So after 30 hours of in game play and who knows how many spent in multiplayer I have now come to the end of Mass Effect 3, the end to a series which is consider by some to be one of the most important contributions to Sci-fi in this generation (and I tend to agree with that sentiment). Heres the deal Lazer-readers, I have a lot to say about this game so this entry could get very long. As a result, im breaking this analysis up into three entries. The first one (this one) is the general gloss over review with no spoilers. The second is the what went wrong analysis with TONS of spoilers in it so if you have not played it you probably wouldn't want to read it. The third is me flexing my many brain wrinkles to show how easy it is to fix these problems. So here we go with part 1!
Lets get one thing clear out of the gate. I wouldn't have spent 30 hours in this game if it was terrible. There are many good moments within an amazing universe that made it worth while to play. However, there are many internal flaws (and external influences) that keep what should have been a defining moment in rpg gaming from being anything more than an adequate cover based sci-fi shooter. That said, lets get to it.
Lets get whats good about this game out of the way (which interestingly enough actually lends to the flaws). The universe is deep, the characters interesting and awesome and the gameplay functional. The problem is that all of these factors have always been good within the Mass Effect series so the game cannot simply rely on these factors for success (in the eyes of the customers. Bioware is undoubtably rolling in the many dollars it has gained from this game already). It has to go above and beyond with the writing and story and that is where we hit our first bumps.
The writing in this game, while steller at parts, ultimately lags far behind the first two installments. Its not as though the Bioware team took stupid pills and then decided to go on writing the script, its more of a feeling that this game was rushed. There are glaring continuity errors, strange and obviously problematic decisions about pacing and tone and just an overall increase of "what the fuck?" moments from 0 in the previous two to about 5 in ME3. Heres the thing though; every idea in this game is solid. Its clear what they were going for and all it needed was a good editor, which the lack of one lends to the thought that it was rushed. There are plenty of theories of why this may be the case, the tainted hands of producers concerned about profits, too many resources devoted to the Star Wars MMO etc (more on this in the next section). Regardless, the biggest flaw is the way the story is presented and the writing within it, and as Mass Effect has always been a series defined by its stories and writing this is a big big problem.
There are more signs of rushed production, more graphics and gameplay glitches, interesting flubs in dialogue pacing and in conversation camera movement (its always great for an intense/stirring moments when the camera cuts away from the person talking to get stuck focusing on a wall for 30 seconds). Finally, because this is the third installment in the series, the production team had two options.
1) Develop the characters more, requiring a greater amount of time focusing on writing and greater risk
2) Rely on call backs to lines/behaviors from the previous games to cash in on the fan service train
ME3 went with option 2. Bad choice. The way returning characters are presented often has the vibe of a long running sitcom (heeeeeeeeeres Jack! Boy is she a fire cracker!) Its just lazy and a sad departure from the amount of time and effort that Bioware famously devotes to character development.
There are a few obvious missed opportunities to involve the player in gameplay that is more engaging and exciting than mere cover based combat. The only reason why they did not capitalize on a few obvious diversions from the norm could only be time and money on their minds, which of course ultimately hurts the game. Finally, they bring back a lot of things from the first game (characters that we stopped caring about/had closure for already, weapon mods and inventory which the ME2 system handled much better I thought), got rid of things they shouldn't have (no vehicle sections at all, much less focus on moral choice and consequences for your actions) and kept things they should have gotten rid of (the thermal clips! FUCK that shit. The first games ammo system made it feel unique and awesome and nothing breaks immersion like running around in battle looking for glowing ammo)
Oh yeah, and the ending. Big ol' thumbs down.
Oh yeah, and the ending. Big ol' thumbs down.
Ultimately, a game like this must be reviewed on two scales
First, in relation to games in general this game would rate pretty high. Again, a game in the Mass Effect universe cant help but be good because of the universe that it takes place in. As long as they dont fuck that up and make all the characters retarded its going to be a solid game, especially in comparison with a lot of the drivel that gets put out into the market. So, in that regard ME3 would probably rate an 7-8 depending on whether or not the game play/graphics issues I have been having are widespread.
Second, this game must be rated in comparison with its predecessors. That rating will obviously not be as good. For me, ME1 would rate a 9 and ME2 was a home run at a 10. ME3, for the issues I mentioned and will extol in GREAT detail in the next installment would barely rate a 6, im holding it too that because im curious to see how Bioware fixes the issues with DLC.
So, if you have never played a Mass Effect game, play the first two. If you have played them, play this with the knowledge that its worth the effort but it wont be what you want or what it should be and that Bioware will be draining even more money from you with the DLC that actually provides a proper end to the game you already paid for.