Mass Effect 3

A question that many gamers have asked is: what type of game is Mass Effect? The answer is: the best kind. The series works as a third-person shooter in combat, tied together with role-playing elements, story telling, puzzles and more, but each aspect is only a collection of cells in a living entity with potential that far exceeds the sum of its parts. Mass Effect 3, the final entry in Shepard's desperate fight to save the galaxy, is the culmination of polished gameplay and unrivalled story telling that goes far beyond the generic twaddle of the average shooter. In the Mass Effect universe, humanity has burst onto a galactic scene already inhabited by technologically-advanced species like the asari, turians and salarians. Advances in science due to discoveries of ancient technology enable humanity to quickly close the gap on rival species, and join the galactic community, even gaining a seat on the council following the successful outcome of the first Mass Effect game. That said, despite this seemingly pleasant ascension to the stars, a far larger threat now looms. A synthetic race known as the Reapers appear every 50,000 years and purge the galaxy of advanced races, restoring order through destruction. This is all a bit mean, and Shepard is determined to stop them, but not enough inhabitants of the galaxy truly believe Shepard. In the opening of Mass Effect 3, the Reaper invasion has begun, and it is down to a few individuals like Commander Shepard to unify the galaxy and stop the Reaper threat.

Mass Effect 3

Quite honestly, the setting could not be more epic. The entire galaxy, and all advanced life within, is at risk. Every move Shepard makes will have a resounding impact on the battles ahead and the outcome of the war. After escaping Earth, Shepard is tasked with uniting the greatest armada the galaxy has ever known in the hopes of stopping the Reapers. In a similar style to Mass Effect 2, in which Shepard recruited, and ensured the loyalty of, a devoted group of soldiers to assault the Collector homeworld, Mass Effect 3 sees Shepard operating on a far larger scale, forming alliances with entire races and mercenary groups, and tracking down resources and war assets of any helpful kind. This includes enhancing key relationships with the powerful turians, potentially forming new allegiances with the mighty krogan, and much more, all contributing to an overall galactic readiness that will determine the outcome of the final fight.

With such an epic setting, a game might be forgiven for taking shortcuts with the characters or story, allowing generic half-wit soldiers to occupy our screens, but Mass Effect does the opposite, with characters and story arguably the series' greatest strengths. Even the stories and characters of incredible games like Uncharted seem to pale by comparison next to those featured in Mass Effect. Nathan Drake is a thoroughly likeable character, and the actor Nolan North even more so, and yet gamers can only ever watch as a brief story sprints past, unable to influence the world in any way, connecting only as the developers have seen fit. Many of the greatest games of all time, including the Souls games, Uncharted, God of War, and even the very best Final Fantasy titles, never allow you to form the sorts of bonds that are common place in Mass Effect. After three full games, intricately woven together, every decision made, every character met, and every interaction of any kind has an influence on how connected you feel to the in-game world. The idea of a romantic relationship between in-game characters might seem silly or contrived, but after three games, with careful delicacy exercised by Bioware, a genuinely meaningful bond can be formed, leading many players to truly care for their Shepard, chosen partner, and closest friends. There are a fair number of romantic options in the game, but the most rewarding are those maintained from game to game, where the accumulated history results in some truly touching moments of both humour and affection. It isn't just romantic attachment though, with close friends emphasized with equal importance in the game. The friendship between Garrus and Shepard, for example, is possibly the most enjoyable to watch, with some truly legendary conversations that will be quoted for gaming generations to come.

Mass Effect 3

Fans of the series will be particularly pleased to see the full return of established characters such as Ashley Williams, Kaidan [whats-his-face that most of us let die in Mass Effect] and Liara T'Soni who played a smaller role in Mass Effect 2 than the original game, with each one able to play a full squad role this time around. Series favourites Garrus Vakarian and the adorable Tali'Zorah also return, with the latter playing a central role in one of the most emotionally-charged missions of the series as Shepard fights to bring in the heavily-armed Quarian flotilla. The central cast is bolstered by a couple of new characters, though the total number of potential squad members is less than that of Mass Effect 2. Many of the other characters that appeared in the previous title take, at minimum, cameo roles, some contributing significantly to the central plot, though obviously this is dependent on who survived the final assault on the Collector Base. New character Vega is fairly forgettable, but a new entrant included in the From Ashes content adds an interesting edge to the plot, and proves a very worthwhile addition.

