Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Mass Effect 3

Post-Launch Review
Mass Effect 3 (PC)
Developer: BioWare
Released: March 2012
Played: best ending and all DLC in 38 hours; 2 hours multiplayer


The Reapers have arrived and no one is ready. After an initial assault on Earth, the Reapers quickly spread across the galaxy, laying siege to the homeworlds of the strongest species to begin their harvest. Facing impossible odds and fighting against a cycle that's lasted millions of years, Commander Shepard must unite the galaxy for a desperate, all-out offensive against the overwhelming force of the Reapers.

At Launch

Mass Effect 3 was very well received with average review scores of 92%. Reviewers called it a spectacular and powerful conclusion to the trilogy, even if it doesn't stand so well on its own. The story, the depth of the lore, the combat, the multiplayer, and the music received praise. There was quite a bit of controversy over the ending - many series fans complained that the conclusion was confusing and rendered the players' choices meaningless, and fan movements were launched in the hope of convincing BioWare to change or extend the ending.

Post Launch

Responding to the ending controversy, a free DLC pack, the Extended Cut, was released to flesh out the ending and add more closure and clarity. Note that, though free, the Extended Cut must be manually redeemed from the Origin store - it's not included in the game download.
Four major single player DLC mission packs were released. Each contains missions, as well as new equipment and powers.
  • From Ashes: Shepard recovers a living Prothean. Adds a squadmate.
  • Leviathan: Shepard investigates rumours of a creature powerful enough to kill a Reaper.
  • Omega: Shepard helps Aria recover her space station from Cerberus.
  • Citadel: Shepard investigates an identity theft, but the main purpose of the DLC is to spend some downtime with squadmates.
Additionally, the Firefight and Groundside Resistance packs add new weapons, the Alternate Appearance Pack adds an armour set and three squadmate appearances, and the Genesis 2 pack adds a comic that allows the player to review and customize some choices from previous games (presumably aimed at players starting the series with ME3).

Mass Effect 3 has seen some controversy, so I was interested to finally get around to playing it. I had been waiting for the DLC to go on sale so that I could include it in my review, but BioWare Points never go on sale so I just sucked it up and spent the $50 for the four mission packs (ugh).

The opening is pretty epic. Shepard has been warning the galaxy about the Reapers for years, and no one listened, and suddenly the Reapers are here and no one is ready. The cutscenes of the attack on Earth are awesome in the literal sense, with the huge scale of the invasion. Visuals are mostly strong, especially landscapes and squad armour, although NPC textures are often noticeably low-res and facial animation isn't great.
Shepard is tasked with pulling together all the races in the galaxy to assemble a superweapon to fight back against the Reapers. This is partially done directly in the story - there are mission arcs for several races that culminate in recruitment - and partially through exploration and conversation. In the previous two games I had problems with the lack of urgency, and initially I thought that problem was back - I had all the time I wanted to jet around the galaxy scanning for resources. But it's handled much better here: Shepard constantly receives updates on the state of Earth and the other species, and the war tangibly progresses as you complete missions. It also helped to be reminded that it took the Reapers hundreds of years to finish off the Protheans.
There are a lot of ways to increase your military strength. You can get some direct bonuses by scanning planets and recovering or consolidating fragmented military forces, but you can also eavesdrop around the Citadel to help people out, which will also result in bonuses.

I noticed pretty quickly that my effective military strength was halved by a readiness rating of 50%. For a while I was confused on how to increase my readiness, but then I tried out the multiplayer and it made sense. Playing multiplayer missions increases your readiness rating, and playing on a random map applies the bonus to the whole galaxy instead of just a region. The readiness rating does decay over time, so if you want to max it out you need to play either regularly or a lot quickly. Fortunately it is possible to get the "perfect" ending without touching multiplayer; it just requires more work in single player.

Multiplayer is pretty cool. There are still enough people playing on PC for me to find matches in under a minute, which is nice. It's all co-op, which is also nice. Your multiplayer characters level up separately from single player, and you can choose from a bunch of preset race/class combos. The six classes - soldier, engineer, biotic, etc - each have different subsets based on species, so as an example, a turian soldier doesn't play the same as a human soldier. There are even some unique powers that I didn't see in single player. It's pretty fun, but I find it a little lacking in depth. Gear rewards are random so there's no reliable way to work towards a specific weapon, and missions all share the same wave-based structure with occasional randomized objectives. Mass Effect has a good combat system so I found multiplayer somewhat enjoyable, but there isn't enough there to keep me coming back.
Since I just mentioned combat, I'll note that it's the strongest it's been through the whole series. Powers are distinctive and pack satisfying punch; moving around and taking cover feels smooth. There's a good balance between depth and accessibility: the many options are presented in ways that make it pretty easy to choose. Upgraded powers let you choose one of two options, and you're allowed two mods per weapon. I did think there were too many weapons, mostly because some were very obviously stronger than others (Geth Plasma Shotgun, for example, is just hands-down better than most other shotguns). 
But I do have a few criticisms.
I really don't like Ashley's redesign. In the first Mass Effect, she was dressed efficiently for military service. But now her armour suddenly has huge boob plates, her hair is long and loose, and her lips even seem fuller. Basically, instead of keeping her practical and realistic appearance, she's been blatantly sexed up.

