Review: Mass Effect 3

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In almost any other circumstances, it would be easy to proclaim Mass Effect 3 to be a triumph. But these are not ordinary circumstances for the science fiction saga.

Mass Effect 3 is a tremendously entertaining game that provides moments of exhilaration, humor, horror and even heartbreak as players experience the story of a desperate war being fought across the Milky Way.

Indeed, Mass Effect 3 could have earned a place as one of the best games of all time, but these are unusual times for Mass Effect fans. Although the game has much to praise, some questionable business practices on the part of the developers at BioWare and publishers at EA Games may result in the game being remembered more for the sudden fan backlash that has overshadowed news of its release.

At this point, it’s impossible to review Mass Effect 3 in a vacuum and ignore the anger the game’s conclusion has aroused among many of it’s fans. I don’t want to spoil the ending in this space, and I think much of the anger is overblown, but the reaction is understandable given that fans expected Mass Effect 3 to provide a conclusion to one ambitious stories to be told in the history of video games.

Instead, BioWare provided an open-ended climax that has many fans expressing worry on Internet forums that the developers and publishers plan to charge players extra to download a “real” ending. Other fans are even petitioning the game’s makers to rewrite Mass Effect 3′s climax.

The reaction to the game’s conclusion follows the discontent that greeted news that players who did not buy the game’s more expensive Collector’s Edition would have to pay an extra $10 to download “From Ashes,” content that previously was said to be only available to those who bought the Collector’s Edition.

Players and publishers have yet to reach a consensus on where to draw a line between deciding how much content should be included in games’ retail editions and what can be withheld as downloadable content, and the circumstances of Mass Effect 3′s release have highlighted how strongly many players object to publisher’s embrace of DLC.

Those issues, important to the future of gaming as a business, should not obscure the strong evidence in support of Mass Effect 3 being a very good game. As in the franchise’s previous chapters, Mass Effect 3 boasts well-developed human and alien characters and players assuming the role of protagonist Commander Shepard will have to make occasionally painful decisions that determine the fates of beloved characters and entire planets, including earth.


Mass Effect 3 also introduces cooperative multiplayer to the franchise.
The
best part about the game’s multiplayer is that it gives players a chance
to play as
different classes, such as the sniper-rifle armed Infiltrators, the
super-powered Adepts or bull-rushing Vanguards, without having to play
an entire story line. The downsides are that I often got
dropped from the server in the first days of the game’s release and
that the multiplayer missions – mostly battles against waves of enemies -
are rather repetitive.

Mass Effect’s developers have steadily
increased their emphasis on the game’s combat mechanics since the
franchise debuted in 2007. Players can choose to specialize in a variety
of firearms, technological abilities or superpower like “biotic” skills
as they fight alongside companion characters who have their own skills.
Although some have lamented the focus on combat as a turn away from
Mass Effect’s roots as a role-playing game, players can still determine
what role their version Commander Shepard plays in Mass Effect 3.

As
in the first two Mass Effect games, players can decide whether
Commander Shepard is male or female. Shepard can be any ethnicity and
it’s up to the player to decide Shepard’s moral code. Shepard can be a
“paragon” who plays by the book and seeks peaceful solutions or be a
“renegade” who shoots first and asks questions later. Or more likely,
players can make a variety of decisions. The strength of Mass Effect is
that the series asks players to assume a variety of roles: space marine,
diplomat, and even lover.

Although a real-life military officer
could get into a lot of trouble for romancing subordinates, Mass Effect
lets players romance a variety of supporting characters, both human and
alien. Mass Effect 3 is also the first game in the series in which a
male Shepard, AKA “BroShep” to fans, can pursue a homosexual
relationship. My Shepard, however, is strictly interested in female
aliens, because that is the most ridiculous option.

Mass Effect
3′s character interactions provide many opportunities for humor, but
overall, the game is much darker than previous chapters in the series.
The game places Shepard in the middle of a grim war against “The
Reapers,”  a
nigh-incomprehensible race of sentient machines introduced as
antagonists in the first Mass Effect. The Reapers storm the Milky Way
every 50,000 years on a mysterious mission to exterminate advanced
civilizations, and it’s up to Shepard and crew to stop them if they can.

The
first Mass Effect played like a Star Trek-esque spacefaring saga and
the more combat-focused Mass Effect 2 felt like an action movie. Mass
Effect 3 presents a frightening marriage of war story and horror tale.
The Reapers, who mostly existed as a distant threat in previous games,
are a nearly constant enemy presence in Mass Effect 3. Players must not
also do battle against the Reapers themselves, but also the Reapers’ the
zombie-like ground forces. These enemies are technological perversions
of humans and alien species, and hearing the sound of a high-powered,
screeching “Banshee” foe can be terrifying.

Mass Effect 3′s battles against the Reapers’ forces begin with an attack
on Vancouver, where Shepard fails to save the life of a young boy and
others who are caught in the carnage. Shepard then begins a mission to
recruit allies from across the galaxy in a desperate attempt to save
earth. Along the way, Shepard’s actions can resolve – or fail to resolve
– a number of story lines introduced in previous games. I won’t give
anything away, but popular characters can die and Mass Effect 3 can be
an emotional experience for players who are invested in the franchise’s
storyline.

That’s why the ending has upset so many players.
Although I applaud the developers for being willing to subvert players
expectations when Shepard has to make his or her final choice, the
sequence that follows does little to explain exactly how that choice
affects the galaxy or the series’ beloved characters. As mentioned
above, Mass Effect 3′s ambiguous ending has fueled numerous rumors that
EA Games may end up charging players to download the real ending, as
well as hopeful rumors that additional content will be given away free
of charge.

As of this writing, there’s no proof of the truth or falsity of any of
these rumors, so it’s up to BioWare and EA Games to figure out a way to
appease angry fans.

Even before the game’s release, many fans objected to the publisher’s
decision to release the “From Ashes” DLC pack on the day of Mass Effect
3′s release. From Ashes allows players to spend $10 on top of the game’s
$60 price tag to get an extra character, an additional mission and
alternate costumes. The extra character, Jarvik, is the last member of
the Protheans race, which the Reapers annihilated 50,000 years before
the Mass Effect 3 takes place. The mission to rescue Jarvik from
suspended animation is pretty short, and I don’t think it’s worth $10 to
buy From Ashes unless one is a particularly devoted Mass Effect fan.

Aside from the DLC controversy, my only complaints against Mass Effect 3
are occasional animation and audio bugs. None of these are
game-breaking, but still pretty inexcusable for a highly-anticipated big
budget game.

I’m an unabashed Mass Effect fan, and I didn’t request a
review copy of this game because I wasn’t sure I could be 100 percent
objective if I did not spend my own money for Mass Effect 3. Despite the
backlash, I greatly enjoyed this game and recommend it to anyone who
had fun playing the franchise’s previous entries. Mass Effect 3 does not
achieve perfection, but the Mass Effect series is one of the greatest
franchises in modern gaming and its third chapter is well worth $60.

We’ll just have to wait and see to learn if any DLC expansions will be be worth paying for.

Mass Effect 3
BioWare, EA Games
PC, PlayStation 3, XBox 360 (Reviewed on XBox 360)
Rated M for Mature