In part one I played through the prologue up to getting my ship back.
In part two I'll be going through a typical mission and talking about how the game progresses. I'll put my conclusion here along with the comment box.
In part three I'll be going one step further into madness and analysing that ending to figure out why people were so bothered by it.
In part four I'll be talking about the new ending, and whether BioWare did the right thing by retconning their art. Yes I realise that no one's going to still be reading by this point, but I'm putting a second comment box there anyway.
There'll likely be massive spoilers for the first two games, and I'll be talking about how some major storylines wrap up near the end. See, this is what happens when I actually finish a game for once, I feel like talking about all of it and end up ruining the whole story for people. You should be safe to skip to the conclusion though.
THE NORMANDY SR-2.2: COSY METAL CORRIDORS, SPACE FASHION AND AN ESSAY ON ASSETS
The Normandy is pretty much as I left it at the end of the last game, except for the fact that the Alliance has taken it apart and only half put it back together. Cables are hanging from the ceiling, floor panels are misplaced and entire rooms have been replaced. I've also noticed that there’s a subtle increase in the number of openly gay crew members, with comm specialist Samantha Traynor and pilot Steve Cortez joining the crew. Which is approximately infinitely more than 'Star Trek' has featured in the last 50 years. They'll also double as extra romance options for those interested I'm guessing.
The current Normandy crew is actually the retrofit team originally tasked with yanking the cables out of my ceiling. They were hijacked along with the ship when Joker decided to take off with it to save me, but it's cool; they're all hyped to be onboard the most advanced stealth ship in the galaxy (and not back on Earth getting shot by Reapers).
Man, the more I look at that map, the less sense it makes. The ship's got even weirder dimensions than it had in the second game, and if that war room isn't poking out the side of the ship, then the vid comm room below it definitely is.
At least my the captain's cabin still makes makes sense, though the Alliance retrofit team have taken away all my starship models! On the plus side they've taken the fish too; man it was a pain to keep feeding them in the last game. The empty fish tank's still there though, as well as my armour locker next to it.
It seems to be the same deal as the armour editor in Mass Effect 2 otherwise. I can only customise the colour of my modular N7 armour, the other space suits are stuck as they are, but it’s a pretty great looking outfit so why would I want to wear anything else on a mission anyway? My only problem with it is I can't stick a cape on it and pretend I'm Batman.
There's also a shop terminal down here linked to stores I've visited back at the Citadel. The shops are packed with stuff this time, with all kinds of guns, armour and weapon mods for sale (along with an automated fish feeder). They've been re-RPGified, restoring some of the complexity of the first game without bringing back the crappy interface.
In fact BioWare have gone so retro this time that they've given me a score.
You can see how bringing
Here’s the part that’s bullshit though: my Effective Military Strength (EMS) is affected by the Galactic Readiness Rating (GRR), which can only be boosted by playing the multiplayer mode (LOL). When the game was released you could not get all single player endings through single player alone, but thankfully this was later fixed through DLC... for free! Having the Extended Cut DLC installed will lower the bar by about 25%.
This became a non-issue really when people learned what the endings actually were, but it’s still astoundingly terrible game design to make the conclusion of a single player RPG trilogy dependant on a multiplayer mode. Some folks don't want anything to do with multiplayer, many players interested in multiplayer prefer to put it off until after the campaign because it's kind of distraction, and others just plain can't play online because they either haven't got a decent enough connection for it or haven't paid for Xbox Live.
I understand that BioWare knew that no one expected much out of Mass Effect multiplayer and had to lure people into it somehow, but this wasn't the way to do it. In fact it's put me off ever wanting to try the multiplayer myself, out of stubbornness and principles and stuff.
STEP ONE IN MY ONGOING MISSION TO UNITE THE GALAXY: THE TURIAN PRIMARCH
What you're looking at here is the game’s galaxy map, looking almost identical to the one from Mass Effect 2, except it's less eager to label the systems with side quests. This is how I get around the Milky Way and select my next mission. In the earlier games this let me travel to any hub or mission currently available to me in the entire galaxy, but in Mass Effect 3... well I can still choose where to go, I've just got nowhere to choose from.
The human Alliance is gathering together an epic military force to take on the Reapers and the turians have the most powerful fleet in the galaxy, so I'll be heading over to their system in the Apien Crest cluster (on the bottom left) to find their primarch and ensure his world joins our side.