Supplementing the extraordinary character interaction tend to be shooting sections where Shepard and his current squad fight through a given area. Superb level design and variety of environment ensure that this never gets old, with some truly inspiring locations and enemies to face. An early mission involves a firefight on one of the moons of Palaven, the turian homeworld. The harsh, wartorn landscapes are a stark contrast to the polished walkways of the Citadel and the sublime architecture of Thessia, but rather than falling into the trap of creating generic, grey featureless surroundings (see Killzone 2), the skies above feature nearby planets and enormous space battles, while the thin atmosphere alters the spread of light causing the ground to take a slightly bluish tone. The canyons themselves are carved with dark imagination, and are often inhabited by enormous Reaper invaders or turian defence stations. As you fight to regain control of the area, you also uncover a horrible truth about the Reaper foot soldiers. Much like the husks, Reaper-converted humans, enemies are Reaper-affected alien races, with numerous Marauders formerly turian soldiers. These fearsome opponents are far more advanced than husks, but even they are put in the shade by the enormous Brutes and, in particular, the terrifying Banshees encountered later in the game.

Mass Effect 3

Of course, your options to shoot back are fairly substantial though, leaving you plenty of options to counter enemy attacks. Mass Effect games are never limited to simple shooting. Though weaponry is in abundance, with assault rifles, SMGs, sniper rifles, heavy pistols, shotguns and several special weapons on offer, as much focus is placed on tech and biotic powers. The latter, common to many asari, include molecular-level attacks such as Warp, forceful lifts and pushes like Throw, and even the creation of singularities that entirely disrupt nearby enemies. Playing as the Vanguard class, there's even a biotic attack that can see Shepard passing through physical barriers in a powerful, high-velocity charge at the enemy - a daring attack if there are numerous enemies on the battlefield. Tech powers are similarly interesting, but rely on engineering talent as opposed to natural biotic power. Hacking synthetic enemies to fight on your side, setting turrets or combat drones, casting incineration bursts and draining energy are all possible in the game. What makes the combat tactical, varied and enjoyable is the ability to combine each attack type, from not just your own character but from each squadmate too. Taking on the formidable Atlas mechs can be tough, but the scope for tactical play is superb. You could send forwards an engineer like Tali to deploy a combat drone as a distraction, while flanking the Atlas safe from its missile attacks to take shots from safety. Meanwhile, warp attacks and incinerate bursts can be used to strip shields and armour rapidly, leaving nothing but scrap metal. If it doesn't suit your style, a hundred other ways can be found to take down the enemy, but each is carefully balanced to ensure that no single tactic clearly dominates all others. Don't expect tactics to be purely the domain of the player though. The Cerberus enemies in particular will attempt to flank players, deploying turrets to pin down their targets and sending in lethal Nemesis and Phantom units to cause significant damage.

The variety in enemy type and attack strategy is certainly a significant improvement over previous games and any rivals to the series. With encounters against numerous warring factions, including Cerberus and the Reapers, the game takes full advantage, providing truly distinctive enemies. You gradually discover, with horror, that each of the Reaper enemy types is simply a different species in the galaxy, converted to a Reaper unit. You initially encounter Cannibals and Marauders, converted from Batarians and Turians respectively. As you progress, more types are revealed, along with their horrifying history. The Reaper units are particularly scary for their aggressive attacks and fast closing speed. Being in the sights of a Brute while under fire from other enemies can be a scary experience. Meanwhile the Cerberus encounters tend to be more tactical affairs. While this time all enemies are human (or potentially synthetic) the variety comes from the armour, attack style, accessories and tactics. A Phantom might close fast with lethal attacks, while combat engineers remain at a distance, planting turrets that literally rip through shields. The game is long enough that you gradually develop strategies for tackling each enemy type, without dragging so long that you become overly familiar. Of course, the steadily rising difficulty curve, courtesy of increasingly scary enemies, often in greater numbers, will keep players on their toes.

Mass Effect 3

Consistent with the grander storyline of this third installment, the locations visited all possess a sense of scale beyond that of the previous games. Access to the Citadel is further reaching, while although Omega is absent (notable for its proximity to the Omega 4 Relay), its grimy claustrophobic corridors are replaced the futuristic architecture of the Grissom Academy, the near-apocalyptic wastelands of Tuchunka, massive cities on planets like Thessia, and even the oppressive streamlined innards of an enemy dreadnaught. In every location, the attention to detail creates immersive, atmospheric scenery, and this offers each place a unique feel. Where so many shooters allow their planet of choice to feel much like any other, Mass Effect delivers locations that each feel distinct, without recourse to novelties and gimmicks. No planet can be classified as the red one, the desert one or the snowy one; instead each has character, history and clear links to the inhabitants of the given world. Take the Salarian homeworld for example, populated with lush jungles and an abundance of water - an ideal home for a reptillian species to evolve. Each is brought to life with sharp visuals, effective lighting and colour and rarely even a minor glitch in sight. Seamless stuff. Similarly the characters, which take another forward leap from Mass Effect 2, have improved facial models, and more intricate uniforms. Look no further than Tali or Legion to see the incredible effort poured into the tiniest details in suits and armour.

