Mass Effect 3 is the end of a trilogy about 6 years in the making. And boy, does it go out with a bang. I admit my expectations for the third installment were rather high, and for the most part Bioware knocked it out of the park. I finished the game once as a female Shepard, and am currently on a second playthrough. I did, however, engage in most of the female romances by saving and reloading a lot. Once again, I will try to minimize spoilers as much as possible, especially about the story itself. In my game, I imported a Shepard from both 1 and 2, saved Ashley and Wrex, and came through the Suicide mission in 2 with every single squad member loyal and alive.
Once again, the voice acting is superb. Of course, Jennifer Hale as FemShep was outstanding, but the other voice actors were also excellent. Even the background characters sounded real and fleshed out- something that is a rarity in most video games. I only played as a female Shepard, so I have no clue how the voice acting for male Shepard was. The only character whose voice acting I could not stand was the war reporter, Diana Allers (voiced by Jessica Chobot). It was very clear, especially in comparison to the other characters, that Jessica Chobot is not an actress. Her lines were stilted and not very convincing.
The characters themselves are also a high point. Old friends and enemies show up in various ways, and getting to talk to them (even briefly) made me very happy. The people who have been interacting with since Mass Effect 1, Kaiden, Ashley, Joker Wrex, Garrus, Tali, and Liara have grown and developed in a way that is realistic. Even the squadmate you did not save (in my case, Kaiden) is mentioned numerous times, making your relationships seem much more real. A few new characters appear, such as James Vega. At first I didn’t know what to think about him, but in the end I really enjoyed talking to him. He is pretty damn hilarious, and his conversations with other crew members on the Normandy were a high point. One of the best parts was hearing the characters interact with one another. As I ran from one part of the Normandy to another, I would walk in on shipmates talking with each other. Liara would be talking to Garrus, Joker and Edi would be mid conversation, etc. Stopping to listen to these conversations was fun and enlightening.
The story itself was also great. You start off with Earth being attacked by the Reapers, and it just goes non-stop from there. It is up to you, as Commander Shepard, to reunite the races for the upcoming war. This is not an easy task, and centuries of mistrust and bad blood run through all of the races. Supporting the Krogan to help cure the genophage will result in the losing the support of the Salarians. The Quarian and Geth conflict also comes to a head. It is possible to get almost all of the factions on your side, but you have to play an almost perfect game.
The combat system has improved even more from Mass Effect 2, but compared to most shooters it’s still average. There is a new cover system that is good in theory, but doesn’t always work in practice. Many times I found myself running to a point, only to suddenly find myself in cover, facing the wrong way and getting shot at. This was frustrating and made what could have been a really good combat system hard to work with at times. The best improvement was allowing all classes to carry any weapon they want. This is balanced out with a weight system- the heavier the weapons, the longer it takes your powers to cool down. I played as an infiltrator, and after I got an awesome sniper rifle, I only carried that. As a result of having only one weapon, my powers cooled down within seconds, allowing me to use them more often.
Bioware took the complaints of Mass Effect 2 leveling up system to heart and tweaked it for the third game. It has much more of an RPG feel to it, similar to the first game, without all the issues. You have many more choices when leveling up powers, and modifying your weapons is satisfying and shows actual changes. You still don’t have the depth that was available in Mass Effect 1, but I think Bioware found a good balance between RPG and Third Person Shooter.
Multiplayer is something that was added for the third game. It directly affects the single player game by helping your “galactic readiness.” You and three people can choose between the 6 classes and various races and have to hold off ten waves of either geth, reapers, or Cerberus troops and survive. Sprinkled in the 10 waves are different objectives, so you aren’t able to just camp out and shoot people. I played both with random people and with friends, and it is much more satisfying with friends. This is a game you need to communicate with your teammates, and it’s much easier to do that with friends. Plus, who hasn’t wanted to play as a Krogan?
