keskiviikko 14. maaliskuuta 2012

REVIEW - Mass Effect 3 (2012)

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: March 2012
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts

Games rarely get loaded with as much hype behind their release as the conclusion to BioWare's epic tale of Commander Shepard. Mass Effect 3 was actually first mentioned within the previous game, long before it was officially announced; it was said in the in-game tutorials that you should remember that each decision you made in that game counted in the next one. Development of the game had already begun before Mass Effect 2's release; in the between, BioWare made a sequel to another massive franchise, Dragon Age II - which was bombarded by the gaming press. Many people thought that Dragon Age II's notable inferiority to everything BioWare had done in several years was because their main focus was on making Mass Effect 3 the greatest BioWare game ever. So, although Dragon Age II had the potential of turning the hype of Mass Effect 3 into worldwide skepticism, it only boosted people's expectations. Mass Effect 3 was finally released to mixed reviews; great acclaim by the press, but unforgiving criticism by fans of the franchise, some of which have already gone as far as to call Mass Effect 3 utter garbage. Now I'm on my final quest as Commander Shepard, out to determine whether Mass Effect 3 is truly a disappointment, or simply a victim of way too much hype. One thing's for certain: the long and noble mission of perhaps the greatest action hero in video game history is coming to its climax, and I'd be damned not to be there when it happens. Win or lose.

Get off my rock

Mark Meer :: Commander Shepard (Male)
Jennifer Hale :: Commander Shepard (Female)
Freddie Prinze Jr. :: Lt. James Vega
Ali Hillis :: Dr. Liara T'Soni
Lance Henriksen :: Vice Admiral Steven Hackett
Tricia Helfer :: EDI
Martin Sheen :: The Illusive Man
Kimberly Brooks :: Lt. Commander Ashley Williams
Brandon Keener :: Garrus Vakarian
Seth Green :: Jeff "Joker" Moreau

Shepard's been stripped of his military rank and forced to stand trial on Earth for his/her actions on the Bahak system, which resulted in the utter destruction of a large batarian colony. Of course, Shepard did it to protect the whole galaxy from a Reaper invasion. Due to the Citadel Council's blind persistence that the Reapers are merely a myth, Shepard is not only skating on thin ice, but Earth is not ready for what comes next at all. A full-scale Reaper attack on Earth marks Shepard's return to active duty; while humans are desperately fighting for their future against an unknown enemy, the SSV Normandy goes on one last galaxy-wide tour so Shepard can assemble the ultimate team, and finally unite the warring races of the galaxy to take down the Reapers for good.

During the last couple of months, I've talked so much about Mass Effect 3 you'd think Mass Effect 2 was my favourite game in the world. That isn't too far from the truth; I actually feel like I didn't give the game its due with a 9.4 (!). I've jabbered on about it so much that I myself am guilty of overhyping and promoting the game, and I've probably turned away many readers who never were into Mass Effect, or don't even know what it's all about - there are not many gamers out there who do not at least know OF Mass Effect, but I know for certain there are some. After all, it's only been a year since I myself completed the first game. Feels so much longer ago, though; I can't even remember the time I had no knowledge of Shepard's quest for galactic peace. The first game was awesome; I sincerely loved it, but it had many minor flaws which bugged me throughout the experience. The second game just simply blew my mind; I did not see it coming at all. Not only did the game blow every BioWare title I had played up 'til that point clean off the map, it indeed became one of my all-time favourite games in a quick little snap. Parts of Mass Effect 3 were already written before Mass Effect 2 was completed, as Mass Effect was always meant to turn out a trilogy, and BioWare claimed to have very quickly caught on to the few things that were wrong with both previous installments - as well as the experimental Dragon Age II - so it was pretty safe to assume that Mass Effect 3 was going to be something extravagant. Something absolutely huge. The greatest climax to the greatest Western RPG series you could ever hope for. Unfortunately, making those kinds of assumptions of video game sequels in these modern times is very risky, in many ways, and frankly, I've got to say Mass Effect 3 is NOT the bullseye I hoped it would be. But, it is a great game, and if you have the slightest love for the franchise, you have simply GOT to play it.

