I beat Mass Effect 3 about a week ago but been sick and haven’t had the chance to write my review yet. It’s going to be a two-part review, the first one, this one, will be a spoiler free review and give my opinion on the game as a whole. The second, which will be posted in the coming day or two, will be my review of certain plot points, characters, and (as many want to read about) the ending. This second post will be full of spoilers, but this one is…
With that out-of-the-way, lets start with how the game feels over all in the series, and that is it feels GREAT! During my initial play of the demo, I had mentioned the change in camera angle, its slight and most probably wouldn’t notice, but I had just finished Mass Effect 2 again so it stuck out. It did not hinder the game in any way, and I got used to it within a few scenes.
Starting with combat, it remains relatively the same, excluding the use of Kinect. You still have 3 “hot-keys” on your controller that you can assign your moves to, you still have a radial menu for weapons and one for powers (which both pause the action), you still use cover (which has been refined even further in this version), and you still can command your squad members to do what you want them to. By a refined cover system, I mean that you actually have to think about what you use for cover now. If an enemy is on a level above you, there’s a good chance he can still shoot you behind a crouching cover, so you might want to find a place further away that’s a little bigger. In the same way, you can do this to the enemy, so it feels balanced.
Speaking of the enemies, the AI is much improved from Mass Effect 2. Not only do they use cover more efficiently, but they also move around the battlefield in a way that you would expect an enemy to. If they’re under cover and you hit them, they move to better cover. In the same sense, if you’re shooting an automatic weapon at them, they won’t pop up just to get shot, unless they think they can get a shot off before dying. When they’re not in cover, they walk behind walls and other cover to try to get as close to you as possible, which can be a big surprise when you’re concentrating ahead of you and all of a sudden have two enemies attacking from the side or behind!
Group AI is also improved in the same way. They use cover better, although once in a while I did notice they got stuck standing when cover was nearby and would just stand there, getting shot, until I told them to take cover. The other thing, that can be both a pro and con, is that they try to get closer to the enemy now for a better shot. An example of this is my main group consisted of Garrus and Liara. I would set Garrus to use his Sniper Rifle, which caused him to stay back further, and Liara would use a Sub Machine Gun, so she would constantly be on the front line, leading to her getting good kills, but also dying the most, causing me to either use medigel or running up in the line of fire to raise her. This was only a problem when reinforcement enemies would come from the sides or above half way through a fight and she’d be surrounded.
One thing that Bioware does better than pretty much any other company, at least in the Mass Effect series, is facial features and body language. This is further refined in Mass Effect 3, when you actually see cut-scenes. As where in Mass Effect 2 where every important conversation had a cut-scene, this game just has audio in many of the conversations. It’s hard to explain what I mean without seeing it, but if you ever talked to Katsumi or Zaeed in Mass Effect 2, it works similar to that. You push the action button and hear them talk. You can walk away while they’re talking to end the conversation, or stand there to listen. The only times there were cut-scenes is when Sheppard had input. Why make this change? The conversation system is what made this series and they took away a good 30% of the conversations! Sure, you can say it’s more streamlined, and all these conversations are ‘extra’, but it just felt lazy.
Video of passive conversation style
Believe it or not, that’s the biggest fault I can find in the game. I expected to be annoyed at the side quests, but they did them right. What I mean by this is the whole game is about getting the galaxy ready for war, getting the people to help you and help themselves. An average RPG will have side quests that take you all around the world/universe doing mundane tasks that have nothing to do with the story, but this game is different. Almost every single quest felt like it led to the greater goal. The N7 missions were particularly interesting because they basically consisted of dropping you in an arena, doing a few tasks, and getting out of there. It plays out much like the online mode, but with your squad instead of other players. You’re usually in these areas to help stop Cerberus from doing something bad, such as abducting colonists or attacking a facility to steal research, which Admiral Hackett makes seem really important.
Not all of the missions made you feel like a hero though, the game does have its share of fetch quests. Even though these quests did fit the story and did feel like you were doing something to help the galaxy, it still felt a little tedious to do. Often times these missions were acquired through over-hearing that someone needs an item and then you can look in your mission log to see what area in the universe to find it in. They are non critical and only a completionist really would care about these, which is why I don’t fault the game for them, it’s just extra content for the player.
The last thing I want to touch on story wise in this review is the main story line. That is strip it down to its basic point A to point B adventure. The story picks up about six months after the end of Mass Effect 2 and ends with…well lets just say it ends during a battle above and on Earth. The story is really political, which is different from the other two games, but fits the sub-plot of the third game, which is working together with alien species that hate each other and getting them to cooperate and fight alongside each other. Sheppard turns out to be a pretty good middle man in this, but that doesn’t mean you don’t see much combat. The game is still focused around getting things done by any means necessary (Thresher Maw Gun anybody?) and actually feels more like Mass Effect 1 than anything, and that’s a good thing. For more specifics on the main story line, stay tuned for that review soon.
Another aspect of the game that has been refined is the power trees and upgrade system. Each power now has its own tree, that’s split into 6 choices, the last 3 having 2 choices. This really allows you to mold your character into your own. I use Sniper Rifles, so extra weapon damage isn’t a big perk for me, so my character tended to take the extra shields or HP’s. Your main character also had the ability to use a power of a party member. These were acquired through conversations between missions, much like the loyalty missions were acquired in Mass Effect 2. After becoming close to a party member, it would tell you that a power has been unlocked and you could add that power to yours, one at a time, in the Med Bay. This was a nice addition over Mass Effect 2’s system that gave you an extra power in your second playthrough. This is the best powers system of the trilogy, they took the improvements they made in Mass Effect 2 and made them better.
The last thing I’d like to touch on is the inventory system, which is more involved than Mass Effect 2, but not quite as involved as Mass effect 1. First thing to point out is that Sheppard can now use any combination of weapons, no matter what class you are. The amount of weapons you can carry depend on how heavy they are, however, and you usually stick with 2 or 3 weapons. You can have more than that, but the heavier the weapons, the longer it takes to recharge your powers. On the other side if you carry light weapons, you get a bonus to recharge speed.
This time around, you focus on weapon mods instead of picking up weapons themselves. You do have to find or buy the initial weapon, but after that you have 2 mod spots, plus the ability to upgrade the weapon itself (to level 5 on the first playthrough and level 10 on the second one). The mods are different depending on the weapon, ranging from increased damage to adding a sight to weapons that previously didn’t have one. These mods also have upgrades you can find or buy that make them more powerful. This allows you to pick weapons that suite you, instead of just going with the most powerful weapons. So you can pick a lightweight weapon that has high accuracy, and good fire rate, but low capacity and damage, then add mods that increase damage and capacity so that this lightweight weapon is almost as powerful with a better fire rate than a heavy weapon. It might sound a bit complicated, but I found once you find a weapon you like, you stick with it and just change the mods around when needed.
Overall, this game feels and looks better than Mass Effect 2. The side missions feel important, and the main story feels in line with the trilogy. The ending leaves a lot to desire, but I don’t want to touch on that in this review. The item system is a good balance between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 that I think both FPS and RPG fans can appreciate, and the same goes for the power upgrade system. I highly recommend this game for anyone who is interested, even if you’ve never played the other games. If you’re interested in the series as a whole, however, you might want to start with Mass Effect 2. Both the PS3 and 360 have ways to make your choices from the first game and learn the story without actually playing the game.
Highly Recommended for All