Mass Effect 3 Reviewed

The final chapter in Commander Shepard’s Story comes to an explosive end

The sense of things are about to come to an end is omnipresent in Mass Effect 3, even from the very beginning. The Reapers, towering metal death machines resembling large metal squids descends calmly on an earth hapless to defend itself, caught by surprise; the humans on earth could do nothing but watch as the Reapers cut a bloody swath of destruction and death.

It is the end of the world, and for those who have invested over 120 hours into the previous 2 games in the series, it is watching the thing that you have been trying to warn the Galaxy about happen right in front of you. Mass Effect 3 rounds out its epic space opera with numerous moments of maturity and drama. Bringing about the both a controversial but philosophical conclusion, not just in games but in any modern medium as a whole.

Mass Effect 3 begins months after the conclusion of Mass Effect 2 during which Shepard has been grounded and put in a holding facility pending court marshal for destroying an entire Batarian system in the ME2’s Arrival DLC. Not one to be idle, he continues his vain attempts to convince the galactic authorities of the impending threat from the Reapers, strange ancient beings that have habitually decimated all ancient civilizations. The game starts with the stunning sequence of the Reapers attacking Earth, with reinstated Shepard off to rally support from all the other galactic species in the hopes that such a unified force can prevent the seemingly inevitable end of times.

The tasks you’ll face, some optional and some mandatory, get added to the new Galaxy At War System and the choices you’ll make along the way also impact this number in ways both big and small. So if you allow a reporter to embed herself on your ship and grant her occasional interviews, you’ll be able to rally (or discourage) specific factions in your fleet, which can raise or lower your number a little bit. Other choices, such as how you address the Krogans’ ongoing fertility problem, make a larger impact and potentially come at a price, as one faction might not like it if you side with another. As in Mass Effect 2, you can proceed past the story’s point of no return with less than a full complement of allies, but this will have storyline consequences. Filling the “you must have this many allies to proceed” bar, though, isn’t especially challenging, assuming you’re willing to scan some planets and embark on some optional missions along the way.

For me, the centerpiece of a Mass Effect game is the story and the characters. Mass Effect 3 feels like a reunion, if enough of the ME2 cast is still alive in your version of the story. It’s easy to see where the existing characters can either plug right into the action or be replaced with generic counterparts, if necessary. Heading out to meet up with Krogans? Hey, Grunt’s there! Encountering the Quarians? Yep, there’s Tali’s. And yes, you’ll face the Geth, and… yeah, it’s not hard to guess about who you’ll run into along the way. In a game where the full crew of ME2 survived, the story of Mass Effect 3 feels like one big coincidence after another because you’re constantly and conveniently bumping into prominent cast members. Yet most of these old crew mates won’t be returning to the Normandy this time around, because most of them have other responsibilities. Some of them will, however, appear on the ground while you’re performing missions, but they’ll be heading up a second squad or off performing their own tasks while you fight, relegating them to little more than radio chatter. Even with that in mind, as someone desperate to see how this story was going to conclude, it’s great to see this cast of characters coming together again. And though it leaves a hint of an opening for some further adventures in this universe via a really hokey post-credits sequence, the actual endings provide a decent bit of closure for your Shepard story, even if the final speech that tries to tell you what you’re choosing between is a little convoluted.

The multiplayer side of the game allows four players to join together and go through 10 waves of enemies. It’s Mass Effect’s take on the standard wave-based survival mode format, with ammo dumps spread around the map to let you reload and the ability to raise a fallen comrade if you reach them quickly enough. It also slides in some objectives along the way, forcing you to activate four consoles, or take down four marked targets, and so on. These objectives are timed and they aren’t optional. If you can’t complete the task before time expires, you fail completely. And failure, either from a missed objective or losing all of your teammates, sends you back to the menu. There’s no second chance at a wave, you’ll need to start again. In my experience, most runs at the middle difficulty were taking around 30 minutes to complete, and the bonus you get for completing the task and getting everyone out alive is sizable.

Mass Effect 3 and the entire series stand alongside Uncharted and Skyrim in exemplifying what games can do that cannot be replicated in other creative forms. What is so unique in this game is how the presence of its conclusion feels like the existential dread that infuses the characters that make up its universe. The paradox of the game becomes painfully prescient as it draws inexorably towards its conclusion. Here, Shepard is trying to determining the fate of everything but the inevitability of the final is inescapable. All the decisions you continue to make in Mass Effect may be less consequential but they feel all the more grave as if the game is becoming a testament to who you are, or who you want to be.

Ratings: 5 out of 5

By Chen KangYi
© POPCulture Online 2012, All Rights Reserved.

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