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Mass Effect 3 Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

The Ultimate Epilogue

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

HIGH The final battles leading up to the game's end.

LOW Getting unexpectedly locked out of some missions.

WTF Why couldn't I import my old Shepard's appearance?

Although it's not often mentioned, a thing role-playing game (RPG) fans love is when a game takes the time to wrap up loose ends. Since titles in the genre commonly run for extended lengths, it's natural that players grow attached to teammates, supporting characters, enemies and others over the course of their adventures. Finding out what happens to each one is important, and closure is cherished after spending so many hours with them.

While the trailers of aliens invading Earth prior to the game's release were suitably epic and ostensibly intended to draw in new players, I think the ad campaign was at odds with the reality that Mass Effect 3 is hardly Gears of War with spaceships. Newcomers craving bullet-fueled heroics will be talked to death and confused by potential cameos, references to past events, and revelations that may occur with little context. However, for those who've got history with Commander Shepard & crew, Mass Effect 3 is one of the longest and most thorough epilogues in the history of video games.

Like the previous entries, Mass Effect 3 is a third-person shooter/RPG hybrid with squad-based battles that take place in real time. The situation? The cold, insectile Reapers from the furthest reaches of the universe have returned to harvest all organic life, and the situation is grim. Civilizations are falling one by one, and these seemingly unstoppable invaders have extinction on their minds. Our hero must take to the stars and rally all available support for the final battle.

While the premise of gathering resources for a galaxy-spanning conflict is exactly the same as it was in Shepard's previous outing, Mass Effect 3 wisely does away with the overdone "loyalty quest" structure of the last game. In doing so, it avoids feeling like a mess of disparate episodes despite bringing back nearly every character that's ever appeared. The trick is that instead of each having their own sidestory, they're all woven into a central narrative that has clear purpose, strong pace, and sharp focus. Although I can't say letting the Reapers land on earth within the first ten minutes of gameplay was an idea that worked for me (it hardly looks like the people of Earth will survive an hour while Shepard traipses back and forth across star systems) our hero now has concrete motivation for doing what gets done and the writing, on the whole, is of excellent quality.

Along the way, reconnecting with old squaddies and finding out where they ended up is handled beautifully. It's this quality that makes the game such a fantastic endpiece to the series, and to players like myself who want to know what became of this teammate or what happened after that choice, Mass Effect 3 delivers by the truckload. In fact, it's this completeness and that leaves me puzzled about the raging furor over the final few minutes of the game. While I can understand that some non-negotiable plot points at story's end weren't as tight as they should have been and weren't to everyone's taste, they're hardly a tick on the twenty to thirty hours of meticulous wrap-up that came before.

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

Story and characters aside, I'm happy to report that BioWare has made several tweaks to the game's technical aspects. While skill trees for each character could be more diverse and setting up the team's gear is still too streamlined, it does feel as though some meat has returned to the bones thanks to reasonably generous options for tweaking Shepard's powers, armor and weapons. Even better, while the loathsome planet-scanning is still a factor in many smaller quests, it's been modified and sped up to be less painful. It's still not as enjoyable as touching down on a random planet to search for surprises on my own, but it dovetails appropriately with the urgency of the plot and is a clear step up from scanning in Mass Effect 2.

The retooled combat in Mass Effect 3 is also worthy of praise. While handling characters feels essentially unchanged from the last game, the level designs and conceptualization of combat are an order of magnitude better than the relentless corridor shootouts of Mass Effect 2. A few narrow hallways still manage to rear their heads, but a healthy diversity of architecture is on display, not to mention skirmish scenarios that have the player performing different tasks while under fire—things like guarding certain areas or pulling off critical objectives. I wouldn't come to Mass Effect if I was after serious gunplay, but the shooting stays fresh for the length of the campaign and even manages to deliver some jaw-dropping sequences along the way. It is, by far, the best action this series has ever seen.

As for the widely-publicized multiplayer mode, I'd say that not only is it unnecessary, it actually hurts the overall quality of the game. Why? Mass Effect 3's best ending must be earned by accumulating assets, and the missions to get them are tedious fetchquests. Little effort was made to spice them up, and my guess is they're intentionally bland to encourage players who want "the good ending" to partake of the multiplayer mode—by going online, players can reduce the number of snoozeworthy missions that must be completed.

