Review

Mass Effect 3 review: the ultimate ultimatum

Games like this don’t come around every so often, and when they do they need to be experienced; not just played, but experienced. Mass Effect 3 is the finale to a series that can only be described as epic, and this game in particular goes out of its way to enthral and engage you in a superb fashion. I sit here, writing the review to this game, wishing that there was more to the epic trilogy.

Epic is a word that I think I’ll find myself using a lot in this review, because there are just so many aspects of Mass Effect 3 that deserved to be named in this way. Let’s start with the story, which is perhaps the most epic part of the whole game. I recently discussed on our Neowin Gaming Podcast that Bioshock perhaps has the best story of any game I’ve played, but this trumps it by far.

The level of engagement achieved by Mass Effect 3 is nothing short of outstanding. For both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 the story was great, no doubt about that, but for the third and final instalment I really felt as if I was Commander Shepard; that I was fighting a huge force called the Reapers and that the fate of the galaxy rested on my shoulders. I was sucked in to the point where my emotions ran high during certain scenes, and where I seriously considered what the effects my choices had made.

The full story is really something that you have to experience for yourself, so I’ll try my best to avoid giving away any parts of it. However, it must be said that everything from the epic opening scene right down to the gripping ending is superbly paced, incredibly well written and on a huge (read: epic) scale. It ties in the critical parts from the first two games, and if you imported your ME2 character as I did your previous choices have huge effects on the storyline.

To sum it up, the story of Mass Effect 3 is like the final third of a gripping film: it has all the epic battles, an ultimate climax and a great resolution to end it all.

Just quickly, I was reading comments online about people being disappointed with the ending of the trilogy, but I didn’t have this feeling at all. There are multiple endings (which I have heard are similar), and I can understand where sour feelings may come from, but I came out of the game feeling satisfied. But that’s just me, and I think that each person will get something different out of it.

According to the folks at EA the game is suitable both to series’ newcomers and to Mass Effect veterans, and while I agree that the story doesn’t require too much backstory from the previous titles to enjoy, I highly recommend playing the series in order before touching 3. The first two games are great, and you will get to know the premise, story and characters before reaching this game, allowing you to engage much more with the story of Mass Effect 3.

Enough on the epic story, it’s time to move to the epic gameplay. It seems like many aspects of the game have been heavily discussed on by the development then improved for the better. For example, it bugged me how in Mass Effect 2 you could only use a few weapons specific to the class you chose, but with Mass Effect 3 any class is able to equip any weapon which is a huge bonus.

The weapons system has also been improved on in many other ways. Weapons have “weight” which affects how quickly your powers regenerated, meaning if you choose to go lighter (and therefore less powerful) with weapons you will have more tech/biotic power capabilities. This means that you aren’t ridiculously overpowered on two fronts and allows different play styles for different people. Personally I chose to approach the game with more weapons and loved it, but if I go back wanting to focus on powers I’m sure I would enjoy it while experiencing something different.

You also have the ability to upgrade and modify the weapons you have, which is more flexible than ME2 but not as confusing as the original Mass Effect. The whole system feels balanced and approachable, as it’s easy to see what weapon mods such as extended barrels and scopes affect in terms of making your weapon better. There are also grenades for the first time, which can be useful depending on your play style.

It’s much easier to enjoy the gunplay in Mass Effect 3 because of these changes, and it doesn’t feel as tedious as some parts were in earlier games. It’s by no means a hardcore first-person shooter with a complete focus on gunplay, but it means you can enjoy a more solid and rounded RPG-style game.

There are also some serious improvements to the quest system and how this affects the storyline. Throughout the game you’ll be collecting war assets to assist in the final confrontation against the Reapers, and each main quest, side quest and planet scanned helps to build this. Your commitment to going through the game and playing all the side quests to build your war assets has a direct impact on the ending.

The quest system has been majorly simplified, for the better, to make it easier to experience all the side quests in Mass Effect 3. Main quests are usually marked with “Priority” in your journal, and side quests may come up from talking to characters or through N7 notifications aboard the Normandy. There are also small side quests that see you picking up resources during main or other quests and delivering these to people on the Citadel, which is the only major free roam area you can explore.

Due to the system being simplified I’m confident that I came out of the game having played every single quest in the game, and all were enjoyable and worth the time. Unfortunately there is still planet scanning in the game which is required for some minor quests, but to a lesser extent than in Mass Effect 2. I would have preferred scanning to have been scrapped as it’s relatively tedious but it is optional and only a small part of the gameplay.

Many of the other systems present in Mass Effect 3 have stayed relatively unchanged from previous instalments. The levelling system is still great and sees you using points to upgrade your various powers and strengths. The dialogue option system is also still present and allows you to progress through the game becoming either Paragon (compassionate) or Renegade (ruthless), allowing for a great many options in gameplay style.

