Any good trilogy starts quite light-heartedly and then sinks into desperation before anything can be cleared up. Things need to become impossible before the hero can manage to save the day, and the beginning of Mass Effect 3 places us slap-bang in the centre of hell. The Reapers, the aeons-old mechanical bringers of destruction, are attacking every civilised planet in the galaxy and it’s up to you, as Commander Shepard, to save the day. You’ve got this far - you’ve finished off Saren, and discovered the mysterious story behind the collectors - and now your final battle must begin. Do you have what it takes?
Mass Effect 3 has had its share of controversy over the past few weeks. People complained about day one DLC, about certain files being on-disc, and about the ending. In short, more people have probably heard about the latest Mass Effect game thanks to the vocal minority than people who have decided to buy after seeing advertisements or trailers. As is always the case, those who shout the loudest aren’t necessarily in the right, and I think almost anybody you care to ask would say that the third entry in the series is a fitting farewell to this segment of the Mass Effect canon. You’ll see decisions come to play and old friends return to fight the Reapers for perhaps the final time.
Six months after the end of the second game, Shepard has been locked up on Earth. Once again, people are questioning what he (or indeed, she) has been saying about the Reapers and by the time they finally accept what has happened as truth, it is far too late. Towns are destroyed, buildings toppled like Lego, and millions are killed in mere moments. It’s then, and only then, that Shepard is released and told to get each and every race together for one final push against the ultimate threat. As it happens, there are few races in a better position than humans, so it’s going to take more than a little bit of work to get the universe to focus on banding together.To start with, there are more than a few diplomatic problems you’ll need to fix, feuds with races lasting hundreds of years. If you’ve played the past two games, the wide range of alien life remains, expanded by evil experimentation by the Reapers. The codex, a reference of the game’s entire backstory, is as thick as ever and still remains an essential read for anybody looking to fully understand everything happening. It’s not mandatory, but you’ll definitely benefit from reading it. For anything that anybody has said about the story in the third game, and of that in the second game, you can’t argue that the foundation for that story has been expertly built.
And, actually, the overriding story isn’t what’s so great about these games anyway. The story for this final game, as I wrote earlier, is that you must calm race relations across the galaxy to get everybody together for a final push against the Reapers. This isn’t necessarily all that interesting in itself, but the joy of the story is in the people you meet while trying to achieve that goal, in the sacrifices that need to be made by characters old and new. It’s seeing the struggle on the individual basis, rather than on the galaxy scale that I think some were expecting, and BioWare have managed to capture that perfectly. Like Majora’s Mask, Mass Effect 3 has moments where you see people reacting to their potential utter destruction and it’s fascinating to see.
When you’re not talking with old friends, saving the galaxy, or checking your emails (I could hardly tell it was a game, to be honest), you’ll be exploring strange planets and fighting unusual life-forms. Like previous entries into the series, sometimes it takes more than just selecting the right piece of conversation to make things right, sometimes it takes something with a little more action, and the third game is no different. You’ll spend much of your time hidden behind conveniently high walls, waiting for your shields to restore and your weapon to reload. They’ve improved things somewhat, but it remains the same beast, just perhaps a slightly different colour.There are a host of different weapons to choose from, which can be upgraded via pick-ups that you’ll generally find lying around on the ground. From absolutely lethal shotguns that take ages to reload to sniper rifles that can fire five bullets in less than a second (but are unlikely to actually kill your target), the balancing makes it so that many of the more unusual weapons aren’t going to be a constant go-to, but I felt that I could pick and choose any weapon type without being particularly at a disadvantage, more so than in other games. The pistol, for instance, is something I’ve never really used before this game, and for the first time I feel like it could be a mistake to ignore it.
Commanding your troops is a helpful but unnecessary feature that some will love and others will hardly ever use. You can still tell them to use certain skills if you choose, but now you can also command them to move forward to specific positions in order to gain an advantage. Kinect users can shout commands at their TV sets, but I’m not sure exactly how well that would work. In short, it’s handy to have, and perhaps on the highest difficulty it would be a key thing to have, but personally, it’s not something for which I ever really felt the need to use. It works, and I suppose there’s not a lot more to say about it.
In terms of graphics and music, both are of course top-notch. My girlfriend is playing the original Mass Effect, and if not for seeing the whole thing again, I wouldn’t have believed just how far the series has come graphically. The music was always great, very much influenced by Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, and the same could be said for Mass Effect 3. Voice work, similarly, is top-notch across the board and about as immersive as it could be.The “tacking on” of a multiplayer mode in a previously single-player game like Mass Effect was cause for concern, but there was really no reason to worry. It’s good fun, if a little time consuming, and doesn’t especially inflict itself on the single-player mode. If you plan to get through the story in a couple of hours and then play lots of multiplayer, you’ll find that the galaxy readiness you acquire will work to your advantage. If you plan to do every side-quest, explore every planet and tease every Reaper (not actually a feature, but I’m campaigning to have it as DLC), the multiplayer mode isn’t going to be a thing you’re forced to do.
With that said, you’ll probably want to play it quite a bit. Similar to Horde mode in Gears of War, you’ll need to fight off swarms of enemies while occasionally completing objectives and defending/reviving your teammates as they need it. It’s a nice addition to the game, rather than something that feels bunged in for the sake of having it, and I think its previous detractors might be nicely surprised by something which could quite possibly extend the game while providing quick and easy access to the Mass Effect universe.
In short, Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game and, to play devil’s advocate, even if the last five minutes absolutely stink, that does nothing to stop the rest of the game being a must-play. Viewing the Mass Effect trilogy as a single entity, it is by far one of the deepest games available this generation and a perfect example of why BioWare are such respected game developers. If you’ve not played the earlier titles, you need to fix this immediately, and if you’re not playing Mass Effect 3 for whatever reason, you need to give it a go. It’s about as near-perfect as I could expect and, whatever your thoughts on recent business practises from EA and BioWare, it’s a game that deserves to be played.