Mass Effect 3

Save the galaxy from being annihilated by a merciless race of machines

Release: March 6, 2012 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
 
By Ian Coppock, Originally Published on May 13, 2013
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Epicness is a matter of spectacle vs. substance. In order for something epic to truly be epic, it has to speak to us on a fundamental level, and use that link to communicate how high the stakes are. This is the key difference between something being epic and merely looking epic. This is why movies like the Fast & Furious series and the Star Wars prequels come off as awkwardly flashy rather than something truly moving. Thankfully, there are certain games that can overcome this speed bump and comprise spectacle as well as substance. Mass Effect 3 is one of these chosen few. For this and other reasons, it is also my favorite installment of the Mass Effect trilogy.
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The Story
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I must once again fawn over the savegame transfer feature that was present in Mass Effect 2. As with the preceding installment, players can transport their Commander Shepards straight into Mass Effect 3. With two games’ worth of experience and choices under his or her belt, your Shepard will once again be faced with characters, dilemmas and consequences that branched off from the first two games. In addition, characters that appeared in the first game but not the second may return in Mass Effect 3.
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As with Mass Effect 2, you can teleport your custom Shepard character right into a new game.
The story picks up six months after the events of Mass Effect 2, in which Commander Shepard joined the sketchy human survivalist organization known as Cerberus and went toe-to-toe with an army of laser gun-wielding bugs. He or she is arrested for [SPOILER REDACTED] and sent to Earth to stand trial before the Human Systems Alliance, the human government he or she served in the first game.
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As Shepard is escorted to the tribunal, Alliance commanders face sudden communication blackouts from across the globe, and the Reapers, a terrifying race of giant machines, arrives. Having masterminded everything from Saren’s downfall in Mass Effect to the scheme to kidnap humans inMass Effect 2, the nemesis Shepard has been fighting so hard to repel has come.

Court adjourned.
Each Reaper is a 2-kilometer-long colossus. As Shepard learned in the first game, these monstrosities want to harvest all life in the galaxy for their own, enigmatic reasons. Starting with Earth.After leaving their mentor David Anderson behind to resist the invaders, Shepard must escape Earth to rally the other civilizations of the galaxy for a desperate fight for survival. The alternative is being harvested by giant robotic space squids.
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As if a galaxy-wide invasion of sinister, near-invincible machine monsters wasn’t enough of a suck salad, Shepard is also betrayed by Cerberus, the organization he worked for in Mass Effect 2. Our old pal the Illusive Man returns with a very different idea about the Reapers. He’s come to believe that the Reapers should be controlled, rather than destroyed, and used to put humanity on the very top of the galactic food chain. He sees Shepard’s mission to destroy the Reapers as a threat to human survival, and orders his zealous forces to stop Shepard at any cost.

Though initially supportive of Shepard in Mass Effect 2, the Illusive Man returns as one of Mass Effect 3‘s primary antagonists.
 After fleeing Earth, Shepard arrives on Mars, where the team discovers Cerberus soldiers executing Alliance personnel. Shepard finds Liara T’Soni, the Asari scientist from Mass Effect, who’s found blueprints for an ancient superweapon that she thinks can destroy the Reapers. After Cerberus steals a crucial piece of the data, Shepard must embark upon a two-pronged quest to build the device and gather the galaxy around his war banner.
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Liara returns as a squadmate in Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect 3 is nothing if not Commander Shepard rewriting history with the barrel of his or her gun. As Shepard travels around the galaxy to convince alien species to help retake Earth, the character must right ancient wrongs between the various civilizations and play diplomat in order to get them aboard.
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Without some serious diplomatic shrewdness, players may find themselves forced to choose between one civilization’s aid or another. I found that solving the beefs between these aliens was as much of a challenge as killing Reaper forces on the field.

Some of the aliens Shepard encounters share centuries-old rivalries that he or she must resolve if the galaxy is to survive.
In Mass Effect 3, players are given a metric that measures how ready they are to retake Earth at the end of the game. Points are added to that score via War Assets, which represent various fleets, soldiers and supplies that Shepard has accrued to that end. The Crucible, the aforementioned superweapon, is also accounted for here.
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Shepard’s gathered fleets and resources are presented as War Assets. You collect them by exploring star systems and completing story missions. The more assets you have, the better a chance you’ll stand against the Reapers in the final confrontation.
I think my favorite part of Mass Effect 3 is the characters. Bioware’s character creation and development really shines in this installment of the series, more than any other. A lot of established characters return to the game, including Jeff “Joker” Moreau, your sarcastic pilot, the artificially intelligent EDI, Garrus Vakarian, and other series regulars.
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The crew of the revamped Normandy, now flying Alliance colors, is also joined by several completely new characters, including new squadmate James Vega, shuttle pilot Steve Cortez, and germophobic but totally awesome communication specialist Samantha Traynor. For $10, I downloaded a bonus character named Javik, a gruff Prothean soldier awakened after 50,000 years of stasis-sleep.

James Vega was one of my favorite new characters. I thought he was particularly well-written
 Remember up top when I mentioned that epicness comes from a sense of connection? Mass Effect 3 provides that. The game’s most moving and tragic moments connected me to this fictional war. Shepard watches in agony as an 8-year-old boy is shot out of the sky by a massive Reaper, and must also contend with Cerberus’ abductions and experiments. The connection was also forged through displaying the horrors of war upon civilians. Shepard explores refugee camps rife with traumatized, crying refugees and entire planets set ablaze by the Reapers’ relentless campaign. Mothers search for sons who haven’t reported in from their theaters, and nurses suffer emotional breakdowns from the gruesome injuries their charges sustain.
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Bioware is to be commended for displaying war’s effects on the nameless masses that Shepard encounters. It made the Reaper war feel much closer a threat, which made the game much more compelling. Shepard’s squadmates face similar inner turmoil over the war, and it’s up to the player to keep their morale high enough so that the galaxy might see a day free of the Reaper threat.