Assuming he survived Shepard's little field trip
last time around, Garrus Vakarian is back in
action. Seriously: what more do we need?
It's a good thing that I usually start dissecting a game such as this from the characters and plot, 'cause they're some of the things that have given a lot of players a lot of reason to flame it for. "It's no longer an RPG, it's a God damn generic action game with lesser dialogue choices, lesser customization of your gaming experience, it's linear..." Yada-yada-yada. I knew what to expect from Mass Effect 3 when I started it. First of all, and this SHOULD be obvious, I knew that if I had never played the previous games, I would have absolutely no emotional connection to this game, and yeah, perhaps it would've hit me as just another action game. But - lesser customization? Perhaps locally. But that's, again, what the previous games were there for. You created your Shepard in those games, and hopefully imported him/her into this game - believe me, what you have done in the past makes a huge difference in how the game will play out, and how you'll experience the story. Yeah, it's a bit linear, for about ten to twelve hours into the beginning, I admit that - and that is one of my main reasons to be disappointed with it. I thought the original Mass Effect's six-hour tube run was quite enough. But, the most important thing to remember about Mass Effect 3's style is that we're in all-out war here! There is simply no time to be running around in the Citadel and solve whether an asari consort spread the word of an elcor ambassador's small wee-wee against her ethics or not. Or helping an annoying salarian geek cheat - oh, sorry, not cheat, but "slightly improve his odds" - on Quasar machines. This is war, we're in the eye of the storm, and what we're out to get are assets for that war. We have no time for people, things or properties that have absolutely no use for us. Whole planets are burning out there, and it's not just Earth we're supposed to take back, but the galaxy.

The feeling of heading into the final confrontation is there the whole time. You won't meet a whole lot of new folk, there are not that many new locations to explore either - except for some planets that fill a gap since we've never been there before although we've met a lot of their natives, such as the salarian home planet of Sur'Kesh and the asari home planet of Thessia. Filling gaps and tying loose ends is what well over a half of Mass Effect 3's storyline progression is all about besides that ongoing invasion. Think about just every major character you ever met during the saga or any major decision you made. These meetings and decisions have a LOT of weight on how Mass Effect 3 will turn out in the long run. Oh, and lest we forget, it also makes a huge difference whether or not you played the downloadable content for Mass Effect 2. The people you met, decisions you made and other things you did in each and every DLC pack released for that game matters - you could say they were not just DLC for Mass Effect 2, but the remainder of the franchise. Let's put it simply: you completed Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and every bit of downloadable content there is. Everyone, except for the one mandatory corpse - who in my case was Kaidan Alenko in the first game - survived. Congratulations - you have a deep, lengthy game on your hands here. Starting Mass Effect 3 from scratch as a whole new Shepard and manually choosing your previous decisions from a list obviously results in a much more hollow experience. A lot of people I know, who have called this game overrated, overhyped and have just verbally smashed it to the ground at every opportune gap, are non-surprisingly people who originally turned to Mass Effect 3 to get a first taste of the franchise everyone's talking about. That's not the way. If you want to get into Mass Effect, you have to start from the beginning - that's my professional opinion. If a game released in 2007 is "too old" or "primitive" in your books, you should just stay the hell away from the franchise and leave it to us who know how to appreciate great games regardless of their age.

This review's going to be quite a write-up - not to mention quite a read - without me babbling on and on about how great this franchise is and already was before the release of this third game, so let's take a quick look at the character design before finally disassembling and re-assembling the monster itself. I guess I should tell you a little story about Commander Shepard at this time - it isn't a pretty one. My shock with Mass Effect 3's first minutes was felt all the way in Canada, I hope. Okay, so I unboxed my Collector's Edition of the game, all wound up, my socks were spinning around relentlessly. I had already redeemed all of my codes, downloaded the soundtrack, quickly read through the books, installed the game and the DLC... all that was left was the highly anticipated moment of simply choosing "Play Mass Effect 3" from the Xbox 360 Dashboard. There was some shit about EA and Origin that took away a precious moment, but in time, I finally got to the main menu. "New Game" - God, how I've waited for this. "Import ME2 Character". I've waited for this even more. The game then "listed" my characters, in other words the only guy I've ever used to actually complete both games - Jack Shepard, Level 30 Vanguard, Earthborn, Sole Survivor. Sounds about right. I choose Jack, eagerly waiting for his slightly enhanced face to pop up on the screen like he never left. Every decision I ever made is in order, and my background checks out just fine - guilty as charged. However, my Shepard looks a lot like he does in the promotional art, and the game politely informs me of TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES that prevent my customized face - that I have used since Mass Effect, a game that is FIVE YEARS OLD - to be imported into Mass Effect 3. "Dear player, please accept this boring default Shepard, make a new face for your Shepard, or fuck off." That's basically what it says.

