Mass Effect 3 Review: Is it the Journey or the Destination which Matters?

The much hyped Mass Effect 3 was released last Tuesday. After having put a significant amount of time into it, it’s time for the review. Mass Effect 3 is the closing chapter of the Mass Effect trilogy. In the game you bring an end to Commander Shepard’s struggle against the Reapers, and attempt to save the galaxy one last time. The major selling point and innovation of the Mass Effect series was that your decisions throughout the series would impact later games. With three games to build upon this principle, Bioware has had a better chance of actually pulling off consequences in their games than any developer prior to them. Being the sequel to the wildly popular Mass Effect 2 means that Mass Effect 3 has to work hard to distinguish itself from its predecessor so as to not be seen as nothing more than Mass Effect 2-2. Well enough with the background, let’s go into the review.
Who is this guy? I’ve played the entire series and never seen his ugly face.
Let’s start out by looking at the game’s story. After all , Bioware is known for it’s great stories, and the Mass Effect series is their flagship. Like Dragon Age 2 and various other Bioware games, Mass Effect 3 is broken into three acts. The first two acts deal with alliance making and peace brokering and the final act is mostly revelations and combat. There is a reason that this set up is frequently used: it works. The first two acts end big and triumphantly, giving the player a real sense of accomplishment. There are occasional pacing problems, but Bioware manages to rein these minor problems in very nicely for the act finales. All of the main missions are unique and well made. You will rarely find yourself bored during them and very little from the main story seems out of place. The player can easily believe that the galaxy is under a real threat during missions, and it makes the fight against the Reapers all the more exhilarating. 
One of these is a Cthulhu-style killer ship. Guess which one. 
The sidequests are really hit or miss. It is nice to have an extreme amount of sidequests, unlike the relatively sparse Mass Effect 2, but very few of these sidequests are particularly interesting. Most of them simply involve delivering a relic or item to a person on the Citadel. Some sidequests are more involved and the the game shines for it. These sidequests usually feature characters from Mass Effect 2 in someway, and it’s always good to see a friendly face. N7 missions make a return, but have been gutted. They mainly consist of plunking your squad down in a multiplayer map and having wave after wave of enemies run at you. Basically it’s a singleplayer version of the multiplayer. It isn’t bad, actually some of them are quite good, but they feel a little lazy. What doesn’t feel lazy are the four or five main side missions, which are full deployment missions, and are diverse and interesting. These range from evacuating Cerberus scientists, to investigating an Ardat Yakshi monastery. All in all the sidequests are a mixed bag. None of it is bad, some of it is great, but there is a good amount of filler. 
She’s saying “I love you!”
You may have noticed that I skirted around the ending in the first story paragraph. Well there is a reason for this, internet. The game’s main story and build up are excellent and worthy of the Mass Effect name, but the ending is easily the worst ending I have ever seen in my twenty years of gaming. I’m not going to go into detail, as I’m angry enough to dedicate Tuesday’s post to it, but Mass Effect 3’s ending not only doesn’t bring closure to the series, but actively sabotages any feeling of accomplishment you might have felt. Note that there are many different endings, but, in reality, none of them play out any different and it’s a wonder as to why Bioware included different endings if they were going to make them all identical anyway.
I didn’t know how much Bioware hated its fans. Although, after Dragon Age 2, I should have guessed.
So the question on everybody’s mind is whether or not Bioware managed to pull off its promise of making your actions have consequences throughout the series. For the most part they pulled it off. Most of the game would play out the same no matter what you did in any game, with stand-in characters available for many of your potentially fallen team-mates. However, there is real impact when you seen someone you worked hard to keep alive sacrifice themselves, and the accomplishment or brokering a peace due to your past actions. Most of these events only change the numbers given to you as war assets, but that’s enough really. The entire game is about collecting those war assets, so it is enough to see your actions lead to better, or potentially worse results in that regard. 
Screw you Wreave, Wrex is king.
Paragon and Renegade scores make a return, but in a very strange way. They manage to be less important and more important at the same time. They are now tied to reputation, a neutral statistic, which will be constantly increasing as you do missions and comment on stranger’s conversations (Weirdo). They are very, very rarely used, unlike in Mass Effect 2 where they were used frequently; however, when a Paragon or Renegade option does come up, it is at the most critical of times. Your ability to make these decisions can result in very different outcomes, making it very important to maintain your alignment. That being said, I wish they were used more often in conversations, as your high Paragon/Renegade level will sit unused for most of the game.
Burn it, burn it with fire!
Now let’s move into gameplay territory. Mass Effect 3 borrows the vast majority of its gameplay from Mass Effect 2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes few additions, but these additions are felt. The entire pace of the combat has been sped up, making enemies and allies a little harder to target in general, and making the game a little more twitchy. As part of this, Shepard can now execute a roll, which is extremely handy due to the prevalence of enemy grenades. Bioware also made an effort to open up the arenas, obviously hearing the complaint that Mass Effect 2 was simply a series of corridors. The levels of Mass Effect 3 are full of ladders and high ground as well as multiple ways to flank the enemy. Unfortunately, the combat areas don’t feel as well thought out as Mass Effect 2, so you will rarely ever use many of the options given to you even on the highest difficulty. Finally, the AI seems improved, but not in any groundbreaking way.
You see, there are two corridors now!
