REVIEW: Mass Effect 3

Posted: March 7, 2012 by: admin

Commander Shepard goes out with a bang in this massive review of the conclusion to BioWare’s galaxy-spanning sci-fi RPG trilogy.

Mass Effect 3 is the worst possible entry point for the series. EA and BioWare want us to tell you otherwise, but they’re nuts. This is a conclusion to a trilogy, through and through. Those coming into the series now will have little grasp of the significance of cataclysmic events that take place, nor will they really care. Though this may be the beginning of the galactic war against the Reapers, the relationships between the state of galactic politics, inter-species conflicts and the roles of significant characters reach critical mass. You need to be invested in that fiction to get the most out of Mass Effect 3, because this game is all about the payoff.

The worst sin BioWare has committed with Mass Effect 3 is a tactless avoidance of consequences to major decisions made in the first two games.

But fans who have held onto their save files since Mass Effect 1 are still going to find that payoff lacking. The worst sin BioWare has committed with Mass Effect 3 is a tactless avoidance of consequences to major decisions made in the first two games. Saving or destroying the Collector Base at the end of Mass Effect 2 has zero effect beyond a line of dialogue that tells you whether you saved or destroyed it. Killed the Rachni queen in the first game, and thus brought the entire race to extinction? It doesn’t matter – the Rachni are back in Mass Effect 3 either way, with Shepard’s apparent act of genocide lazily explained away in a few lines of insipid dialogue. Yes, one of your major decisions can get re-written so that the outcome is that of the choice you did not pick.

It seems like somewhere along the line, BioWare realised its trilogy-spanning plot was trying to do too much – especially after the developer shot itself in the foot by making every major character in the second game expendable. Still, you will reunite with most of Mass Effect 2’s colourful cast (provided they made it out of the suicide mission alive) but they are bit players. Mass Effect 3’s squad roster is disappointingly sparse by comparison. Though newcomers like James Vega are, despite looking completely ridiculous, actually quite likeable, Shepard’s line-up is in desperate need of some variety.

The Prothean squad member would have really helped here, had it not been confined to the collector’s edition or the bloody Origin storefront for another ten bucks. This, combined with the re-written decisions and a botox-fuelled makeover for Ashley, plus a shamelessly curvaceous robot body for EDI, give the distinct impression that neither BioWare nor EA are treating their fans with respect. Don’t even get me started on the inclusion of Jessica “I licked a PSP” Chobot as a character; I asked her to come aboard my ship just so that I could immediately tell her to get the hell off my ship.

The story itself also suffers. Finding a way to end the conflict with the Reapers was always going to be a difficult one; prior to release, BioWare stated it would not be resolved by uncovering some long-lost Reaper “off” button. Good stuff; ending with a silly macguffin would not be the way to do it. So, instead, Mass Effect 3 has Shepard look under the couch to find some IKEA assembly instructions for a dick-shaped superweapon that, when activated, will function as a long-lost Reaper “off” button. God dammit.

Shepard is then tasked with scouring the galaxy for “war assets” to assist in the construction of this superweapon. These can be anything from the galaxy’s best scientists to decipher IKEA’s schematics, to fleets of Turian warships to assist in defending the weapon in the final assault. It’s similar to how Shepard spent Mass Effect 2 collecting squad members – but on a galactic scale. There’s a marked granularity to this system; even Jessica “I licked a PSP” Chobot is a war asset, but the least valuable one in the entire game. As such, telling her to get the hell off my ship wasn’t going to lose me the war.

But this granularity isn’t reflected in the final push to retake Earth. A couple of cutscenes may have one or two scenes slightly changed, and some different characters may be present, but the whole Galaxy at War system ultimately amounts to a glorified narrative progress bar. As a way of presenting that progress bar, it’s fantastic, but it gives a false sense that there’s more going on as far as choice and consequence is concerned.

Where the choice and consequence does actually hit its stride is in the couple of major decisions Shepard must make over the course of the game. These involve settling inter-species conflicts that have existed since even before the first Mass Effect game. Shepard truly does have the fate of entire civilisations in her hands, and such fates are always grounded in the reactions of individuals close to her. In a rather bold move, there is no “best” outcome; people will die, civilisations will go extinct, and characters may even commit suicide out of utter despair as Shepard watches.

Yes, it’s a depressing game; easily the darkest in the series. It has to be, given the nature of the plot. The hub environments on the Citadel, despite feeling a little small, are packed with environmental detail and soundscapes depicting tired refugees, worried relatives and departing soldiers saying goodbye to their wartime gals. It’s easy to grow weary of the constant foreshadowing of war, death and suffering that colours every single conversation Shepard has with every single character she meets.

