Mass Effect 3|
Hey all and welcome to my first review for Game Chronicles. I’m honored and a bit intimidated that my first project is something as monumental as Mass Effect 3 – the holy trilogy of video game RPG’s. Not that I don’t come prepared mind you…I’ve been playing Mass Effect from the very beginning, having played the first two games twice each, once with a male Shepard and once with a female, and it would be my female Shepard that would be making the journey into this third and final installment in the series.
Mass Effect 3 wastes little time getting started. My character imported with no issues although I have heard that there are some graphical problems if you are importing a character that was original created in the very first game. I had modified my original Shepard after importing into Mass Effect 2, so that must have immunized me from these problems. Within minutes of starting the game Earth is put on alert as alien invaders descend upon the planet. The Reapers have arrived, and before Shepard can even mutter “I told you so” she is asked to once again defend the earth and save the galaxy.
There are three ways to play Mass Effect 3, although if you import your character you will default to the standard RPG mode from the past two games. There is an action mode that strips away the RPG and dialogue content – that will be reviewed in a separate section, and there is a story mode for those that just want to sit back and watch all the cutscenes play out like one big movie. It was nice to offer these various options, but one has to wonder how much was sacrificed from the core RPG mode to make the other modes work. Personally, I found much of the role-playing aspects of Mass Effect 3 to be much lighter and even inconsequential at times, almost like nothing I was doing really mattered.
Much of the gameplay remains the same. You’ll wander around your ship every chance you get talking to your crew to establish and cement your relationships and possible romance opportunities. You’ll spend a lot of time on the Citadel exploring the various areas of this huge multi-level complex and eavesdropping on private conversations by NPC’s whose topics will not only fuel your Codex but also pad your mission log with an endless array of mindless egg hunts. There are plenty of fetch quests with random people wanting random stuff that you will acquire during your galactic adventures. You just have to be observant, collect everything, and know when you have a match.
Your mission log grows quickly and it can be difficult to figure out what to do and when to do it, especially when completing some quests in the wrong order can potentially lock you out of other content. It’s also worth noting that if you ordered the Collector’s Edition of the game or purchase the “From Ashes” DLC separately, there is one rather important mission that you should do early on so that you unlock an important character. While Mass Effect 3 can be completed and thoroughly enjoyed without this DLC, unlocking Javik on Eden Prime and making him a part of your mission squad for the rest of the game will reveal all sorts of interesting conversations and Mass Effect lore you would otherwise miss.
Loyalty missions are gone, replaced with more political endeavors as you try to get the various alien races to unify and fight back against the Reapers. You’ll be collecting War Assets along the way that all factor into your Galactic Readiness rating, which ultimately doesn’t do much to affect the end of the game. It’s pretty much a diversionary time-waster right down to the Galaxy at War iPhone app that lets you pump up your console galaxy rating from your phone.
Mass Effect 3 comes with a lot more dialogue, a lot more story, and a lot more conversation trees, all of which can impact your Paragon/Renegade rating. Yet even with the increase in content, I found these choices and their resulting morality scores more and more ambiguous . Having played a Paragon female and a Renegade male in both the first two games, and then bringing my female into this game, I’m just not seeing the overarching impact of my carefully deliberated choices. Even so, the game does reward you in smaller ways if you experience it as a complete trilogy.
When you aren't talking you’ll probably be fighting using the tried and true cover-combat model from the last game that mixes in weapons and various biotic powers, and since each character has their own set of each, you can mix and match and create some fairly effective combos just by picking the right squad. Shepard has a few new tricks up her sleeve as she can now jump and roll around during combat. The team AI works fairly well on its own but you can always order your squad around using the D-pad. Combat is usually straightforward – enter an area then defend against several waves of attackers before moving on to the next. The enemy AI is more defensive this time around and will sit back, waiting for you to make the aggressive move. They'll choose to setup turrets in quite clever locations rather than storm your location.
This is probably a good place to talk about the Kinect. What they call Kinect support is merely voice command support only you can’t use your conventional headset. Kinect has built-in voice recognition that allows the game to process voice commands with little effort or coding by the developers. The commands work fairly well although the game’s own volume will constantly feed back into the Kinect mic triggering a red microphone icon on your screen. And, if you are in the heat of battle yelling orders to your squad or trying to summon a specific biotic, the Kinect can get confused in noisy situations. It’s often more reliable to just use the controller, although I did enjoy having instant access to my entire arsenal through voice command rather than just the few items and powers I could quick-slot.
As you earn XP and level up you can assign points to various attributes and even go with a specific class. I went with Infiltrator on my initial pass since I knew Soldier was being covered by our “action review”. There is a level cap of 60 which I came pretty close to reaching after importing my ME2 character. There is a New Game+ mode so a second pass through the game should hit that cap. There is also a complex upgrade system for the various weapons that lets you purchase and install various mods to boost performance in several categories.
