This is it folks, the last game of the Mass Effect trilogy!
Note: I won't go into any story details with this review - that's my style. Everyone should judge a game's story on his own, and especially Mass Effect is best enjoyed individually. Therefore, I'll only cover the gameplay for the most part.
Did you notice how each game has a different color scheme in its menu and GUI design? In a way, the color scheme of each game's UI reflects the overall mood of Shepard, as well as the situation of the galaxy as a whole.
Mass Effect 1 has a UI dominated by black and blue gradients. Just like the opening cutscene and the logo which emphasize the rising sun behind Earth's horizon (seen from outer space), it symbolizes the beginning of the saga.
Everything seems to be peaceful, yet mysterious at the same time.
Mass Effect 2 was dominated by shades of brown and orange. The game offers healthy doses of both pessimism as well as optimism, in 10 minute intervals at times.
Everything is new, and even the old and familiar elements seem to be gone or heavily-changed.
Mass Effect 3 features dark red as well as dark blue. It represents Paragon and Renegade, peace and war, and being torn apart by every decision you ever made.
Truly, the magic is gone for good.
In this game, the war against the reapers you desperately tried to delay all this time, has finally come. Now the galactic civilization has no other choice but to unite and fight back...except they won't, and only Shepard can unite them.
Back in my Mass Effect 2 review, I lamented how my decisions in Mass Effect 1 barely did anything. But now it all pays off, tenfold.
In order to defeat the reapers and win the game, you have to gather allies - spaceships, ground forces, scientists etc. All of them contribute to the "effective military strength" (EMS), an indicator for how likely it is that the allied forces have a chance at winning.
While a good deal of war assets are being collected in the third game, any events in the two former games affect the likelihood of gaining more.
For instance, if you saved a certain queen in the first game, she'll finally appear again and help you in your fight against the reapers. After all this time, your trust in her finally pays off.
Mass Effect 3 is full of such events where the decisions you did in the past can be beneficial for the war effort. Of course, doing the wrong decisions in the first two games can result in missing out on some war assets as well.
Suddenly, a decision you made for your personal gain or preference turns out to be bad for galactic survival.
Furthermore, there are a few decisions where you can effectively lose people if you don't think it through.
There is an inexperienced engineer, for example, who insisted on being moved to the frontlines. The player can overgo the paperwork and re-assign her to a new squad, but after a while you get a message that the entire squad has died - due to inexperience.
It's a nice reminder to not just nod/press a button and accept to just everything in a video game. You have to think about it, even if the decision seems small and negligible.
It further strengthens the fact that any decision made in Mass Effect is not to be taken lightly, and that there is rarely a perfect answer for every outcome.
But despite all this drama... it is actually pretty easy not to lose in this game. One would need to be one giant, noncaring jerk who does none of the optional sidequests in all three games, to have gathered so few allies and war assets that the game's ending results in total failure.
So while story-wise it all feels meaningful to rally the entire galaxy behind you, gameplay-wise there isn't really a feeling of pressure or the risk to lose.
Back in Mass Effect 2, achieving the perfect ending required a lot of attention and devotion by the player. Making everyone survive felt special, especially if you managed to do that on Insanity difficulty. You knew that nothing less than 100% would've made this outcome possible.
That is not to say that Mass Effect 3 feels empty or not serious at all. The story told here is still incredible. But "winning the game" is not at all dependent on your story efforts. You'll see the end credits one way or the other, whereas in Mass Effect 2 you actually could lose, and accept that the story ended right there.
While the combat system didn't see a massive overhaul like in Mass Effect 2, there were still a few elements which could be improved upon. Now, the game is more flexible than ever in combat.
Here's a list of the biggest changes:
- Enemy types are more varied than ever.
- There are humanoid enemies which will use sniper rifles and smoke grenades, Geth will approach you relentlessly with their pyros and invisible troops, and reaper forces will keep you busy with walking mortars and strong melee fighters.
- Each faction also has a subboss-type of enemy: Humans have a mech, reapers have a strong biotic user who can teleport, and Geth have their Primes as usual.
- Stats-wise, there are now more enemies which don't have shields, biotic barriers or armor.
- In Mass Effect 2, you had to focus on counters for the various protective layers because most enemies had at least one form of protection. But now that these unprotected enemy types even appear on Insanity difficulty in Mass Effect 3, abilities like Cryo Ammo/Cryo Blast, as well as various biotic abilities, are now a valid option as well.
- Weapon upgrades make a return from Mass Effect 1, but in a different form: They're more like attachments, and you can only use two of them. There are some standard upgrades like bigger damage, more ammo capacity and better accuracy, but there also is something truly interesting: A piercing mod.
- Depending on the strength of the piercing mod, you can hit enemies that hide behind a thin metal plate, or even some types of cover. This especially comes in handy against enemies who use riot shields, as they block all other attacks otherwise.
- Weapons themselves can also be upgraded. For a fee, each weapon can have its stats increased. If you play through the game multiple times, each time you pick up a formerly-discovered weapon again gives you three upgrade levels for free.
- Grenades also make a return from Mass Effect1, but yet again in a different form: You can only use them with one of the Grenade abilities. While the number of grenades you can carry are limited, they deal some heavy damage, and there is an adequate amount of spare grenades you can find.
On the other hand, enemies can throw normal grenades just fine - and they kill you instantly on higher difficulties. Fun times!
- The way revivals work has been changed (yet again). You can now revive your squadmates for free if you get close to them, but that is risky since you're exposed to enemy fire. You can still use "Unity" to revive everybody, but that requires 1 Medi-gel.
This way, it further strengthens the ability's role as a panic button/lifesaver.