More than anything, this makes the game less replayable – this is not a time and place you’ll want to revisit. There’s also less to explore, as you don’t feel like you’re seeing actual planets. Instead, Shepard is shuttle-dropped into various contained hot-zones in a cinematic fashion and is immediately beset by enemies. As the Citadel is the only hub world, the RPG bits and the shooty bits have become even more separate – further evidenced by the fact that Shepard can no longer choose when to holster her weapon.

As the themes get heavier, the series’ characteristically trashy sex and awkward romance dialogue seems even more out of place. The Normandy, hurtling toward doom, becomes even more of a meet market. It is, however, a nice touch that squad members actually move around the ship and interact with one another. Garrus no longer spends the entire game in Gunnery Control in the middle of some calibrations, and Shepard may even find other squad members passed out on the floor with a mean hangover to look forward to. It’s the end of the galaxy; people want to let loose, and they won’t hesitate to remind you of that over and over again. Take a shot every time a character says “Well… this is it.”

It’s telling that BioWare’s most well-written characters are its robots. Despite EDI’s ridiculous over-sexualisation, her conversations with Shepard and Joker are the best in the game. The conflict between the Geth and the Quarians is fascinatingly detailed through the eyes of Legion, and the Reapers’ extinction cycle is explored in much greater depth. The thrust of Mass Effect’s plot as a trilogy is revealed to be this struggle between the synthetic and the organic, and it’s represented at all levels in Mass Effect 3 – EDI at the individual level, the Geth on a racial level, and the Reapers at a cosmic level. All of this stuff is so much more interesting than the single-mindedness of the main ‘take back Earth’ plot that results in Shepard spouting silly lines like “Damn those Reaper bastards”.

Scripted events are an invasive part of the game’s desperate reach for cinematic greatness.

What was once a ‘70s sci-fi homage now thinks it’s all grown up. To an extent, it has, but only to a point where it thinks Gears of War’s “Mad World” commercial is the height of maturity. A few moments of true uniqueness in the characters, and bold experimentation in the environments, give way to a final battle down dark, ruined corridors that could be ripped from any of Epic’s flagship dudebro shooters. One of the Paragon conversation interruption scenes even has Shepard throw down a fist bump. Scripted events – not cutscenes exactly, but moments where control is wrested away and Shepard gets dramatically thrown about – are an invasive part of the game’s desperate reach for cinematic greatness.

Still, it’s clear that a lot of work has been put into the shooting. In terms of raw feedback, it’s the best in the series. You’ll know when you’ve scored a headshot because the enemy will no longer have a head. The weapon selection is broad, collecting and installing weapon mods is much more satisfying than simply buying upgrades, and DICE’s influence echoes through the stunning combat audio. On the hardest difficulty, combat’s pause-based, tactical nature gets a thorough workout, thanks to new enemies and AI routines that make target prioritisation crucial. Occasionally banal and inconsequential turret sections will leave a sour taste. But at its best, combat is snappy, punchy and not a little bit stabby.

Ultimately, Mass Effect 3 is best described by the dissonance experienced in its touching post-credits coda; a sequence that beautifully conveys the sense of scale and wonder inherent to the series and much of science fiction. Where Mass Effect’s scale was once defined by the exploration of a vast galaxy in a small ship, here it’s defined by the height difference between Shepard and a single Reaper as it spews hot laser death at her. Where its wonder was once defined by the traversal of uncharted worlds, here it’s defined by big explosions and space battle cutscenes. This is a spectacular galactic war, and Shepard will lose a lot to end it, but the series has also lost something in order to depict it.

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Developer: BioWare
Publisher: EA
Price: $89.95
OFLC Rating: MA15+
VERDICT A game that’s more shooter than role-playing, and a conclusion that’s more spectacular than dramatic.

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20 Responses to “REVIEW: Mass Effect 3”

  1. Lily #

    THANK YOU for the honest review!

    I can’t tell you how damn sick I am of all these other ‘professional’ reviewers claiming that ‘OMG! IT’S THE BEST GAME EVA! 10/10!~’. You guys actually took the time and effort to dig deep and find what you liked and didn’t like about it.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:02 am Reply
  2. jaiden #

    GREAT REVIEW. Best i’ve seen so far.

    March 7, 2012 at 9:00 am Reply
  3. midget_roxx #

    With the amount of critisism given I’m surprised it got a 8. The lack of RPG elements worries me a bit and I’m still on the fence about whether it’s worth buying or not (the proper price of $50 that is). I think if Wrex is in I might give it a shot otherwise I don’t see any real reason to get it

    March 7, 2012 at 10:21 am Reply
  4. Verminator #

    You spent two thirds of the review tearing the game apart, so why did it still manage an 8?

