Mass Effect 3: A Dichotomy of Love and Hate.

Ah Mass Effect, a game that inspired so much fanboyism and geek lust within me that I’ve gladly parted with embarrassingly large sums of money in order to play it. My relationship with it started with an excited friend of mine breathlessly singing its praises before sending me a short video clip of it. The second the clip finished I knew this game had to be mine, no matter what the cost. This was the only reason why a Xbox360 graced my home in the first place and was so again when I upgraded to one of the new slim models to play through the final instalment. Today I will review the last chapter in Mass Effect trilogy; a review that’s been 5 years in the making.

Mass Effect 3 puts you right back into control of Commander Shepard of the Normandy. Returning back to the Alliance Navy after the events of Mass Effect 2 Shepard is placed under house arrest due to his work with Cerberus. His warnings of an impending Reaper attack have gone unnoticed and it’s not until a full Reaper invasion starts that they look back to him for help. Earth succumbs to the Reaper invasion rapidly but Shepard reluctantly escapes, only leaving so he can gather support to retake Earth back from the Reapers and hopefully drive them back for good.

First impressions of Mass Effect 3 were quite good. For Xbox360 players you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the graphics updates as there’s a noticeable improvement over Mass Effect 2. Whilst it’s not up to the same level as say Deus Ex: Humand Revolution or Skyrim they’re still quite impressive, especially if you’re playing the game on a massive TV like I was. PS3 owners won’t notice much of a difference however as Mass Effect 3 on the PS3 uses the same engine as 2 on that plaform. PC players will also be somewhat disappointed as the code for the Xbox360 version is basically the same and is unable to take advantage of any additional grunt your PC might have. It’s clear that Bioware’s target platform for this game was definitely the Xbox360 first above all others which is great for people like me, but I can understand the frustration levelled at Mass Effect 3 by gamers on other platforms.

The combat of Mass Effect 3 is just as exciting, fluid and challenging as it was back in Mass Effect 2. I was very tempted to try out yet another class as my switch from Soldier to Vanguard in Mass Effect 2 made the game that much more interesting but discussing it with my friends showed that the Vanguard was probably the most fun class out of the lot of them. With the new weapon/upgrade system the Vanguard could easily be made into an incredible weapon of destruction, one that didn’t actually need to carry any guns with him if you played your cards right.

So unlike its predecessors Mass Effect 3 gives you the choice of what weapons to equip, allowing you to carry around up to 5 different weapons. The downside is that the more weapons you carry the slower your powers will regenerate. So for weapons based classes like the Soldier you’ll probably still walk around armed with every single weapon you can carry but my Vanguard spent most of his time with only 2 weapons (later I carried 3 once I had the right upgrades), favouring the 200% buff to power recharges instead. This meant that past a certain point I was basically invulnerable as no enemy could wear down my shields before I could charge again, recharging them back to full.

Still though there were several fights that I found challenging to the point of frustration. Now I’m willing to blame this on the fact that I’m not a console gamer, the PC is my usual platform, and the many deaths I experienced early on where a combination of me not being able to aim properly and a bad talent build. However for most of the really difficult fights there was usually a heavy weapon hidden somewhere which I wouldn’t find until my 4th or 5th time attempting that particular combat scene which made the fight trivial. There are also some particular enemies that will 1 shot you from full health and shields with no way to get out of it (even with upgraded health that left me with 1 bar afterwards, I’d still die). It’s a real shame as apart from these 2 faux pas the combat is really quite enjoyable (the latter making the last couple hours annoyingly torturous).

The talent tree system received a massive revamp since Mass Effect 2 and the improvements are quite nice. Whilst it still retains the base idea of adding points into a certain ability to make it better once you get past the first 3 stages you’re then presented with choices as to how to improve the ability. In doing so you’re able to craft your character along very specific lines, much more so than you were in the previous 2 games. With a little bit of looking around its very possible to create a character that is nigh on unstoppable, but it’s the improvements that Bioware made around the talent system that are most welcome.

