Grizzly Gaming

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mass Effect 3 review: The way the galaxy ends?

Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard has been through some tough times. Despite foiling two plots by intergalactic machines, the Reapers, to end all organic life in the galaxy, most people still don’t believe that the threat is even real. Next, following the events of Mass Effect 2’s “The Arrival” DLC, Shepard is stripped of his rank and grounded on Earth. Mere months after his demotion, however, the Reapers begin systematically destroying human settlements across the known galaxy until reaching Earth with blinding speed. And though no one has heeded his warnings before, humanity once again looks to Commander Shepard to save the day. (Oh and, just a note, this review is spoiler free)

The future is a rough time for a hero.

“Mass Effect 3,” the latest installment of the wildly popular BioWare/EA sci-fi epic, caps off the Commander Shepard story. Humanity’s situation is dire as they and every organic being in the galaxy stands on the brink of annihilation. The Reapers, a sentient race of enormous machines which return every 50,000 to cleanse the galaxy of all organic life, have begun their ultimate assault. Commander Shepard barely escapes the assault on Earth to ask the Council races (turians, salarians and asari) for help in the coming conflict. In spite of all Shepard has done to safeguard humanity and the rest of the galaxy, all of his efforts – even those in “ME3” – may be for naught if he can’t rally enough support to stop the Reaper invasion. As if the Reaper invasion weren’t enough, Cerberus is making the Commander’s life even more difficult, pursuing its own agenda against the backdrop of the invasion.

“ME3” is the final chapter of Shepard’s story in the Mass Effect universe and it’s clear that BioWare and EA wanted to make it the biggest, grandest, most epic title of the series to date. Everything from the single player story, to the tied-into-the-single-player multiplayer mode, to making the game more accessible to new fans has been done in an effort to make this the most exciting, action-packed “ME” title yet.

The Reapers won’t stop until all life has been wiped out and Shepard won’t be able to take on the Reapers alone. After escaping Earth, Shepard must span the galaxy, requesting the aid of numerous alien races to support humanity’s effort in stopping the Reapers. This is represented by your overall “Galactic Readiness,” which is persistent across both the single and multiplayer modes.

Above, a small Reaper demolishing a city

In single player, completing quests, gaining alliances or finding resources scattered throughout the galaxy all count toward your Galactic Readiness, which ultimately decides (or at least has a large bearing on) which ending you get after finishing the game. In multiplayer, completing missions will raise the Readiness in those areas of the galaxy. Additionally, the characters you play as in multiplayer can be “promoted” to generals in your single player story, once they reach level 20, which also is a big boost to your Readiness. Aboard the Normandy, Shepard can check out an itemized list of the various “war assets” he has accrued – a great touch for fans looking for more background information.

I’ll dive more into the multiplayer later, right now I want to go over more of what players can expect from the single player mode. It’s clear that BioWare and EA wanted to make “ME3” more accessible to everyone – not just those new to the series. By refining the shooter mechanics even further for this installment, even those unfamiliar with the series will be able to pick up “ME3” and have fun with it. Though it doesn’t control as tightly as “Gears of War” (for most, the top of the line in third-person shooters), “ME3” without-a-doubt features the best action of the series and is easily the most fun to play.

Improvements to the visuals and sound design are also immediately noticeable. Character models and environments are now more detailed than ever. New methods of dynamic lighting also serve to drape your surroundings in moody swathes of light and shadow. I’ve also noticed that BioWare has gone to great effort to make environments seem much larger and more lively than they have in the past. On numerous occasions through my time spent with the single player, I’ve noticed many interesting, eye-catching moments happening in the background. These events usually revolve around a Reaper rampaging through a battlefield but still, the amount of detail put into your surroundings in “ME3,” that some might not even notice, is pretty astounding.

Cerberus will be a constant thorn in Shepard's side

The sound design also got a nice upgrade, especially in terms of weapon sounds. Each gun, even the different guns in their specific classes, has its own unique report. It’s a little touch but how many other games can you tell what gun (and not just that they’re using a shotgun, but which shotgun) another player is using just by hearing it go off?

I’ve touched on the different modes of play in single player before (Action, Story and RPG) and won’t spend much time going over it now. But long story short, the different modes will present different experiences. Action will present dialogue options in the form of scripted cinematic sequences, letting players in on the story but getting them back to the action as soon as possible. Story mode retains the dialogue options but tones down the action difficulty significantly. RPG mode presents both normal dialogue options and combat difficulty and, to me, is the mode that any serious gamer should be playing.

I also wanted to make note about the process or importing characters. First off, importing your old character makes you almost unfairly overpowered. Before I had done anything in the game, just by importing my old character, I was level 26 and easily dominating any opposition before me. Also, as before, you’re able to pick a new class before completing your new character. I also need to make a note that in the version I played (Xbox 360) my previous character’s face couldn’t be properly imported – a glitch that is apparently pretty widespread. I ended up making a new face that very similar to my previous Shepards but still kind of seems to me like a cyborg who killed my original Shepard and is trying to take his place.

