Don’t fear the Reapers

Part of what’s made Mass Effect so amazing as a series is how much the direct choices you make as a player not only affect you in game, but beyond. And the concluding chapter in this tremendous trilogy doesn’t let up at all in that regard, as choices made in the first two games come back to reward or haunt you in unforeseen ways as you continue to fight against the Reapers.

Whereas the first Mass Effect was all about introducing us to the major players and ME2 was about building up relationships and your own personal task force, ME3 is all about cultivating the relationships from the first two games in order to best prepare the galaxy into forming a united front against the Reapers, who now even pester you in the galaxy map, which adds a new layer of danger to the previously mundane process of probing planets. Every task you complete and planet you successfully probe will affect how much military strength you can muster, and by crossing the wrong person or making the wrong choice on how to allocate available resources, you can strengthen or weaken the armada you’re trying to create.

The story’s also a bit more engrossing this time around, as there are a lot more cinematic, big-movie moments—and they all look amazing, as the visuals are probably the most impressive in the series to date. This more fluid story telling really helps the game flow, and fans of the series will appreciate a lot of throwback references that sometimes come from nowhere and will instantly put a smile on your face.

The weapons, armor, and RPG leveling-up system have also been streamlined so that players who want a more action-packed experience are doing less item hunting and navigating menus. Plus, there’s also a “narrative” difficulty option that really fleshes out conversations and the customization for those players who’d prefer the more traditional RPG experience.

The combat controls feel tighter and field tactics are also smoother this time around, but the cover mechanics introduced in Mass Effect 2 are still very delicate, and movement’s much more deliberate than you’d want in any type of a shooter. And that isn’t what you need in the heat of battle, as you’ll often accidentally roll away from cover when you’re trying to stick to it. Coupled with a flawed damage feedback mechanic that doesn’t properly inform players how much damage they are taking, and combat can still be irksome at times.

But Mass Effect 3’s greatest problem is its new multiplayer system. And it’s not the fact that it’s an amalgamation of Battlefield 3’s class system with Gears of War’s Horde mode, as I love both of those games’ multiplayer options. No, my problem lies in the fact that you’re pretty much forced into playing the multiplayer in order to unlock the best possible ending in the single-player mode. This aspect, called “Galaxy at War,” starts where the galaxy’s 50 percent ready to take on the Reaper threat as soon as you begin your single-player game. But instead of collecting more assets in single-player or completing side quests to improve on this number, you need to win multiplayer matches, which correlates to your armada readiness in single-player mode—this means players will be forced to play a mode they might not necessarily want to get into right away. Plus, there is no local split-screen options and a lot of times the best co-op multiplayers all allow you to have your buddy sitting right next to you while you play.

Mass Effect 3 is still an awesome game overall, of course, as the few negatives just happen to stand out against what is an otherwise mostly blemish free experience. Even the Kinect options are a lot more enjoyable than I had anticipated, although I found myself falling back into old game play patterns a few hours in as I’m just not used to screaming at my TV (when not watching a sporting event, anyway). The conclusion to the story is phenomenal, the action’s great with legions of new and old enemies alike, and the multiplayer’s fun and addictive, even if I don’t like how it affects your single-player campaign. Not to mention Mass Effect 3 has one of the more moving scores I’ve heard from a game in a while and fantastic voice acting for all our returning favorite characters, and a nice job by some new folks like Freddie Prinze Jr. as James Vega. Fans who invested in the first two games will know the wait for this third game was well worth it, and BioWare shows why they’re some of the best storytellers in the industry.

SUMMARY: Mass Effect’s brilliant story remains intact, and if you played the previous two games, the payoff’s more than satisfying. Some cover and combat issues remain unsolved, though, and the idea of participation in a completely separate multiplayer mode potentially influencing your single-player ending is mind-boggling.

  • THE GOOD: Brilliantly concludes one of the most epic trilogies of this console generation
  • THE BAD: Multiplayer tie-in to single player, combat and control nitpicks
  • THE UGLY: Joker wanting to get it on with a robot

SCORE: 9.0

Mass Effect 3 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.