Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Man on a Mission: Mass Effect 3 Review: Parts 1 and 2: Reckoning: The Storm: In Space

Ride the Great Space Coaster as Chris takes you through both Parts 1and 2 of his two-part Mass Effect 3 review! It's fairly spoiler-free, but be warned, you're on your own!

Mass Effect 3 is a study in opposites. That is to say, what you will get out of the experience relies very strongly on what expectations (and game saves) you are bringing in with you. Chances are, you're either jumping out of your space boots to continue your fight across the galaxy, or you're dreading the gameplay changes you've heard whispers of. BioWare has done much to improve and refine upon the success of Mass Effect 2, but where they have deviated from that formula is where the true nature of ME3 starts to take form. If you have ever considered yourself a fan of the series, you owe it to yourself to see this epic tale to its conclusion. But that’s not to say it’s perfect.

Created by the ever-expanding BioWare studios, Mass Effect 3 follows the cross-galaxy journey of Commander Shepard, and his attempt to stop the coming Reaper invasion. The Reapers, as we learned in Mass Effect 1 are giant bug-like robots that swing by every 50,000 years to wipe out all life in the galaxy. Basically, they’re Galactus from the Fantastic Four, but without the silly hats. How exactly does one stop the Reapers? That’s what Commander Shepard is about to find out.

The Reapers are massive.
If you’ve played and imported your saved character from previous Mass Effect titles, Mass Effect 3 lets you drop right back into the role of Commander Shepard. Back on Earth, the Alliance has grounded Shepard after the events of Mass Effect 2, and his affiliation with the shadowy Cerberus organization during that time. It doesn’t take long before the Reapers hit, some tutorial movement and shooting scenarios take place, and the Commander is back aboard the Normandy, ready to kick some space tail.

Speaking of kicking ass, the gameplay of Mass Effect 3 feels very similar to that of ME2. That is to say, that I didn’t even notice a difference upon starting my playthrough. It all felt very natural, which is always a good thing. Tiny enhancements have been made, such as a quicker way to leap over low barriers, and reloading seems to take a little bit less time than it had before. There is that small matter of FemShep’s running animation, though. Luckily, I play as a male Shepard, so I don’t have to live with that embarrassment.

Over the course of my first few hours in Mass Effect 3, I found myself not nearly as engaged in the story as I imagined I would be. The plot, and richness of the fiction is what I love about Mass Effect, but for the life of me I just couldn’t get excited about my first few hours with Shepard. After leaving Earth, you’re afforded some time to walk around the Normandy and re-familiarize yourself with the layout of your ship. Still, it’s great to talk to Joker again, and re-exploring the ship really does feel like coming home again.


Your first major mission is a trip to Mars to hunt for the Prothean archives. Apparently, there’s some info in there that might be useful for taking down the Reapers, which are still mucking Earth up the whole time Shepard is cruising around the galaxy. This odd pacing can be a major headache if you think about it, but I’m just going to suspend my disbelief for the sake of having an enjoyable experience.

Once into the Mars archives, Shepard meets up with Liara, whom I totally nailed in the original Mass Effect. She is now the Shadow Broker, as you might have seen in the cleverly titled “Lair of the Shadow Broker” DLC pack for Mass Effect 2. Shepard and Liara team up to find the info they need, and of course, run into trouble along the way. This is where something that I noticed bothered me first happened. In a number of missions, it seems they gameplay structure has been cut from the very same cloth. And when I say very same, I mean EXACTLY the same. Upon retrieving whatever McGuffin you’re after, the game frequently relies on Shepard and his team “holding this position” or “clearing the landing site.” What this means to the player is 5-10 minutes of arena combat against a few waves of enemies.

I hit that.
You know what else that sounds like? The multiplayer! That’s right, because it is. A good amount of the mutiplayer maps are taken from these sequences, and the gameplay in the single-player component is very similar to what you’d be doing in the multiplayer. While you’re waiting for an elevator to arrive, or a ship to land, progressively harder enemies will come your way, and you’ll need to circle-strafe your way around the arena in order to shoot your way through to the next cutscene.

Part 2: The Return of Shepard: Revenge: Space Strikes Back: Electric Bugaloo

After my initial misgivings of the arena-based combat that ended most missions, it was a relief to see some nice change of pace missions in the latter half of Mass Effect 3. A mission to the Geth cyberspace, in particular, stand out as being totally unique, not only in ME3, but the series as a whole. Other missions take on a more survival-horror feel, with only Shepard’s flashlight illuminating cavernous underground areas. It seems as though BioWare took a good look at both EA’s Dead Space series, as well as shooters like Gears of War when designing some of these more unique missions. That is not to say that the goal marker of “Survive” won’t pop up more often than you’d like, but it becomes much less tiresome as the game continues on.