Kinect voice commands were also added to Mass Effect 3. I do not have a Kinect, so I was not able to test it myself, but I had a friend (and fellow Mass Effect junkie) test it out for me and give me her results. She said it took a while to get used to using it in combat, but once she got the hang of it she loved yelling out commands during battles and seeing squadmates react. She enjoyed it the most during conversations. She was able to put down the controller and get into the scene, and just speak the prompts and watch her Shepard react. Other people have told me they have trouble with the Kinect system, and there is not guide on what commands to use, so a lot of it is a guessing game on what you should exactly be yelling.
The scanning system is back. No, you aren’t scanning for minerals like in Mass Effect 2, or driving around planets on the Mako finding hunks of rocks, but it’s still just as irritating. Now you fly your Normandy around the galaxy map, and scan the systems for “war assets” that help you in your cause. That in itself is not a bad thing, but now if you scan too much, the Reapers fly in and you have to evade them. Essentially you are playing Pac-Man with the Reapers. I found this system to be jarring and it took me out of the game.
If you play the game without playing Mass Effect 1 and 2 first, you will have a perfectly fine game, but I don’t think you will be getting the full experience. As much as Bioware claims you can jump in without playing the first two, I think that is doing yourself a grave disservice. Part of my enjoyment of the game was seeing the loads of people from the first two games show up. Actions I did in the first two games directly affected my galactic readiness. Conversations that brought up past actions were common. I can’t imagine I would have any clue what was going on if I hadn’t played the first two games. I cried a few times during the game when certain characters died. I don’t know if the emotional impact would have been there if I hadn’t gotten to know the characters previously. This is truly the end of a trilogy. It would be like reading the last book in a trilogy without reading the first two. You will probably enjoy it, but miss a lot of the backstory and richness of the culture and world as a whole.
Bioware certainly stepped up the gay factor on this one, and I love it. Our gay brothers finally get same sex romance options. Yes, that’s plural. There are two males that can romanced by a male Shepard: Kaiden and Cortez, a shuttle pilot. For the ladies, there are three options. First, you can continue your romance with Liara, start a relationship with your com officer Samantha Traynor (lesbian only romancable by female Shepard), or hook up with war reporter Diana Allers. You can also continue your relationships from Mass Effect 2, with a few exceptions. I found my relationship with Liara to be the most in depth one of the three ladies. You have many conversations with her about the past, the future, and your relationship. I haven’t done that much processing since my last real life relationship. The romance with Samantha Traynor was sweet and definitely sexy (one word: shower.) I thought the relationship with Diana Allers was forced and not very realistic, and was my least favorite of all them, gay or straight.
I applaud Bioware for taking the time to add the same-sex relationships to Mass Effect 3. It made the universe seem much more realistic. You will randomly hear conversations from people of both sexes talk about their husbands and wives, and no one so much as bats an eye. The first time I talked to the shuttle pilot Cortez and he casually mentioned he lost his husband, I about dropped my controller in shock. My second thought was “That was so cool!” It takes a lot to shock me in a video game, and Bioware did it in a good way. My only complaint was that I was unable to romance Ashley Williams as a female Shepard. Kaiden is romanceable by both genders, but Ashley is not? I don’t understand why that was overlooked, Ashley really grew on me over three games and I would have loved have romanced her. That is, hoever, a small complaint in what is otherwise a great game.
No, I won’t spoil the ending for you. All I will say is that I thought the last 5 minutes were jarring and seemed very out of place in the Mass Effect Universe. The “optimal” ending (or what constitutes as one) is up for debate, and is very difficult to get if you do not play multiplayer. Not impossible, but difficult. If anyone wants to talk more about the ending privately, feel free to PM me on the forum (Name: Xan) or hit me up on the Lesbian Gamers Facebook page and I am willing to discuss the ending in depth. But it does bring closure to the end of a trilogy, and that is the important thing.
Overall, it’s a satisfying conclusion to 6 years, three games, and countless novels and comics. I love this universe, I love Commander Shepard, and I did love this game. It has some flaws, and there are a few things I wish was done different, but I felt like it was telling MY story of MY Shepard. In the end, I think that was what made the game great.