Multiplayer has been introduced for the first time in the Mass Effect series, and at first I was hesitant about BioWare simply slapping on a rubbish component. Luckily there are several great things about the multiplayer system: it’s completely optional, it ties into the story and it’s really fun. If you would prefer not to play multiplayer you don’t have to and you can still enjoy the deep singleplayer experience. If you do want to play multiplayer you get a bonus to your war readiness, relieving some of the pressure on completing all side quests to gain maximum war assets.

Either way I found playing multiplayer really fun, and I think it’s due to it not being overly competitive but instead cooperative. You play with three other soldiers and help each other complete objectives across ten waves of enemies: it may be simply killing all enemies or it could be activating beacons, uploading data or something else. The multiplayer maps are taken directly from the N7 side missions in the singleplayer campaign, and are well set out and easy to get used to.

A lot of players may write-off the multiplayer aspect of Mass Effect 3 without tying it, but I recommend that you give it a go as a supplement to the fantastic singleplayer campaign and you may find it surprisingly entertaining.

Graphically Mass Effect 3 looks very good; I wouldn’t go so far to say amazing, but it does make great use of the relatively old Unreal Engine 3. Many scenes look fantastic with epic scale and I particularly liked the use of the heavy blue lens flare when looking at lights/suns. Facial animations and character graphics are also quite good, but some other components of the game can look strangely graphically sub-par when others look so great.

For some platform specific things, I played on the Xbox 360 and noticed slight performance issues in some scenarios, but it won’t hamper your enjoyment of the game at all. The disc changes are more frequent than with ME2 and can be annoying but this is a limitation of the DVD technology used with the console. Kinect voice features are also integrated but unfortunately I couldn't test these as I don’t own a Kinect.

When it comes to the audio used in Mass Effect 3, it’s another example of fantastic use of an orchestral score. The soundtrack to the game adds tension in all the right places and enhances the experience in ways you would only realize if it wasn’t there. Voice acting is also superb as it has been across the entire series, so no complaints on that audio front at all. As a tip to people I also highly recommend playing the game with a 5.1 surround sound set-up as there are some epic scenes that make great use of an immersive sound set-up.

Lastly, the length of Mass Effect 3 was just right for the type of gamer I am. It’s not an RPG of the scale of Skyrim, but I don’t think hundreds of hours of quests would quite fit the game. Instead I was greatly satisfied with 28 hours of perfectly placed singleplayer missions: note that I believe I did all the side quests in this time so if you forgo doing them all your game time will be less. I also played around four hours of multiplayer on top of this before I ended the story, with the possibility of playing many more without getting tired.

Also, expect several DLC expansions from BioWare including the day-one episode From Ashes. These will definitely lengthen your experience if you choose to purchase them and are playable once you finish the main storyline.

For a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, Mass Effect 3 is exactly what I wanted to finish the epic trilogy: an enthralling and brilliant storyline, polished gameplay with improved RPG and quest elements, tough decisions to be made and an all-round enjoyable experience. Couple it with surprisingly good multiplayer and you have a real winner that will surely be one of the best gaming experiences of 2012.

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Salazar Shepard? Really, Commander?

And I join to those who say there's been and continues to be a massive dose of overhype, and, quite probably, EA's PR money, just as it was in case with DA2. While I haven't gone too far in the game, I already can say definitely - it is the worst in the series.

I might add that I wasn't nearly as critical of ME2 with all its streamlining.

I will wait for DA3 to pass the final verdict but thus far it's heavily weighted towards that the (formerly) good doctors of Bioware have finally flipped.

Personally I disagree with this review but nice to see that some people got lot enjoyment out of it. Different gamers have different things they enjoy

For me it was extremely weak game. It felt a lot like DA2, just in Mass Effect universe. Story was very weak and it made me not want to finish the game half way through. I did in the end push through but it was agony, similar that I had with DA2. Before that I have had no issues playing through any BioWare game (Okay, Neverwinter Nights I never played through).

Combat I think was okayish, just really spoiled by the awful controls for PC. Press Space to take cover, press Space to jump over cover! ("STOP JUMPING OVER COVER WHEN THEY ARE FIRING AT ME" was something I had to yell a lot cause it seemed to ignore my wish to get to cover always at first and then I just spammed it to get to cover *sigh*). I tried Mass Effect 1 right after ME3 and I have to say, the cover system there was a lot better imo.

Wall of text done for now and that's just overall feeling I got from the game.

Are games getting easier and easier on their default settings? I always do my first play on default but holy crap this game was a cake walk. I guess all the head shot stat boosters on mods and gear + mouse and keyboard had something to do with it, but damn.

I'm getting older. No where near as good at FPS games now as I was 10 years ago. But these games seam to be getting more and more spoon fed as they go on.

And no, I was not playing "RPG Mode". Whatever waste of human flesh came up with that idea needs to be FIRED.

necrosis said,
Are games getting easier and easier on their default settings? I always do my first play on default but holy crap this game was a cake walk. I guess all the head shot stat boosters on mods and gear + mouse and keyboard had something to do with it, but damn.

I believe, at least for ME3, it's a combination of the weapons being so good, and the fact the 3 mechanics are not changed much from 2. So basically we already know how to handle the enemies relatively easily.

