Platform: Xbox 360
Commander Sheppard spent the first two games warning the rest of the universe about a race of doomsday machines called ‘The Reapers’. And in Mass Effect 3 they arrive. The stakes are at its highest and it’s not going to be pleasant. And that’s how it should be.
Reviewing the third part without taking the previous two games into account is pointless. As with all sequels the gameplay is the same but slightly more refined. In Mass Effect 3’s case this means that the enemies now attack with a group strategy instead as individuals. Although it is hard to win a war with that kind of intelligence on display as the enemies are usually pretty content with sitting behind chest high walls. Also Sheppard can now jump over these walls without having to crouch first. Yes, truly exiting stuff.
But as far as shooter gameplay is concerned it’s decent enough. It doesn’t feel as tight as Gears of War or offer the same thrills as a Battlefield. But that’s really not the point of Mass Effect. Because even though you spend most of the time shooting at aliens, it’s really about the story.
And that’s why reviewing the third part without looking at the other two makes little sense. Because I’m pretty sure playing the third one without the other two makes little damn sense either. Since this ends the trilogy it suffers from the same problems as Return of the Jedi/King in that new people get no introduction as to what is going on and you can’t introduce anything big either, because you’ve got to wrap up the events of the two previous installments.
And Mass Effect is no different. Most of the crew you put together consists of people whom you’ve met before. Or tend to be really similar to crew members that didn’t survive your previous outings. The villains are the same from the previous games, they just can be a little more open about it. So the element of surprise is pretty much gone from the get go.
But does it matter? No, it doesn’t. Because Mass Effect has something that all the Gears of Wars and Battlefields together don’t have. And that’s a story worth following. I played Mass Effect 3 because I wanted to see how the story was to be concluded. This is different from wanting to know how it actually ended, but more about that later.
And when the universe is at the brink of getting annihilated this is not going to be a happy journey. At the start Earth gets almost completely wiped out when the enormous mechanical Reapers land in the major cities and force Sheppard to flee. From that point on he or she, depending on which gender you chose your Sheppard to be, has to travel across the universe to form an intergalactic alliance to stop this threat by constructing an ancient but unimaginably powerful device. Unfortunately all the races are pretty busy themselves trying not to get killed.
Pretty much every level connects with events or characters from the previous games, so much even that it’s not much of a surprise when an old crew member suddenly pops up on a distant planet. But that’s why I was playing the game in the first place, to continue my little space opera. In my case that meant that male Sheppard wanted to continue the relationship that he built up with a bald headed woman named Jack, a tattooed punk with a criminal past and a short temper. So when the elegant, beautiful and blue Liara asked if we could be more than friends, I had to decline. This meant that Sheppard was spending his nights in the Captain’s cabin by himself, but that’s how I wanted it to play out.
And that made all the conversations with the crewmembers so interesting and even moving. The impending doom and that personal history gave the conversations their importance. The importance of my decisions in earlier games may not be essential in the grand scheme of things, they did matter to me. And just the fact that they had any influence at all makes Mass Effect as a series so interesting. Combine this with a truly fantastic and varied visual design and a deeply thought out universe and you get a sci-fi game series that really is in a class of its own.
Then what about those endings? The internet frothed with nerd rage like a spoiled brat once more. And to be fair there are some valid points. The endings, whichever you choose, don’t vary enough to be satisfactory choices, they simply confuse and lack closure. But the thing is the weak endings didn’t justify the outrage. It’s like complaining about a weeklong holiday because the last afternoon was cloudy. Aren’t we forgetting 99% of the rest of the trip here?
At the time of writing BioWare promised to release a free extended ending, to address the biggest complaints. But even if this doesn’t satisfy all the fan boys and girls out there I have no problem strongly recommending Mass Effect 3, just as long as you played the first two. And if you haven’t yet, then you know what to do. There’s a whole amazing universe out there and the trip is more than worth taking.