After 45 hours of fighting, the Earth has been saved. Mass Effect 3 is undoubtedly the greatest conclusion to Shepard’s fight against the Reapers we could have hoped for, but it’s far from faultless. Just like in the first part of our review, in part 2, you can expect minor spoilers, but will stop short of ruining it for you (hopefully), just enough to explain ourselves.
After countless disc-swaps, we reached the midpoint in the story (see part 1), which is centred around the Citadel – the same could be said for the entire series to an extent. Needless to say once it is over, things have changed over at the hub of the galactic community, and this brings up the first of a few bugs.
You will find the map highlights ‘places of interest’ as well as people on the right hand side. Unfortunately, due to the endless number of plot threads, the game can often get confused about which people should be there and which aren’t. For example it assured us banking Volus Barla Von was behind his desk at his store in the banking area in the Presidium Commons, but after Act 3 he could no longer be found there. Luckily, the journal marked his quest as completed, so we weren’t short of his war assets for the grand finale.
Other issues with the game stem from its cover system. While leaps and bounds ahead of Mass Effect 2, the game still struggles with cover at various points, sometimes taking you around a corner rather than mantling over cover, and rolling into cover often ends up with you just standing there looking at a wall. Generally it isn’t a major issue, but in the occasional fight, particularly the more frantic battles you face towards the end (think four Brutes at once…) you feel as though the game restricts you rather than enables you.
Scanning, while now dealt with in systems rather than planets to an extent, is still a fairly laborious process, with no clues as to whether there is even anything to find in a particular system, and some entire clusters seem to be pointedly empty, as if DLC might unlock something to do on one of their many worlds. The impending danger of scanning revealing the Normandy to the Reapers provides an initial fear, but quickly dissipates when you realise the auto save merely takes you back to when you entered the system – meaning if you can remember where the assets are, it is a simple case of trial and error for the game to give up its treasures.
Cut scenes too are riddled with issues. The usual conversation wheel loops from ME2 remain, which allow you to ask for elaboration on a point multiple times, and at one point in a conversation with Liara on the Normandy, both she and Shepard decided eye-contact was for losers and instead looked to their left and right respectively, while continuing to talk normally.
Despite this, it isn’t enough to ruin what is an incredible tense build up to the finale. In the second half there are a number of side missions (depending on how many you did in the first half, obviously), which see you meet up with more members of your ME2 crew. In our playthrough, we only had one squadmate missing – sociopath biotic queen Jack – and we didn’t miss her. Some squadmate appearances seem more significant than others, and you feel that without mainstays like Garrus and Tali you would lose a lot of what makes the game fun.
Passive conversations take a step up a notch as well, depending on your personal story. Some moments we enjoyed from these were Garrus and James Vega’s verbal sparring, EDI and Joker’s romancing in Pergatory and Tali drowning her sorrows in the lounge after Shepard meets up with Miranda to face-off with her controlling father.
The From Ashes DLC provides you with a brand new squadmate, a Prothean called Javik who was preserved in a life pod back on Eden Prime to be discovered by Shepard. The debate rages over whether this content should have been included in the retail release, and for 800 points the price is high for little more than a simple side mission, but having a Prothean in the ranks makes for some interesting encounters through the game.
As you near the end of the game, you feel the urgency of the mission build, in what is a masterstroke from BioWare in terms of their much boasted ‘integrated storytelling’. The occasional line is often thrown in to hark back to the first title in the series, but sadly the memorable side missions from Mass Effect, such as collecting Keeper data, aren’t tied up in what would have been a great opportunity to reward veteran players.
Combat difficulty gains momentum as you take the plunge and commit to finally taking down The Illusive Man, something many players have been begging for since the shifty head of Cerberus (voiced expertly by Martin Sheen) appeared on the scene at the opening of ME2.
The War Room in the Normandy gives you a breakdown of your forces, as well as the chances of success, ahead of the final assault to take back Earth, and it’s here that the Galaxy at War multiplayer really makes a difference to your final fighting strength.
The odds are always stacked against Shepard and his crew, and setting down on Earth – in London no less – this time around is no exception. While the setting raises a smile from a British perspective, (little other than big ben’s clock tower and some traditional English phone boxes set this apart from any post-apocalyptic warzone) the streets lie strewn with rubble and destruction as all manner of Reaper-class enemies advance on you almost relentlessly, particularly the instant-kill weilding Banshees, created from biotically charged Asari.
Despite the uncertainty of a war zone, Shepard still makes time for a chat, catching up with each of his squad members – end even video calling those who aren’t in the thick of it – for what is a deep breath before the plunge of the final big push.
The games ending (which will try our best not to spoil) is the biggest bone on contention with the game as a whole, with Facebook campaigns and petitions already well underway in outrage at how BioWare could have ended the game as they did.
The truth of the matter is that there is no way the ending could ever have lived up to the events that paid the way to it, and the team have ended up tying things up with a head-scratching moment rather than a definitive ‘The End’.
While many would argue the conclusion alludes to the finale of Deux Ex: Human Evolution in its simplicity, the result is that players can discuss their ending knowing that the context of others’ games – which are infinite in complexity – are irrelevant, which is both and a strength and a weakness at the same time.
However players decide to end their game, the fact that their is still a choice goes back to what BioWare set out to do, and the ride always had to end sometime.
In the end, Mass Effect 3 is up there with the likes of Skyrim for epic story, but has a wealth of different experiences for each player in a totally different way. If a character is there or not changes the experience significantly, but doesn’t disadvantage or penalise the player as other games would. In the case of our playthrough, it was easy to work out where Jack should have been, but the mission was still hugely enjoyable without her.
Shepard’s story is one which everyone who plays ME3 will have a different level of investment in. To get the best possible experience, an import is crucial, and too an extent a lot of the emotional weight from the story just wouldn’t be possible without it.
Regardless of your choices, ME3 is a game which helps define this gaming generation, and makes the best stab at a Hollywood-esque franchise ever committed to disc. The issues tackled, romantic sub-plots, combined with the action and drama, make Mass Effect as a whole the most affecting story in gaming history, and one which demands attention from anyone who has ever picked up a control pad.
James Michael Parry