Anyway we're not actually going anywhere near their homeworld. Instead the Normandy uses its stealth systems to slip right through the fight and drop our shuttle off at their moon. There's a lot of moons in this game so far I've noticed.
The first game was about discovery, with its dig sites and science labs, the second was about dealing with the murky grey areas of galactic society, but Mass Effect 3 is straight up a war story and my shuttle is now a Huey. Though it quiet enough inside for my team to have a short chat before every mission, so there's another new feature if you're keeping a list.
Right, I’m supposed to be searching this turian camp for the commanding officer. No quest hub here, this is just a commander, a few NPCs and a whole lot of crates.
I don't have a Mass Effect 1 inventory in this, instead finding a weapon unlocks my ability to pull up to three copies of them out of my ass at once to assign to myself and my associates. So I get all of the choice and none of the inventory management, which makes a lot of sense considering that most guns seem to be in a similar tier, each having advantages and trade-offs.
There's actually weapon mods and gear lying all over this turian camp, so I need to stop and search it all before I go anywhere. I love free stuff as much as anyone, but this feels kind of ridiculous. Loot should be placed throughout the level, not dumped all in one place.
Here's the new and improved Mass Effect 3 weapon equip screen for you. Weapon stats are back after sitting the second game out, and no matter what class a player goes for they'll be able to carry a full set of five guns and start off proficient in all of them. The twist this time is that more guns means more weight, which slows down the power recharge speed. I'm playing an autoballistic shotgun wizard, so I'm actually way more effective without carrying extra guns.
I get to change to switch my guns around like this whenever I find something new (or come across the level's loadout machine), but until then I'm stuck with the decisions I've made. Which is good.
So I left camp and fought my way across several meters of battlefield to reach the tower. Now I have to make the decision of who I'll send to fix the thing: Liara T'soni, an asari archaeologist who may be one of the finest scientific minds in the galaxy, or James Vega, a human brick wall who likes to give things simple nicknames so he can remember them.
I think I'm going to tell Liara... to cover Vega as he makes the repair. She's a biotic powerhouse and Vega's low-tech boot-assisted repair techniques never get old. Seriously I really do like this guy, he’s a good character and Freddy Prinze Jr. actually does a great job with the voice. It’s a shame he’s always everyone else's last choice for a teammate just because he’s the new guy and is a boring human instead of an alien.
Right, while he’s ‘fixing’ that, I need to defend the tower from waves of incoming abominations. I'm usually not a fan of tower defence, but I've a feeling I'll be able to find the fun in this.
I love the improvements BioWare have made to movement this time around. I can sprint and turn at the same time now! I can get around cover properly! I can do dodge rolls all over the battlefield (but not on the Normandy, no matter how much I try). And if I was another class I could somehow stab people with my holographic computer display by turning it into a virtual knife. (I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for that hidden in the codex somewhere, there always is in the Mass Effect games.)
Okay now the husks have been punched and the tower defended I can tick that goal off the list, and get back to the camp (which is only a few meters behind me, the game isn’t exactly open world).
SOON, BACK AT THE CAMP.
Liara had the right idea, slipping off back to the ship to sort out a crisis and leaving us to sort out this crap without her. Fortunately we do have some backup, in the form of rogue turian ex-cop Garrus Vakarian, my bro from the last two games!
With the husks shredded the three of us set off on a hike to the next area to reach the primarch's camp, giving the characters a chance to have a nice non-interactive chat about the Reaper invasion, dropping some exposition about krogen genophage while they're at it. I’m not sure how much sense this all would make to someone new to the series, but the game's definitely way better at distributing its lore than the first game was.
SOON, AT THE PRIMARCH'S CAMP.
Enemies can have multiple layers of defence and I need to choose the right weapons or powers to strip each of them away efficiently. This brute is protected with armour for instance, so I can’t use biotic powers like Pull on him and I should switch to a slow-firing powerful weapon. Or... I could just stick with this heavy weapon I found lying in the level.
Hey what the fuck… Shepard threw the gun away after firing? That didn’t happen in the last game! I guess they’ve taken out heavy weapon ammo and made the big guns disposable. Well at least now I'm motivated to actually use the big guns I find instead of hoarding the ammo.
There was never much point in picking the middle ground options in the first two games as the morality system rewarded people for playing consistently heroic or anti-heroic the whole way through. What's weird though, is that BioWare HAVE FIXED THE MORALITY SYSTEM for Mass Effect 3! Now it doesn't matter what I pick I'll get reputation points either way and it's my reputation that opens up the new dialogue choices! So I'm finally free to make whatever choice I feel like... out of the two very similar options I have left.