While the cooperative wave-based combat works exactly as one might expect it to, the majority of character customization options are locked (including basic weapon selection) and can only be earned by purchasing "packs" of unlocks. The player can earn in-game credits for these, but it takes a long time to do so and the things they unlock are random.

See the plan here? Singleplayer ending-related missions are boring, so players go online to avoid completing them. Once they're online, they pay real cash via microtransactions to speed up the unlocking process and customize the experience. Frankly, this overt milking doesn't belong in a triple-A RPG. I'd have rather seen multiplayer skipped altogether and those resources put towards making the campaign's asset gathering richer and more engaging.

Although I would never say that Mass Effect 3 was a perfect game, joining Commander Shepard and the rest of the crew has been an incredible experience spanning three titles and five years. There have been stumbles along the way, but I can't think of another series that's been so full of crucial, nail-biting decisions or the sort of emotional moments that have stayed with me over time. As someone who made friends with telepathic spiders, destroyed a giant Terminator, and romanced a blue alien with tentacles for hair, I genuinely feel that BioWare has delivered the most comprehensive epilogue that an RPG fan like me could have hoped for. My hat is off to them for being able to bring this hugely ambitious project to such a satisfactory conclusion, and I hope the overall quality of this work is indicative of what we can expect from them in the future. Well done. Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 32 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language, and violence. Although all of these warning tags are accurate, I don't feel that this game is anywhere near being the most offensive or harmful thing on the market. All of the subject matter is used in the proper context, and the game itself is definitely aimed at mature players. It's a great experience and one that I would recommend... although not to children. Moms and dads, keep the little ones away and play this yourself.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There shouldn't be any issues to be concerned about here. Subtitles are available for all dialogue, and even though the combat happens in real-time, I never found any of the audio cues to be important or beneficial. When I couldn't find enemies, it was more effective to watch where my teammates were aiming than it was to try and listen for gunfire. In my opinion, the game should be totally accessible to hearing-impaired players.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): BioWare  
Publisher: Electronic Arts  
Series: Mass Effect  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Shooting  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Yup.

/unretire

Nailed it.

/re-retire

Never understood how anyone

Never understood how anyone gleaned much beyond a generic, clichéd space opera from these games. Indeed, were Mass Effect released in TV/film form I doubt many would find it of value besides a small cult of people whom would likely enjoy it for its unintended hilarity, rather than superb story-telling. I honestly don't think BioWare have, or ever will, surpass the writing and narrative delivered in KotOR, but perhaps that's just me.

In any case, I'm somewhat surprised that you're so enthusiastic for ME3 Brad, but understand where you're coming from (besides praise for the narrative/writing). Personally, I don't think sub-par third-person shooting with RPG-light elements is worthy of much praise, but whatever. What's more annoying is the influx of DLC, on-disc DLC, pre-order content, online passes, unnecessary multiplayer, and Jessica Chobot, but there's not much that can be done about that these days. Regardless, the game has sold a crap-load, so EA are fine and dandy (as are fans, apparently).

Where do BioWare go from here, I wonder? A Mass Effect MMORPG? Probably.

This has been up for an

This has been up for an entire 2 hours and there aren't already 200 posts decrying the score?

The Ending Ruined it for me

The issue with the ending is that it totally invalidates the rest of the game.

The combat is great, I loved it. Most of the action sequences absolutely satisfied me.

The story is solid, up until the last ten minutes.

My two complaints- and it seriously is only two complaints-

First is that they've taken a LOT of Dialogue out of the player's hands, and it really annoys me to watch Shepard talk on his own for ten minutes at a time.

Second- that horrendously non-nonsensical ending that invalidates everything you did. It really makes me feel like the entire series was for naught.

adembroski wrote:The issue

adembroski wrote:

The issue with the ending is that it totally invalidates the rest of the game.

The combat is great, I loved it. Most of the action sequences absolutely satisfied me.

The story is solid, up until the last ten minutes.

My two complaints- and it seriously is only two complaints-

First is that they've taken a LOT of Dialogue out of the player's hands, and it really annoys me to watch Shepard talk on his own for ten minutes at a time.

Second- that horrendously non-nonsensical ending that invalidates everything you did. It really makes me feel like the entire series was for naught.