Overall, combat is even more fun, although not necessarily more challenging. My personal playthrough on Insanity was easier than my Mass Effect 2 Insanity run, but maybe that's just me.
Still, the fact that there are now unprotected enemies makes it a lot easier at times. Whether this can be seen as a good or a bad thing is up to everyone's preference.
Exploration works in the same way as in Mass Effect 2 for the most part: You explore a star system and search for helpful resources. You require fuel to travel anywhere far away, although there is no penalty for running out of fuel this time around.
Instead of checking out every single planet, you have to detect a resource first. That requires a sonar-type device to be used. Sometimes a resource is hidden in an asteroid belt or in an invisible wreckage in outer space, so it becomes a guessing game at times.
That in itself would be boring, but then there are the reapers. Each time you use the sonar, the reapers will notice. If you use the sonar too often, they'll come rushing for you and force you to leave the current area.
You have some leeway in your escape, but if you hesitate too long it's Game Over.
However, it doesn't necessary end there. You can still return to the sector and try to find a new resource anyway - you just have to run away from the reapers fast enough.
It creates a tension to space flight, similar to FTL. (Fun fact: Both games came out in the same year.)
After the, at times, tedious scanning minigame in Mass Effect 2, this gives exploration a more active and interesting part. Any resource and war asset you can find feels like an accomplishment, because you have to play a deadly game of cat and mouse every time.
As far as the hub worlds are concerned, only the Citdadel is available due to the war not allowing for any other save location in the galaxy. Incidentally, since it is the only safe place against the reapers (at least at the beginning of the war), there are lots of people offering side quests anyway.
Most of the time, however, you can't just search for a questgiver and look out for the cursor to show up. Instead, you'll find new opportunities by just passing by and listening to a conversation of some people.
It feels much more natural, and since you don't need to talk to them unless you have what they need, it becomes more believable story-wise if you just ignore a sidequest.
Mass Effect 3 offers a multiplayer mode. Although, the term "co-op" would fit this better.
You can play with up to three other players and fight against the various enemy factions from the singleplayer mode. Over the duration of 10 waves, you have to kill enemies, pick up an object and bring it to the target location, escort a drone, defend a specific location, and kill specific enemies.
There are six classes, each of them offering a handful of character templates. Various races from Mass Effect lore are present here, each of them having a different skillset that fits the overall class.
Story-wise, the multiplayer portion is intertwined with the singleplayer. While Shephard is doing his/her thing, the various players/races do their part in fighting the enemy forces and hold the line on various locations. Even better yet, each victory increases the value of your war assets in the singleplayer part.
Each character you pick can equip weapons and some helpful tools like medi-gel and temporary boost packs. Only a few basic items are given to you as a new player though - the rest must be bought from the multiplayer store. Most of the character templates must also be unlocked by "finding" them inside a package.
All packages contain random items. The more expensive they are, the bigger the chances are for getting something really good. It's similar to Team Fortress 2's crates, expect that you don't need to buy a key to open them.
If you feel like spending some money anyway, you can always buy one of the high-tier packages for a buck or two( It really is just one or two $/€ actually).
You don't need to play an excessive amount of time to gather enough in-game money to buy some high-tier packages - especially if you play on higher difficulties.
The time/money trade-off is very fair here. It is a fair system for everyone because of the randomness. So after all, your skill and teamwork is still the most important thing here.
Overall, it is a solid multiplayer mode.
I bought the Mass Effect Trilogy on Black Friday 2014. It was discounted on the European PSN store and cost only 15€. Normally, the PS3 version costs 60€ and more.
Usually only the North American digital stores get such heavy discounts and other good deals, so it was that much happier to see that deal, as I live in Europe.
"Best deal of the year" I thought. "15 bucks for three large games. Christmas came early this year!".
And then I realized that there is about 60€ worth of story DLC which is not included in the trilogy. I ended up paying full price for the trilogy after all.
Well-played EA and BioWare, well-played!
However, the DLCs are absolutely worth it!
The Omega DLC brings you back to the space station of the same name - not as a hub world, unfortunately. You fight yourself through the station and encounter two new enemy types, as well as get access to two new bonus abilities for Shepard.
What surprised me the most was that the villain here had... honor. Considering how everyone other bad guy you faced before is quite the backstabber and thug, Omega's villain surprised me with his behavior.
The Leviathan DLC adds some standard combat missions, as well as some detective-play moments where you have to search for clues in order to pinpoint the location of your next mission.
The reveal of the Leviathan itself was interesting, but ultimately too short. But hey, it gives me 400 extra war assets, so I'm not complaining!
The Citadel DLC, now that's where it's at! It's pretty much a fanservice DLC, as it brings together all former teammates as well as the current ones.
Aside from the, at times, amusing story missions, it adds some minigames, including an arena mode. Calling it "Mass Effect's Gold Saucer" would push it, but it's a much-needed alternative to all the fighting and talking.
The highlight is "the party". You can invite anyone of Shepard's friends you want and have some great time with them. The dialogue during the party is superb.You can have two different kind of parties: A dinner party with some drinks, and a loud party with lots of dancing ad lots of drinks.
I recommend creating a save right before you start the party, so you can enjoy it over and over again. It's really that good.
Overall, the various DLCs offer some good value to the game. Even if you're on the fence about the other two, Citadel is a must-have for anyone who's enjoyed the interactions with the various crewmembers before.
(What? Beats the obvious "I should go" joke as a closure image)
All things considered, Mass Effect 3 offers a great closure to the trilogy. What started as a humble journey in the first game has evolved to something truly enjoyable. If you liked the combat and dialogue from the last game, chances are you'll like this game as well.
All the small hiccups aside, it's a game that delivered an ending to the saga - for better or worse.