I found it a bit odd that BioWare would even try to add a multiplayer component to what is most decisively a single-player experience. Designed as a separate component, this six-stage horde mode puts you and up to three other players in various levels pulled right from the main game. You’ll fight countless waves of enemies, level-up, and purchase upgrades so you can do it all over again, only better. I gave this mode a fair shake so I could cover it in my review but I doubt I’ll ever go back. I’m here for the role-playing; not the combat.
I was surprised and disappointed to see Mass Effect 3 take a step back in graphics for its final installment. While exterior graphics and environments are impressive, characters and faces just aren’t as nice as they were in the previous game. There were lip-synching issues and odd textures or even missing textures at times, and the framerate would frequently dip enough to notice. The Normandy looks as impressive as ever and I always enjoyed touring the ship and chatting up the crew between missions. The Citadel was equally as impressive, both in sheer size and level of detail.
The music is what you would expect from a major summer blockbuster, epic in scope and perfectly suited to the sci-fi genre. There were action themes, suspense, romance, and seriously dramatic moments that completely enhanced the experience. Along with the score comes an impressive array of sound effects, many familiar to those who’ve played the previous games. There are also a lot of new sounds. And as always, the voice work is perfect for nearly everyone in the cast. With so much dialogue, I was continually amazed at how consistent each and every line was delivered. It gets quite emotional at times. And I have to admit, being able to speak Shepard’s lines into the Kinect mic was pretty cool.
Mass Effect 3 is a 40-50 hour game. There is a lot of time wasting fluff like the whole War Assets angle, and a heap of mindless fetch quests that will having you trotting around the galaxy pinging planets and running away from the Reapers who eventually show up. Much has been said already about the controversial ending. Personally, I didn’t like it, but I respect BioWare’s decision to tell the story they wanted to tell, so I will live with their choice and the choices I made to get there.
Now that it’s all over I can look back and say that I probably enjoyed Mass Effect 2 the most. It had the best mix of gameplay and real role-playing that actually seemed to matter. With Mass Effect 3, it just felt like BioWare was wrapping up all the loose ends with loads of exposition and dialogue and not much real gameplay. The combat got repetitive and there was usually no convincing reason to be where I was in the first place. Ironically, one of the best missions for me was the Eden Prime DLC mission, and that is entirely optional. But it doesn’t really matter. If you’ve played the first two games you are going to play the third no matter what I or anyone else has to say, and you should, because Mass Effect 3 wraps up the franchise nicely and you need to play it. Everyone else can wait for the deluxe 3-game box set with all the DLC that is sure to come later this year.
Mass Effect 3: Action Mode Review - by Mark Smith
In order to bring you full coverage of Mass Effect 3 combined with the fact that I rarely have more than 15-20 hours to devote to any one game, I decided to play and review the Action mode BioWare chose to include in their third installment. As someone who has started but never finished either of the first two games I didn’t have a character to import – I just wanted to get right into the game and kill some aliens, and that’s what this mode is for. Character creation is reduced to picking your gender with no other tweaking available and gameplay is stripped of any real choice or role-playing fundamentals. Lock and load action gamers…this is Mass Effect meets Gears of War.
Action mode strips away your dialogue choices, playing out conversations using a pre-determined mix of Renegade and Paragon choices that are revealed only after the encounter has ended. You are also relieved of your duty of assigning points when you level-up. You are a Soldier by default and the game builds up abilities conducive to that class. Basically, you are left with only a few key conversation choices, a couple of RT button prompts for action sequences, and a whole lot of quality cover-based combat in the style of Gears of War, only this time you have two teammates you can order around and you all have some cool biotic powers that really enhance the strategy.
While I am not averse to choice, I often find myself stressing over RPG conversation trees then obsessing about the choices I didn’t make, and knowing the size of this game, I realize I could never go back and explore those untraveled avenues. And when given the choice of assigning character points, I always spend way too much time stressing the details. Action mode allowed me to experience the core of BioWare's space odyssey in just under 20 hours with no lingering regrets, and someday if and when I have the time, I can always go back and play again in RPG mode.
It was BioWare’s decision to make Mass Effect 3 more action-heavy and combat-focused than the first two games, and in doing so they will likely attract a bunch of action gamers who might not be comfortable with the more refined aspects of role-playing. For those gamers, Action mode is the perfect choice, but for fans of the series and true role-players who want to get the most from their Mass Effect trilogy, RPG mode is the only real way to play. And kudos to BioWare for having the confidence in their game to offer us very unique and focused ways to play.