New, however, to the series is any class’ ability to use any weapon. In the past, certain weapons have been reserved for certain classes, such as only soldiers being able to equip sniper rifles. Now, a new mechanic has been introduced where carrying more weapons counts against the recharge time of biotic powers, essentially meaning that if you want to use your powers more often, you ought to equip fewer weapons.

Take on the role of special operatives in multiplayer to carry out

missions against Cerberus, the Geth and the Reapers

Even though the single player mode is set in an openish-world environment where players can travel to systems and take missions at their leisure, the story is excellently written and paced so that you, as the player, are never left to forget the urgency of your mission. And not always in obvious ways, either, but in Liara being stressed out about acquiring resources and manpower or shadow-brokering or in Garrus spending his time on the Citadel assisting refugees. Though the “ME” series has always been known for its impressive story-telling and presentation, “ME3,” to me, cements the series as the preeminent, video game sci-fi series akin to Star Trek (on TV) or Star Wars (on film).

Overall, I’m finding this single-player campaign to be just as enjoyable, if not more than, the original game’s. In fact, the only thing the original game has on “ME3” is the use of a vehicle (the Mako) in the form of planetary exploration. Other little touches to the single-player formula make this game the best of the series, such as an improved map function on the Citadel (that shows you points/people of interest), numerous cameos from previous characters (which long-time fans will no doubt get many kicks out of) and a greatly improved/streamlined resource gathering mechanic (a new scan feature lets you search Reaper-ravaged systems for resources and war assets but too much use of the scan can call Reapers to investigate the system, forcing you to flee). Missing from the single-player, though, are the hacking minigames found in “ME2” that were used to access hidden areas or gather additional credits/items.

When it was announced that “ME3” would feature multiplayer, the collective eye-roll that occurred on the internet was so massive and instantaneous that modern nerds will pass down its tale for generations. The news that one of the most beloved and interesting Western RPGs on the market today would feature multiplayer was, for some reason, near blasphemous. To understand this, one should know that, to many hardcore gamers on the internet, multiplayer is the bastion for those who don’t possess the mental faculties to enjoy a deep, single-player story – such as the one presented in the Mass Effect series – and that any multiplayer mode in “ME3” could only mean that A) the single-player/story mode would suffer for it and B) it would be a tacked-on afterthought, developed as a desperate cash-grab. Fortunately, neither is true of “ME3’s” multiplayer.

The multiplayer in “ME3” is interesting in that the battles you fight aren’t merely random squabbles between endlessly battling opponents (much like the deathmatches Spartans/Covenant in Halo or the humans/Locust in Gears of War are), but rather skirmishes in specific, strategically important areas that are tied into the single-player. Each multiplayer map is the backdrop of a sidequest in the single-player where Shepard must go in, clear out enemies (usually Cerberus) and complete an objective. The multiplayer mode then presents these maps as areas of contention that special operative teams must constantly fight to main control of, though you could find yourself fighting the Geth or Reaper forces instead of Cerberus in multiplayer.

You can pick from any of the six classes in multiplayer – Adept, Soldier, Engineer, Sentinel, Infiltrator or Vanguard – and each class has the option of four different races, some of which feature different powers/abilities. For example, the Engineer is my preferred class online. Though the human male and female are open right away, a quarian and salarian engineer can also be unlocked, each bringing their own unique set of powers to the table. However, unlocking these different classes, weapons and equipment can sometimes be frustrating.

Many familiar faces make appearances in "ME3" but not all will be party members

During the course of completing a mission, players will have to complete three separate objective waves that can be eliminating certain enemies in a time limit, activating various objects or defending a specific area. Completing these objective waves earns you credits which can be used to buy resource packs. The packs – which range from 5,000 to 60,000 credits – grant the player an assortment of weapon upgrades, one-time use items, equipment, weapons or new characters. Except, what each pack yields is randomized and the more expensive a pack, the more items you receive and the higher your chances are of unlocking rare items. But just because you spend a bunch of hard-earned credits on an expensive pack doesn’t mean you’ll unlock exactly what you’re looking for. Granted, you’ll always get something cool if you buy a Veteran pack or a Spectre pack, there’s no guarantee you’ll unlock that asari vanguard you want or that geth shotgun (the asari vanguard I got [and she’s amazing] but I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever get that geth shotgun).

Right now, I’m waiting patiently to hear about future DLC. A day-one DLC (which grants you the last prothean for your party), which is allegedly on-disc content, was released and there are rumors about an upcoming multiplayer pack with new characters but outside of these, I haven’t heard much. The character DLC, which allegedly features characters such as the batarian infiltrator and the krogan battlemaster, has yet to be confirmed but the prospect of new multiplayer characters has me pretty excited. I’d love to see more multiplayer specific content, such as new maps or modes, but additional single-player content, like new party members or missions, would be excellent as well.

Though its RPG trappings may be enough to dissuade some, not playing “ME3” at all is probably one of the worst mistakes you could make as a gamer. Even those who are new to the series will find a way to enjoy “ME3” and hopefully would be intrigued enough to search out the previous two entries. The addition of multiplayer also makes “ME3” one of the most engaging, enthralling and complete experiences in video games to date. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Reapers to deal with.


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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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