When I wrote my review for Mass Effect 2 (which I would recommend reading prior to this, and would definitely recommend playing prior to ME3) I was already midway through my first play through of Mass Effect 3. Of the many hallmarks of this franchise that stands out for me is the game’s potential for multiple careers and differences in play via the decisions made for each character you create. I knew at that point that I was going to replay the game beginning with ME2 and make a few significant changes in order to maximize my experience and fine tune the various outcomes available.
I am now approximately midway through my second career in ME3 after having played an extremely successful game in ME2, and am now prepared to give my review of this incredible franchise from Bioware… in a nutshell, I am obsessed with the Mass Effect series and have been floored by the level of emotion and grand story telling exhibited in a video-game that doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator of humanity and allows us to engage in a riveting and epic tale of the struggle of war and the ultimate fight for galactic survival.
Depending on how many of your squadmates died by the end of ME2, your experience in ME3 may, and will, vary… that is the beauty of this game… there is no single “correct” game that can be had (my understanding is that Bioware does have a “perfect” game in mind, but I don’t imagine getting that anytime soon). After my first career (Commander Bruce Shepard), I had two squad members die during the suicide mission. After my second career (Commander German Shepard), I managed to keep everyone alive, and the experience thus far has been altered.
One of the biggest changes between my two games has been the addition of DLC, From Ashes, that caused a great deal of controversy when it was released on the same day as the product launch back in March. My understanding of the controversy revolves around the idea that if it is released on the same day as the game itself, it should be part of the game you just paid $60 for and not forcing players to shell out another $7 for supposed “extra” material. I was being a cheapskate the first time… I bought it prior to playing the second time, in addition, I played ME2 with an additional DLC the second time through as well, Arrival. Both DLC are completely worth the cost and give the franchise a welcome depth and richness to the overall story. From Ashes gives you an additional mission and a new squad member named Javik, a Prothean. Supposedly extinct for 50,000 years, Javik offers up insights and backstory to an already full universe and helps to fill in a number of plot gaps… plus he sounds like a Jamaican. This should be considered an integral part of the game itself, not an option.
So what are the differences between ME2 and ME3? Other than continuing the story, some of the mechanics have changed, but overall, the play is basically the same. Weapons can now be personalized via different mods that can be found and/or purchased, there are more fields available to customize and level up your character and squad members, the graphics are greatly improved, you no longer have to head out into the galaxy searching for minerals, instead, you search for artifacts and war assets while simultaneously avoiding Reapers, you can now roll and jump, and the difficulty level has been bumped up to the point where you can no longer dive headlong into a battle, you must use tactics and strategy in employing your squad mates. With those few tweaks, the game has an instantaneous familiar feeling, with a slight learning curve in adjusting to those differences.
The story opens up with Shepard and Anderson in Vancouver. Shepard is no longer in active duty and is essentially under constant surveillance due to his working with Cerberus and the actions he took in Arrival where he made the decision to stop the Reapers from invading the Batarian home world by destroying a mass relay and thus destroying an entire solar system… and something like 300,000 Batarians. Seeing how no one really believes the Reapers are a threat, or real for that matter, he is viewed as something of a genocidal violent thug. Guess what… the Reapers have now arrived on Earth, and Shepard must gather all the species and warring factions in the galaxy and form new alliances through diplomatic means. If ME2 was essentially Seven Samurai, ME3 becomes a reunion of sorts, and the decisions become much less about loyalty and more about true life and death… for all higher organic life in the galaxy. In ME2, Shepard was fighting to save humanity… in ME3, he is fighting for all life in the Milky Way.
The opening sequence in Vancouver is stunning. Seeing Reapers landing and wrecking havoc and destruction here on our home planet is remarkably unnerving, and it is in this first scene that we understand this game will toy and fuck with our emotions the entire way through. Oh look… a little frightened boy. Can Shepard help him? No… the boy dies in a horrible fiery explosion as Shepard looks on in futility. From that point on, you are in the mind of a haunted and desperate Commander Shepard, and the stakes could not be higher.
Although the point of this game is no longer building your squad and gaining their loyalty, many of the missions still play out with similar objectives, only this time, with more of a diplomatic bent. Can you get both factions to join in the war effort?… or do old distrust and hatred stand in the way? Do you lie to one to gain both?… or do you be honest and risk losing one potential ally in order to gain another? What surprised me the most is the way in which all of those possibilities present themselves, and at least twice now, I’ve replayed a mission in order to “fix” a decision I was unhappy with… and in one instance, “fixing” that decision meant doing something that is still bothering me a day later.