Cut to Shepard back on the ship having a debriefing chat with holographic Admiral Hackett, then when I'm finished with that I'm free to wander the Normandy again. Typical mission complete.
THINGS TO DO IN SPACE: LOW PRIORITY SIDE QUESTS, PLANET SCANNING AND FLEEING FROM THE OLD ONES
A few players considered this to be a BAD IDEA, especially as Joker falls in love with her (perhaps even before she got the body) and the two of them actually try to have a serious romance. Personally though I think that it was a smart choice by the writers, because:
- It gives the player a robot squad mate who can give a different, more computery perspective on events.
- EDI’s plotline is all about people learning to co-exist with and trust an AI, which turns out to be one of the most important themes of the trilogy.
- EDI and Joker crack me up. He’s a way more interesting and likeable character with her around, and giving her legs means she can actually get around (though there's really no good reason those legs have to be bare).
- Plus humans dating robots is proper SF and worth exploring. It's not exactly out of place in a series where Shepard gets to sleep with half the crew (and half of them are aliens). There's an entire race of sexy blue women in the game; robot EDI is not jumping any sharks that haven't already been jumped.
In fact, it doesn’t mention this but Grissom Academy: Investigation is actually a ‘timed’ mission, like the suicide mission at the end of ME2. I can do a certain (unrevealed) number of missions first, but any more than that and all the kids there die. There’s only two missions like this in the game, but it’s still a pain in the ass. Would it have hurt them to put ‘URGENT, YOU CAN FAIL THIS IF YOU LEAVE IT TOO LONG’ somewhere in the description? Give me an idea of the consequences so I can make informed decisions!
Alright let's look at a side mission.
It’s a bit strange going from 11 squad mates in Mass Effect 2 to only 6 in this (minus the paid DLC sidekicks), but to be honest I felt that last game was a bit crowded. I love having options, but that was a bit too much choice for me. So 6 isn’t a bad number, but they forgot to give me biotics! I chose to stick with Ashley back in ME1 so Kaiden's unavailable and Javik is DLC so he's off the board too, so that leaves me with just ONE biotic character for my squad! A big change from my ME2 crew, who were basically an army of wizards.
On the plus side, biotic powers can now be triggered with tech powers and special ammo types as well as other biotic powers, so I could still pull off explosive combos even if I wasn’t playing as a biotic Vanguard class.
SOON, DURING THE GRISSOM ACADEMY SIDE MISSION.
Turns out that this is basically another loyalty mission starring a surviving squadmate from one of the earlier games. They're usually too busy to with their own thing to join my crew this time but they could definitely use my help. Unless they're already dead, in which case their stunt double stands in for them. The actual mission seems basically the same but it's cool to see how the cutscenes and consequences play out differently.
The thing is, whether everyone makes it out alive in a former squadmate's mission often depends on whether I'd earned their loyalty in the last game. Which means that people starting a new game in ME3 instead of importing a save are likely going to be seeing a lot of death as the story goes on.
A BIT LATER.
I am actually getting my ass handed to me here, on normal difficulty. It's due to carelessness though mostly, as I keep running out of cover to heavy punch people. Plus it doesn’t help when they jet pack in behind me when I’m distracted taking screenshots. I should actually glance over at that radar occasionally. It only appears when I have the HUD up and the game's paused, but that means I've got even less of excuse not to check it when it's there.
So that's what side missions are like, what's next on the list? Oh right, scanning the galaxy. Let's go to the Shrike Abyssal and look for the Prothean obelisk or whatever.
AFTERWARDS, BACK ON THE GALAXY MAP.
Like in Mass Effect 2 I get a little Normandy spaceship to steer around the galaxy map, but now it comes with a new feature: the scanning pulse! Instead of scanning planets manually with a minigame I fly around each star system clicking the pulse button as I go. If anything interesting is hit by the ripple it gets flagged with a red circle and then I can go check it out
The catch is that I only get to click the button three or four times in a system before the Reapers realise that a stealth frigate is beeping in their neighbourhood. Then I hear their trademark fog horn blaring out and I have to evade four of the Lovecraftian space honkers at once. I can run but I'm never gonna be able to hide... until I can make it outside the green circle that is, then I can.
