A journey, spanning four years, hundreds of hours and a plethora of decisions has culminated in what can only be described as the greatest game in the franchise’s history. Mass Effect 3 takes all the selling points of each respective game before, polishes and presents them in one of the most compelling gaming experiences I have ever witnessed. It isn’t a perfect game, far from it (more on this later), but as a narrative there are few titles that are as fascinating.
In this third and supposedly final chapter, the Reapers make their existence and intentions known to all sentient beings and it is up to you to rally all races in the universe to resist the impending genocide. Easier said than done as one would suspect, because despite the threat of complete annihilation, old hatreds and quarrels complicate what would otherwise be a straightforward task. The respective races somehow believe that divided and watching out for none but their own presents them with better odds of survival than banding together.
Within this simplistic setting, one finds themselves reacquainted with old friends, enemies and everything in between. The decisions made in the first game have weight and although diminished against the choices made in Mass Effect 2, it’s impressive that BioWare has managed to track all of that in your various save games and as such have presented the most seamless transitions between games I’ve ever seen.
Unlike in any other game I’ve played, the gravity and subsequent urgency of the Reaper threat in Mass Effect 3 is presented in a way that makes it almost palatable. This game is dark, much darker than one would expect especially after the pacing of the previous games. With every side mission you undertake that isn’t directly related to preparing the galaxy for the war, nations die while entire races are wiped out. The conversations and news reports you hear in passing serve as a constant reminder of how grim the situation you face really is. In previous games, you and your team’s arrival on any battlefield usually ended with you overcoming the enemy and saving the day. Shepard and co were pretty much the untouchables, able to better swarms of enemies, organic and synthetic alike.
This time, the game will have none of that. For the first time you truly grasp the limitations of you and your team facing a concerted effort to eradicate all life in the galaxy. Many times, you will find yourself fleeing the battle, only concerned with achieving the mission objective which very rarely has anything to do with you saving anyone. This is a war and the Reapers are winning. With immeasurably more and superior firepower, the effectiveness of the guns at your command is inconsequential. As Commander Shepard you must find courage in situations where you yourself are unsure if there is any hope. The galaxy looks to you to save them, against a threat you had repeatedly warned them about before, but fell on deaf ears despite your insistence and evidence.
Mass Effect 3 is well written, it’s brilliantly timed, it looks incredible and while the story is notably more linear than before, this title stands head and shoulders above the previous offerings. Shepard is faster, more agile, has more abilities at his disposal and has a sharper and more balanced team. For instance, you are no longer faced with a disproportionately high number of Biotics, but instead are offered fewer and more competent members that ensure you don’t miss any of the old squad in battle.
It is true that your squad members from Mass Effect 2 had more depth (as well as more lines), but then again one could argue the game could afford such character development as the galaxy was relatively peaceful. This is no longer the case and six months after the Collectors were destroyed, the galaxy is in turmoil and whatever psychological difficulties your team members had, they have to take a back seat to their survival instincts.
Without a doubt, Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game, easily the best in the series by far. The only downside to what would otherwise be a flawless masterpiece is the ending sequences which are nothing if not peculiar. It’s not so much that all your choices are funnelled into a limited set of outcomes but more importantly, none of those choices really matter. The ending is the same for all choices, all equally incoherent, introducing plot holes where there were previously none. Imagine if you will, in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Frodo and Sam arrived at Mount Doom and they morphed into crime-fighting Transformers. It sounds absurd indeed and it is, but it’s the best way to describe how Mass Effect 3 is ended. It potentially undoes everything not only this game did right, but the previous titles as well.
It’s what prevents this game from being a 95/100 title. It only managed to score as high as it has because of the compelling and thoroughly engrossing narrative. Despite BioWare’s valiant attempt at diminishing the entire experience in the last mile, Mass Effect 3 is still the most gripping science fiction RPG experience in the last ten years. A bold statement certainly, but one that I do believe is justified. Play this game; even if you play it so you can reach the bitterly disappointing end, it’s still worth it, because the ride there is nothing short of brilliant.