As is expected in Bioware games, the narrative here is brilliant. The dialogue is believable and fluid and the character interaction is wonderful. Shepard’s teammates and companions are all fully fleshed-out and three dimensional, and they interact with the player (and each other) in highly entertaining ways. The action set-pieces are breathtaking spectacles, using the massive form of the Reapers to create truly gigantic conflicts. There are moments of genuine sadness and despair, and I can admit I almost came to tears multiple times. The camaraderie between Shepard and his/her team is heartwarming, and the jokes and teases between characters can cheer the player up after the more bleak moments in the game.
While most of the game’s narrative is well-paced and original, the beginning stumbles and falters. The initial Reaper attack on Earth is about as emotionally subtle as a wrecking ball, and the attempts to tug on the player’s heartstrings are so transparent, they end up being comedic. Early dialogue is clichÃ©d and predictable and the pacing constantly shifts from a slow burn to a frantic sprint. More than once I had to ask; “Who the hell is this guy?!” “Why the hell are we doing this?!” and “How the hell did I get here?!” In the first three hours of the game, I felt punished for not having encyclopedic knowledge of the Mass Effect universe, even though I played through the first and second games multiple times.
The gameplay is your standard cover-based third-person shooter fare, and I’m glad to say that Mass Effect 3‘s combat is not as “Gears of War” as the trailers made it seem. The shooting is polished and fun, and giving commands to companions is still easy to do. Like in Mass Effect 2, each character class still specializes in different weapon loadouts, but this time around, all classes can use all weapon types (Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Snipers, etc.) but at the cost of slower ability cooldowns.
Space travel in 3 hasn’t changed much from 2, but the resource gathering has been paired down and simplified. You can scan Reaper-controlled star systems for artifacts and survivors…but if you scan too much, the Reapers show up and, like old men, chase you off their metaphorical lawn. Searching the galaxy yields War Assets: items and soldiers that improve your chances to defeat the Reapers in the final battle. The war asset system feels well-fleshed out, and it is nowhere near as boring as the planet-scanning mineral gathering from 2.
Mass Effect 3 is the first in the series to implement multiplayer, but sadly it isn’t original or very fun. The multiplayer mode is just co-op horde mode; players team up to fight wave after wave of enemies, and the waves get increasingly difficult as they progress. Every few rounds there is an objective wave that, while breaking the monotony of fighting endless streams of enemies, gets repetitive just as quickly. There are three forms of objectives: Kill these four specific dudes in a set amount of time; Turn off four computer consoles in a set amount of time; or stand within a circle long enough to “hack” a computer terminalâ€¦in a set amount of time. All of these are fun and pulse-pounding the first few times you do them, but soon you just hope they will go by as fast as possible. The reward for participating in multiplayer is the improvement of your “Galactic Readiness Rating,” a mechanic that dictates how useful the war assets in single player are. I don’t like the idea of multiplayer interfering with single player, but I found that a low Galactic Readiness Rating didn’t hinder me that much.
Now my friends, I come to my biggest problem with Mass Effect 3: the putrescent mole on the comely face of the entire experience. The Ending. In the interest of spoilers, I won’t say too much, but the game’s ending not only manages to not answer any questions, it also destroys every choice the player has made since the beginning of the series. Not in a bittersweet “all-for-naught” sort of way, but in a “We’re lazy so we’ll just do this so we won’t have to explain the effects of the player’s actions” sort of way. The final cut scene is the same for all options the player has at the end of the game, just palette-swapped. There is no description about how your choices changed the galaxy, or even what happened to the Humans, Reapers, or any other race. The biggest letdown of the ending is that the climax leading up to it was so well done, so gripping. It squandered the emotional investment of the player. It is infuriatingly stupid.
My Advice? While Mass Effect 3 is a terrible end to a series, it is still a very solid game. I suggest that if you are new to the Mass Effect universe, start with the first game and work your way up.