When not shooting space guys, Mass Effect 3 provides much more reason to return to the Citadel than previous games. New areas of the Citadel are open for exploration, and there is a nice variety between the half dozen levels. Unfortunately, Shepard interacts with far less people while on the Citadel, and some of your favorite alien species, such as the Hanar and the Elcor, are barely represented. In fact, the one Elcor mission available to me somehow got glitched, rendering it non-completable during my playthrough. This leads to Shepard conversing with mostly humans and humanoid-type persons, and contributes to the universe feeling more homogenous than it should. Part of the appeal of Mass Effect is the wide array of the alien designs, and it’s a shame to see so many Turians and Asari as NPCs.

You won't be seeing much of these guys.

While on the Citadel, you will notice a new gameplay mechanic: “Support.” What this usually translates to is Shepard interfering in a conversation between NPCs, and offering his opinion, completely unsolicited. To the outsider, this denigrates into Shepard snake-weaving his way around the Citadel, jumping into other’s conversations, and usually being a dick. It’s an odd mechanic, and it is poorly explained why Shepard is even doing so. As an example, it wasn’t until I was 20 hours into the campaign that I learned there were two sides to choose from when “supporting” someone. One person usually nets Renegade points, and the other Paragon. How did I find this out? By listening to a podcast! That’s inexcusable for a system to be so poorly explained, that a player could very easily go through an entire 30 hour playthrough without realizing they are playing the game “wrong.”

On the way to deal with the Reapers, you’re going to be joined by quite a few familiar faces. Without getting deep into spoilers, it’s safe to say that you will come across your teammates from Mass Effect 2, and their stories are all handled fairly well. If you’re going into Mass Effect 3 without a 100% intact squad from ME2, you are straight-up missing content. So much so, I would suggest going back to ME2, and making sure everyone survives the suicide mission on the Collector’s ship.

The one, true Mass Effect crew

Shepard’s main crew is far smaller in Mass Effect 3 than before, and I often found myself sticking with Liara and Garrus for nearly every mission. This is partly due to the fact that their powers complemented mine the best, but also for role-playing purposes. All of the idle chatter, squabbles, and jokes between crew mates during a mission is far more enjoyable when Shepard has a squad he has gone through the worst of the worst with, and this is where Mass Effect 3 shines. Far more so than previous entries, Mass Effect 3 is funny. The writing is honestly great in some spots, and the “new” version of EDi has some of the most humorous lines in the entire trilogy. I often found myself smiling during my time with ME3. I mean, when Wrex is teasing you about how well Liara kisses, who am I not to smirk? For all the flak BioWare has gotten from furious fanboys about Mass Effect 3, it’s times like these that you remember just how talented a studio they are.

As a resolution to the series, Mass Effect 3 attempts to tie up every loose end it can think of. Characters from Mass Effect 1 show up and introduce themselves so often that I just got to the point of believing what they were telling me without looking into past games. I mean, I guess the Engineer is the guy who was originally on the Normandy, but does anyone really care? Much more noteworthy is the resolution for characters such as Wrex, Mordin, Miranda, etc. Throughout your quest around the galaxy, Shepard will help out his old friends, and generally each one left me feeling satisfied with where that character ended up. It can occasionally get to the point in which characters come together so coincidentally, you might wonder if George Lucas wrote the script. There is never anything so out of place as Anakin building C-3P0, but more jaded players may be rolling their eyes by the time they meet up with the last of the suicide mission crew.

Regardless of how you may feel about the ending to Mass Effect 3, fans of the series owe it to themselves to finish out Shepard’s story. The fiction of the universe is treated with the right amount of respect, and for the most part, resolutions are neat and tidy. There are occasional problems with pacing, and odd gameplay mechanics, but Mass Effect 3 overcomes it’s occasional missteps to take its place as a worthy conclusion to this epic saga. Commander Shepard is one of the greatest characters in gaming, and Mass Effect 3, while not the best game in the series, is an adventure worth seeing through to the bitter end. Have a tissue ready.

Final Verdict: 4/5

Christopher Linendoll is reporting for duty. He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.

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