Mass Effect 3 – The PS3 Attitude Review
For developer BioWare, Mass Effect 3 represents perhaps the highest degree of difficulty that any studio has faced leading into a project. With two stellar games already seeded in the public consciousness, the third and conclusive act in the Mass Effect series comes with heaps of well-earned pressure. BioWare’s ambitious directive to carry specific player decisions over the entirety of the trilogy also creates a unique set of circumstances and expectations surrounding the final chapter.
With that in mind you’d be hard pressed to find another studio anyone would rather trust with the biggest RPG release in recent memory than the Canadian-based studio. Chances are you started putting money aside for ME3 right around the time ME2 wrapped up, however those with lingering doubts should quickly put them to bed. Mass Effect 3 is a masterpiece that demands to be played.
One of the great ironies of playing Mass Effect 3, potentially wrapping up the salvation of the galaxy with a nice, neat bow at long last, was that part of me didn’t want to play it all. At a certain point the anticipation of the conclusion eclipsed the act of actually experiencing it.There was an off chance that my fond memories of ME2 would some how be irreparably damaged by a lackluster follow up. I’d spent far too long pondering the social ramifications of the Krogan genophage at this point to accept anything less than greatness. It’s the same feeling I get when my favorite band debuts a new album. I’m excited yet scared they’ll disappoint me because I’ve grafted a part of myself onto their success. Luckily for my reticent psyche and the rest of the video game industry ME3 delivered on its potential.
In case you haven’t been fully briefed on the Mass Effect narrative, you’ll be pleased to know, it is at it’s base a simple tale of survival. An alien juggernaut known as the Reapers wishes to snuff out organic life in the galaxy. It’s kill or be killed on a grand scale. And as is the case with most great stories this very simple core theme is wrapped in layers upon layers of history, personal relationships, politics, romance, ego etc. which serve to reduce otherwise black-and-white realities into an array of dispassionate grays.
The brilliance of the web of plot-lines BioWare’s stable of writers have spun lo these many years is that they all revolve around the central theme. Fighting for survival is a primordial affair that is instinctual to every living thing. So becoming invested is almost a nervous system response. Whether you’ve been a fan of the series from the get go or are just now checking in to see what all the hubbub is all about the story is very easy to gravitate towards.
With the preceding games serving as building blocks, ME3 is able to reach a level of potency and fluidity which BioWare plays to beautifully. Essentially what the original Mass Effect and to an even greater extent Mass Effect 2 represents is the careful placement of dominoes granting you the ability to either topple or interrupt intermittently throughout ME3. Players reap the rewards of a previously established set of characters; especially those who imported their ME2 save. Sequences seamlessly migrate from one end of the galaxy to another while delivering jarring shots without a moments notice.On one such occasion a single hesitant button pressing on my end led directly to the veritable extinction of an entire race.
The most important component of the ME3 story is its adherence to the understanding that you’re fighting for continued existence of everyone and everything you’ve come across. Although you’ll inevitably encounter the occasional meandering NPC looking for you to help him replace parts for his heating unit, most of the peripheral missions tie into the main quest on some level. In reality the game never lets you stray too far out of bounds without reminding you that the fate of life as you know it hangs in the balance so dancing the night away in the club may not be the best use of your time.
At times the story does hit some snags though, particularly in the sequences involving some of the characters new to the series. Freddie Prinze Jr.’s James Vega often comes off as a frat boy who’d rather mix the Normandy crew a round of Jell-O shots and the addition of TV/internet personality, Jessica Chobot is as confusing and distracting as it is unnecessary.
Gameplay in Mass Effect is a known quantity at this point but BioWare did make some minor tweaks to the formula. A more action-oriented approach seems to have been a priority at the sacrifice of calculated squad-based strategy. Team placement and power combining thus are marginalized due to the game’s often frenetic pace.
A host of new enemy types enter the fray and the game is fond of throwing swarms of them at you at a time. At the most desperate moments you’ll need to rely on the AI of your teammates which is passable despite at times questionable decision making and the apparent refusal to run from a much more powerful enemy.
BioWare really hit their stride with the combat system in ME3, providing the most enjoyable combat the series has ever produced. ME3 does a great job of balancing enemy difficulty with player progression, slowly ratcheting up the challenge as players progress. You’ll always feel like a champion without crossing the line to god.
Texture pop-ins, screen tearing, and cut-off dialogue were intermittent throughout my roughly 40 hour campaign however inevitably provided limited distraction. Incredibly disappearing Normandy crew mates however were disconcerting. On a couple occasions I was told a crew member wanted to speak with me only to find that weren’t in fact in their quarters or the ship at all. Although annoying, bugs are quite limited in their ability to frustrate. Make no mistake, Skyrim this is not.
Though the primary missions can be played straight through with little interruption, where the game really shines is with the secondary or variable missions. Variable missions are instances where the outcome greatly affects the war effort and more often than not the balance of life in the galaxy as well. Unlike most games the secondary objectives reinforce the severity of the primary mission instead of drawing attention away from it. Without fail these variable missions present you with difficult quandaries which can at times determine the fates of entire worlds. Would you sacrifice the lives of a species to gain the allegiance of another? Your choices dictate your path along these forks in the road.
These decisions in effect customize your play through such that the play though of one gamer may be virtually unrecognizable to another with opposing sensibilities. The game is never shy about this fact and you will inevitably reap what you sow.
By and away the most hotly debated topic of discussion was the introduction of multiplayer into what many considered to be a quintessential solo experience. To BioWare’s credit the multiplayer portion is sequestered at the main menu. Players can choose from the start whether they want to enter the campaign or give online a spin. If it’s your prerogative not to recognize multiplayer’s existence you are effectively allowed to do so.
The mode itself resembles the cooperative round-by-round survival missions. A team of 5 customizable characters take to a map to endure wave after wave of enemies incrementally increasing in difficulty. As is to be expected multiplayer is not a great selling point for ME3 but does provide a few extra hours of content for those looking for more.
Mass Effect 3 triumphantly succeeds in all the areas in which it could have faltered. BioWare proved itself once again as the preeminent RPG developer with a worthy end to their impressive and influential series. This is the new gold standard for role-playing games.