Review: Mass Effect 3

Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360

When it comes to expectations on a video game few compare to the anticipation of Mass Effect 3. The Mass Effect series is now revered among gamers with a place in history and a large dedicated fan base. Now with Mass Effect 3 comes the final conclusion– does it live up to the hype?

Set soon after the events of the last game Mass Effect 3 jumps straight into the action as Shepard finds himself defending Earth against an unrelenting attack from the Reapers. Judgement day for the galaxy approaches as an immense wave of Reapers bear down on the universe wiping out Earth and any planet in their way. Against his or her will Shepard must escape Earth and head off into the galaxy to gather a crew and discover a way of taking down the seemingly unstoppable Reaper force.

While the game does its best to fill in the gaps and provide you with background information, this is definitely a series you want to play from the start as you’d have trouble diving in to this last game without playing the first two. That’s not to say you couldn’t finish it and have a good time, but the core experience of Mass Effect 3 is in thick narrative and character development that would be lost without playing the full series in proper order.

Missions and the actual gameplay component don’t stray far from the formula set in Mass Effect 2. Using the same tactically based third person shooter action from the past games, Shepard controls a squad of 2 crew mates with an array of weapons and biotic powers. Each squad mate has different abilities that can be mixed and matched with whatever role the main player chooses to play which can gives the player a few options on how to approach combat. If the player chooses to simply run and gun most of the game then this is still quite feasible, the combat is quite malleable and can be very basic or tactical if you choose.

Shephard and each member of his crew have a variety of powers to level up as the player chooses. There are also weapon mods to collect and assign but while these are useful the modification system is implemented somewhat poorly with little information on what mods exactly do. It still provides you with a few options for mixing up your character and your crew.

Many characters from the series make a return in Mass Effect 3 to the point where it’s all too coincidental as any random person who was around for 5 minutes in a past game pops in to say hi. If you’re deep in to the fiction, played the first two games multiple times, and even read the books you’re sure to love it but for someone like me who hasn’t played the first game in 5 years you’ll miss a fair few of the cameos. It is nice that Bioware have thrown in a tonne of references for this conclusion even if a bunch of it doesn’t really make sense.

All of the past core squad members and key characters appear in the game except of course any you may have gotten killed in the previous games, but this time around the active roster is a lot smaller. Only six crew members are available for Shepard to take into missions with a couple of new characters available. They all have extensive backgrounds as usual, and it’s very interesting seeing what they have to say in each mission. You can only take two squad members into a mission with you but if you pick the right character in context of what the mission involves, you can find some very interesting scenes with a lot of personal character history.

Outside of missions is still where the majority of the game’s long playtime will take place. Somehow while saving the universe Shepard finds plenty of time to explore the galaxy completing mediocre tasks, mining planets for resources and generally wasting time. The Citadel again acts as a core hub of the galaxy and the major city where the player is often required to go. It’s a large, bustling metropolis with many NPC’s to interact with and quests to go on. It adds lots of content to the game, but a lot of the side missions are simple fetch quests and have little to no relevance on the story. It’s also very bizarre how it all takes place as Shepard picks up missions by simply over hearing other people’s conversations. You’re then tasked to wander the galaxy, searching planets for someone’s random component they lost, and return without ever even being asked in the first place.

For a game so strongly founded in character development and an immersive universe there’s a few odd things that put off the experience such as the aforementioned eavesdropping Shepard. Sure it may seem to be nit picking, but this relates back to the expectations put on this game and the series. Sure the first two games had plenty of faults, but the opportunity to improve and correct these faults should not have been squandered and even worsened in some ways. For example there is a bug on Xbox 360 for a lot of people importing a previously completed save file. If you’re like me and haven’t ever changed the appearance of your Shepard since the first game, Mass Effect 3 is currently unable to import your facial features so you’ll have to recreate a face. Whether you try to make it as close as possible to your original Shepard or go with something new, it’s a disappointing bug for a game that relies so heavily on character development and touted this as such a significant feature.

Improvements could have been made in other areas of the game. The quest log doesn’t provide much information, and does not update once you obtain a relevant item so it’s quite hard to track your progress and what needs handing in. Ignoring the fact the fetch quests are tedious chores made seemingly necessary through in-game requirements (extra tasks will add to your progress in the story) they can also be very confusing. Quite often you will pick up a quest long before it’ll ever be possible to complete it. A quest may involve finding an item that is on a planet that is not even on Shepard’s map until the player completes other unrelated main story quests. The game doesn’t tell you this, so you’re left with a long log of quests for items you don’t know if you already have, or if you could go out and find, or if you have no hope of finding until you go and do other stuff. It is a nightmare to put together.

Now this is a touchy subject in a review, but I can’t finish this off without briefly mentioning the massively controversial ending. I won’t spoil anything but I will say that I was disappointed with ways the ending was handled. I don’t think the overall story and the direction Bioware took it was particularly bad, but the actual execution and lack of overall conclusion in many areas left me disappointed in an ending many people have played well over a hundred hours through five years to get to.

With all that said, Mass Effect 3 is still a great game. It follows the gameplay formula from the second game while delivering a long and fleshed out story with great characters and a powerful overarching doomsday feel. While the ending wasn’t quite all there, the game is full of powerful scenes that reflect back on the past games especially some special romance scenes that remind you why gamers love this series so much. Mass Effect 3 isn’t the dream game we all hoped for, but it does its job of completing one of the greatest gaming series in history.

Mass Effect 3


The Good

  • Thick character development and story.
  • Expansive universe with long play time.
  • Lots of references to the past games and returning characters.

The Bad

  • Questionable ending.
  • Confusing side quests are difficult to manage.
  • Much smaller active squad.