The inclusion of a respec system in Mass Effect 3 is probably the most welcome addition. When you start off many of your talent points are allocated for you. Whilst this is a great way to introduce you to the character class it does mean that your character might not play the way you want it to. Thankfully the first respec is free and that will allow you to craft your character in the way you want. Additionally you’re able to choose 1 ability from your companions to include in your talent tree for a small sum. Yet again this allows you to augment away any of your character’s weaknesses or push them further into unstoppable territory.

The Galaxy Map remains basically unchanged from Mass Effect 2, keeping the same navigation elements whilst changing up the mini-game aspect of it significantly. Instead of going to every planet and scanning them for 5 minutes just to find the resources contained within there you instead scan around the current solar system, looking for little pockets of treasure. If one of the assets happens to be on a planet you then do the familiar scanning mini-game again but at least now it has a pointer to where it is, saving you countless pointless minutes scanning around. There’s also an indicator as to how many assets you’ve recovered so you don’t waste time looking for that one last thing.

You can’t scan around indefinitely though as scanning alerts the Reapers to your presence there. It’s supposed to make you scan smartly around, using the minimum number in order to recover all the assets. If you do alert the Reapers they’ll invade the system and try to hunt you down but they can’t really catch you unless you stay still for more than a couple seconds. Realistically you can just scan to your hearts content then exit/enter the system repeatedly to get the assets, which is what I ended up doing after alerting the Reapers for the 20th time.

WARNING: Mild plot spoilers follow. (There’s a second warning about the MASSIVE ones if you want to keep reading).

Of course where Mass Effect 3 really shines is the grand story that they’ve crafted over the past 5 years. Ever since the first Mass Effect there’s been a terrible sense of foreboding about the coming Reaper invasion and whilst there are some major plot holes (why did the Council ignore Shepards warnings after a GODDAMN REAPER ATTACKED THEM is beyond me) they’ve managed to keep the story moving through 3 games, even with the wild amount of control that the player has over the plot elements.

As always I decided to play Shepard as a Paragorn and whilst I’d agree with the way he acted about 90% of the time there were some definite moments when he’d go off the rails completely. This is mostly due to the paraphrasing that’s done in order to make the dialog wheel work, making it hard to accurately judge what he’s going say, but when the tough-as-nails by-the-book Shepard I spent the last 5 years crafting started acting out of character it really dumped me out of the game. Thankfully those moments were few and far between, but happened often enough to cause me frustration.

Now I don’t know if this was due to the choices that I had made in the previous games or not but the romantic relationships in Mass Effect 3 felt kind of…weird. In Mass Effect 1 I romanced Ashley who makes no appearance in 2 at all. In 2 I romanced Miranda and when I came face to face with both of them again I set my eyes on Ashley, her being Shepard’s first love. What got me however was the fact that Ashley seemed wholly unresponsive to my advances even though, as far as I was aware, there was no way of her knowing what I got up to during Mass Effect 2. Indeed she never confronted me on the fact, instead just giving me the cold shoulder. Miranda on the other hand was extremely responsive to the point where I basically fell into the romance scene which was a total cop out (when did Mass Effect become PG?). I mean I did feel something for Miranda but it felt kind of odd that Ashley would shut Shepard out like that, especially after the first few deep conversations.

It gets even more interesting as the token gay NPC, Steve Cortez (who’s done brilliantly by the way), ended up in a rather deep relationship with Shepard without me really trying. It could just be because it wasn’t possible to have that kind of relationship before Mass Effect 3, thus having to accelerate the emotional attachment, but it still made me think that Ashley’s behaviour was odd in comparison to everyone else. Not odd as in “Why doesn’t she like me”, more like there was something either unfinished or broken in the story line that I was playing through. I could’ve just stuffed up a critical dialogue option and not realised it, but I’m usually pretty good at noticing those kinds of things.

The rest of my relationships with the crew were just as good as the one with Cortez. Whilst towards the end there are many scenes that are pretty much “This is the last time you’ll get to see them here, better make the most of it” kinds of deals they do feel genuine. I personally found the scenes with Liara, Garrus and Legion to be especially touching, giving me the feeling of a true bond between comrades who had been through heaven and hell together.

