Geth who’s back…
With all due respect to other titles released this year, it would be fair to say that Mass Effect 3 is the first genuine gaming blockbuster to be released in 2012. Does it live up to the hype on the back of Mass Effect 2, or is it a disappointment of galactic proportions? Read on to find out.
Game: Mass Effect 3
Picking up shortly after the events of Arrival DLC released for its predecessor, Mass Effect 3 thrusts you into the virtual shoes of Commander Shepard on Earth as the Reapers are about to attack. Without going into spoiler territory, what follows is quite possibly one of the best stories to grace our beloved medium. BioWare has refined the cinematic nature of their epic sci-fi tale to the point of perfection. From start to finish, no matter what conversation choices you make, you’ll genuinely care about the universe you’re defending and all the characters that inhabit it. That’s especially true if you’ve been invested in the series since the release of the original back in 2007, as you can import any of your previous saves to make Mass Effect 3’s story a more personal one.
If you’re a newcomer to the series, you can catch up with events from the previous two titles by reading the many expansive codex entries via your journal. However, the weight of certain story moments and what they mean will be totally lost on you, which would be an incredible shame. For that reason alone, you should at the very least indulge in some Mass Effect 2 action before delving into the third entry in the series, you owe it yourself and it will make Mass Effect 3’s story a much more enjoyable experience.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that BioWare hasn’t upgraded the visuals in Mass Effect 3, but look a little harder and you’ll find that not to be case at all. Mass Effect 2 has been improved upon with higher resolution textures, more detailed character models and environments. However, even though locations aren’t particularly massive, it’s the scale of certain set pieces that is most impressive. They’re simply breathtaking, so much so that you’ll pan the camera around just to make sure what you’re witnessing on-screen is actually playable.
With the visual upgrade in mind, apart from the odd stutter during the more chaotic battles, Mass Effect 3 runs extremely well. The texture pop-in that plagued the original and occasionally showed up in the sequel has been eradicated, helping you stay immersed in the fabulous universe.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Mass Effect 3’s audio brings the game to life, adding another layer immersion to an already encapsulating title. The voice acting is superb, making each and every character you come across during the game that little bit more believable, especially the ones related to main story arc.
Complimenting the voice acting is the superb soundtrack, filled with music that suits the on-screen action or conversations perfectly. Whether its the haunting sounds of a piano playing softly in the background of a cutscene or the urgent tones blaring out during a skirmish, the music featured in Mass Effect 3 is simply astounding.
If you played Mass Effect 2 and enjoyed it, you’ll be happy to learn that Mass Effect 3 doesn’t divert from its predecessor’s formula too much. This, of course, means that combat in Mass Effect 3 remains as satisfying as ever, with the tweaked gunplay and biotic powers working together extremely well. Taking down the enemies (both new and old) using the many weapons and powers at your disposal is an incredible amount of fun. You’d think the “take cover and shoot/use powers” element would get a little repetitive or boring after a while, but a nice mixture of enemies and more open level design means it rarely ever reaches that point. Thanks to your OmniBlade, you can also hit enemies with a devastating charged melee attack if they manage to get a little too close.
The only slight downside to the combat is the cover mechanic, which can be a little too “sticky” times. On a few rare occasions, mostly during hectic battles, you’ll find yourself getting into cover when you don’t want to, taking a significant amount of damage as a result. It doesn’t hurt the combat aspect of the game too much, but with the gunplay packing a much bigger punch, it’s a shame BioWare didn’t spend a little more time refining the cover system as well. Team AI could have done with a bit more work too, as from time to time you’ll find your comrades randomly standing on top of a box or another part of the environment as they attempt to take on the enemy. Thankfully though, even in these strange positions, they still manage to obey your combat related commands without issue.
Outside the combat, the general structure of Mass Effect 3 also remains fairly similar to its predecessor. You’ll access main story and side missions from the Normandy’s Galaxy Map, and keep track of them via your journal. Side missions range from actual gameplay action to searching the Galaxy Map for items required by characters you meet on your travels. Searching for these items involves scanning systems and planets just like it did in Mass Effect 2, but the entire process has been streamlined and takes into account the presence of the Reapers. It’s a welcome tweak to a mechanic that worked well in Mass Effect 2, but after a while became rather tedious and inconsequential.
Conversing with characters throughout the galaxy and making important decisions once again plays a massive part in proceedings, resulting in the story going down a different route and your character earning Paragon or Renegade points that adjusts his or her perception across the galaxy. The conversation system remains unchanged, but the decisions you’re required to make are much more difficult, often leaving you in a bit of a predicament. That’s the beauty of Mass Effect 3 though, the game makes you genuinely care about almost every action you take, and that’s a strength not many other titles are capable of boasting about. However, if you’re the type of person that just wants to get straight into action, you’ll be pleased to know that BioWare has provided you with the option to skip the conversations and just play them out as standard cutscenes. Why you would ever want to do that and skip one of the best aspects of Mass Effect 3 is truly baffling.
Customisation plays a bigger role when compared to Mass Effect 2, as you can now add a wealth of statistic increasing modifications to all your guns via weapon benches. The amount of weapons you carry (five maximum) can be adjusted too, with the weight of each weapon adding to the cooldown time of your powers. Armour can be also customised, with each different part having an effect on your health, weapon damage and so on. All of these customisation options are most welcome, as they add an extra layer of depth to the gameplay, and are sure to please those looking for a more traditional RPG experience.
Kinect voice input support is present in the Xbox 360 version of the game, and works surprisingly well. However, it is by no means essential, as the majority of actions triggered by the voice input can easily be performed by the press of a button or two on your control pad.
Depending on how you choose to tackle the game, a normal difficulty playthrough of Mass Effect 3 can take anything between 30 to 50 hours. Bump the difficulty up and you can probably add another 10 hours to those figures, as you’ll need to be more patient and tactical during battle. If you’re a completionist or just a massive Mass Effect fan, then you’ll probably want to venture down all the conversation routes on offer too, which means you’ll be playing the game at least a couple of more times.
In a first for the series, Mass Effect 3 also includes a co-op multiplayer mode to complete the package. Supporting up to four players, it’s essentially BioWare’s take on the Horde mode from the Gears of War series, but with a Mass Effect spin. The core gameplay is essentially mimics what single player portion of the game offers, but with the added ability to play as a race that’s not human. Unlike most multiplayer modes of a similar nature, BioWare has done a decent job with their co-op offering. Just like the Horde mode in Gears of War, whether or not you enjoy it and get hooked depends totally on who you play it with.
It’s more action than RPG, that’s for sure, but when both elements are crafted with such high quality it’s hard to care about the exact balance between the two. With Mass Effect 3, BioWare has delivered a title that pushes the boundaries of interactive storytelling, backed up by some excellent core gameplay and stunning visuals. Utterly compelling from start to finish, it’s quite simply an essential purchase.