Mass Effect 3 Review
Game: Mass Effect 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Following on from Mass Effect 2, a game that was universally praised as one of the best of its year, was never going to be an easy task. Adding features such as multiplayer and optional Kinect support, whilst promising to give the player story resolution seemed like a tall task, but luckily Mass Effect 3 is one of the best games you’ll play this year.
This review is completely spoiler free.
STORY: Set after the events of Mass Effect 2, no time is wasted in putting Shepard back into the action. Whilst I won’t spoil the story here, you can be sure that with the third game, Bioware have truly honed their skills and abilities to spin a yarn. Everything has gone up several notches, in terms of both the emotion conveyed and in its execution.
If you’ve never played a game from the Mass Effect series before, thankfully you can catch up with a handy text screen that informs you of some key facts you need to know, it also dishes out story beats via character interaction. But as with Mass Effect 2, if you’ve harboured a Shepard on your hard drive or memory unit since 2007’s original entry into the series, you can bring him or her into Mass Effect 3. You aren’t tied to the character’s image though, or even the class. You can bring them bang up to date however you want, which is a welcome option.
GRAPHICS: Although Mass Effect 2 was a great looking game, Mass Effect 3 puts it to shame. The level of detail and shine that Bioware have squeezed into Mass Effect 3 is astonishing. From the moment you start the game it doesn’t hold back and you’ll be blown away at the visual wonder on screen. Some of the set pieces that play out in real time are tremendous and when you pause for a moment to check your surroundings in a quieter moment, your jaw will drop. Beautiful.
Rather than take the easy option, everything has been retouched, new assets created, even for areas you are returning to. Shepard looks incredible, even his clothes look brilliant. It’s a bone of contention but some characters have been reconditioned in terms of their appearance, and most passers by will notice there’s a certain attention to detail when it comes to the female form, and the size of certain assets.
AUDIO: As you’d expect, the voice actors for their respective characters return with aplomb. Occasionally they will spout one liners during combat that feel a little awkward, but these are few and far between, so it’s not too big an issue. Managing to convey a real sense of cinematic quality at times, Mass Effect 3 is voiced incredibly well.
One aspect of the sound design that deserves a special mention is the soundtrack. Golden Globe nominated Clint Mansell (among others) is behind the score and it is truly one of the best in a video game to date. Where some games of Mass Effect’s ilk go for pure bombast, we have some truly beautiful, delicate piano based compositions. This isn’t to suggest there isn’t sweeping string arrangements as well, but in an oft-underlooked aspect of video game design, the score is intrinsic to the overall feeling of the title, which is a testament to the sheer quality.
GAMEPLAY: Much was made of the changes between the first two Mass Effect titles, with some complaining that the RPG elements were dumbed down for the second title. Mass Effect 3 doesn’t veer too far from the second instalment instead choosing to give the player more options than ever before. These options allow you to tackle the story in a manner that feels very sprawling; at no point does it feel linear. This comes at a price however on the Xbox 360, as even within the first ten hours you will probably have changed discs a few times. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have gone down the Forza 4 route and allowed for an install of one disc, then running from the other, but in a game as magnificent as Mass Effect 3, I think we can let it ride.
So what has changed then? Everything and nothing. Veterans of the series will feel right at home with the more streamlined experience on offer, the skill trees are clearer and more concise than ever. The manner in which you’ll apply mods to your weapons (of which there are many) is also very easy to navigate and get along with. One new aspect is the weight of Shepard. If you carry 5 weapons, you will weigh more and in turn, your cooldown for powers will be longer. If you’re happy to just carry 2-3 around with you, you will actually have a faster cooldown, because you weigh less. Of course there is also a brand new melee attack in the form of the OmniBlade, which has a seriously powerful feel to it and has various different attacks depending on the character class you pick.
Fans of the previous games who played the run and gun style may want to reassess if they import their character, as the enemies within Mass Effect 3, at times, require a bit of extra thought. If you ignored your companion’s skills and just went all guns blazing, you might find it a little more difficult than before. However, Bioware have catered for all styles of play with new options. If you just want the story, there’s a mode for that which reduces the combat difficulty. If you just want to play it as a shooter? That’s there too, with a mode that turns the conversations into cut-scenes instead. RPG fan? Also done, with what they call the traditional Mass Effect experience. It’s a master stroke really, a developer at the absolute peak of their powers, executing their title to damn near perfection.
Even the Normandy has had oodles of love poured onto it. With a view to making the experience as streamlined as possible, on some planets with multiple areas you will get a short scene beforehand where you can pre-arrange a taxi to take you where you want to go upon landing. Instead of two load screens you see one. It’s a far cry from the endless elevators in the original Mass Effect.
Everything you’d expect to see in a Mass Effect game is here. Conversation wheels with real consequences, so much so that you’ll want to play the game again and again to get to see every nuance of the game’s epic (and if you know me, you’ll know that’s a word I don’t use often) storyline. There are even semi-dynamic battles, which see you literally dropped into the battlefield, shooting as you exit the dropship; you’re literally right into the action.
This is where Mass Effect absolutely excels; immersion. Even though I’ve lost myself for countless hours playing Mass Effect before, never did I lose sleep over the game, until now. Every ounce of your being will be wanting to push forward, to find out what happens next, to see where your Shepard goes. Yet somehow…somehow, all of this is achieved without alienating anyone. If you’re a new player you are catered for. Returning players are able to customize their Shepard’s appearance, so you aren’t stuck with something you created years ago.
Kinect support is also available with the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect 3. Definitely not essential, but not to its detriment either, Kinect allows you to switch weapons on the go by just saying their name, or open doors, or even have conversations. The conversations are a bit odd, as Shepard will still repeat what you’ve said on-screen and you don’t appear to need to say the entire sentence to get it to pick up what you are saying. Nonetheless, it works well with only a slight delay.
LONGEVITY: If you don’t spend at least 30 hours in Mass Effect 3, then you’re doing something wrong. That’s just the first playthrough too. If you played paragon the first time, you could double that 30 hours to 60 by playing as a renegade. How about changing from a male Shepard to a female one? What about the character interactions too? They all have different ways of playing out in the story, and all deserve to be seen. That’s before you even take the classes into account.
Galaxy at War adds an entirely new proposition to the game too. A completely optional section of the game that allows you gain support from others through the story and multiplayer. It adds to your “battle readiness” which gives you better odds when heading toward the end-game. It’s not essential however, and progressing towards this readiness can be achieved by playing lots of single player too.
Mass Effect 3 offers incredible value for money, even adding a multiplayer mode into the package. You probably won’t find a better value proposition this year.
VERDICT: There is no doubting it, Mass Effect 3 is an absolute masterpiece. Bioware have delivered on every count and created something that every gamer should experience. With stellar audio and gorgeous visuals to match up with the fantastic Bioware storytelling, Mass Effect 3 is a pleasure to be played.
If you’ve been a fan of Mass Effect from the very beginning, you can rest assured, you’ll be playing Mass Effect 3 for a ridiculous amount of hours to come, but then, you already knew that. Go and buy this incredible game as soon as you can, you won’t regret it.