    March 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm Reply
  5. pure sweetness :D

    March 9, 2012 at 8:43 am Reply
  6. blank #

    I agree. It’s not only that but if you remember the story from ME1 and ME2 there are a lot of plot holes. For example: At the end of ME1 the Prothean VI explains that the Reapers attack the Citadel first take it over and from the CItadel they are able to turn the Mass Effect Relays off. This cuts off communication and coordination between the species and the different worlds. They then open the relays one at a time to harvest each system one at a time. It makes no sense that they are attacking every other place but the Citadel in ME3.

    In the From Ashes DLC, the Prothean talks about their empire like he knows about it, but according to ME1, he wouldn’t be familiar with it or humans or asari because the Reapers cut off communication between the worlds and conquered them one at a time. It wouldn’t make sense that someone born after the Reapers invaded would be that familiar with or proud of their empire. He also gives the impression that the Prothean empire was united and resisted together against the Reapers. Makes no sense.

    The reaction of the galactic community also doesn’t make sense. You get a sense that there is no war according to the people you talk to on the Citadel when every council race is under attack. It would have made more sense if Earth was the only planet under attack and the Relay there was somehow disabled and your were traveling the galaxy to unite the races against them.

    I also don’t like how you’re recruiting a bunch of human and turian fleets. Why would there be fleets doing nothing while their home world is under attack? They are just there doing nothing and you have to recruit them as war assets by doing side quests? Why isn’t stopping the Reapers and saving their home worlds enough? I have to do them a favor or visit a planet and drop a probe to “find” them?

    Why did the Normandy SR1′s stealth device not work against the Collectors but the SR2′s works against the Reapers? Why in the PC version did they not use different buttons? In combat the space bar does 4 things. It’s used to sprint, stick to cover, hop over cover, and dive/roll. Half the time I die it’s because I’m trying to stick to cover and rolling back and forth instead. A keyboard has a ton of buttons.

    I’ve wasted too much time complaining on this. I’ll keep the rest short.

    Too many cinematics
    Shallow C&C
    Your decisions in previous games are reduced to a number in war assets that has no impact on the player.
    Tried to go for an emotional impact and engaging story but it comes off as shallow not immersive.

    The way I’d score I’d give an average game a 5 out of 10. I think ME3 is about a 4/10 so far. I’ve only played through about a third of it so far. But it’s pretty bad in general because of all the plot holes and shallowness of the game. The combat is only slightly improved and there are more items and abilities than ME2, but that doesn’t make up for all the plot holes, terrible dialogue, fewer dialogue choices and crappy plot/story which is what ME is all about.

    March 9, 2012 at 11:50 pm Reply
  7. bortorgo #

    Only the second honest review of ME3 I’ve seen. Nice to know that not all professional critics are paid off.

    March 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm Reply
  8. Scott #

    One can’t help but feel that the reviewer’s score is at a total disconnect with his comments.

    March 12, 2012 at 3:17 am Reply
  9. Roy #

    This is one of the most honest reviews I’ve seen of the game. Though I don’t understand how such a flawed game gets an eight. This game literally gave me a sickly feeling when I finished it. It made me wish I never liked the first game enough to invest so much time and effort into this. . . mess. I know I am not alone in feeling this way and the widespread praise this game is getting from critics is frustrating. I went in thinking I might do 2 or 3 playthroughs and came out never wanting to touch another Bioware product.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:48 am Reply
  10. jeweetwelwie #

    I can’t believe you gave the entire game an 8/10 based on its presentation. I mean ME2′s mission structure and story weren’t flawless either. I played ME2, which people believed to be better than ME1, and ME3 beats part 2 in every single way. Sure, the story might have some flaws, and the levels are probably darker than some of ME2 but that doesn’t justify an 8 out of 10 man, thats ridiculous. You don’t judge a game on presentation and story alone. you just sound like one of those displeased fanboys, seriously man.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:45 am Reply
  11. Kelvin Mui #

    Daniel Hindes is my favourite reviewer. Brutally honest and funny. I sense his disappointment in the game though.
    However I would give it an 8 or so too. Long time players of ME1/2 will have emotional/wow moments in the game. Depending on how you take the plot holes that get larger and larger as the game goes on.

    Did I mention the ending and the final 3 hours of the game? It disregards all of your choices (ME 1+2+3) and doesn’t make sense.

    ” I play for stories”

    March 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm Reply
  12. Jay #


    Being a Mass Effect fan since the original game and having found my ME1 and ME2 saved files to be loaded (i.e. just the ME2 endgame save file), I was ecstatic for this third instalment. After waiting patiently for the install on my laptop and booting up the game in beautiful smooth max settings on 60 fps, I was horrified to find the game to be a huge disappointment after 3 hours of gameplay. The lack of permanent companions, the absence of any significant consequence of teh choices that I made in he previous 2 games as well as the dumbing down of the PC version (srsly, SPACEBAR for virtually everything? Medkit by pausing and clicking the icon instead of F? No controller support? No shortcut keys for the Journal, Squad or Inventory? etcetc) The dialogue selection wheel has also been dumbed down so that every choice appears red instead of a blue/red paragon/renegade choice.