Travelling between systems outside the green line without using a mass relay costs fuel though, which I can only get at the fuel stations in major systems. Burning up fuel like this is necessary to search an entire cluster but I can carry enough to go exploring and I'm sure that running out just boots me back next to the relay anyway so it's not an issue.
Well that was some miserable space exploration. I know I'm in the minority on this, but I miss driving the Mako around. The concept of it was fine it just wasn't executed as well as it could've been. This on the other hand is just tedious, but you need to do it to build up those War Assets!
I half suspect it was done like this deliberately to lure people over to the online mode. You can do the soul crushingly boring planet scanning grind to boost your EMS, or you can play the fun exciting co-op multiplayer!!!!
Actually this is single player N7 mission, but they're basically just the multiplayer maps inserted into the main game as filler. I’m doing the same thing here as in a story mission, I get the same debrief afterwards from Admiral Hackett about how I made a difference, but they're no substitute for a proper level. Proper levels aren't combat arenas with waves of enemies for one thing.
Right, now I've got some stuff done I should go back and check the Citadel to see what's new.
It took me a while to think about this because I agree that the resources should be spent where they can save the most lives, but that’s not exactly what they’re saying it seems. In the end I supported the idealistic doctor who said they should save everyone, and he immediately came up with an idea to get more supplies! So now I have to live with the consequences of my choice, which is… that everyone’s happier. Sometimes it feels like the universe adapts to fit Shepard's world view.
I also got 210 experience, 5 reputation points and 5000 credits for not turning off a terrorist's life support while I was here. The money just materialised in my wallet from no one, as the guy would’ve actually been happier if I killed him.
So really as long as the ending doesn't utterly negate everything you've done along the way in order to end the Reaper threat, it can't be all THAT bad!
Speaking of affecting lives and stopping Reapers, the meat of the game involves resolving two major issues that have running through the whole trilogy: the genophage and the geth, and one works out better than the other.
** SPOILER WARNING **I'll be talking about mid-late game content now, so you might want to skip it and jump straight to the conclusion.
SEEKING OLD FRIENDS AT THE END OF OUR WORLDS
The game by default starts with Wrex dead, which kind of puts a wrench in things, but it's still possible to salvage the situation and save the day. But the moral dilemma here is complex, and depending on what you've learned and decisions you've made along the way, you might not want to save the day. The good and bad outcomes are a matter of perspective and old friends might need to be betrayed to ensure the safety of the galaxy. Either way you get the War Assets you need by the end of it, but they honestly feel secondary to me.
And then over on the other side of the galaxy there's the geth plotline...
There's plenty of regular third person shooting on these missions, it's not all computer hi-jinx, but when the shooting's over I have to face this guy:
Resident Evil 5 and it sucks here too. Mostly because I don't know what to do!
I have to roll away from the Reaper laser and then… hold down the button to charge the targeting gun? Or does it charge by itself? Crap the Reaper laser got me, GAME OVER.
Fuck it, I’m just checking a walkthrough. The fight's actually really simple and quick when you know what you’re doing, but knowing what you’re doing takes experimentation and I’ve got better things to do than figuring out the mechanics of a boss fight one death at a time, like I'm playing bloody Space Ace again. I’d rather scan solar systems or walk through a dream forest in slow motion. I sound like I’m whining here (and I really am), but all the frustration from having to do this the first time I played the game is rushing back to me, without any of the knowledge.
Oh right, I have to stop moving to focus the targeting beam! All that rolling I was doing was wrecking my aim. When the Reaper fires his laser he sweeps it across in the direction I was walking, so if I switch direction I can simply step out of the way and have the time I need to get my cross-hair locked onto his heart. Even knowing the trick, this is probably still the only part of all three games I never want to play again, especially as I have to repeat it several times without saving in between.
You know, while developers are adding story modes and action modes to their games, they should throw in a 'no bullshit boss fights' option there as well. I don't really believe that adding a 'skip combat' button is necessarily a great idea for games (especially if it only comes up after you've failed a stage a few times), but for this guy I would happily make an exception.
But the geth plotline's not over yet. There's still one more more twist!
|Genuine 3 year old screenshot featuring my original Shepard.|
You see I hadn’t quite earned enough hidden points from making choices in the story, so the happy outcome I'd been fighting for through three games had been locked off without me knowing. And the real punch in the gut was that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, as the wrong decisions had been made way back in Mass Effect 2, so long ago that I couldn’t even remember what they were.