I agree with the above comment completely. While Brad is correct that the first 20-30 hours is very well done, the metaphysical ending is completely out of left field and out of sync with the rest of the entire series because there was no groundwork laid for it in the first two games or this third game. More importantly (and probably the source of a lot of nerd rage, including my own), the ending invalidates everything that a player has done in the game up to that point (and the previous two games for gamers like myself). That means that the 100-120 hours of game play that encouraged emotional investment are given no emotional pay-off whatsoever: you essentially pick your favorite color no matter what you've done and are provided no concrete resolution to the situation facing the galaxy and your squad mates. To add insult to injury, the explanation you're given doesn't stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.

For me, the first 99% of the game would rate a solid 8 out of 10 but the last 1% is so egregiously unsatisfying and is so crucial to the preceding 99%, that I would give the game an overall rating of, perhaps, 6 out of 10.

I'm actually a little surprised that Brad didn't write more about the ending.

"epilogue"

Troll comment:

Glad to hear you enjoyed the ending, which colour did you get?

Serious comment:

I think the word "epilogue" is completely unsuitable to describe the entire third installment of a trilogy. Usually, an epilogue is a bit of story which comes after the final descending action or may in some cases be a part of that, and doesn't account for a third of a story's running time. ME3 being the epilogue would also imply that ME2 would be the "climax", which I'm sure you'd find hard to agree with. Maybe I'm nit-picky, but you're not the first to use the word in this manner, and it irks me.

Technically Mass Effect has no epilogue, unless you count the little detached post-credit bit. Which is just one of the reasons why fans are upset with the ending - but if you're genuinely puzzled by the negative fan reactions, there are a lot of comprehensive, well-written posts and articles available which explain in great detail all the problems players had with the ending. Of course, there's also a lot of ranting, but that's to be expected with the emotional investment most of us had with the story and its characters.

Here's what puzzles me, though: Next to no reviewer (or critic, if you will) considers the ending to this story a major detraction, even if they admit to not liking it - which, as we have learned, stands in stark contrast to a big portion of the fanbase. Why is that? I can only imagine this disparity to stem from the critics' often lesser immersion into the fiction. However, I have to argue that the beginning and ending to any story are the things one remembers most vividly, to the point where a dissapointing ending can indeed be detrimental to the experience as a whole. I just feel that any professional writer has to acknowledge at least this much.

As for the rest of the game, I pretty much agree with your views. Good point in calling out the reapers being on earth from the very beginning of the game as a rather implausible plot device - but then again, having a virtually infinite amount of time to go around and do unrelated stuff while something else is in immediate danger is kind of an accepted rpg trope. I guess this is not that different.

spot on

I think this review is spot on. I enjoyed ME3 all the way through and also found the ending quite good. Not perfect, not mindblowingly awesome or anything like that, but for sure not as atrocious as the angry masses claim.

I'm thinking of starting a ME1-2-3 playthrough. Will take a while.

I'm having a hard time

I'm having a hard time getting myself to play these. I got the first one on Steam as it was only $5, and quite enjoyed it. I even have a copy of Mass Effect 2, but after seeing what kind of online activation and registration and DLC and whatnot it entailed, I lost interest. The disc has never even been out of its box. From what I hear ME3 is even worse with all that Origin dung and no offline single-player. And a micro-transaction, free-2-play-style multiplayer mode? Really?

As I see it, a publisher who tries to sell me a copy of a game that doesn't run without external authentication for full-price, may rather shove that copy where the sun don't shine. What's the idea, asking money for a copy that's of worse quality than the corresponding pirate version?

Based on the first part of the trilogy, I agree with Crofto that the strength of Mass Effect is certainly neither its story, nor its RPG elements, nor the shooting sequences, which quite frankly I always felt they would have better left out entirely. It is the whole that is pretty amazing; I could not imagine how the story could have been any more generic, but it is how the story was told, and how much care obviously went into presenting an exhaustive, detailed and consistent world that allows it to draw you in. The planetary exploration of the first part, that was like a dream of any viewer of the original Star Trek come true.

From this review it seems very likely that I'll end up playing ME2 and ME3 anyway at one point, especially since I'm a sucker for epic stories and continuity (I can never play a game without having played all of its predecessors in order). But I will probably wait until it is available in a DRM-free, all-DLC-included retail copy, or on sale for the price of a coffee on Steam.

