Monday, March 12, 2012

One Epic, Yet Flawed Finale... The Mass Effect 3 Review

Note - This review may contain spoilers, so you are warned if you haven't beaten the game yet.

It has been a long five years for BioWare's Mass Effect franchise as it seemed like crazy talk back with the first game that this was going to be a trilogy and the fact your decisions you made will matter in the big finale. Here we are now with Mass Effect 3 as everything you did in the last two games, assuming you played them, has led up to this point where it is up to Commander Shepard to save the galaxy and end the Reaper threat for good. I have my own expectations on how things play out for Shepard and company, but there is also multiplayer support to go along with the campaign. Does Mass Effect 3 end the franchise with a bang? It is surely one epic, yet flawed finale that is still worth playing through.

There is actually a simple core storyline in this conclusion as the Reapers are invading Earth hard and it is up to Shepard to persuade the other races of the galaxy to save Earth and eliminate the Reapers. Along the way, there is Cerebrus to worry about as well as the Illusive Man still has his own agenda of controlling the Reapers. Besides all of that, it is also the little things that count throughout Shepard's journey to rally the races together as they have their own issues with themselves and obviously the Reapers too. Traveling the galaxy again is worth it in attempt to take Earth back with as many war assets as you can gain throughout the game, but the ending is not something I expected and it will be a heated topic once more people finish the game.

Your squad in the last two games are back as some of them actually return with you in your quest to rally the races as the rest, pretty much most of the ME2 cast (assuming they survived the ending of that game), are there in cameo appearances during side missions. In other words, most of the cast in the first game are back with you assuming they survived the events up to now as Ashley/Kaidan, Garrus, Tali, and Liara come back to the Normandy. There isn't much new guys that join up your squad as the most significant newcomer in Mass Effect 3 is Alliance soldier James Vega. Despite that, I'm glad that I was able to spend my time with characters I have been attached to throughout the games and it definitely shows in the little yet memorable moments Mass Effect 3 provides. I mentioned in my Mass Effect 2 review how much of a character study that game can be and I can say that is reinforced here in Mass Effect 3. My favorite moments of the game come from these little moments with your squadmates sharing their stories of the war and maybe even act out of character sometimes in certain cases. This is all of course played with imported saves as newcomers playing this game only are not going to get that same character attachment as folks who started the franchise from the beginning.

Playing through Mass Effect 3, I felt that BioWare played it safe on most things, especially the mission structure, where it is similar to the last game as there is a prologue section and when the game opens up having control of the Normandy through the various clusters to do missions. The same thing goes for the story as mentioned earlier where you are basically traveling throughout the galaxy to gather up your squad and war assets in preparation for the final stretch. They did however make some changes for the better regarding the fetch-like side quests. Exploring every planet and cluster is not much as a chore as it was in ME2 getting minerals, but you're still launching probes to get certain items to complete side quests. There is a twist when exploring clusters as Reapers can disrupt your travels to the point of getting that mission failure screen if two of them catch you.

The same safe approach can be said also for the game's core combat where it is not as significantly changed as say from the first Mass Effect to the second game. There are still some little changes such as the health and shield bar systems being more like the first Halo, meaning you still have regular shields, but you have five health bars though. Despite that, the combat is pretty much the same against enemy forces with the cover-based shooting, use of powers, and so on. If you have been playing the previous games, the various changes didn't receive any significant changes either, so your Vanguard as an example plays the same as he or she did in the past. I would say the big difference from ME2 is the customization options as BioWare tried to balance this out as a mixture of the past two games. Armor and weapons can be modded (these mods can be bought in stores or mostly found during missions) for boosts on certain stats. In addition, stats of your powers can be altered when leveling up your Shepard and squadmates as there is a branching tree whether or not you want to increase its damage, or range for instance. The combat still plays fine in Mass Effect 3, but don't expect it being a big leap from the last game.

It was only a matter of time when the Mass Effect games get multiplayer and of course there is the whole discussion of why is BioWare putting this in and not putting more work in the campaign? The way they handled multiplayer in this game is actually not that bad even though it is unoriginal. In a nutshell, it is just another wave-based survival mode, but with the Mass Effect touch. A maximum of four players play a map to defeat ten increasingly difficult waves of enemies (either Cerebrus, the Geth, or the Reapers) using the various races and classes. Not all races though play similarly as they get a different power or two depending on the class. There is also a quick command item system that consists of more ammo, instant revive, and missiles that are mapped on the d-pad when you're in hairy situations. Weapons, mods, and more characters can be unlocked by buying random packs as if you're opening a Magic the Gathering booster pack hoping you get something rare and good. Team coordination is key in surviving these maps especially on harder difficulties, so it is best to have a gameplan in mind attacking these enemy waves. Random objectives will also pop up during matches as it is just another thing to do such as killing certain enemies or getting into certain territories for more credits. Playing multiplayer does factor into the campaign a little bit with the Galaxy of War status as long as that is high enough. Even though it feels another Horde mode, Mass Effect 3's multiplayer is fun and has tons of replay value especially with leveling up various characters and playing the maps on harder difficulties.

My biggest problem with Mass Effect 3 from my personal experience, is that it is filled with technical bugs and issues (keep in mind this is the PS3 version I'm talking about). Sure, the game's graphics still look great especially seeing all the various locales, but it is the performance that bums me out a lot. The franchise has a history of various technical issues, but personally for me, this is the worst of the three in terms of bugs, framerate slowdowns, random loading prompts, etc. In addition, the game crashed on me a few times too even on not the most heated moments, but it did during cutscenes and the squad selection screen as examples. Then there are the awkward bugs where one of the squadmates completely disappeared as if I have only one guy instead of two and also the sound tends to lose it sometimes too (Good thing the autosave system is there to reset things if you run into any of these). Speaking of sound, the game's voice acting is still as top notch as it gets when it comes to AAA franchises as most of the cast throughout the franchise return. The same goes for the music too being great as it has been for all the three games.

So does Mass Effect 3 live up to the hype and ends the trilogy right? Unfortunately, it is both yes and no as it is nice to play through this finale, but the flaws really put a damper on it being a game of the year contender. Despite that, it is still the Mass Effect you know and love especially if you played the previous two games. Plus, it is best to have an imported save because when things do come together connecting them, it is a good thing to experience as BioWare did live up to that promise of continuity throughout the franchise. The characters are still as great and lovable as they have been as I don't know if I will ever get that same attachment that I had with Shepard and his squadmates over the years in another franchise. The little moments with these guys remain as my favorite memories of the game other than the big story reveals. The ending will not be what people expected as it will be a heated topic of discussion in the coming weeks and months as well as I definitely felt like I didn't get the one I wanted. Multiplayer is a nice inclusion to round out the package adding more replay value and of course there is downloadable content in the future with more missions and likely more maps too. What is the most disappointing to me though with this game is the numerous technical issues I had to deal with from hard crashes, random bugs, and other problems I mentioned earlier. Mass Effect 3 is still worth playing especially for fans to finish up the franchise, but it is still a flawed experience the whole way through.

Score = 8.5/10

  • BioWare's promise of continuity in terms of the big decisions you made throughout this trilogy definitely came through
  • Being attached to this set of characters is still amazing as the little moments with them are my favorite parts of the game
  • Multiplayer is not that bad as you first thought when it was announced
  • Audio production is still top notch as it has been throughout this franchise
  • BioWare definitely took a safe approach with this game in terms of core ideas (Mission structure and core combat are pretty much to similar to ME2)
  • The ending is not what I expected it to be
  • Major technical issues from random bugs, hard crashes, etc.

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