Review | Mass Effect 3
This review contains spoilers.
Mass Effect 3. It’s the end of an epic trilogy. A series that is beloved by many fans. And yet in this final installment, the series is riddled with controversy and littered with disappointment. Fans – worldwide – are crying foul while websites across the globe are giving the finale to Commander Shepard’s adventures scores at the highest of their ratings systems. Why is there such a huge divide? Let’s delve inside and take a look.
Essentially, if you’ve played Mass Effect 2 then you’ll have no issues with Mass Effect 3. The controls, combat system, everything is the same pretty much with a few additional tweaks. You can lunge over things and such and climbs ladders now. It’s a small but welcome improvement over the previous entry, but let’s be honest, ME2 was a fantastic improvement over the first installment. One thing I’ve noticed, at least in the Xbox 360 version, is that the A button is excessively used. It’s the action button, the dodge button and in multiplayer it is the heal teammate button. I can’t possibly be the only person who struggles with rolling around while trying to heal my teammate because I’m dodging instead of activating the healing sequence.
Crisp, clean and with minimal quality issues, the graphics in the game were beautiful. I wouldn’t say flawless, but high quality none the less. It’s a step above the previous two games, which is expected from a series. The videos of certain sequences were especially well done, including the final battle for Earth. A lot of detail went into this. However, the motion in some of these FMV sequences can still look a little wooden and facial expressions seem forced. It’s like watching a great movie with weak acting. This unfortunately has been the way it has been through all of the games, and a minor detail that the voice acting and quality of the story provide the ability to overlook.
All the same great voice actors are here, and as usual the quality is great. I’m not going to say much else about the sound because really the music score is great and most games get the explosions and gun fire right so there isn’t a lot to critique beyond that and the voice acting. It doesn’t blow your mind, but it is quite good.
When I played the first Mass Effect, I was amazed at the size of the game. Almost every planet you could land on and explore. The Citadel was massive. It was very impressive. Mass Effect 2 took that away and streamlined the process of planet jumping but it definitely made the galaxy feel smaller. With this installment, the universe seems tiny. And linear. Very linear. Now I understand the game is supposed to set with a sense of urgency and trying to accomplish these certain tasks to get things done, but it just felt rushed to me. It’s the same feeling I had playing Dragon Age 2 (another Bioware sequel). The second game in that series suffered from what feels like a rushed storyline and design. When most of the areas in the game are just recycled version of the same 4 or 5 areas, it feels rushed. Fortunately, Mass Effect 3 doesn’t suffer from this problem; however the galaxy sure seems small this time around.
Let me start off by saying I thoroughly enjoyed the story for the third game in a row. Unfortunately, by the time the game has ended, the missions you go on, the party members you pick up, the choices that you make – none of it seems to matter. They give some of the storyline arcs some meaning by killing off some of the companions from the previous games that you had grown attached to, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the story by the end is flawed. After pouring hundreds of hours of your life into the game over the course of three games, I expected the choices I made along the way to matter. Did sacrificing the council in the first game make a huge difference? No. Did giving the collector base to Cerberus in the second game make a difference? No. They are mentioned, but the repercussions of these decisions are never felt.
Similarly, certain things you do in the game don’t appear to have any impact. If you saved the Rachni in the first game, you have a mission to add them to your war assets, but beyond a video conference with Admiral Hackett, that’s it. You don’t see the Rachni helping in the battles at the end, you don’t see them building the Crucible – nothing. The same thing can be said for the geth after ending the war between them and the quarians. Or the mercenaries.
Now we get to the part that has caused the most controversy and honestly has delayed this review as a whole. The game’s ending. Now, I myself haven’t had an extreme hatred for the ending the game gives, but I can agree with the majority when I say that it is very, very disappointing and from basically every aspect. This game’s theme of apparent lazy writing overall transcends into its fullest in the last 5 minutes of the game. I want everyone to understand right away that while I was disappointed that Shepard dies at the end (supposedly), that isn’t what upset me about the ending. The entire game prepares you for Shepard to die. In fact, the way it was written you expect it to happen. The problem I have is with the fact that everything you did in the previous games, everything you did in the hours leading up to the final battle, the war assets, the unification of races – none of it matters. They want you to believe that you have a dozen endings out there, but let’s be honest here. It’s one ending. One. There might be a dozen ways that ending can play out, but it’s all the same. That’s why people are pissed. This was a game series where choice was everything. Everything you said, everything you did, it had consequences right up until the end. And even that isn’t the worst. The worst part is the M. Night Shyamalan plot twist at the end. It could have been Anderson betraying you. It could have been a lot of things. What we got was a cop out. And the reasoning behind it? Synthetics to harvest and destroy organics so that other synthetics don’t destroy them? Plot twists + plot holes + broken promises = unhappy consumers. Word is that the ending will be addressed in some DLC. This review is of the finished product that I paid $80 for (I bought the N7 Collector’s Edition).
In the end, Mass Effect 3 seems to have suffered the same fate as Dragon Age 2. It feels like a rushed product. That’s not to say it isn’t a great game. Because it is. It just fell a little flat. Artistic vision or not, there are ways to make a “hero dies at the end” story satisfying. A prime example of this is the movie Gladiator. After randomly watching this movie the other night, I saw great comparisons to Mass Effect 3. The dream-like visions, the hero dying in the end, the fact that the conclusion would be the same whether or not he was able to pass on the wishes of Marcus Aurelius after slaying Commodus due to political changes – it’s all there.
In the end, I’m fine with how the game ended. I’m not going to raise hell for them to change the ending or their “artistic vision.” But when it comes to preordering the next Bioware game and dropping the extra money for a “special edition,” I’ll be thinking twice. It’s a great game, but they also seriously dropped the ball in some areas. After playing through both Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effects 1 and 2, Dragon Ages 1 and 2 and now finally the third Mass Effect … I’ve come to expect better than what we received. In Dragon Age 2 and in this game, I enjoyed them both, but I wasn’t satisfied. Bioware has backed themselves into a corner with the quality of their games where each time they have to raise the bar. Their franchises aren’t Call of Duty or Madden where new maps or a roster update will appease their fanbase. We’re patient consumers. Just give us a product we’re proud of.