In previous Mass Effect games, the score has contributed effectively to the action but, for some, has never stood out consistently. In Mass Effect 3, the score is, from start to finish, phenomenal, with some of the most moving and atmospheric pieces of music ever to be used in a game. The emotional punch of some of the game's most significant plot moments is perfectly accentuated by the incredible music. The refined sense of style is evident even from the game's trailers, which feature superb use of music and visuals to create effective draws to the universe, and the game itself never misses a beat. It isn't just the music that reaches such a high standard though. The sound effects are perfect for the job, contributing brilliantly to the rich atmosphere. One scene, aboard a certain enemy vessel, features a series of violent electrical pulses that rapidly traverse a core area of the ship. Forced to make your way through, each pulse batters your shields, leaving you vulnerable, accompanied by a deafening electrical roar. The whole scene is science fiction at its very best, and demonstrates the incredible effect sound can have on a scenario. The voice cast aren't to be outshone though, with a terrific set of actors returning to their roles, including Keith David, Martin Sheen, Liz Sroka, Tricia Helfer, Claudia Black, Ali Hillis and Seth Green. In a truly massive cast, with thousands of lines taking place across multiple branching paths, there's not a duff line in sight, and each performance will only help to strengthen the connection with the Mass Effect characters.

Mass Effect 3

The single-player campaign is complemented by a significant online component, which led to considerable contraversy on its announcement. Fears of Call of Duty-style competitive multiplayer were soon put to rest when it was revealed that Mass Effect online would consist of cooperative missions making use of the sort of squad antics you see in the main campaign. What has emerged in Mass Effect 3 is one of the most addictive, enjoyable online experiences so far on PS3. Playing in a team of up to four people, each squad member can choose a particular character class, and then upgrade as they gain experience and purchase new weaponry or character packs with credits earned in the game. Each match consists of 10 increasingly difficult waves, some with objectives to complete, followed by an extraction to safety. With different difficulty levels and a vast amount of equipment to unlock, there's tremendous replay value, particularly as you unlock different species to play with, including geth infiltrators and asari adepts each with their own unique abilities. The key to the mode's success though is the sense of team spirt conjured when a small squad triumphs after facing waves of scary-ass banshees and brutes. A vast deal more could be said about the multiplayer, but the game's focus is still, thankfully, the incredible single-player campaign. The multiplayer provides a small contribution to your war effort in the form of resources (promoted multiplayer characters) and a Galactic Readiness percentage that affects your military strength, but remains a nice side feature as opposed to a main ingredient. It's worth noting that a few connection issues have been experienced with the game, but such technical hitches are unlikely to persist, and do nothing to take away from the overall experience.

Completing everything in the multiplayer and unlocking all the items you want could take hundreds of hours, but such a commitment is not a requirement, even for the platinum trophy. Some multiplayer contribution is required, but the bulk of the trophies are for completing elements of the impressive story, which itself can take 20-30 hours depending on how thorough you choose to be with the assorted side missions. Given the branching nature of the story, there's an incredible amount of replay value. Even replaying a mission the same way, but with with different crewmembers in the squad can reveal new and entertaining conversations, while decisions made in any of the three games can have a massive impact on the story, yielding new experiences with every play. In one person's game, a character might make a heroic sacrifice, saving millions of lives at the cost of their own, while in another that character may not have even made it to that point in the story, causing an entirely different set of events to unfold. It's perhaps a slight stretch, but it's unlikely that any two people will share exactly the same Mass Effect experience.

Mass Effect 3

Steering clear of spoilers, a single element of criticism has arisen following the game's release: a need for more closure at the end of the game. Were it any other title, it's unlikely any such complaint would be made, but it's testament to the strength and depth of the Mass Effect characters that there's been such a passionate call for more. Rest assured that an extended cut has been promised by the developers, and that, even without those precious extra minutes, there is no game anywhere that leaves such an impact. The journey that has lasted across three Mass Effect titles is one of the best in gaming history and, for many, will dwarf the potential of any film. The third installment in the series is arguably the most impressive, with a grander, more epic set of events and moments that can genuinely make you laugh, like the superb lines from Mordin Solus, or cry, with some truly devastating consequences resulting from your own actions. A full month after completing the campaign, the impact is still felt, with the story and characters leaving a truly lasting impression. To dismiss Mass Effect as just a shooter, just an RPG, or just some sci-fi thing would be a genuine shame; no game comes more strongly recommended than Mass Effect 3.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Electronic Arts

Developer:

Bioware

Players:

1

Online:

1-4

Release:

2012-03-09

Trophies:

53

Review summary

Gameplay:

Polished perfection, with superb shooting mechanics

Graphics:

Artful visuals, epic scenery and great characters

Sound:

Stunning music and incredible voicework

Lastability:

An incredible story, great replay and multiplayer too

10.0

Meteoric

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MeteorStorm Random Quote Picker

QuoterQuoter

Garrus Vakarian

Do you ever miss those talks we had on the elevators?

Tali'Zorah

No.

Garrus Vakarian

Come on. Remember how we'd always ask you about life on the flotilla? It was an opportunity to share!

Tali'Zorah

This conversation is over.