“Well, well, well, Commander Shepherd… we meet again…” (Again!)
I really wanted to start this review with something like “I remember, back in 2007,…” or “When we look back to the foundation of this now epic franchise…” but that would be to belie our ethos here at newbreview.com, and would risk excluding those who may be new to the Mass Effect universe.
So, I shall start this spoiler-free review, as one so often does, at the beginning.
Mass Effect 3 is the new instalment of the biggest sci-fi role-playing action shooter video game franchise going. With massive cross-over appeal and a well and richly established mythos it is a setting which has repeatedly show itself adept at pleasing all types of gamers.
Centring on a mainstream “shooter” / action mechanic, rich storyline and character progression Mass Effect, perhaps more so than any other title, has really found that sweet spot between RPG and FPS.
Indeed one of the master-strokes of Mass Effect 3 is the way in which its hybrid leopard has been designed to so slickly change its spots. Rather than the fairly opaque “easy, medium or hard” as offered by almost every other game, players are now offered a choice of “Mode” in which to play Mass Effect; “Action”, “Story” or “RPG”, which translate roughly to; “Shooter”, “Interactive Movie” and “The Full Monty”. Whilst we very heartily recommend the full experience that is “RPG Mode”, we can understand and indeed highly commend BioWare for bringing this mechanic to the table, it really opens up the game for players of all backgrounds, experience levels and preferences. Bravo BioWare! Already a great concept and we haven’t even set foot in the game yet!
Action / Shooter fans amongst you have the further choice of the wide ranging; “Narrative, Casual, Normal, Hardcore & Insanity”, difficulty settings (as opposed to “modes”). Not only do we get as full a set of difficulties as one could ever wish for, BioWare have responded to fans of the series by elevating the difficulty of Normal mode, and above, to ensure everyone can enjoy the level of challenge they seek. Be warned however, Insanity is now a proper test and can render even a fairly well developed team helpless in seconds… in my experience it is at least 50% tougher than top difficulty was in Mass Effect 2, and thus is finally, at the 3rd attempt, very nearly worthy of the experience its name implies!
As a package, and when played in “RPG Mode”, the BioWare team have done a great job of combining the best of Mass Effect & Mass Effect 2 to deliver a true hybrid experience that hits the mark across the board.
Some of my (and many others) biggest problems with one, other or both of the first 2 games have been attended to; Weapon variety has been hugely increased, back up to Mass Effect levels, and has indeed been augmented beyond this by the addition of 2 upgrade slots for every weapon, which fit a wide variety of different upgrades from increased damage and ammunition capacity to sights & accuracy and beyond.
Combat is also far more deserving of the FPS title in general, both in raw “feel” of weapon usage / aim / fire and in its delivery of types of foe and the differentiation of tactics required to overcome them. You now need to think carefully (increasingly so at higher difficulties) about how you attack / defend to ensure you do not come rapidly unstuck on the battlefield. Cover plays its essential role, and this time foes are finally pretty good at understanding this, lending a more realistic feel to their movement and behaviour, and making them a far more effective fighting force.
Beyond improvements to the direct combat experience itself the game is also richer across the board in non-combat game-play. A very welcome addition comes in the form of further refinements to skill upgrades and levelling. Skills now have 6 levels with the 3 highest (and most costly) upgrades requiring a choice be made by the player in how to specialise the skill, be that for greater damage, lower cool-down, increased area of effect or its extension to fellow team members. Thankfully the impact of the choices you make here are very clearly laid out and displayed via a surprisingly helpful bar chart, and let’s be honest, I never thought I’d say that about an action game!
Whilst weapon selection is controlled differently from previous instalments, each team mate being limited to select from 2 types of weapon (which can still be upgraded as normal), a further fantastic addition to the mechanic has been made here for you as the main protagonist. You can use and equip ANY type of weapon straight out of the blocks, but you must balance this against the effect this has on your powers. Each weapon now has a “weight”, which slows the cool down of your powers. So, whilst you can take 5 weapons to the front-line, this will render your powers almost useless. However, it does open up a far more interesting approach; not taking ANY weapons! Yes, the increased cool down speed offered by the decrease in weight can, when combined with the relevant skill choices, turn you into a rapid fire super biotic / tech of fearsome impact. This whole area is fascinating and complex and as such will reside in our “Guide” to the game, coming soon!