So to recap:
- A tedious Tron level sapped my enthusiasm and left me bored, but I persevered!
- The irritating boss fight afterwards lowered my mood to 'miserable', but I beat the bastard!
- My reward was seeing a major plotline spanning three games end with the crew member I was trying to help taking a suicidal dive off a cliff out of despair.
Now you can argue the pros and cons of this set up logically, but the outcome for me was that I was left frustrated, unhappy, and was taken out of the story, so I’m calling it broken. If the game was a shorter, self-contained experience like Alpha Protocol I'd be like 'oh well, that didn't work out like I hoped, I'll try something different next time I replay it', but this felt like an absolute failure, not an interesting outcome of events.
I was left thinking that I'd ruined my chances to unlock the best ending (I hadn't) and that gave me the feeling that anything that happened after this point didn't really count somehow. I had no enthusiasm to complete a story that I already knew ended with the quarians dead.
So basically genophage story: great, geth story: what the fuck?
I'm not even joking when I say that the best moment of the Mass Effect 3 for me is just two friends shooting at bottles (even if it is the easiest moral dilemma in the trilogy). It's only now that I realise that the first two games were really all about running around and setting up running jokes to trigger in this one. Somehow against all odds the miserable war game is probably the funniest of them what it wants to be.
So let's stop here for now.
Is Mass Effect 3 any good then? Short answer: HOLY SHIT OMG YES... for the most part. This is why I'll never write a 'top ten games on Super Adventures' article, because I'm scared it'd double as a 'AAA games in reverse chronological order' list, with this right up near the top next to Skyrim, Arkham City and Tomb Raider.
At its core it basically has the same gameplay as the last one, except... better. The designers recognised that they went too far with streamlining last time and have brought back some of that complexity. So some of the RPG elements make a welcome return, but there's also small additions like riot shields, turrets and smoke etc. to make the battlefield a more interesting challenge. Plus Shepard's new movement options lets her get around a lot more fluidly: now she can slide across barriers, dive between cover, roll away from grenades, and turn while she's running. And that heavy melee move makes fighting husks considerably less miserable.
Speaking of miserable though, I half-remember watching a promotional ‘documentary’ on Mass Effect 2 where the developers were describing it as the 'Empire Strikes Back' of the series, the dark game, the one where things don’t go people’s way. Which makes me wonder if they even had Mass Effect 3 planned out by then, because damn this game has a miserable story by comparison. It’s about people dealing with war and the threat of annihilation, and there's a real sense of dread hanging over everything. The Mass Effect universe is getting taken apart around you and it’s tragic to watch.
Plus the game is all about fighting mindless abominations and brainwashed Space Nazis, so it's missing a lot of the joy that came from screwing with the gangsters and mercs of the last game. In ME2 hitting a Renegade interrupt would make Shepard do something 'badass' like kick a henchmen out of a window then make a dumb action hero quip, in this on the other hand she'd be more likely to punch an admiral in the gut for putting her crew at risk. Still plenty satisfying, but with a different tone.
Not that they've toned down the comedy, in fact this might actually be the funniest of the trilogy. But the comedy comes from the interactions between your crew, who finally get off their asses and go talk to other people on the ship for once. They go on shore leave too, they're everywhere! There's some actual camaraderie between them in this game and they're more likeable than ever.
In fact the only thing holding this back from being my favourite of the Mass Effect games is the flaws of the story, but man some of them really hold it back. A lot of games can do just fine with a weak story, but the Mass Effect games are as much about the plot and characters as they are about the shooting, and this is carrying the weight of three whole RPGs on its back so any missteps really cause it to stumble. I've never played a game that's dragged my feelings in two opposite directions as badly as this before.
Overall though, with three years distance from my first playthrough and the free DLC installed, I'd have to describe what I just played as being 'pretty damn good'.
But I can't really review the game without talking about the way it ends can I? If you're up for it and don't mind the spoilers I've written another two pages analysing the endings, both original and extended. It'll be like browsing basically every video game site in early 2012 all over again!
COMMANDER SHEPARD'S JOURNEY CONCLUDES IN PART 3.
Okay I know you had to wade through a lot of words to make it down here, but in my defence BioWare made me write them all by putting so much in the game to write about. So really when you think about it, I'm the victim here!
Though feel free to add your own words to the pile. Feedback and opinions are welcome.