WARNING: I’m going to spoil the ending here like crazy. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I’m not going to pretend that this review exists in a vacuum but I did my absolute best to avoid all the articles about Mass Effect 3’s ending prior to finishing the game for myself. All I knew before going into this is that there were people who weren’t happy with it and thanks to my information black out I figured it was just a minority. However after playing through to the ending myself, being able to get the good (read: Green) ending and choosing the Synthesis option I can unequivocally say that Bioware completely and utterly bollocks the ending up, and not just for the reasons that many others have cited already.

For starters whilst the story introduced the deus ex machina ending early on that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a deus ex machina. Granted there are few ways that such an epic story could come to an ending without resorting to this kind of plot device but it’s obvious that the entire plot wasn’t created back when Mass Effect was originally created. Indeed accounts from Bioware employees corroborate this meaning the true ending wasn’t created until just recently. This then feeds into the larger problem, the actual ending itself.

The whole idea of the Star Child, the devices to control/destroy the Reapers and the requirement of Shepard to sacrifice himself are things that don’t line up with the Mass Effect world or the characters within them. Shepard is not a tragic hero and indeed should you have been a tragic hero in Mass Effect 2 (where not enough of your team members survive) you in fact can not import that game into Mass Effect 3 as Bioware has deemed that ending non-canon. The idea then of Shepard making the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of the universe is completely out of character, as well as being completely non-sensical in terms of the Star Child’s solution. Indeed, whilst the Star Child is ostensibly of synthetic origins and thus can be assumed to be completely rational it acts in ridiculously irrational ways. I would go on but many people have dissected it better than I ever could and my sentiments echo theirs closely.

Now I wrestled with the ending for a couple days before talking to my friends about it but the conclusion I came to was always the same. I really do hate the ending of Mass Effect 3, not because it’s the ending or because its tragic (indeed I hated the ending of Red Dead Redemption, but it was good because I was grieving for the loss) but because it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the Mass Effect universe. Instead of the ending being driven heavily by your choices made throughout the game you’re instead treated to different coloured explosions with 1 of 3 endings based on your choice right at the end. For a universe that managed to incorporate so many of your choices into every aspect of the game this ending feels like it was done absent any thought for the rest of the universe and it really shows.

SPOILERS OVER

As a game Mass Effect 3 was almost everything I had come to expect from the series. The combat was fun and engaging with just enough challenge to make sure that I wasn’t powering through the game. The characters were (apart from one) believable and relatable and I felt a real connection with them. Right up until the final couple hours the plot and pacing of Mass Effect 3 was magnificent and it makes me very ashamed to say that the ending just simply didn’t stack up with the rest of the game, and the rest of the series for that matter. Still I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mass Effect 3, even if the ending left a sour taste in my mouth.

Rating: 9.0/10

Mass Effect 3 is available on Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and PC right now for $78. $78 and $99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the Xbox360 on the Hard difficulty with around 24 hours of total play time and 80% of the achievements unlocked.

 

13 Comments

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  1. Interesting review.

    Are there the classic Bioware filler quests? That essentially make you deliver items on different sides of the maps? For no other reason then to pad out the time played? ‘We’re all about to die, but this guy over there needs a spanner. Can you deliver it for me? Cheers. Heres some XP’ Those sort of quests.

    Due to the controversy surrounding the ending I have pushed this game to bargin bin pickup. I’m not keen on playing 30-40 hours then have a bittersweet result. It sounds as though they didn’t know how to end the series and that the ‘choices’ you have been making over the series didn’t really have that much that of an effect on the end.

    It will be interesting what the next DLC content will be from EA/Bioware. Do you think they will respond to the outcry and modify the ending? Or tack on some resolution to appease the fans?

  2. Yeah there were quite a few of those quests, usually picked up when you’d overhear a conversation in the Citadel. For the most part they were unobtrusive since the items were found during the planet scanning mini-game, but since you’d have 20+ of them hanging around in your log it made you feel like you were missing out on something. Didn’t take me that long to clear them all out at the end though.

