Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC/PS3/Xbox 360
Estimated Date of Game Release: 6th of March 2012
It seems to be a time period for closures. There have been a few major franchises who recently came to an end and so now Mass Effect 3 is finally upon us, well almost, and it brings to a close Commander Shepard’s story of saving the galaxy from the Reapers.
Shepard certainly has his hands full this time around. It’s not just the Reapers that have it in for him but it appears Cerberus was not as trust worthy as the second game made them out to be (surprised anyone?).
In Mass Effect 3 we are back on a trusted hunt across multiple star systems chasing down leads and trying to recruit entire civilizations to the fight against the Reapers. We finally get to see the home worlds of some of the better known races, such as the Asari, Turians and the Quarians along the way.
In a change in dynamic from the second game, Shepard this time has a smaller crew to choose from. While it was nice to have quite a few different characters in Mass Effect 2, a lot of them felt empty and like filler material, so going back to a slightly smaller roster is a solid choice. Once again Shepard is able to form relationships with the characters he encounters. In a t-turn, probably due to the outcry of numerous fans, and after a disappointing try to appeal to some religious nut cases in America for the second installment of the series, Mass Effect 3 does allow same sex relations again (queue FOX news outrage).
For the first time in the series the player also has the choice to start a new campaign in a pre-set mode. Action Mode focuses on combat and every conversation has an automatic reply. Story mode allows for manual conversation replies but severely dumbs down combat, while RPG mode has manual conversation replies and normal combat difficulty. It is the last mode that is most like what we have seen in the previous 2 games. Frankly I have no idea why they would ever include the first 2 options, since it would take someone completely uninterested in either story or combat to choose one of the new modes. And to be honest – anyone not interested in either combat or story is very unlikely to pick up a Mass Effect game in the first place.
There have been a few other changes for the last outing of Shepard. It seems his combat awareness and prowess improved over the years. Combat certainly is different, though it might not be noticeable as easily as BioWare wants to impress on us judging by the amount of marketing that has gone into that area alone.
Cover movement has improved and is a lot less challenging and far more intuitive. Gone are the times where you needed to slide into a cover before getting over it (something that has been spotted in other games using the Unreal Engine). The cover, sprint and movement system is a lot more akin to what we can find in Deus Ex, though by no means as refined. BioWare clearly has had a look at how it’s done properly in a 3rd person game, they just did not get there completely.
In more Deus-Ex-Deja-Vu, ME3 introduces melee take downs for each class. Most prominently of these, a tech-blade in the wrist armor for a solider class Shepard. Even the take down looks copied sadly. And while the melee take down in Deus Ex feels solid and gratifying, ME3’s frantic style of combat almost always makes it feel rushed and choppy, despite animations and point of contact lining up almost perfectly. And of course we are all to ignore the fact that a holographic, digital tool on your arm can extend a deadly 10 inch holographic blade.
There certainly was a lot of hype around combat in ME3 prior to launch. Run and gun play finally got a round of polish and attention and it works! Well sort of. It only really works if are up against freshly spawned in AI, that have to go through their starting animations before they engage you. Try running and gunning AI that has been sitting behind a crate for a while or moving quickly in an area with several enemies and you’ll quickly find out that at its heart Mass Effect will always be a cover shooter. A blind fire option was included now as well, probably more to tick another box then to really add any proper meaning to combat.
What can be said about the new combat is that it is epic in scale. Enemies are often massive and you can clearly see the shift from small scale combat scenarios to large scale set pieces. Visually this is great, but from a gameplay point of view? Well if you think designating a target or spending time on rail shooters is fun, then you’ll love the changes.
The AI has not moved on much with the years. If you expect them to do much more than stand there or cover behind cover, occasionally peaking up to reveal their head for a game of whack-a-mole, you will be sadly disappointed. There is some flanking, but this, together with the AI’s use of any special attacks, is highly scripted and will play the same every time you try a scenario. This helps when dying and learning how to beat an encounter, but does little to impress.
Unfortunately this shift to grand set pieces also means a lot more of a linear approach to encounters and a considerable increase in “hands-off” time, where results of your actions are shown in mini cut scenes. In some of the larger battles this constant hands-on/hands-off approach can be quite frustrating and what should be a fluid encounter turns into a stop and go show of visual effects.