The RPG elements from the second game are largely intact with several, very welcome changes. Skills now have three occasions of branching paths. This can make the difference between Incinerate being better against armour, or being twice as effective against frozen enemies. These decisions can make a large impact as to who you bring into combat and how you develop your skills. Another positive change is the fact that all classes can use any weapon. The sheer variety of guns in this game make this a particularly satisfying change. This is balanced with the weight stat. The more weight (Heavy guns) you carry, the longer the cooldown for your skills. With little weight, you can reach up to a 200% decrease on cooldowns. Conversely, if you pile on all the heaviest weapons, you can reach up to a 200% increase on cooldowns. Some classes have higher weight allowances and many classes can improve the amount of weight they can take by upgrading their skills. Another change to the game is the ability to modify guns. These modifications can be bought or found and can add interesting effects to your weapons such as being able to pierce cover, or simply a damage upgrade. 
Paragon is a wing, and Renegade is a star… for some reason.
Next we get to squad selection. There are a possible seven squadmates available to use including the DLC character. Of these squadmates four of them are returning from Mass Effect 1, one was an NPC from Mass Effect 2, and two are new including the DLC character. No playable character introduced in Mass Effect 2 is playable here, which is very disappointing; although, for the most part, Bioware at least explains why they can’t join very well, and many of them get strong supporting roles. Of the new characters there are James Vega and Javik from the DLC. Javik is interesting and brings a lot of insight into the game. James Vega is the most recent addition to the boring human pile that the series has been accruing along with Ashely, Kaiden, Miranda, and Jacob. Unlike these other characters, Vega is a pretty likeable guy. Even though he is the most overt attempt to put a blue-collard character into a video game I’ve seen, he is overall a good addition. Unfortunately, being a new addition means he is criminally underdeveloped compared to the rest of the cast of the cast, and not as interesting as Javik, making it really hard to care what he does or what happens to him. He simply amounts to a random hanger-on like the new NPC love interests.
I hate everything about this character’s design, which speaks well for the character as I actually grew to like him.
Powers and ammo types work identically to Mass Effect 2. You will be Overloading shields, Incinerating armour and Singularity…ing unshielded foes. Weapons work the same way as well with powerful single shot weapons being more effective against armour and rapid fire weapons being better agains shields. There are far more power combos in this game than the last, which makes smart power use even more important, as setting up a biotic or electrical explosion can easily wipe out a group of enemies, which could otherwise cause trouble. New powers are fine, but not very well thought out for the most part with the exception of the reintroduction of grenades, which are powerful and can make a big difference in battle.
This is my friend Singularity. He’d like to teach you how to die.
There is one major problem I have with the gameplay, and that is the harder modes: they are terrible. Mass Effect 2’s harder modes put more armour/shields/barriers on your enemies making them much harder to kill, and making strategic squad choices and power use extremely important. Mass Effect 3 just makes the enemies stronger. In other words the higher difficulty modes are extremely easy. One singularity or pull can break whole squadrons, unlike the last game where even Husks had to have their armour striped off before they could be broken in this way. There is no increased strategy from this. The only change is that you have to be more careful, and this is a major disappointment. 
You used to be a problem on Insanity. Oh well, I guess I’ll just spam Biotics.
Let’s move on to graphics, music and voice acting. The graphics are what you would expect from Bioware, as in they aren’t very good. They are perfectly serviceable, and the environments are excellent, but the character models are wonky and move in a very weird way most of the time. There are lots of texture loading problems and random jumps or interrupts during cutscenes, even early on in parts which should have been more tested. The music is as great as it was in the previous two games and deserves some recognition. The same can be said about the voice acting, which is once again excellent with Jennifer Hale and Keith David stealing the show. Unfortunately, the poor character models can’t keep up with the performances and simply flap their lips wildly or not at all during many monologues (I’m sorry, but after playing L.A. Noir, I expect more). 
I still can’t believe people find ol’ pumpkin face Miranda attractive.
Finally, let’s talk about the multiplayer. The multiplayer is horde mode. For those of you who don’t know what this means, horde mode-style multiplayer pits a team of players against waves of AI controlled opponents. In Mass Effect 3, it works quite well. The combat is good enough to be able to sustain such a mode without seeming too tacked-on, but it is tacked-on. It isn’t bad, and there is no reason not to try it out, but it wasn’t worth the development time. Bioware attempted to connect multiplayer and singleplayer by making multiplayer raise readiness of the galaxy, which makes your war assets worth more. It is a novel idea and almost mandatory in order to get one of the better (Still identical) endings. You level up your character in multiplayer the same way as in singleplayer, but with fewer options. You also earn credits which you can use to buy item packs. This is the same concept as booster packs in various RPG card games. The packs are randomized with chances of getting rare stuff much more likely with more expensive packs. This rare stuff can include better weapons or more races available for use. This aspect is addictive and fun. Altogether the multiplayer is good, but unnecessary in this game.
Yes, you finally don’t have to play as a human
Sorry for the length of this one, internet. There was just way to much to say to keep it brief, and there is still more worth saying (I didn’t even get into romantic interests), but I don’t want to go on any longer. Overall, Mass Effect 3 is a great game. It doesn’t reach the polish and greatness of Mass Effect 2, and fans who preferred the original will still likely prefer the original, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful game. The gameplay is strong and the story is stronger. The only thing that can ruin it for some people is the ending, which is why the question remains as to what is more important: the journey or the destination? 
Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer
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