Mass Effect 3, a fitting conclusion

Edmonton based developer Bioware follows up one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time with a blockbuster franchise finale in Mass Effect 3. The entire galaxy is at stake and the choices you’ve already made could spell your doom before you even boot it up. What are you waiting for?

“This is it.” It’s a statement that will be uttered and read numerous times throughout Mass Effect 3. However brief the sentence, it remains exceedingly accurate. This is the culmination of the journey for the Commander Shepard players created over six years ago.

Mass Effect 3 has the unenviable task of living up to some of the loftiest standards in gaming history. 2010’s Mass Effect 2 was universally lauded as an unforgettable gaming experience and it was honoured with countless Game of the Year awards. It will please many fans to know, then, that while maybe not quite as good, Mass Effect 3 exists on the same level of excellence as its predecessor.

The game looks fantastic; character models are exceptionally detailed and the massive set pieces are awe-inspiring. The third person shooter combat is more visceral than it’s ever been. Bullets tear through the air with an unnerving screech, scorching and destroying everything in their path as waves of foes punishingly bear down upon your position. No matter what class of warrior your Shepard is, this is not an easy game.

As great as the combat is, it’s not the reason that fans are drawn to the franchise. Mass Effect’s trademark has always been the deep and interesting history of its characters and universe. The third instalment keeps that tradition alive, utilizing the same expansive, choice driven conversation system that has become Mass Effect’s signature. Players can choose to really get to know their squad mates via the branching conversation wheel. Hours can easily be spent conversing with just a single character, creating a real sense of personal attachment to the characters and their fates.

It is somewhat disappointing that Mass Effect 3 chose to drastically trim down its roster of useable squad mates. Not only does this result in a lack of diversity among the characters players can use and interact with, it also partially negates many of the strong relationships that players no doubt built throughout the previous games. Oddly, Bioware even made the decision to add brand new squad mates who have very little tie-in to the previous games. Most of the characters that were removed still appear in side missions, but it feels like somewhat of a consolation prize. Luckily, the series also continues to boast the very best voice acting in the industry.

Despite the depleted roster, Mass Effect 3 doesn’t lack for varying plot points and situations. It is possible for one complete Mass Effect experience to be entirely different from another. Any given situation can have endless outcomes, dependent on the choices players have made and will make. Choices that players made years ago have legitimate consequences within the Mass Effect universe, and the results of those choices can resonate throughout the rest of your experience within the franchise. The complexity of having such a wide variety of contextual outcomes is mindboggling. Bioware deserves kudos for designing such a rich universe for fans to play around in.

This, however, also makes the game incredibly inaccessible to people who have not played previous entries. Players who are jumping into the franchise with Mass Effect 3 will likely have no idea what is really going on, even many hours into the game. The entire three game series is a single experience. Those who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in it are really missing out on something unique and special.

Despite a few flaws in design and plot, some of them arguably major, the overall experience offered by Mass Effect 3 makes it exceptionally easy to recommend to almost anyone. The intricately woven story, complex characters, and very real sense of history and continuity make Mass Effect 3 and its predecessors quite possibly the best — definitely the most personal — gaming experience to date.