Mass Effect 3 combines an emotional, gripping narrative with a beautifully designed universe, thereby creating the foundation for a memorable sci-fi journey. Then, to build upon that foundation, BioWare installs a gameplay mechanic that is not only functional, but improved and more rewarding than ever. In short, fans of the franchise will not only enjoy the final entry in this award-winning trilogy, they will remember this adventure with great fondness for years to come.
As you explore the deep, engaging world of ME3, your eyes will come to rest on a great many pleasurable things: the wonderful character detail, the breathtaking backdrops, the intimidating (and more expansive) battlegrounds, and the sharp, satisfying effects that give this game an extraordinary cinematic feel. Now, there are a few imperfections here and there but given the sheer size and scope, such minor flaws are easily forgivable. In short, there’s very little to complain about in regards to the stellar visual presentation.
The sound is even better, as the epic, sweeping soundtrack and fantastic voice acting not only enhance the atmosphere, but also manage to impart a variety of emotions. The best part is that the two highlights – the music and acting – continue to bolster the experience throughout the entirety of your quest, which makes for a cohesively impressive RPG. The balancing is a little off, though, which is something I’ve noticed in most BioWare productions. Still, balancing issues aside, the audio does its job beautifully and never once lets you down.
As some of you know, I’m not the biggest fan of the science-fiction setting. Give me the old-fashioned swords ‘n staff theme any day. But there’s absolutely no denying that ME3 puts a stronger emphasis on storyline and plot development when compared to the previous two titles, and I will always support that. I’ll even rise to my feet and applaud when a developer does so with such excellent pacing, style, and professional flair. There aren’t a lot of significant new characters or relationships here, but that’s okay.
After all, we’re talking about the conclusion of a long and involved storyline; no need to further complicate things by tossing in plot-altering relationships at the very end. Besides, we’re always drawn to the story and the established relationships between the well-drawn characters and better yet, our decisions and actions have a bigger impact than ever. These effects can be subtle or radical and even far-reaching, and the obvious emphasis on moving human traits and tendencies is much appreciated. Plus, this adds a dynamic, realistic aura to your exploration.
Various characters might recognize you as you wander around, and if you make a bold move, the repercussions could be felt much later in the game. It might not only affect your relationship with that character; it could also cause a shift in a side-quest, which means decisions play a more significant role in the gameplay. Personally, I love the different moods and attitudes; there’s not so much in the way of robotic or bland responses. In this way, characters will raise their voices, yell, or even cry. It just feels more authentic and personal than ME2.
As for the gameplay and control, I’d like to make one thing clear— I don’t want anyone to misunderstand when I criticize some lingering mechanical issues. It’s never my intention to be negative simply for the sake of raising eyebrows. But I think it’s important to recognize that some basic gameplay problems haven’t been erased from this series: the frame rate is not always clean, the camera can go bonkers in tight spots, and the cover system doesn’t work 100% properly. The AI doesn’t always interact correctly with the environment, either.
However, as I mentioned in the intro, there are improvements that help to diminish the impact of these stubborn drawbacks. Firstly, the design is much better; battle doesn’t boil down to finding a generic cover spot and firing away. Enemies will rush from all sides and the increased aggression of your foes force you to reevaluate and in many cases, relocate. It also seems that the combat areas are larger, offering more strategy options for players who wish to experiment with both intense up-close fighting and tactical ranged encounters. Don't limit yourself.
Leveling up lets you upgrade your abilities and again, choice comes into play, as it always has before. This all depends on your personal preferences, of course. There are tons of weapons, too, ranging from simple pistols to fully automatic weapons and a few that are capable of ripping apart even the toughest foes. It’s about as deep an advancement mechanic as any role-playing buff could hope for, because it’s not just about quantity, it’s about top-notch quality and freedom. I would often sit and think for a long time before making an upgrade decision.
And that’s the mark of a fantastic RPG in my eyes. It makes you think and although you might have to think on your feet, the properly prepared are always better off. Other issues can rear their ugly heads at exactly the wrong time, though: I had the game freeze once, and I have heard (note: this did not happen to me, but in doing the research, it appears to be a common problem) that side-quests may not trigger correctly. But again, these have appeared in most BioWare titles this generation; Dragon Age was hardly immune.
The only other complaint I have involves the collecting of certain materials from planets when you have to avoid the incoming Reapers. This felt like a tacked-on mechanic and was more tedious than anything. But the rest of the game delivers in such a gigantic way, it was easy to return to the flow of the narrative and once again become re-immersed in the expertly woven story and enduring characters. I also had tons of fun on the battlefield and I’m a sucker for such in-depth advancement systems.
The multiplayer doesn’t feel like a useless addition and although it’s hardly the reason to own this game, it’s definitely a nice option. There are six available classes and playing with others is relatively simple and entertaining. You earn credits for your achievements and those credits can be used to unlock all sorts of goodies, including weapon alterations, different kinds of ammunition, and other equipment. At the very least, it gives you something to do after finishing the main story; you may not want to leave this world behind, you know?
Mass Effect 3 is a gorgeous, endlessly appealing blend of engaging gameplay and fantastic storytelling. Role-playing aficionados will adore the emphasis on the captivating narrative, the familiar characters keep you interested, the combat areas are larger and battles are more dynamic overall, and the freedom of choice cements the entire masterful experience. A few lingering hiccups and some generic side-quests can’t stop this one from being a definite gem and a must-have for a great many gamers.
The Good: Beautifully detailed. Excellent music and voice performances. Control is solid. Combat is more dynamic. Freedom of choice has a variety of effects. Narrative is nicely paced and always gripping. Plenty of content and depth.
The Bad: Lingering series issues (iffy camera, a few bugs, etc.). Side-quests can feel generic. Cover mechanic is 100% right.
The Ugly: “Nothing really…unless the game crashes in a crucial spot.”