    The game play is solid and well worth the price of admission. The ending did sour it for me but it didn’t detract from the hours of fun I had before hand. It might be worth waiting for the next round of DLC that will apparently bring better closure to the Mass Effect series, but whether that works or not remains to be seen.

    Reading into what Bioware have been saying I don’t think they’ll change the ending at all and they’ll just try to make the best of a bad situation. Changing the ending won’t appease the fans (no matter how much they cry for it) as the damage has already been done, they can only really help those who have not yet finished it. They’ve done some incredible things with the Mass Effect series so I wouldn’t count out a DLC that gives us some proper closure but you can probably understand why everyone is still sceptical about that.

  3. Even with the controversy I will still pick up the game. General theme is great game until the last 15 minutes.

    Curiosity killed the cat (procrastination from work helped) and I have now googled up and read various debates on the endings.

    Interesting article in Forbes, touches on themes you have mentioned in this site. DLC on day 1 etc…

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/04/04/ea-is-the-worst-company-in-america-now-what/

    ABC site evens debates it linking it to some good videos from a video blogger called Angry Joe. Theres a good 40-45 minutes worth to watch and it would make more sense to you as you played through the game.

    http://www.abc.net.au/technology/articles/2012/04/02/3469168.htm

    I know I should have tried to avoid knowing the ending but it’s too late now.

  4. I had to try really, really hard to avoid any discussion about the ending. To that end I simply didn’t read anything that had Mass Effect in the title. It was terribly difficult (especially with so many of my friends completing the game a full week before me) but hopefully you can still enjoy the game for what it is. Maybe the knowledge will soften the blow a little bit 😉

    I hadn’t seen any of those articles before, I’ll have to check them out. Thanks 😀

  5. Ok picked this up for PC for $26 (via. legal code for Origin)*. Will give my impressions in a few weeks.

    Quick comments (only played 4 hours or so):

    Since I am using mouse and keyboard having no problem aiming like you did with controller so far. I alway’s generally use the sniper rifle for head shots.

    Am I supposed to know who this new muscly guy is (James Vega) prior to ME3? It seems like Sheppard and are familar.

    With planet scanning does every map have a hidden resource? Or just some? Haven’t figured out how that works.

    * Actually buying direct through EA is a rip off!

  6. Completely agree that buying through Origin/Steam can be a total rip off at times. I’ve purchased a lot more games since I found site like dlcompare.com.

    Yeah I found that the PC players I talked to had no issues with the controls at all and being a PC native myself it’s probably made the aiming a lot harder than it needed to be.

    Vega’s story is hacked in a bit but they do explain where he comes from. The familiarity threw me at first too but they do a decent enough job of fitting him into the main story.

    Usually 2~3 out of each planet in the solar system will have a hidden resource. There’s an indicator at the top that lets you know how many more are left.

  7. Now finished the game. Been digesting it over the weekend and have decided that generally the game is nicely done, the exceptions being; the citadel quest(s). You eavesdrop and pick up quests? Silly. The other side missions where they re-use the multiplayer maps are sneaky. It clear that they tacked those on to the pad out the game. The resolutions with key characters are well done and poignant at times. (Mordin, Legion). The Romances are a bit cheesy. (David for Ashley you had to buy the Tennyson gift at hospital, remember all the quotes in ME1?). Then you get to the final stages and the wheels fall off.

    The narrative at the end is staggering. Why introduce pivotal new ideas and especially one character that seem to conflict with the previous 90 hours of game-play? Too many unanswered questions. My Sheppard tried to shoot the ‘star child’ countless times but the game wouldn’t let me. It clear that someone else wrote the ending. (Maybe forced by EA’s boardroom). Someone who didn’t understand the whole mythic and world that has been created. It didn’t need to be a ‘Stars Wars Return of the Jedi ending’, it just need to make sense. Bittersweet is fine with me if its handled well. This wasn’t handled well at all.

    People have already said this better than I ever could recommend watching ‘Mass Effect 3 Ending: Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage (SPOILERS)’
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MlatxLP-xs
    It’s 40 minutes long but a nice critical look at why Mass Effect as a series worked until the end. It focuses in a narrative sense on why the ending failed.