The new version of the new Normandy.
You see, Mass Effect 3's character editor sucks ass. It's worse than it's ever been. The reason it probably won't accept your Shepard is that some of the facial features that the previous editors included do not exist in Mass Effect 3. Some of the memorable options are not there, and "small details" like scars have been taken out altogether. Let's see, hmmm... this game's main character is a war hero, who has seen a LOT of shit in his/her day. Shepard tracked down a rogue Spectre agent - a Spectre, and a highly respected one! - and eliminated him, then Shepard died as in becoming minced meat, then Shepard was brought to life like RoboCop or the Six Million Dollar Man, then Shepard went on a suicide mission that could've resulted in his/her death for a second time. I think just one scar on Shepard's face would make all of this a lot more believable!

So, what I had to do might sound quite hardcore, but it had to be done, because I refused to play the game if I could not import Shepard as he was. I slapped in Mass Effect 2, watched the first cutscene - I had no choice - and played through the intro sequence to get into the character editor. I re-imported my original Shepard from the first game in order to make just one change to his features, so I could generate myself an identity code, which I would then have to manually stick up the rear end of Mass Effect 3's editor. Well, that didn't work. You see, I forgot that you could not customize your old Shepard in any way in Mass Effect 2; either you made a new Shepard, or just went with the default, which never was an option for me. I already tried making Shepard look as much as the original as I possibly could in Mass Effect 3 and it didn't work - man, the editor SUCKS! BALLS! Well, since the original face worked no problem in Mass Effect 2, I thought that maybe I could recreate the old Shepard in that game, write down the code and type that code into the editor in Mass Effect 3. I got pretty close, close enough to be happy with the old-new Shepard, so I did just that, I wrote down the code and slapped Mass Effect 3 back in. I entered the identity code, and... my Shepard's face was distorted as hell. But, with a few modifications to it, I ended up with a guy that looks very much like my original Shepard, just younger without scars, and with different-coloured facial hair, because even the colour palette isn't as wide as it was five years ago. I can't rightly describe how much the character editor reeks, but I believe you got the idea. The whole thing with the game not being able to read a face created in the first game was supposed to be the subject of a day one patch, but we still haven't seen it. And, even if they do patch it, it doesn't change the fact that the editor itself is crummy.

Anyway, what Shepard is like this time around, and what people's takes on his/her person are like, are probably pretty much up to what you've made him/her to be in the past. Everyone knows you, everyone knows of the heroic or horrible deeds you've done. Now it's up to you to save the galaxy, whether you or anyone else likes it or not. You are entitled to have opinions, but you are not entitled to make as much decisions as you have been before - because the choice to turn down a valuable asset to the war is not yours to make. You need everyone and everything for your cause to achieve the best possible outcome. Hell, even completing every single-player mission might not be enough to win this war - you might have to call a friend or a few of them to handle a few co-op assignments with you, to increase your readiness and chances against the Reapers. Despite not being able to make much decisions that affect the fate of the galaxy, Shepard is still an extremely solid character, but it has never been all about him/her, against all claims. Watching Shepard sulk in what he/she has become during the saga is made way deeper and more interesting with the strength of the dozens of great supporting characters that have been introduced to us along the way, meaning those who survived. Confrontations with these people bring Mass Effect 3 one step closer to what this franchise used to mean to those people who claimed this game to be garbage (after playing it for five to ten minutes).

