It’s been a long time coming, but Commander Shepard’s battle with the Reapers is at a boiling point. The entire galaxy prepares for a war that could quite easily mean the extinction of all sentient life. Do you have what it takes to take back Earth?
Mass Effect 3, the final instalment in BioWare’s sci-fi trilogy, takes every thread that’s been spun in the previous two games and runs with it. Every decision that’s been made so far has led up to this point and how it will affect the final battle. Which allies have survived? What have you sacrificed? Just how much of a chance to you have to claim victory?
If you’ve played the previous two games (and despite BioWare’s insistence that Mass Effect 3 is a good place to start, you need to play the previous two games) you know what to expect as far as story and pacing go. You’ll cruise around on the Normandy, do some awesome mission on a planet, go back to the Citadel, lather rinse repeat. The missions are fun and definitely capture the tension and sense of urgency of the war currently consuming the galaxy, but everything else does get a bit tiresome, especially since the only real “hub” in the game aside from the Normandy is the Citadel, and you’ll be going back and forth quite a bit.
The Mass Effect series has always been called an RPG, but the battle system has become increasingly more akin to third-person shooters as they’ve progressed, and part three is no different. You’ll take cover behind objects, firing lots of weapons and using cool powers. What really makes the combat shine is Kinect functionality.
With Kinect, you’re able to issue commands to your squad to have them switch weapons or activate powers. It works extremely well – so much so that sometimes you’ll give commands outside of battle just to play with the technology – and makes the combat much more fluid. Before, if you wanted to have Liara use her Singularity ability, you’d have to hold the bumper and wait for the power wheel to come up, which pauses the action. Then you’d need to select Singularity, confirm and then the action resumes. Now it’s as simple as saying “Liara, Singularity!” and bam, off she goes. In the heat of battle maintaining that flow can be the difference between life and death, but not only that, it’s just really fun.
The voice commands extend outside of battle as well, allowing you to say “open” when near a door or “examine” when near an object of interest, but this adds little to the game and is more of a hassle than just hitting A. What is impressive is when faced with a dialogue tree, you can now read your preferred option aloud and Shepard will continue the conversation. It’s a bit jarring having a conversation with your television, especially since the dialogue options rarely match what is actually said (and this isn’t taking into account male players playing as a female Shepard and vice versa) but it's a really cool feature.
Mass Effect 3 introduces multiplayer to the series, and while incredibly fun, it still doesn’t feel quite like it fits. You’ll join up with three other players for what is essentially Gears of War’s Horde mode using the different species and settings of the Mass Effect universe. Kinect commands no longer apply here, for obvious reasons. Mass Effect has always been a single-player experience with a huge emphasis on story, so adding any form of multiplayer to that is going to be an odd transition. It’s still a blast to play, which is all that’s important, and the large array of different race and class combinations will keep players busy for a long time.
The biggest problem with multiplayer, however, is how it ties in to the game’s story. On the game’s title screen you are given a “galactic preparedness rating” which tells you how prepared the galaxy is for the final battle with the Reapers. Every time you load up your game, the percentage goes down. The only way to make it go back up is to play multiplayer. Through a lot of hard work in the story mode it’s possible to get your rating up, but it’s almost insulting to have your success in the finale of a single-player series directly tied with their new multiplayer mode.
The graphics are nice in some places, but rough in others. It’s fairly obvious that the hardware is being pushed rather hard and at times (especially in certain cut scenes) and you can clearly see the technology choking. It’s not enough to be distracting, but it’s certainly noticeable.
While the first two games were scored by composer Jack Wall, series newcomer Clint Mansell takes the aural reins for the last trip to the rodeo. The soundtrack is surprisingly superb, and those fearing an odd swap in musical styles need not worry. Mansell’s music fits the atmosphere like a glove and only adds more power to the raw emotion the game’s story scenes will convey.
Be warned, though, there are several large bugs at this point that have not yet been patched. Players who created their Shepard in the first Mass Effect and didn't change them when importing their save into Mass Effect 2 will be unable to import their Shepard’s face. All story decisions will carry over just fine, but you’ll have to redesign your Commander from scratch. BioWare changed how the facial design system works and it’s an oversight that should have been caught during testing.
There are also several quests that are bugged to the point they can't be completed, which is especially damaging because they prevent you from earning certain “war assets” which are vital to determining your success in the final battle.
Mass Effect 3 had a lot to live up to and it mostly succeeds. The “galactic preparedness” rating and tying the multiplayer into success in single-player mode may frustrate, but as usual the story and acting are phenomenal. What made the other two games great is still there, and with the added bonus of awesome Kinect features fans will absolutely not want to miss this.