Jeff Markiewicz On April 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

Mass Effect 3 ScreenshotMass Effect 3 is the conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy that started in 2007 by Bioware. The first game has what I believe to be one of the best endings of this generation. The second game, just like the first, garnered much positive reviews and several game of the year awards. Bioware has been on fire this generation with this series as well as another one called Dragon Age. Their pedigree includes Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur’s Gate. It is no doubt that this game has met the apex of hype, not only because it’s the conclusion of a beloved trilogy but that it also is a Bioware title. The only question that remains is can it stand up to that hype or will the game not meet expectations?

The story picks up several years after the events of Mass Effect 2 and Shepard has been relieved of duty over his actions in the downloadable episode Arrival. At the beginning of the game, Alliance command has noticed a mysterious force is coming towards them at alarming speed, colonies and outposts are going dark. Shepard is called upon to illuminate the obvious to the Alliance military leaders but they have been paralyzed by inaction and surprise. The Reapers have reached Earth and a conventional war is hopeless, they are too powerful and too numerous. The only chance the human race has to survive is to delay the inevitable until Shepard can gather an army and come up with a strategy to combat the threat. Unfortunately, Earth is not the only place the Reapers have attacked, the entire galaxy has been engulfed in war.

The premise of this final title in the trilogy was not hard to predict but it was something I always wanted. I wanted a war and a sense of loss that comes with it. The third title is a much more linear game that before. You’ll go from major plot point to major plot point in a defined sequence with side-quests supporting those points as well as some that don’t. The biggest issue after playing this title is that for the most part, the second title doesn’t feel particularly needed. Mass Effect 3 has some awesome send offs for friends that you’ve gained along your adventure but a lot of the build up with Cereberus, Harbinger, and the decisions you made have little bearing on the conclusion of this series. What you will get is a well-defined epic conclusion to a beloved series. There are some missteps but the overall picture is what you expect from the Mass Effect series, an awesome ride.

Mass Effect started out as a sci-fi role-playing game with a clunky awkward combat system but played to its strengths with a great role-playing system. There were a lot of stats and powers to worry about when leveling up your character. You had to worry about equipping the right weapons and bringing along the right squad mates. In Mass Effect 2, the focus was put on a great combat system to the detriment of the deep role-playing system. Hardcore fans of the first title complained that their game was derailed into an action game and casual gamers of the second loved its accessibility and great combat. Bioware has listened and has put forth an interesting system to try to keep everyone happy. There are three different modes to play; story mode, action mode, and role-playing mode. Story mode emphasizes the story and trivializes the combat. Action mode will automatically handle the reins of the story allowing you to fully commit to the enjoyment of the gameplay. And finally role-playing mode, the mode that most represents the traditional Mass Effect gameplay, gives you the full reins to both the story and combat.

As a traditional fan of the series, I obviously went through the game under the role-playing mode and really enjoyed the enhancements. While the combat and level design obviously takes their cues from Mass Effect 2, the role-playing elements bring back the depth and customization of the first title. After each level up, you get a certain number of points to spend on powers and the second half of each power’s trees; you have to decide between two choices which will vary the way that you use it. You can make a power an area of effect spell and hit multiple targets at once or focus all of your damage onto a single target. Others will be more varied by making you choose between more health or more melee damage. They seem minor but in the end they make for a more varied game and more varied characters within the same class. Just like Mass Effect 2, you’re able to equip different pieces of armor that will boost varies aspects of your character from more armor to being able to carry more ammo. Lastly, there are much more items this time around. Whereas in Mass Effect 2 you only had a handful of different guns, you now have as many of those guns in each weapon class now if not more. And the weapons can be modified to be more powerful in different ways. A lot of these just seem like Mass Effect 2 but just more and while you’re right, it just feels like the perfect sweet spot between the first game and the second.

Multiplayer was something that many did not desire from Mass Effect 3. The series was suited perfectly for cinematic story-telling. The first two titles certainly took advantage of the online space by delivering single-player downloadable content but never for anything more. Yet for the conclusion of this trilogy, the pattern has shifted to include a cooperative wave-based online experience. This has been done several times in games like Gears of War and Halo Reach but this one has a Mass Effect twist. It added a role-playing level system and even cooler, a loot system. So when you start your online experience, you will pick a character class to roll and start leveling them up just like you do in single player but in addition to experience points, you also get money. This money is put toward purchasing loot boxes which will unlock additional characters, weapons, and modifiers. Some modifiers can be added to your weapon and are kept forever and others are one-game bonuses.

What really makes the multiplayer work is the combat. The experience and loot systems serve to just support it. Most will admit that the combat in the first title was clunky and that the second improved upon it massively. Well that system has been tweaked and improved for the third and it serves the replayability very well. There are tons of weapons to collect and add mods to. You can also go sans weapons and rely solely on your biotic and tech powers. While you can’t customize the faces of your multiplayer characters, you can set their armor colors. When the right loot, you can unlock additional color abilities to further personalize that character. And finally you have one-game packs that give you that extra boost to push you over to victory.

There is a nice variety of levels of which you will face three different factions on. Each faction presents unique challenges. The only criticism is that there are some enemies that have a cool reveal in single player and multiplayer will obviously preempt those reveals if you choose to play it right away. They are minor spoilers, but spoilers nonetheless. There are three difficulty levels you can choose from and once you’re in the game, you will be subjected to 10 waves of enemies. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with an objective to complete. These really help the game from getting stagnant camp-fests but there are some that are timed and you become impossible to complete and be forced to wait out the timer anyways or something you actually complete in the last second and lose. It can be frustrating when those moments happen. Once you complete the 10 waves, you will have to evacuate which culminates in a last stand at the pick-up location. It’s a great finale and it helps keep the games length manageable.