Conversation cutscenes have frequent but minor bugs. These range from characters looking the wrong way to teleportation to invisibility. It kind of kills the drama of a character death when you can still see their eyes moving around after they're supposed to be dead.
As I play through the game a lot of my choices are made to feel meaningless. I killed the last rachni queen in the first Mass Effect, but now there just happens to be another one to either kill or recruit. The salarians refuse to help if I cure the genophage, but they end up helping anyway for some reason. I got the quarians and geth to work together in ME2, but a bunch of quarians decided to go to war again anyway. That said, some choices from previous games are extra meaningful - if Legion didn't survive Mass Effect 2, it's impossible to reconcile the geth and the quarians.

The game wants me to remain connected to EA's servers at all times. Apparently what's meant to happen is that if I disconnect during single player, I'll be notified and the game continues. What actually happened is that I was notified and the game crashed, forcing me to replay a challenging boss fight.

There are some spoilers in the next paragraphs but they're whited out. Highlight if you want to see them.

The final mission, the offensive on Earth, definitely lived up to my epic expectations. The shots of the galactic fleet clashing with the Reapers is insane, with hundreds of ships and explosions everywhere. The ground assault had tons of tough enemies, and defending the missile launchers was actually pretty challenging. I also appreciated the quiet moment before the final push when I had a chance to talk to my team one last time.
As I finally finished the game and watched the last cutscenes, it occurred to me that the so-called disaster of an ending was really overdramatized (before I go any further I'll point out that I chose the destruction ending and that I played with the free Extended Cut DLC pack). The stuff that was there was pretty satisfying. It was nice to see the victories on other worlds, to see that my crew survived, to see that Shepard was remembered, and especially that little two-second clip for 100% readiness (Shepard is alive!). With all the extra cutscenes and clips in the Extended Cut, I was perfectly clear on all the events that happened (actually, reading over the list of stuff that was added, it sounds like the ending would've been very confusing without it). 

The one flaw for me is that even with all the extra bits, there still isn't quite enough. After the monumental effort of getting every race in the galaxy to work together, I was kind of disappointed that I didn't really get to see what happened to my crew (okay, they survived, but what else?), or any indication of whether the risk I took paid off (do synthetics rebel again?). Basically, I was quite happy with the ending I got with the (free!) Extended Cut additions, but I would've liked just a little bit more.

And speaking of DLC, I should talk about the other packs. Before I get into specifics: the common problem with all the paid DLC (except Citadel) is that the missions are presented as extremely important to the war - finding a live Prothean, searching for a creature that can kill Reapers, severely limiting Cerberus' mobility - but the actual effects are necessarily limited so that a player without them is not penalized. Though you do get some pretty major military strength bonuses.

From Ashes

I was a little conflicted on this one. On first finishing the mission my immediate reaction was "this should've been free!" but on further reflection it doesn't have a massive impact. Shepard returns to Eden Prime, site of the original beacon, to discover a living Prothean still in stasis. The efforts to awaken the Prothean are a fairly standard combat mission, but the conversations and cutscenes are packed full of lore on the Prothean race and their fight against the Reapers. And of course you come out of the mission with a new squadmate and weapon. A lot of attention was put into Javik's dialogue, and if you keep him around through the game he's got a lot of comments on the current cycle (especially during the quarian-geth conflict). I'm OK that it's a paid DLC but still a little annoyed that it was available on launch day.


Brings back Aria from Mass Effect 2, fighting to free Omega from Cerberus so that Aria can lend some mercenaries to the war effort. This is a pretty big mission pack with several stages, and fleshes out Aria as a character. Aria and her turian friend Nyreen act as squadmates for this pack, and both have some neat powers. There's an almost-horror segment that's very dark; I was a little disappointed it didn't stay dark for combat. There are some good combat scenarios, especially the final one, where you have to rush around a room deactivating consoles while fighting off a stream of tough enemies. Of all the DLC, I'd say Omega is the least essential - it's quite good but extremely self-contained, with lighter lore ties than Leviathan or From Ashes, and without the humour and personal feeling of Citadel.


An Alliance task force searching for a massive, Reaper-killing creature has uncovered some leads, and Shepard helps out. There are a couple of neat investigative segments that feel a bit different from normal Mass Effect gameplay, one of which is actually quite creepy. There's a pretty bad bug when visiting a dig site where you can't go down a ladder; a solution that works is to temporarily set the game to windowed mode on the lowest possible resolution. Anyway, the mission closes with some big revelations about the origins of the Reapers (mostly present in the final dialogue in the Extended Cut, but there's a bit more here). This was a great pack with some gameplay twists and great new environments.


Shepard, we know there's a war going on over the very existence of all sentient life in the galaxy, but we think you could use a little "you" time. Fortunately that's not the whole mission pack. I won't spoil the plot, but it is cheesy and hilarious in a big group buddy cop almost-B-movie kind of way. Citadel is pretty much the model of what DLC should be: a very well-crafted, completely self-contained side adventure. You get to see more areas of the citadel, some new twists on old lore, an excellent boss fight, some little vignettes for each crew member, and a lot of humour with the whole crew working together. And you can host a party and get the whole ship's crew drunk - it's absolutely hilarious to see all the normally serious characters at ease and tipsy.

Recommendation: play it.

Post-updates, Mass Effect 3 provides a satisfying and action-packed conclusion to the trilogy (if you're playing with the Extended Cut). And this really is a trilogy - you'll get way more impact and investment if you play all three games and carry your saves over. ME3 does a good job of making you feel the immense scale of what's going on while still keeping events centred around a relatively small group of people fighting on the ground. I think it's safe to say that the Mass Effect trilogy is among the best experiences in video games.

In terms of the DLC, all of the mission packs are quite good, but if you want to be selective, this is how I'd rank them from best to worst:
  1. Citadel
  2. Leviathan
  3. From Ashes
  4. Omega

No comments:

Post a Comment