How amusing that an email referring to a generic Quarian marine (decked, appropriately, in a red suit of armour) managed to sum up Mass Effect for me in a single phrase –pay-off. It’s a compliment to Bioware’s ability to make the story told by their trilogy as fluid, as consistent and (most-importantly) as personal as they originally promised!
It’s predecessor, Mass Effect 2, was a tour de force in gaming and easily my personal Game of the Year for 2010 – blasting out of the starting blocks at the beginning of the year, it blew aside most critical expectations, such was the varied/customisable experience and radical overhaul to the UI and gameplay that held the first game back from greatness.
Mass Effect 3 is a game 5 years in the making – a present from Bioware for the core audience of players who have stuck with the series from the beginning, pouring over codex entries, reading all the back story and obsessively protecting save games from system wipes.
Call-backs to seemingly innocuous decisions and incidental characters, some made or met during the initial outing back in 2007, come thick and fast – some obvious & decisive, some mere window dressing or fan service, all meticulously planned out with little if any noticeable retcon.
Every prior squad member, including space-Nazi Ashley, test-tube krogan Grunt, the epic Mordin and the reliable Garrus is present, assuming they’ve survived (or were *ahem* purchased in the previous game’s DLC packs), returning to aid the war effort as humanities greatest hero sets about uniting the galaxy against the biggest threat ever faced.
The game revolves around a core meta-game called ‘Galaxy at War’ which exists across all portions of the game, representing the squishy organic forces (and ‘maybe’ the Geth, of course) of the universes on-going struggle – ‘War Assets’ are accrued by completing side missions (the majority acquired through eavesdropping on passers-by airing their grievances in the Citadel Presidium) & exploring the galaxy in the Normandy during the main campaign, evading Reaper forces at every turn, which contributes to a running score. Planet scanning returns but there’s no grinding of resources.
Readiness, driven by participation in the games co-op/horde mode multiplayer and companion iOS applications, offers a further numerical insight into the preparation of the force for good.
To clarify = Unite the petty bickering ingrates of the galaxy as the one true Shepard by talking to aliens (and shooting them in the face if they disagree), then stop them being cut to pieces by shooting aliens in the face with your friends. Sounds good to me!
On-foot gameplay for the main campaign is similar in form & function to Mass Effect 2, with improvements being made to combat via the addition of varied melee moves (the best bit being the excellent and very sci-fi Omni-Blade) and a more fluid cover system, whilst the stats part of the role-play experience is still largely non-existent – dealing with your power cool downs is about the only bother you will experience. The ability to shooting straight is commanded by the skill of the player, not their skill-set and the simple squad management pause-screen is retained, allowing easy access to the various talents and powers of your menagerie. PC users have the logistical bonus of mapping keys to numbers on the keyboard.
For some strange reason, EA are positioning the game as a jump-on point for the series and I’ve no idea why – at this point a new player with an off-the-shelf Shepard would be lacking in any form of context or gravity to the decisions Bioware are presenting. Also, the prescribed route for those not importing characters from an existing save file is apparently tantamount to speed running the previous games with your eyes closed, as all the interesting characters are missed or missing for various reasons. As a result, newcomers will have a harder time attaining a significant number of War Assets.
Of course, the cynic would say EA’s real reasoning is money – rather than ‘poison’ the main single player late in the game with aftermarket paid add-ons that developed (or unlocked) key characters as it did Mass Effect 2, the core of EA’s monetisation revolves around the horde-mode multiplayer, chasing players from rival shooters by borrowing elements of popular games such as Gears of War, Call of Duty and other cover-based manshoots and mashing them into something unique. Bioware have a taken the improved shooter mechanics and put together a clever grind/reward system to keep people playing.
Facing off against Cerberus, Heretic Geth or Reaper forces using a cornucopia of species, spread across the 6 key game classes, up to four players/friends/randoms have 10 rounds to survive escalating forces, completing missions such as hacking and assassination as required. The result is improved stats for your character, a bump to the regions Galactic Readiness rating and *zing* credits to buy packs that offer random unlocks, technology and characters. Want more random/rare stuff more often? Buy special packs using Magic Bioware Fun Points! *Kerching!*
New players struggling in the main campaign because of the aforementioned storyline cuts can also bolster their overall score by exporting high-level multiplayer characters into the G@W scenario.
Nothing’s perfect – PC gamers are beholden to EA’s Origin service , which whilst fairly benign compared to stuff like Games for Windows: Live, doesn’t compare with Steam for friend management; exploration on the Galaxy Map is artificially constrained by Reaper attacks, which is irritating; the consolidation of control into as few inputs as possible has gone slightly to far (the Space Bar does everything!); Diana Allers is a dismal 11th hour character added by marketeers with no redeeming features and the ending does leave a queer taste in the mouth, if only because of the expectations raised by the calibre of the build-up.
The community uproar with regards to the latter was wholly unnecessary (as is often the case) but the lack of closure around key characters that Bioware has spent the better part of a decade grooming us to care about was disappointing, if not approaching insulting. Still, at least Bioware had the conviction to make the ending slower paced [blackout]and not just Shepard single handedly downing Reapers with big guns and bad one-liners… Sorry[/blackout].
There’s a ‘Directors Cut’ ending coming in the summer, so best keep save games handy to see if Tali is having the one true Shepard’s baby!
Like both it’s predecessors, Mass Effect 3 is an epic title. It closes off a sci-fi trilogy in a way the Wachowski Brothers could only have hoped, had they not got too full of themselves. Instead, Bioware have hunkered down and stuck to their guns, delivering an incredibly complete role-playing game where for nearly the entirety of the experience, it was the players game – my game!
Kal’Reegar survived Haestrom, because of me.
He died fighting for my cause.