Yes… I’m bothered by a decision made in a video-game. Yes… this game caused me to become a bit weepy and unable to choke out any words due to the lump in my throat. People die… friends die… lovers die… this is war, and the game makes a point to make it as ugly as possible. I did not expect the emotional responses I had. I’m an emotional weepy sort of fellow to begin with… but ME3 took that to a whole new level. The action I took yesterday involved being able to get two factions as opposed to one. I believed I could convince a particular character to decieve another and all would be alright. I didn’t anticipate having to shoot one of my favorite, and beloved, characters in the back. My daughters are still angry with me over that decision… and I’m having a hard time forgiving myself. Would I shoot a friend in the back in order to save the galaxy? Would I shoot a friend in the back in order to gain one extra trophy in the end of game? Apparently, the answer is yes… and I feel shame. This is just a game… right? Right?!
Unfortunately, that is not the only decision of that type throughout the game. By the end (I won’t spoil the end, don’t worry), you will have contacted everyone from the previous games that are still alive… and you will say your goodbyes in one way or another. A great deal of time is spent doing this… and the emotional pay off is well worth your efforts. Throughout the game I found myself exhilarated, depressed, excited, forlorn, gleeful, and remorseful. I now find myself able to discuss the specific of each species and the history they all share… I am invested. That was the most unexpected outcome.
Because this is not a review for anyone who has not, at the very least, played ME2 (or ME and ME2 if you play Xbox or PC, I’m only on a PS3 and that is what this review is covering), I have skipped a number of details with regards to the mechanics of the game and many specifics about characters. The story is the main point of this franchise… because of that, I can’t go into too much detail about the ending… but, discussion of the ending is somewhat important because of the controversy that followed and the issues surrounding how the story of Commander Shepard eventually played out. After the trailer I will have a few things to say about the end in addition to tacking on an hour and twenty minute documentary explaining a very popular theory. That may be all for naught after the summer… a new extended ending and epilogue will be released for free sometime this summer as well and another DLC… possibly for multiplayer…
Speaking of multiplayer, I finally delved into the online world of multiplayer and overcame my fear of foul mouthed and idiotic thirteen year olds. In multiplayer with ME3 you can create an all new character from scratch (all races possible) and join in with three others in a few different maps, fighting against either Cerberus, Geth or Reapers and completing ten waves of enemies at three different levels of difficulty. This is not just for shits and giggles, it also bumps up galactic readiness in your single-player game. If you only play single-player, your readiness level will only be at 50%. If you have 6,000 individuals in your war assets, only 3,000 will actually count. As your readiness increases, so does your effective military strength. The catch is, for every day you don’t finish the game, you lose a percentage. If you are at 90% on Monday and don’t play until Friday, you will have dropped 4%. A clever integration into an already clever game.
Overall… I could not recommend a game more than I could recommend Mass Effect 3. Great game-play, great story, an emotional core, and a rich universe to dig into to. My only complaint would be that I feel almost too invested and the fact that a video game could have this much impact on me is somewhat staggering. Even my 9 year old is heavily invested in her game, much to Mrs. Blahg’s chagrin.
If any of this appeals to you, don’t cheat yourself out of a great experience… play the Mass Effect series and discover what a great game can be.
Cornelius J. Blahg
I’m going to talk about the ending now… if you haven’t played this or have not finished, do not read any further… massive spoilers ahead. You have been warned…
Seriously… go away now if you have played the game. We good? OK…
So, a lot of people were pissed with the ending. What the hell was the catalyst all about? Why did everyone have the same two (or three) possible endings regardless of which decisions were made throughout the game? The general consensus is that Bioware rushed through the ending and gave us an incomplete, and some would say, completely illogical conclusion to an otherwise brilliant storyline. I’m somewhat on the fence about this. I didn’t so much mind the end, even though it did seem a bit strange… but after hearing a few different theories and looking at the (slightly) different outcomes, I’m beginning to side with the “what the hell… give us more” camp.
Key to this feeling is the following documentary. Full disclosure, I haven’t watched the whole thing… but what I have seen is very convincing. The idea is that Shepard had been indoctrinated by the Reapers rather early on and was in fact working for their benefit without realizing he was aiding the very enemy he sought to destroy. It’s convoluted and confusing, but this documentary make some very salient points. I hope you enjoy and I look forward to some debate…