Mass Effect 3 Review (PS3)

As massive shadows descend on the Earth, the world pauses to look up to the sky, only to see the hulking metallic figures of hundreds of the Reaper menace descending into the city. As they land they shake loose hundreds of crazed zombie-like infantry, while the enormous explosion of a nearby building marks the firing of its main cannon.

This is the threat that marks the beginning of the last chapter of Bioware’s acclaimed Mass Effect series, with Mass Effect 3, in which the ever approaching war between the galaxies various races, and the seemingly unstoppable Reapers finally arrives, with desperate battles breaking out on planets everywhere. At the heart of this conflict, as always, is Commander Shepherd, who is relied on to unify the various galactic races in order to mount a proper defense, while at the same time finding a way to defeat the Reapers once and for all.

As with the previous Mass Effect titles, Mass Effect 3 blends RPG story-telling elements with a 3rd person shooter, which seems to be an effort to create a game that is not only action-packed, but is still compelling enough to draw its audience in. And draw the audience in, it does. Over the past two games, we have become familiar with each of the characters, their strengths, weaknesses and foibles. It is these characters that bring the universe of the Mass Effect series to life, and even the most seemingly minor character seems genuine in the portrayal, thanks to the efforts given by the voice-actors, who do nothing short of a phenomenal job in imbuing the emotion which drives the entire plot into everyone that you meet.

This does not just apply to the minor characters, of course. Most of the major characters that you encounter will be ones returning from Mass Effect’s one and two, with only a small handful of new ones being introduced. In many places you will see new sides of these characters as the pressure of galactic war builds on them, revealing strengths and weaknesses that were not visible before. Mass Effect 3 very rarely lets you forget that you are in the middle of a war – a point that is hammered home almost immediately.

Compounding this sense of loss is the idea of choice that Mass Effect 3, like its predecessors focuses heavily on. If you have played through the previous titles the choices you have made will pop up from time to time, with the impact ranging from a simple conversation recalling “that time when…” to the far more visible, with entire missions being altered drastically, conversations changing, or not occurring, or characters appearing or being absent. This can mean that your play experience may be considerably different to that of another. It also means that, like Shepherd, you may find yourself second-guessing decisions after the fact. Did you do the right thing by choosing one action or another? How would things have played out if you had chosen differently? Times like this pull you further into the emotional experience that Mass Effect 3 offers.

The dark, pressure-ridden atmosphere of the story is further enhanced by the games overall presentation. The scope of the conflict has increased dramatically since Mass Effect 2, and the environments you do battle in often serve as a reminder of this, whether it is the sight of a Reaper besieging something in the distance, or the fires of a an entire planet caught in the midst of a struggle for survival, while you fight on a moon above. But it is not simply these sweeping landscapes that add to this effect, the music, which swells and builds as the odds continue to stack against you, and characters dialogue changes, as a situation takes a turn from bad to worse.

There are some small disappointments though. With all of the effort that has clearly been put into the way that Mass Effect 3 looks and sounds, it is a shame when minor problems rear their ugly head in an otherwise outstanding game. Having your game crash during a climactic battle, or even worse after fighting your way out of a difficult spot is frustrating to say the least. There are also the occasional frame rate troubles, as well as some camera oddities, which unfortunately stand out all too much compared to the excellence that goes along with the rest of the game.

Aside from these, there are some returning combat problems. Enemies still get stuck at times, and your allies will still behave foolishly, attempting to avoid fire while on top of a crate, or standing up in the middle of a clearing and becoming little more than momentary magnets for enemy fire. But these, once again, are minor, particularly when you stack them up against the changes to combat.

The seemingly minor tweaks, such as adding a charge-up melee attack, and being able to roll to nearby cover combine with the extra thought that seems to have gone into level design, and the different types of enemies. These changes allow you to much more easily take the approach to a fight that you want to. Standing at a distance and picking off enemies with your sniper rifle as an Infiltrator is just as effective as charging into the fray with the shotgun and blasting away and close range. Of course, each approach also has its drawbacks. Focusing on enemies at a distance leaves you open to being flanked by the fast-moving shock troops eager to punch you to death. If you charge into the thick of things all the time there is the chance that you will find yourself outmanned, surrounded and without any nearby cover to hide behind while you recover.

You are also given the option to choose your weapon load-out, and modify your weapons with different attachments which do things such as reduce the amount of ammo a SMG uses, or increasing the damage of an assault rifle. Choosing your load-out has more impact than simply picking the weapons go with you on a certain mission. Each weapon has a particular weight attached to it, the more weight you are carrying the slower your abilities recharge, meaning that while you can carry a full compliment of deadly weapons, you may find yourself unable to use an ability when you really need to.

The powers themselves, as in the previous titles, are improved by spending points you earn as you level up. Unlike in the others though, as you advance through the ranks of a skill you are given choices as to how to advance it. Do you want to increase the force behind your shockwave? Or widen its area of effect so that it strikes more that one target? These decisions both shape, and are shaped by the way you choose to do combat, and there is a degree of synergy between skills, with some decreasing the recharge time of other abilities, or increasing their damage.

When you aren’t blasting away at Reaper shock troops, or arguing with stubborn generals about committing their forces to the war effort, you will spend much of your time wandering around The Citadel, shopping for bits and pieces of armor and weapons, or listening in on conversations and picking up side-quests. For the most part, these side-missions are fairly standard, with you being tasked to retrieve an item while on a mission, or to recover something while exploring the galaxy.

This exploration, like in Mass Effect 2, involves flying from system to system, searching planets for objects of interest. The difference is that rather than scanning a planet at a time, and probing for resources, now you scan entire systems at a time, until you find a planet with an object, and drop a probe onto it to gather up what it is that you noticed. This task is made slightly strenuous by the arrival of Reapers, forcing you to flee from the system of before you are caught and destroyed. Sadly, this activity becomes a requirement if you intend to gather the full strength of the galaxy to defeat the Reapers.

Another way to ensure your preparedness for the final battle is through Mass Effect 3’s Multiplayer mode. While there is only the one survival-style game mode, where you defeat wave after wave of enemies, which steadily increase in number and strength. It’s a great deal of fun to blast away at Husks, and other enemies in tandem with other people, and you may find yourself drawn back to it even after you have yielded the benefits to your single-player mission.

The small flaws with Mass Effect 3 may stand out in stark contrast to the skill that has gone into crafting the rest of the game, but these are minor enough, and few enough in number and occurrence that they can be overlooked simply enough. The struggles of the characters, both physical and emotional are bewitching, and to say the least, heart wrenching. But ultimately, it is this sense of weight, and emotion, which makes Mass Effect more than just a 3rd person style action game, or an RPG, but an engaging story that will draw in veterans and newcomers with ease.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

About the Author

I'm a student who, like many, spends more time studying games than my coursework. Games are a bit like food. You need to try as many different types as you can, otherwise you might miss out on something that you didn't even know that you liked.