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The encounters with Cerberus reminded me that some of the worst atrocities imaginable are committed with the best intentions.
I have one large complaint about Mass Effect 3; I wasn’t sure whether the main enemy was the Reapers or Cerberus. Sure, the Reapers’ destruction abounds, but the sheer number of Cerberus encounters made me feel like the game was yelling “oh look, that organization you worked for betrayed you! The Illusive Man is a tragic villain, how sad!”Yeah, the betrayal of Cerberus sucks, but I’ve encountered these dudes six missions in a row and have had only two encounters against Reaper forces. Shouldn’t there be more Reapers, and less Cerberus?
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Controversy over Mass Effect 3’s ending being unsatisfying or flat-out bad
 
As I’m sure the regular gamers in my audience are aware, Bioware faced a bit of a crapstorm when a lot of players complained that Mass Effect 3‘s ending was underwhelming, or flat-out bad. One dude even brought it up as a failure of quality assurance to the Federal Trade Commission.
I went into the game well aware of the giant stink over the ending. Yeah, the ending isn’t super perfect, but neither is any other ending. There’s a lot of debate over how much of this might have been due to EA meddling, but I don’t blame Bioware for the controversy over Mass Effect 3‘s ending. I think we need to remember that the games we play are not the ones we designed ourselves. We shouldn’t throw hissy fits if a story doesn’t end the way we expected, because we didn’t write it. It’s a different story if the game’s ending had suffered technical difficulties, and we’re perfectly welcome to disagree with a design decision, but we shouldnt declare Bioware the end of the universe and devote who knows how much time complaining about a relatively minor flaw.

So, the ending? Whatever. It’s like the last two minutes of the game anyway. The rest might as well sneeze friendship and flower petals for how well it was designed. And in all honesty, the ending is not super-bad. I certainly thought it was good enough for me.
The Artwork
 
Mass Effect 3‘s artwork features a graphical upgrade and a few scenery changes. Whereas the first game focused on clean-cut, stately visuals and the second a darker, more underground feel, Mass Effect 3 portrays more destruction, craters, and shuttle crashes than I cared to count. The game also includes a handful of pristine environments that I really liked, like Sur’kesh, the Salarian homeworld.
Sur’kesh is so pretty and peaceful. Ignore that fire.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about Mass Effect 3‘s artwork that I didn’t say in my review of Mass Effect 2. The gameplay is smart and intuitive, the levels are well-designed and the environments have a sense of scale that I found very enticing. For the most part, what was pioneered or refined in is further revamped in 3. 
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The game’s war zones are massive. The sheer amount of destruction reinforces Shepard’s urgency to end the Reaper threat.
The game features a new soundtrack by artists previously unaffiliated with the series, who captured the nerdy awesomeness of the series with a lively blend of conventional orchestra and the layers of synths Mass Effect fans are known for loving. Some of the tracks from the first game appear in the third, reinforcing the sense of nostalgia.
Should I get it?

Mass Effect 3 is a great game. It’s more about substance than spectacle, and is therefore a true epic. It’s difficult to pull off a good conclusion to a long-running series, and I think Bioware did a good enough job with this game. Again, the ending wasn’t perfect, and regardless of whether EA had something to do with that, the rest of the game was spectacular enough that I’m willing to overlook it.Thanks for bearing with me on this over-feature-length review. Anyone who’s good with a digital gun and looking for a masterfully-crafted narrative with continually developing characters and convincing performances from the voice cast should pick this up. Of course, if you haven’t yet concluded the story of your own Commander Shepard, this game will give you just that opportunity. For reviews of the first two Mass Effect games, check the Archives panel on the right.
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And now, mini-reviews of the three $10 downloadable content packs for Mass Effect 3‘s single-player campaign. I’m not giving From Ashes the dignity of a review because I think it was an obvious last-minute cash-grab by EA.
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Mass Effect 3: Leviathan
This DLC explores the ancient and unknown origins of the Reapers. Following a shocking psychotic episode, Shepard learns of a creature that is capable of killing reapers, and must follow a bloody trail to find it. This pack was my personal favorite for how detailed it got about the Reapers, and had a bit of a survival horror element. It adds a lot to the main game, making for a definite recommendation.
Mass Effect 3: Omega
Cerberus has captured Omega, haven of galactic pirate queen Aria T’loak, and she intends to take it back with Shepard’s help. Having met Aria in Mass Effect 2, Shepard is a likely choice for an anti-Cerberus operation. This DLC returns to the grit and gore of Omega, and favors a gameplay mix that’s light on story and heavy on grind. We also finally meet a female Turian. This pack is interesting, but not that essential to the main story. I recommend getting it, though, if you want to see Omega again or are aching for some extra War Assets.
Mass Effect 3: Citadel
The game’s farewell DLC sees Shepard become the victim of assassination attempts and scandals across the Citadel space station. Shepard teams up with squadmates new and old to find whoever’s messing with him and bring them to justice. The game has some cringing attempts at humor and some flat-out ridiculous fights, but perhaps that was the point of a farewell DLC; to shake out some ridiculousness the staff held back during the main game. I personally enjoyed the pack despite its narrative pitfalls, because it provided a chance for me to see all of my crewmates, new and old, interact with one another. You might also enjoy that experience. At least, if you were nice to them.
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