    I heard that the ending makes everything go shithouse in the worst way so I am expecting the worst. An 8/10 is a well deserved (thus far into the game, I am already disappointed). All those other reviews giving the game 9.5 or 10/10s are ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.

    March 19, 2012 at 5:55 am Reply
  13. Spankdavros #

    Thanks for the honest review, bless your heart. That’s another two year subscription right there.

    The whole affair is exposing some ugly cracks in the gaming press, and the manner that just about every other early review totally ignores the endgame problems raises some issues about their processes.

    Thanks for showing that you actually played it to the end and thought about it. Hopefully PCPP gets recognised for its integrity in this PR fiasco.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:52 pm Reply
  14. Jason #

    Thank you for an honest/complete review.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm Reply
  15. mal rabidus #

    Thank you for your honest review. It drove me absolutetly crazy in ME3 that my character could not just be nice and friendly to the other characters in game without ending up having to “lets just be friends”. I dont play video games to experience romance, if I wanted that I would spend my time watching chick flicks or reading romance novels. while I understand that perhaps some romantic whatever may be necessary as part of a plot line, in ME3 it seemed to take over the game and in the end was almost a distraction.

    Sadly, the 3rd game was a hollow caricature and if I didn’t know how seriously Bioware took this, calling it art and lambasting anyone who doesn’t agree, I would think they intentionally created it for scifi satire or a parody. If you feel you have to play, do so without the story mode.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm Reply
  16. aleksandar #

    Salutations for an honest review, lacking in obsequious glutious suckery. Yet ultimately it was called mass effect 3 and not mass cause and effect which was promised and not delivered. So Ashley looked hideous in a bloated drag queen kind of way Miranda and Jack and Grunt were spoiler alert….bit players…and being number three did you spot the three homages 1. to dream in treacle like disillusioned law enforcement..where are the babies crys 2 et tu brute the mechanic cant drop his wrench as ea owns that intellectual property as well and 3… is it a spector a ghost in the machine methinks there should be an ion storm re the bleak endings. And the babies cry, why that is people such as myself and the reviewer who believed 3 would deliver when we should be happy we got a game as we may be consumers but who cares as we have no right to influence the game developer.

    March 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm Reply
  17. qpqpqp #

    hey, just wanted to give a thunbs up to a basically perfect review. Also, fyi, this is my first visit to the site and I was planning to subscribe to your rss as a result, but since your pages dont render properly in android browser nor firefox, gonna skip it for now.

    March 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm Reply
  18. vince #

    meh, not to sure i agree on all your points. thats not to say it didnt have issues, but it was closer to a 9 than an 8. I mean from reading the comments all i see is the international hate campign that is everywhere else.

    Lets be honest here, was it better than the first game. Yes. Was it better than the second game? Probably. Was the multiplayer a solid fetature that adds to the experiance as opposed to take away from it. Yes, and those that say otherwise are doing it because they never play multiplayer titles or its just their sake of an argument.

    With the response by fans there are two issues to consider.
    1. The Molyneux complex
    The hype for this game was rediculous-especially the hype put up by the fans-which for the most part was approaching unrealistic. Im not going to go anyfurther into it, everyone knows how this works.
    2. The Sheep
    This month its cool to hate…Bioware! The majority of the anger is a case of being in the “in” crowd. Im not sayign that a level of fustration or dissatifiaction isn’t reasonable, but its rediculous now. And when a reveiwer defends bioware from the malice with a reasonable disscussion, and the most liked comment is a reference to him recieving “bucketfuls of Bioware c*m” in his ass, well…

    I know as i wright this there are going to be a legion willing to flay me alive with claims of “ea fanboy”, and im not. im not claiming bioware was perfect. im not saying i was kind of dissapointed with the lack of impact some of my choices had, i was gladder that their were choices that did. Im not saying i liked the ending were shepard dies [in all but one] and the races are stranded and cut off from one another, but it was still suitably epic in its preportions for the game. What im saying is that its a good, no great, game that if it had any other name would have gotten a 9 or even a 10-in the end i think we built ourselves up for something that wasnt just epic, but near life changing-and when the game was just great or fantastic we just didnt think it cut it.

    March 29, 2012 at 8:34 am Reply
  19. piwo #

    yeah. jessica chobot was ridiculous, but ME3 game is amazing, and ending so is underrated.

    April 4, 2012 at 11:55 am Reply


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