races of the galaxy in order to stop the reapers from destroying all life in the galaxy. Let’s go ahead and clear one thing up right out of the gate, contrary to what some of the trailers have been showing, Mass Effect 3 has not become Call of Duty in space. You will still do the same things that you have come to expect over the last two games. You will talk to many people/aliens/robot aliens using conversation wheels with paragon and renegade choices. You will travel around from planet to planet gathering a motley crew of like minded people/aliens/robot aliens to assist in your galaxy saving shenanigans and you will most likely punch a reporter. You can import you save from Mass Effect 2 and all your choices will play some role within the story.  These are the things we come expect from Mass Effect, and they are still there.

Visually, this is the best looking Mass Effect, at least when characters are not spazing out. The battlefields and locales can be simply breath taking with some amazingly jaw-dropping set piece moments that will require you to keep a small shovel around just to get your jaw off the floor. However, the visuals do have a tendency to go wonky, I did play on the Xbox 360, and there was a good amount of slow texture loads or when you looked at a character they were just blurry, which was kind of strange. There would also be instances during conversations when characters would lock eyes onto something else in the room, and their head would not turn but their body would act as if they were looking at you, nothing game breaking but a little odd and out of place.

The combat is the same as it was for Mass Effect 2, so if you recently played ME2, like myself, you’ll settle right in. The speed of combat seems to be a little faster and everything from aiming to entering and exiting cover is tighter which makes for some intense action on the battlefield. The dynamic of the enemy roster you’ll be facing whether it Geth, Reaper or Cerberus makes each encounter engaging and heart pumping from beginning to end, and because of the wealth of biotic and tech abilities available between you and your squad mates, combat encounters are always exhilarating. In my opinion this puts Mass Effect up there with Bulletstorm or Gears of War when it comes to the fun I had with the moment to moment combat.  What this entry in the series does better than the last two is give awe inspiring set piece moments. Almost every story based mission will have one or sometimes two set piece encounters which equal or far outclass the final battles in either of the previous entries. Bioware pulled out all the stops for this final chapter and it shows.

Some changes are also in order for some of Mass Effect’s other systems. One of the biggest complaints from Mass Effect 2 was a lack of guns or armor, as you only had about 2 or 3 options to choose from for each type in the previous entry. Not so this time, multiple guns and armor pieces for each class make an appearance, along with mods for guns that help improve things like damage and ammo capacity. Armor pieces like helmets and shoulder pads help increase your shields, armor and other stats. You can also now upgrade the guns and mods as well, all from the comfort of the Normandy where you can also now purchase mods, weapons, and armor from you shuttle bay, though it’s more expensive than buying them from the stores on the citadel, though not that much more expensive. The guns, however, can only be changed out from a weapon bench, when you start a mission or when you find a new weapon lying around.  Armor can only be changed out in two locations, both on the Normandy, so good luck making an armor or weapon change mid mission. You will still scan planets though it has been drastically reduced, when you do scan a planet it for a specific thing that you know is there due to the new mechanic of scanning solar systems while avoiding reaper detection. Resources are no longer required for anything, so you are only scanning the planet for items that complete side quests or war assets. What are war assets you ask?

Well my friend, this brings us to the main narrative controller of the new Mass Effect. The Normandy now comes equipped with a war room, and in the middle of the said war room you can now view war assets, which are gained from completing missions and side quests and finding things on scanned planets. Each war asset you attain has a point value which adds to your military strength bar, how full this bar is will help determine the ending of the game.  The main story arc is where you’ll get the bulk of your war assets, but you can also attain extra assets from doing side missions, which you’ll get either from your new personal secretary, emails or just walking past people on the citadel, you don’t talk to them you just overhear what they are talking about, be it with another person/alien/robot alien or their omni-tool, and it’s then added to your journal.  This way of gaining side quests offers no personal attachment to the task involved, and is all just scan quests for the most part. You are also given very little direction in most case. I’m sorry about your people Mr. Elcor, but you neglected to tell me what star system your forlorn planet of Dokkun is in. Your military strength is also affected, but your readiness rating, which starts the game at 50%. The only way to raise this rating is by playing the feature that set a lot of Mass Effect Fans pants on fire.

The online co-op multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 can pretty much be described as a horde mode. Well, because that’s pretty much what it is. You fight ever increasing waves of enemies, every few rounds there is an additional objective like protect a data upload or kill a specific enemy within a time limit, this helps force you to move about the map and is a way of promoting  team work. As you complete matches you gain XP, credits and Galactic readiness which is transferred to your single player game. Credits allow you to buy packs that have items like medi-gels and rockets as well as weapons, mods, and additional characters to play as. The co-op is fairly generic, but I did have fun with it, the mixture of abilities that each of classes bring to the mold gives the standard horde mode a fresh feel and the fun combat kept me coming back.

Another seemingly unnecessary addition to ME 3 comes in the form of Kinect support. You don’t wave you hands around to fire you guns or throw punches to use melee; it’s strictly voice commands for this one. They actually work surprisingly well. The Kinect can hear you and recognize your commands without you screaming at it, and the commands work rather quickly. You can do things such as open doors, interact with items in the environment and say the dialog choice you want to use. While being really neat and all, I saw no advantage to just pressing a button, as pressing a button doesn’t make someone in the next room think you’re a crazy person. The biggest advantage is its use in combat, as saying the name of a power or ability causes an almost immediate reaction from your character or squad mates, this is especially useful as a biotic or tech that has about 7 abilities and only 3 hotkeys, keeping the action going without entering the power wheel. The voice commands are responsive and accurate and are a good addition, though I wish they would allow the voice commands to be used with a headset mic for people without a Kinect, it could be patched in possibly but as it stands now it is Kinect only.

Most of you reading this are probably saying the same thing: “ok that’s great, what about the story?”

Well, without spoiling anything, I would have to say that for the most part the series wraps everything up nicely, I wasn’t too happy with the very end of the game, but for people who are as invested this series you will enjoy/cry seeing how all of the characters you come to know and love/hate get some sort of closure or send off in the game. The very end is where you get to speak to all of these characters one last time before the final push and it has some of the most heart wrenching writing I’ve experienced in a game.

Overall, Mass Effect 3 is not perfect. It is, however, the best in the series. The combat is spot on, the big moments are exciting and the overarching story is back on par with the first Mass Effect. This is not a game you should jump into. First timers should at least start at 2, because the first Mass Effect doesn’t hold up too well gameplay wise.  Mostly, I would say start from the beginning so that you can see where the series has come from, and you can get to know all the characters and narrative of the series, because that is where the most joy will come from this game. If you’re invested in the series then this is a must buy, without a question.  It was a rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and low for me from beginning to end. The worst part about Mass Effect 3 is that it’s all over, and that I’ll miss all the characters within -- except for Jacob, fuck that guy.

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