Most RPG elements the original Mass Effect had have been shed by the time ME2 came around and it’s unfortunately not any different with ME3. Inventory, weapon types and upgrades lack the complexity and variety one would expect in a true RPG. This is certainly no Skyrim, and the best weapon/mod/ammo combo is quickly realized and exploited. From then it’s just a matter of switching out a few mods and ammo whenever a better one becomes available, but even if that’s not done at regular intervals it’s not a big problem and combat does not become impossible.
Even character customization was stripped down and streamlined. Instead of having multiple options to choose from at the start, now you only have 1 which branches out to a grand total of 2 paths later on. So be careful when picking a class, because this time around there is not much versatility within a class, even less so than in the second game.
For the first time in the series, Mass Effect not only boasts a single player campaign, but also a multiplayer mode. I hope this is not a sign of where the franchise is heading, because to be honest, the multiplayer is sub-par compared to other options on the market. Mass Effect has never been a truly outstanding 3rd person shooter. And ME3, despite some changes, is no exception. So creating a Co-Op game mode that purely focuses on the combat aspect is a bold and slightly ridiculous decision.
It has a big fancy dressing, as a Co-Op “Galaxy at War” mode, but essentially what it boils down to is that it’s a good old fashion Horde Mode. This, as we all know, is best played in Gears of War. Similar to Battlefield 3 recently, Co-Op is linked to the main game mode. In BF3 players have to complete Co-Op missions to get certain weapons to be used in multiplayer. In ME3 finishing Co-Op missions will give you a better chance to attain a perfect ending in the single player campaign.
It feels like it is EA doctrine to ensure a largely un-attractive and underdeveloped game mode is somehow propped up by linking it to something else and making it is less-than-optional. Not sure how I feel about that. No wait, actually I am, I hate it. It feels like I am forced to play something I don’t want to play, even though I know I am not forced outright. The other problem obviously is that at some point, maybe in the later lifespan of the game, there might not be enough players willing to go through the laborious task of taking on boring wave after wave of enemies. So those poor gamers, who are not early adopters, might not get the additional help for single player.
So this just leaves the packaging left to describe. And again, ME3 does not really push the boundaries. Using a slightly updated version of Unreal the game looks and feels like any previous installment. It is slightly prettier and certainly grander in some areas, but largely the same. Music, VO and ambient audio in the Mass Effect series have always been outstanding and M3 is no different. From an Audio-Visual point of view the game is immersive, beautiful and believable. Though I still often wonder why buildings, installations and environments in the future are all so empty.
Overall ME3 is a decent game. It certainly delivers an audio-visual spectacle that is bigger and louder than either of the previous 2 games in the series. Sadly this often comes at the cost of direct player involvement and the ME3 often shuts the player out from any input when it goes through the set pieces. Anyone who has played the previous games and has enjoyed the ride so far will have a good time in ME3. It can just be nice to simply find out what happens next and to achieve a sense of closure. People who have never played a ME game before might enjoy the presentation but I can’t help but wonder if they won’t feel left asking themselves what all the fuss was about.
And this is why I do not understand some of the changes BioWare have forced into this product. Making it more appealing to the mass market by providing 3 campaign game modes, adding a low value Co-Op Horde mode and further tuning down RPG elements do nothing to make the game better for long term fans of the franchise. Anyone new to the franchise will wonder what these changes are all about, and it might actually turn them off from buying the previous games to delve deeper into a fantastic game world and explore what Shepard has been up to previously.
BioWare once again has put together a good product with a fitting end to the story. The atmosphere is great and the game looks and sounds fantastic. But once again BioWare seem to struggle determining their core audience. It might have been a better decision to drop the Co-Op completely, listen to the fans of the series and increase, rather than diminish some of the RPG elements of the game and just focus on delivering the best possible game to end Shepard’s antics in the galaxy.
One would have thought lessons could have been learned by Dragon Age 2. One would have thought that lessons could have been learned from Skyrim’s success. It almost feels like BioWare is scared of creating a proper space RPG. And that’s despite really having laid the ground work for it in the first game.
As it is, the game is a must buy for anyone who really wants to know how the story ends. For everyone else: there are better RPGs out there, and there are better 3rd person combat games out there. Despite its grand moments, it simply does not deliver anything outstanding. It’s really just more of the same, only with a bigger bang.