Flo wrote:Here's what

Flo wrote:

Here's what puzzles me, though: Next to no reviewer (or critic, if you will) considers the ending to this story a major detraction, even if they admit to not liking it - which, as we have learned, stands in stark contrast to a big portion of the fanbase. Why is that? I can only imagine this disparity to stem from the critics' often lesser immersion into the fiction. However, I have to argue that the beginning and ending to any story are the things one remembers most vividly, to the point where a dissapointing ending can indeed be detrimental to the experience as a whole. I just feel that any professional writer has to acknowledge at least this much.

EXACTLY THIS.

Seriously--and I'm particularly surprised about that not being an issue in THIS review, as many of the reviewers here, Brad included, have often harped on the issues of strong storytelling (or a lack thereof) in other games. From a storytelling standpoint, Mass Effect 3's ending can be objectively shown to be massively flawed. I'm not talking about whether or not one likes the premise or even the execution. What ISN'T a matter of opinion are the fact that it is riddled with glaring plot holes which *seem* to contradict everything that has been established earlier in the series. How is this not an issue for critics? I just don't get it.

Lambonius wrote: What ISN'T

Lambonius wrote:

What ISN'T a matter of opinion are the fact that it is riddled with glaring plot holes which *seem* to contradict everything that has been established earlier in the series. How is this not an issue for critics? I just don't get it.

It´s only riddled with plotholes if you believe everything you see.

Please have a look at any of these 2 videos (needless to say: massive SPOILERS):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ythY_GkEBck
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZOyeFvnhiI

Urgency

I found myself fixating on priority missions since Earth was in dire straights, which Admiral Hackett reminded me during every holocom chat. By the time I'd uncovered the extend of Cerberus' evil machinations, I'd accumulated a bunch of Cerberus-related sidequests and character reintroduction scenarios. Powering through those at the end to pad my readiness rating seemed more like busywork than urgent measures to save the organic life in the galaxy.

For every second I'm behind cover on a fetchquest on some random planet, a handful of humans back home are getting fried by a Reaper's eyebeam, right? Priorities, Shepard.

I also think Javik should have been a stock character. I'm a sucker for the blue mojo and one stock biotic (Liara) was not enough. Plus, his chatter with Liara on Thessia seemed essential to the flow of that mission, which was awesome.

I'm still happy with the game. The Reaper fight with the thresher maw, the door gun sequence on Rannoch, the Tron level with the Geth...all great stuff.

I don't feel entitled to a new ending or compelled to guilt-trip Bioware into giving one to me free as DLC, but I certainly think the last five minutes could have been better. I'll pay my $10 when it comes out and skip mochas that week.

Urgency

I found myself fixating on priority missions since Earth was in dire straights, which Admiral Hackett reminded me during every holocom chat.

By the time I'd uncovered the extend of Cerberus' evil machinations, I'd accumulated a bunch of Cerberus-related sidequests and character reintroduction scenarios. Powering through those at the end to pad my readiness rating seemed more like busywork than essential steps toward saving the galaxy. For every second I'm behind cover on a fetchquest on some random planet, a handful of humans back home are getting fried by a Reaper's eyebeam, right?

I also think Javik should have been a stock character. I'm a sucker for that blue mojo space magic, and one stock biotic (Liara) was not enough. Plus, his chatter with Liara on Thessia seemed essential to the flow of that mission, which was awesome.

I'm still happy with the game. The Reaper fight with the thresher maw, the door gun sequence on Rannoch, the Tron level with the Geth...all great stuff.

I don't feel entitled to a new ending or compelled to guilt-trip Bioware into giving one to me free for DLC, but I certainly think the last five minutes could have been better. I'll pay my $10 when it comes out and skip coffee that week. Shepard out.

This is by far the best

This is by far the best analysis of the failures of the Mass Effect 3 ending from a story-telling standpoint.

http://jmstevenson.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/all-that-matters-is-the-ending-part-2-mass-effect-3/

It clearly and objectively outlines all of the numerous, serious failures of the ending on several levels. As the analysis shows, this is not a matter of opinion. These are quantifiable, empirically observable failures. How can any critic who claims to value storytelling and narrative not find the endings objectionable?

If you look at all the articles about Skyrim's narrative failures on this website, it really seems like there is a strange inconsistency going on here.

Li-Ion wrote:Lambonius

Li-Ion wrote:
Lambonius wrote:

What ISN'T a matter of opinion are the fact that it is riddled with glaring plot holes which *seem* to contradict everything that has been established earlier in the series. How is this not an issue for critics? I just don't get it.

It´s only riddled with plotholes if you believe everything you see.