Through all the doubts that I had that Bioware couldn’t pull this off and that Mass Effect should stay a single-player franchise, I must admit I was wrong. Bioware pulled this off. The multiplayer is a unique and highly entertaining addition. There are some bugs and some minor spoilers in enemy types but what is provided here is solid and fun. The combat system carries it and the loot system gives it legs.

While Mass Effect 3 is great from a gameplay perspective, both online and off, it must be noted that it is also the buggiest Mass Effect 3 yet. Most are minor, for example Shepard’s head not looking at the right person during dialogue but others are more concerning. During loading, sometimes the game will appear to hard lock. The screen will be black except for a non-animating loading icon. You won’t be able to pull up the Xbox 360 guide. Most of the time it will pull through if you wait long enough but it breaks the immersion. Another large issue is if you created a custom face for your Shepard in Mass Effect 1, imported him/her into Mass Effect 2, and finally attempt to import them into 3, you will be met with an error. Your face can not be imported. Considering the investment that you’ve made into your character over 2 prior games, this offense is one step lower than having your save entirely corrupted. Bioware has promised to fix it in the next patch but to release the title in this state is disappointing. In multiplayer, occasionally you’ll get an enemy that’s invincible, forcing you to either quit or die to continue. Thankfully none of the bugs I have experienced were game-breaking but the fact that there are such large glaring ones is one of concern.

The graphics in Mass Effect have always been decent but little things like the cinematic camera angles during conversations propped it up to be something that has helped define this generation. Mass Effect 2 took the wide-open planets and levels down to tighter, more linear levels that were better looking. For the third outing, the levels are about the same quality as the second but with the addition of grander backdrops. They really seal the deal that while what you’re doing is important and that there is a war raging on all around you. It really helps to immerse you. Reapers will be imposing their will, squadrons of aircraft will be heading into battle, and general mayhem will be underway. The negative is that the levels themselves are just on par with Mass Effect 2 so some of the grander vistas are negated by blocky, lower-detailed areas. This also extends to the characters. In the first game they use to look so impressive and in Mass Effect 2 they got a decent bump but here, the technology has stagnated. There are some cool minor additions though. The shattering of enemies after they’ve been frozen is really cool. Some in-game cutscenes are awesome to watch. While Mass Effect 3 is not a graphical powerhouse, it makes up for it in content and artistry which is why you may be disappointed here or there but at the end you’ll leave fairly impressed with that they have done.

The sound design in the game is fantastic. The set pieces you’ll visit are often in the mix of a warzone and listening to what going on in the background is almost as good as what’s going on where you are playing. You’ll hear the signature mechanical noises of Reapers attacking, the menacing sound of their attack, and their foe falling under their might. This makes for a very immersive environment in which to experience what’s in the foreground. People will be shouting, fighting will be going on all around you, and all sorts of destruction. While the levels are quite linear, the sound design creates a sort of immersive bubble that just yearns to be heard through a surround sound system. It’s not to Black Hawk Down levels of chaos and auditory bliss but it definitely sounds amazing. The voice acting is also top notch in most places. The familiar voices of your teammates have returned and there are a couple new nice additions to the cast. As indicated above, the sense of war feels great and this is bolstered by the sound of beefy weapons and powerful explosions. This whole ensemble is set to some great music as well. Familiar themes thread themselves through some of the new musical additions but what is completely new is amazing. It’s somewhat disappointing that at this time, the soundtrack is only available through the collector’s edition. Overall, you’ll find yourself set inside an immersive world that is filled with great voice talent and a fine orchestral soundtrack.

The biggest complaint about the series is that the game perpetuates the illusion of choice, or at least the consequences of choice. Most of your choices in Mass Effect 1 don’t impact Mass Effect 2. And most of your choices in Mass Effect 2 don’t affect Mass Effect 3. Once you realize that you’re traveling along a single story thread that occasionally vibrates but never breaks, the more you’ll enjoy this saga. Mass Effect 3 is great. It takes the gameplay from the second, polishes up the combat and reinfuses it with the deeper role-playing elements that it lost. In the end, you get the best of the first and second games in a solid package. The story is what I wanted since the conclusion of the first, a galaxy at war. The story is much more direct, more about the threat, and less on the characters. The graphics, while slipping a bit compared to their contemporaries, still does an admirable job. The sound design is top notch though. Just listening to the surrounding noise at some of the locations is breathtaking. There are some indications of the game being rushed with some big bugs and an atypical controversial ending but as far as the entire package, it’s great. If you’ve never played the series before, some parts may lack the emotional punch that they will for series veterans but its well worth the price of admission for both newcomers and fans.


The story is great and if you’ve invested yourself in the characters, you’ll have an emotional experience. The sweet spot between the first and second titles. It has customizability and deep role-playing of the first and the awesome combat of the second.


Looks just like Mass Effect 2 which isn’t bad but it just means it hasn’t particularly progressed graphically with the rest of gaming. Levels do look blocky and the faces aren’t as impressive as before but some additions are great, such as the expansive backgrounds.


Mass Effect 3 really hones in on the immersive experience with its sound design. The backgrounds come to life with the sound of battle. The voice acting is generally top notch with a lot of familiar voices returning. The music contains tunes of the previous titles and some really good new ones. Excellent.


Bioware embraced the differences between the first and second game to make a game that appeals to both the traditional fans and casual. The story, overall, is quite well done. The gameplay has the great role-playing elements you expect and the fun combat that you enjoy. The graphics have largely stayed stagnant on par with Mass Effect 2 but it’s not bad. The sound design is excellent and helps you feel immersed in the war. The game is fantastic despite any controversy.

Comments are closed.