Be warned, this review contains some spoilers so read at your own risk. This is also a bit long winded; I apologize but, as a fan, I invested quite a bit of time in the series. Time for me to give back what they took from me.
My Real Rating: 4.5/5 until the last hour or so, at which it becomes 4/5
Game reviews can often be subjective so this review is coming from someone primarily with an RPG background who, in terms of game play, enjoyed the first game better than the second. The second wasn t terrible in terms of story but it was much less of an RPG and more of a shooter. The first thing I noticed about Mass Effect 3 is that BioWare gave us a game that gives us the best of both worlds and should be recognized for that. There are also some things here and there that I either loved or hated but these were not things that impacted the overall experience so I exclude them.
1. Some people complain about graphics but that isn t as much as an issue for me. I am a hard line gamer who still pulls out the classics from the 80s and 90s and can generally forgive not-as-good graphics for a good story or game that is simply fun to play. Mass Effect 3 is, for the most part, both. That being said, the graphics weren t terrible and I feel that this is really a non-issue.
2. The re-design of the Normandy is great! I love the lounge (reminds me of a line from Mass Effect 2 when Shepard told Jacob that the next Normandy gets a lounge). Nice touch.
3. The writing was generally good. There were some places where I felt it was lacking but I m saving my anger to discuss the ending. Also, character development is good, especially across the three titles; this is insanely difficult to accomplish in a game trilogy so kudos for that. There were several points in the game where a scene elicited an emotional reaction from me. In the last hour, that emotion was sheer terror that all this character development had been for nothing (see below).
4. As I mentioned, many of the RPG elements that were taken out of the second title were brought back but vastly improved. One such feature was weapon modding. While it didn t bother me like it did some people, I must still admit that modding in the first game could become rather tedious, especially for someone who feels the need to collect everything (not a good idea in the first game).
In this game, for example, suppose you mod a series of weapons with, say, a Rifle Scope I. If you pick up or purchase a Rifle Scope II, all weapons with the earlier mod are automatically updated as well as your inventory.
From the start, you can choose to upgrade weapons you are using to better weapons right away. Moreover, weapons are no longer constrained to a particular class (i,e, infiltrator, soldier, vanguard, etc) so you can enter a combat situation with the weapons that are best suited to the task. There are some weight limits that you should observe when carrying weapons that depend on class, however.
Overall, the game play is fantastic.
5. Halleluiah, planet scanning is gone! It has returned in some form but one does not need to spend large chunks of time collecting resources to upgrade weapons and ship components. Planet scanning is mainly used to collect war assets in Reaper controlled territory but even this can still get a bit tedious at times.
6. I am not a huge fan of multiplayer games, cooperative or not, so I do not feel like I am in a position to adequately critique it.
Comments on the Story
The story was great. I was on the edge of my seat digging it, that is, until the last hour minutes or so when, in my view, the totality of the trilogy came crashing to the ground. There is a huge, heated debate about the ending of the game where both sides are calling names like rather ill-behaved children. I do not intend to call names here as games, like movies, are very subjective. However, I do have some thoughts about the ending and the story. If you don t share these thoughts, great. But don t be pompous, acting like your opinion is the only one out there. And, beware of spoilers.
The first thing that really annoyed me was that I played through every mission/side quest and got most (but admittedly not all) of the war assets from the various worlds using the planet scanner (this also got tedious at times but was nowhere as bad as the scanning in ME2). The way I understand the galactic readiness rating (GRT) is as follows: it is basically a multiplier that takes your raw military strength and is used to produce an effective military strength (EMS). If you spend more time in the multiplayer (which I did not) you can, in principle, spend less time on side quests and vice-versa. Good idea, I thought, as it gives players some leeway on how to proceed.
However, when I went into the final battle, I feel that the EMS rating was rather misleading. Mine was roughly at about 3200 or so with a default GRT of 50%. The green bar was completely filled. However, my ending sucked (I ll get to this in a minute). In fact, the first time I played through, I was so shocked that I re-loaded the Citadel mission to see if I missed something. Nope, as I feared.
Now, my initial reaction was knee-jerk. I was furious that EA/BioWare made a game where, as I perceived at the time, a decent ending could not be achieved without multiplayer. I have since then been corrected. A decent ending, where Shepard presumably lives (there is still some ambiguity here), can be achieved with an EMS of 4000 or better (at least, according to sites like IGN). However, my complaint is that the game misled me about this as my EMS bar was completely filled going into the last mission. Even if you can get the good ending without playing multiplayer, much of your readiness rating depends on previous choices from earlier titles. Also, admittedly, there is a box that told me that my chances against the Reapers was even but I didn t think much of it because in Mass Effect 2, they still called it a "suicide mission" even if you made all the necessary preparations.
I should note that the supposed "good" ending includes a very brief cut scene where Shepard is still alive but appears to be in bad shape; I don t have much of an incentive to work hard to get my EMS up for a 20 second cut scene that leaves some ambiguity about Shepard s ultimate fate.
I didn t feel that all of my decisions really mattered. My feeling is that your decisions mattered mainly insofar as a character might briefly appear in the game and promise to help you but you may not ever encounter that character again in the game and a positive number would be tallied, in your favor, to your military strength. So, basically, I feel like I made decisions not to see further development of a character who was willing to fight and, possibly die, along side me but rather, to see a sum magically increase by a few hundred points.
A good example is the Rachni Queen. She appears if you save her and you are again given an option to save or let her die as she has been taken over by Reaper tech. If you let her live, she appears in a list under the war assets and that is that.
The collector base, for example, does play a role in what choices you have in the ending but I didn t really feel like my decision to destroy it made much of an impact throughout the game. This was, at least I thought, a huge decision and all it does it determine which three crappy choices will cause you to "win" if you even "win" at all. That is, the crappy choices are permuted depending on your choice to destroy or not destroy the collector base.
You also see Major Kirrahe who promises to fight by your side no matter which way the political tide turns. What is frustrating is that I expected a full scale, epic battle where all sorts of people I have rallied were fighting by my side. Literally. I don t think that this was a wrong or misleading assumption. But this isn t what I got. Perhaps my expectations here were far too high.
I understand that making a game that is custom tailored to the player is a difficult, technical task but this is how they marketed the game. I remember feeling that my ME1 decisions, with the exception of Wrex, didn't really have an impact on ME2 except for a few casual encounters with Conrad or an Asari communicating on behalf of the Rachni Queen. I really felt like I would feel the heavy weight of my major decisions from ALL three titles. Instead, there were many times when it felt like "Oh yeah, I remember doing that." The only decisions that seemed to carry sufficient weight were ones that I made in this particular game.
The ending didn t make much sense to me. In fact, I felt like more alcohol would assist me in understanding it. So, to save organics from the hands of super advanced synthetics or AIs we have to brutally destroy entire species with a race of ultra-sophisticated synthetic-organic hybrids? Okay, perhaps "destroy" is a bad word; more like, gooify you and collect you as a museum exhibit of what once was. So, instead of being destroyed in the usual "the machines have revolted" sense, we will be brutally harvested by super advanced machines. Yeah.... that is a great....uh.... solution? Chaos is not necessarily a bad thing; it is found in nature. This was hard to stomach.