Playing Mass Effect will be a lifelong hobby for some people. With three games, each spanning over fifty hours in a single play-through, six classes, two alignments, two genders, multiple romantic subplots, and all of these choices being carried over from game to game, this a trilogy that can easily span 300 hours without feeling repetitious. Gamers who want to explore it all thoroughly can devote even more time to it and still reap great joy from exploring every possibility that the series holds. If you haven’t played the previous two games and are just wondering if Mass Effect 3 is a good game. Yes it’s a “Good game”, and you should go buy it. But not until you’ve played the first two.
A few hours into Mass Effect 3, players have the chance to explore Commander Shepard’s ship, the Normandy. Since the last game, a memorial has been added to one of the walls. It lists the names of crew members who died in the previous two games, and this memorial will be different for each player. Your actions from the past will catch up to you. Who got left behind on a mission in the first game? Did you execute one of your crew members for insubordination? Did you loose people in the climax of the second game? You will be reminded of your failures as a leader with this memorial to the fallen.
Old loves return. Some players might have seen their lover from the first game die. Others might have taken a new love in the second. A lucky few might have experienced Mass Effect as a bawdy romp through the galaxy with multiple lovers, and all of these romantic sub-plots can converge in the third part of the game. Is Commander Shepard, a tragic widower? A ravenous lesbian? Hopelessly devoted to his true love Liara? Too busy savin’ the universe to worry about all that mushy stuff? Yes, on all counts. Mass Effect 3 will reward those looking for sex, romance, or even players who are too stone-hearted to care.
As with Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard can be reinvented at the start of the game. If you imported a save file of one class, you can once again change class, and appearance. In ME 2, this was easily explained by the fact that Cerberus had rebuilt Shepard. In 3, there’s no story explanation; it’s something you can do. You will receive gameplay bonuses for importing an old character, but it’s really the story that demands players enter 3 having played through the previous games.
Much of the game involves getting the band back together as Shepard recruits old allies from the previous games. Most of these familiar faces are playable, and they consist of characters introduced in both games. Long-time pals Garrus and Tali return, making them the only companions that appears in all three games, unless you count Liara’s appearance in the DLC. Yes, there are references to the DLC packs from Mass Effect 2, so fans will be rewarded for playing them, while the less hardcore will be at a lost regarding missions like Arrival and Shadow Broker.
Because the game is set during the galaxy’s final fight against the Reapers, ME 3 plays more like a military shooter than a space opera. Shepard and crew will charge across battlefields, man stationary turrets, or hold off waves of attackers. There’s even a new stealth kill option if Shepard gets close enough to an enemy while taking cover.
The series has been trying to find the right way to implement grenades since the beginning. First there was a dedicated grenade button. Then an assortment of “Heavy Weapons”, and in the third game, grenades are now powers with various classes having a special type of grenade. These can be upgraded like other powers. It’s a strange choice, and requires players to spend skill points on something that used to come free. However this also makes each of the six classes more unique. Every one of them has at least one unique power, and all of them play well.
A new feature is weight and recharge time. The more guns you carry, the slower the recharge time for your powers. This does seem to be exploitable, such as a soldier carrying an arsenal then devoting skill points to passive powers. A biotic/engineer could do the opposite and carry just a single light weapon that is filled with expensive mods.
Indeed, the weapon mods are back. There’s a bigger selection of guns this time around, but mercifully nowhere near as complex as the first game. Each weapon can hold up to two mods that enhance basic stats including weight. Finally, at the end of the series, the developers have found a good balance for their loot system and inventory.
However, the biggest change to the formula so far is the addition of the multiplayer mode, and with it the Galaxy at War system. Galaxy at War reflects how prepared Shepard’s allies are for the big showdown against the Reapers at the end of the game. Progressing through the main story and running side quests slowly build up the readiness rating. By playing the multiplayer, this “Readiness” score will increase faster. There are single-player missions that help with this too, so players who want to avoid playing with others don’t have to.
But the multiplayer isn’t a chore at all! It’s a fun, exciting class-based “Horde Mode” that uses a clever loot system. Players buy packs of random items with in-game currency, and the randomness includes basic supplies, weapons, mods, even character races and classes. It ensures diversity and helps to limit min/maxing. Of course, you can use real-world money to buy packs, so there will be sharks sporting rare and powerful items that they bought.
While Mass Effect 2 is the best game of the series, those who’ve started Commander Shepard’s journey should absolutely continue on to the end, even paying launch prices to do so. Players who’ve yet to experience this series are encouraged to start at the beginning and embark on an experience that will most likely take 300 hours to complete. I know I’m already planning my next run through the entire trilogy.