Whilst some skills have been added, to great effect, the core of these remains the same, as does the effectiveness of combining them correctly with your team mates. We’re venturing dangerously close to spoiler territory here, so let’s move on…
In addition to combat and progression improvements one of my favourite additions in Mass Effect 3 is the “war assets” dynamic, wherein your actions and decisions, huge or tiny, affect the resources available to you to lead the challenge against the game’s ultimate threat. Everything from retrieving artifacts via the scanning of planets to brokering peace between races has a big impact here and the way that decisions, and companions, from all three games interact with this is beautifully realised and to be highly praised, again. This whole “layer” which sits “above” the game-play experience of the previous two titles really adds both to the richness of the game-play but also, perhaps more importantly, to the sense of a far “bigger picture” which events are part of and leading up to. Each decision feels that bit more important when you know it’s going to change the “readiness” of the galaxy as a whole!
A spoiler free review does not permit me to comment on any character or plot developments, and I shall honour that to the letter, other than to say the story is as good as it gets, just as you have come to expect from BioWare, with events, and the characters that inhabit them, challenging, surprising, delighting and appalling you in equal measure, creating a believable and emotional journey you will not soon forget.
Anyway, I will move swiftly on to a few areas to watch out for which I would particularly love to hear feedback on; mini-games. The scanning of planets was something I (if few others it seems) really enjoyed but this has now been basically removed. In its place is “system” scanning which is far more random and can be a bit frustrating as you “hit and hope” to find resources. Thankfully all is not lost as, whilst the waveform based planetary scanning is gone, it has been replaced with a system threat level mechanic which sees you attract the unwanted, and highly dangerous, attention of your foes as you search for resources instead. This works well and adds both peril and a tactical element which had both been lacking from this area before. A further loss is “hacking”, which, whilst less inspired, at least brought additional variety to the mix. Eschewed in favour of more action I can understand, if not wholly support, its departure.
No review of Mass Effect 3 would be complete without addressing its excellent and exciting multi-player element. Now I don’t mind relating that I was extremely sceptical about this part of the game… until I played it. The aforementioned improvements to the combat in single player enable the new multi-player facet of the game to really stand its ground amidst a veritable avalanche of excellent multi-player titles available at the moment. What really works here is the co-operative nature of it, which, when combined with the varied skills, weapons, foes, game modes and map layouts available really does deliver a rich multi-player experience.
The cherry on the cake is the way multi-player character progression is handled. You can / must level up and improve the equipment of each “class” of character separately in addition to unlocking the huge quantity of equipment available. Clearly this adds hundreds of hours of game-play to an already huge title and could, to be perfectly honest, have been an additional game in of itself.
Unlocking occurs randomly via the acquisition and usage of “Requisition Packs” of various “costs” which you buy using in-game credits earned by playing the multi-player game. This adds a real sense of purpose to the game-play, and excitement to the usage of the packs as you hold your breath to see what you have earnt (unlock-ables even come in various level of rarity!). For extra flexibility these packs can also be bought directly with platform points / credit cards for any who would like to fast-track their rise to multi-player excellence or simply catch up with their more advanced friends. I am duty bound to recommend earning your packs soldier, they taste all the sweeter for the sweat…
I would love to go on further into discussions on Mass Effect 3, but, as you likely expect, I want to get back on and play some more, and more importantly you should be doing so to!
As with all BioWare games Mass Effect 3 is very much more than the sum of its parts, and I can confirm that its parts are myriad and awesome. The result is a game which should, and certainly will, fight it out for game of the year 2012. It’s too early to tell if it will win, but my goodness other contenders had better be preparing near miraculous levels of game-play feel, character progression and story quantity / quality if they want to even stand a chance… be in no doubt, this is an exceptional game, a classic, so you had probably best just rush out and buy it now…
Graphics: 4.5/5 – Nothing revolutionary, but very strong with true excellence at times.
Sound: 4.5/5 – Effects are excellent, weapons powerful and some sounds truly fear inducing. But it’s the voice acting that makes all the difference, and it’s top draw.
Gameplay: 5/5 – It would be ridiculous of me to give it any less; epic single player meets truly enjoyable multi-player.
Longevity: 5/5 – No question it’s top marks here, another “buy one get one free” case. I’d give it a 6 but I know Ed. won’t let me…
Overall: 4.75 out of 5
I have never given a “5 out of 5″, and I probably never will, can anything ever be truly perfect? But I can promise you I gave it some very serious thought in this case. Very serious. I’ve ended up cheating and giving it a 4.75 out of 5, which I’m not technically allowed to do. (*Sorry Ed.!) What is Mass Effect 3 like overall? Put it this way; if you buy this and don’t like it I’ll personally refund you. If you own a system capable of playing this and do not buy it I actually feel bad for you. Seriously. Please do yourself a favour and spend your hard earned cash on this piece of gaming genius. Please.