    I feel the short time in development is the cause. For whatever reason since EA took over Bioware the time the games in development have been shortened to the detriment of the game. It was very noticeable in DA2 (reused areas, rubbish textures etc…). How they salvage that franchise will be interesting. For Mass Effect 3 they had the golden goose and I think they have killed it too. Lets see what Bioware/EA do with the ending DLC. My favourite science fiction film Blade Runner shows you can improve on the original and keep ‘artistic integrity’.

  8. Ah I do remember overhearing something about a gift but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I didn’t look very hard though (I think I just tried the hospital console) but if that was key to rekindling the Ash romance then it was definitely a blunder on my part.

    The ending is very much the product of 2 people who wrote it entirely outside the purview of the rest of the team, counter to the way the rest of the game was done. I’m with you that I could take a bitter sweet ending as I’ve wrestled with them in the past but this was nothing of the sort, more like a non-canon fan fiction that somehow made it into the production gold disc. The almost blatant disregard for player’s choices, the one thing that Mass Effect could pride itself on, is the ultimate slap in the face something that I still can’t forgive Bioware for doing.

    I’ll have to check that vid out, thanks for the link!

    I’m too very interested to see what they bring to the table, even though they’ve steadfastly denied that the ending will change in anyway. I think this Destructoid article said it for me best: http://www.destructoid.com/why-bioware-should-change-the-mass-effect-3-ending-225222.phtml For some reason Bioware pulled the artistic merit card and we all failed to notice when this kind of situation happened before and, lo and behold, they capitulated to the fans’ demands. In all honesty I don’t think they can undo the damage in a DLC pack as the wounds are long since turned to scars, ones that Mass Effect fans will bear forever.

    It’s been great reading about your progress through the game Chaos, thanks for taking the time to come back 😀

  9. No worries. I stumbled on your site and it was refreshing having an independent Australian view on games. Most of which are the type I play. If I have time. No idea how you play so many. Looking forward to Wasteland 2. A ‘kickstarter’ project with a great team involved. Will see how Max Payne 3 is reviewed but could be a nice AAA title to waste a few weeks on.

    In the meantime I got halfway through ‘Fallout 3 (Extended Edition)’ and ‘The Witcher 1’ years ago but never finished them. Will think about finishing them. Tempted to reboot ‘Alpha Protocol’. Have you played that? It’s flawed and buggy spy RPG but masterfully written. I love it. It’s a pity that Obsidian weren’t given the money by Sega to polish it properly.

  10. I usually try to get one game review per week and that usually means I spend most of my Saturday and Sunday blasting through the game in order to get the review out on Monday. I sometimes have a couple games done in the pipeline already so I can spend more than a weekend on a particular game (like I did for Mass Effect 3) but I have been favoring shorter indie titles recently due to me being able to knock them over quickly.

    Definitely looking forward to Max Payne 3 although its release time coincides with Diablo 3 so I don’t think I’ll get around to it until a month or so after its released. I remember reading a bit on Alpha Protocol but nothing about it grabbed me enough to want to play it but if I see it on special I’ll be sure to grab it 🙂

  11. Definitly keep an eye out for Alpha Protocol. It’s $30 on Steam but when those sales happens it’s been as low as $5. Bargin. If you do pick it up you have to play it through at least twice to see how branching the writing is. Its plays very different each play. You get to a point in the game you choose a hub to go to (there’s 3 in total). If you tackle them in a different order the characters you meet will respond differently pending how you tackled the previous hub. Or even how you respond to the different character (Bond/Bourne/Bauer). Or how you tackled an area. (Sneaky or guns blazing). They know and like/dislike your play-style. Some may even comment on what you’re wearing.

    As warned before it’s not perfect but not as bad as any of the really negative reviews made it out to be. I vaguely remember that bizarre boardroom decisions from SEGA as they sat on the games for 8 months and released it same time as Mass Effect 2. Big mistake. My main gripe was the boss fights. Like Deus Ex HR they seem way out of place in the game. You have to fight them. No sneaky way to take them down. I suspect this was forced by SEGA. They can be really hard.

    ps I reloaded it.

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