Please have a look at any of these 2 videos (needless to say: massive SPOILERS):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ythY_GkEBck
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZOyeFvnhiI

Yeah, I've seen those. The problem is that the Indoctrination Theory itself has some plotholes--not to mention the fact that as a storytelling device, Shepherd being Indoctrinated only works IF they actually come back and resolve it, which they didn't. It would have been a great twist, but like I said, they didn't do it.

And if it was the plan all along to release a twist ending via DLC--how is that not WORSE?? It sets an unbelievably shady precedent for publishers milking consumers that is unarguably even worse than "Day 1 DLC," because the publisher is then, quite literally and knowingly, releasing an incomplete product with the intention of nickel and diming players who want to see the REST of the story.

Regarding plotholes:

Regarding plotholes: indoctrination theory has WAY LESS plotholes than the story would have at this point if the last part wouldn't be a result of indoctrination.

Lambonius wrote:

And if it was the plan all along to release a twist ending via DLC--how is that not WORSE?? It sets an unbelievably shady precedent for publishers milking consumers that is unarguably even worse than "Day 1 DLC," because the publisher is then, quite literally and knowingly, releasing an incomplete product with the intention of nickel and diming players who want to see the REST of the story.

Did I anywhere suggest that this possibility would not be a dangerous attack on consumers, similar to ridicilous ideas like... let's say day 1 dlc that's on the disc already or drm that allows you to activate content on a disc only 3 times before you can use it as a coaster? Oh, wait... (that's actually quite normal already)

Yes, indeed, this would be shady but not a precedent (if you'd actually have watched the videos you'd know already: ubisoft released dlc with the "true" ending for a game of the prince of persia series). "It would be horrible business strategy" is not a valid point against the indoctrination theory. After all we're talking about EA here.

EA has a history of milking companies and franchises beyond death. Mass Effect (respectively Bioware) wouldn't be the first victims on the altar of money in EA's offices. Whatever happened to Origin? Bullfrog? What the hell happened to Ultima? Syndicate?

You're welcome to join the discussion in our forums ;)

http://www.gamecritics.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19366

indoctrination theory again...

before I forget... in the article you linked here yourself:

Lambonius wrote:

This is by far the best analysis of the failures of the Mass Effect 3 ending from a story-telling standpoint.

http://jmstevenson.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/all-that-matters-is-the-ending-part-2-mass-effect-3/

There is also mention of the indoctrination theory:

The Writers Block wrote:

Now there is a lot of evidence to support this theory, so much in fact, that I think that was the direction Bioware might have been going for. And you know what?

That would have been an amazing accomplishment. If they had pulled that off I would be down on my knees praising Bioware as the new Writing Gods, and I would be sacrificing my own manuscripts on a pagan altar built in their honor.

Which sounds not like you described it as horribly filled with plotholes and such ;-)

A bit disappointed

It's good, I'm glad I played it. But left with a tinge of disappointment.

This game will be remembered as the climax of a gripping 5-year space opera, but does not really stand-up to evolutionary benchmarks set by its predecessors. It simply does not have the polish you would expect of a triple-A title. Indeed it smacks of laziness.

i) Conversations that are poorly paced and aren't cut properly - basic technical issues.
ii) Diane Allers - What a poorly considered waste of time and space of a character.
iii) Cringeworthy voice-acting esp. from Liara - moreso than previous versions
iv) Tacked on side missions. Picking them up involve just wandering around the Citadel, overhearing conversations. They couldn't be bothered to put in the extra effort to build these into their conversation system.

I can probably think of other examples, but on the whole, I can't help but feel it's a bit of a low point in the series - it's not as much of an RPG as ME1, nor is it as character driven or have as high production values as ME2. It is strongest when considered as the conclusion to a strong story, but newcomers would find it hard to relate to the existing characters and context.

The ending is OK, it does somewhat betray the context and choices made throughout the series. But who can say they were not totally gob-smacked by the space battle scenes?

Finally, I'll be glad to see the back of this Bioware game engine which has been around since the KOTOR days. I'm tired of the way it presents faux-scale, but in reality provides very limited play-areas. I've also never been a big fan of the conversation system either. Often the choice selected is not what is conveyed in emotion, tone or impact undermining the intentions of the player. Finally, good riddance to the annoying light/dark paragon/renegade systems, especially in the context of conversation choices that don't accurately convey what the character will say.

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