If you are a big fan and expected answers and a sense of accomplishment at the end... you might want to look somewhere else. I am personally very dissapointed.

THis game is crap, i purchased it an i'm going to ask for a refund. Why? Because they relesed it with a fair number of buggy missions, most notably the Victus mission on Tuchanka. That would not be bad because a future patch would fix it. But you see Bioware/EA said they started on DLC after they finished the game. That may have been true for ME2 when sidekicks had zero dialogue in dlc (maybe because the actors voicing those characters had finished their contract and it was too costly to have them read new DLC lines). However in "From Ashes" DLC there is minion dialogue (including EDI and most notably Liara) aplenty. All this while some missions in the game are missing sound or crashing the game. So the fact that they say dlc is an afterthought to the main game is a big pile of bovine dung.

In a mission on Tutchanka after one minion speaks the sound cuts off and at most 1 minute after that the game crashes.

LauRoman said,
In a mission on Tutchanka after one minion speaks the sound cuts off and at most 1 minute after that the game crashes.

With that descriptions I'd be more worried about my drivers and/or hardware. That's not an issue I had anywhere in the game.

Leonick said,

With that descriptions I'd be more worried about my drivers and/or hardware. That's not an issue I had anywhere in the game.
But why would it crash on that planet alone and nowhere else?

It's hard to take a review that calls the ending well written seriously. If this had been a standalone shooter, it might have been a passable solution. However, if you expect it to answer your questions or even make sense you will be disappointed. The ending is a massive crapfest that leaves behind massive plot holes and in general makes no sense whatsover.

Man of these people with their panties in a bunch. I think this one is the best of the series. Now I havn't seen the ending yet but there has not been one story aspect I didn't like.

Good game but not great, last 15 minutes pretty much ruins it.

If you havent played it do yourself a favour and dont or if you are playing the game, click exit once you reach the light - so to speak.

Osiris said,
Good game but not great, last 15 minutes pretty much ruins it.

If you havent played it do yourself a favour and dont or if you are playing the game, click exit once you reach the light - so to speak.

I have to agree. You have no idea what happens to the characters, it's just the same video only slightly different for each of the endings. Such a disappointment for a quite a long haul of a game. I don't care what happens to Shep but at least have a proper story aftermath based on the choices you've made in the game!! Not just here's 3 different colored straws, which one would you like...

I have watched gameplay footage from this series recently, to decide whether I want to play it or not. Can fans explain to me the appeal?

Right now, all I see if 95% cutscenes with 5% linear/rail shooter interludes that you can't lose at. Is there more to it than that, or is that what everyone is enjoying? Namely, the story you are watching with the rare chance to shoot something?

I am not trying to be snarky. I'm seriously wondering if I am missing something. Thanks.

excalpius said,
I have watched gameplay footage from this series recently, to decide whether I want to play it or not. Can fans explain to me the appeal?

Right now, all I see if 95% cutscenes with 5% linear/rail shooter interludes that you can't lose at. Is there more to it than that, or is that what everyone is enjoying? Namely, the story you are watching with the rare chance to shoot something?

I am not trying to be snarky. I'm seriously wondering if I am missing something. Thanks.

Some of the cut scenes are quite amusing depending on your choices. The 'evil' shep can be quite nasty which is a nice surprise. The FPS element isn't too bad but gets very boring at the end when they 'throw the same bad guy x100' at you.

It was just way too linear. I preferred the last one because there was a bunch of stuff to do. This time I felt like it was a totally linear set of events.

I am about ten hours in. It's not bad so far but it feels more "soap opera like" to me. I am dissapointed they didn't include relationship options for animals. You would think the Bioware team would embrace diversity and tolerance more.

Too generous of a score. Stupid negative reason for point deduction: galaxy scanning...it is a part of the game; your opinion shouldn't affect the score like that-bias.

There are also grenades for the first time

I remember grenades in ME1. They were odd, but they're definitely grenades.

I put it on RP and 60% of the time your sitting back and watching the dialect... I think it's the best version yet. on my new rig it's amazing. the graphics are just amazing. I found it to be a lot faster than ME2... Am I correct in saying this is Unreal Engine 3 or 4... Whatever engine it's awesome.

The game really good in PC, unfortunately there are medium quality textures even forcing AA through catalyst panel donĀ“t help them. The really awful thing for me was the space bar, for me look like the holy button, to many actions assigned to this holy button, crouch, jump, run, hide. It was really difficult to jump in some situation because first it hide and later jump, really annoying when you have someone shooting you at your back -_-*
The 12 dynamic ending based on Galactic Readiness meter which will never go up 50% because you are forced to play multi-player mode, it is just stupid, I hate to play MP, and unfortunately I was able just to see half of the possible ending, hope someone can make a trainner to alter that stupid GR meter.

In general is a good game, great story line.

the420kid said,
i'm so addicted to Kingdoms of Amalur i couldn't possibly pick up this game...yet

Yes, that was great title too. The only complain with Kingdoms of Amalur is that even at hard mode is easy, too many fights and fights and all they were easy

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