Be wewy, wewy quiet.
Your squad is very compact in terms of manpower, and like everything else in this game, the identities of your squad members are pretty much determined by characters' survival in the previous games. There's a surprise member, I mean an even bigger surprise than Legion in Mass Effect 2, a couple of old friends, the new character James Vega, and either Ashley or Kaidan depending on which one survived the nuke in the first game. That's about it; if you have the From Ashes DLC, you gain access to one additional squad member, who is very essential to the whole backdrop of the franchise and good to have along. I couldn't imagine playing the game without him. That's a sign of good DLC, right there. A lot of other old friends might or might not show up along the way - once again and once more, depending on whether they're still alive - to simply catch up with Shepard, or play crucial supporting roles on missions, or even work as temporary backups for your chosen team of three. If you had a romance in both previous games, you are faced with even more painful (?) reminders from your past, and quite definitely painful decisions. You could say that Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were the choice, and Mass Effect 3 is the consequence. It might not be the climax of this franchise as a game, but it is the climax in every other way, and that is what makes it so God damn enjoyable. It's filled to the brim with characters you've grown to know and love in the last five years; those who you've always looked up to are presented perhaps better than ever, and even those you've never really cared for show whole new sides to themselves. Yes, this is still a story - a magnificent character-driven story, with magnificent characters. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

If they tell you that the game's not as great as its story, they might unfortunately be right. Although I completely understand BioWare's choice of direction, and while it is better than what they did with their previous game Dragon Age II, it doesn't mean I like it as much I'd want to. In short, it's a repetitive game. Gone is the perfect balance of Mass Effect 2 - the perfect balance between going out all guns blazing and solving problems with a little good old-fashioned diplomacy. Also, gone is the interesting and constantly changing level design that was one of the previous game's finest traits. In Mass Effect 3, almost every place basically looks the same - it's war-torn wasteland with the exception of just a few colonies that have not yet been hit by the Reapers, and of course, the Citadel, which stands just as proud as ever, yet also more limited than ever. Well, at least they didn't utilize the unholy union of copy and paste like they did with Dragon Age II.

Although there are sometimes pretty epic storyline situations you must handle, such as the enigmatic "tower quest" from one of the gameplay trailers - in which your goal is to get to a tower all the while the mother of all thresher maws is shaking the ground beneath you and a Reaper has got his laser pointed on your forehead - these situations are all handled the same in practice. Run, shoot, punch, take cover. Maybe go and flick a few switches along the way. Don't worry, you don't need to bypass or decrypt anything. The game does it for you, if need be; yes, all such forms of minigames are gone. Regardless of your character class, you're a frontline commanding officer, and you're here to do what frontline commanding officers do best; kick ass and take names. There's no room for tinkering with computers; that's the science team's job. Cool, huh? No. It's not. There's rarely profitable exploring to be done on any playable level. Most of the stuff you find you can also find somewhere else, and quite seriously, all you need to do to be able to complete missions is to practice your aim. In storyline missions, there's at least a little bit of the balance I mentioned the game's lacking. In the very few secondary assignments the game offers you, it's safe to expect nothing but pure shotgun chaos.

This is gonna sting a little.
Let's take somewhat of a break to go over the audiovisuals before going over the game's basics - look at that, I've criticized the game quite a lot before even laying down the basics. I seem to have that tendency with general disappointments. Well, the story's one thing I'm definitely not disappointed with - in fact, colour me surprised of Mac Walters being able to pull off something like this series of events after supposedly using up all his best ideas in Mass Effect 2, and Drew Karpyshyn already blowing our minds with the first game. The graphics are also something I'm not disappointed with. Being such a huge game, almost too much for the Xbox 360 to handle, Mass Effect 3 is artificially not too different from Mass Effect 2. On the surface, it seems like they only fixed a few details, shading and such, but later it turns out that Mass Effect 3 is a very cinematic game, with epic cutscenes, and character design that is way more alive than it was ever before. Oh yeah, and those emotionless ends to conversations that looked emotionless to begin with are completely harvested. They almost fixed 'em in Mass Effect 2, now there's no sign of 'em. Even with no sound, you can plainly see what kind of thoughts are going through the characters' heads. The conversations can be quite diverse, too - for example, James likes to practice hand-to-hand combat while talking, and you can block his punches or go on the offense by taking Paragon/Renegade actions in the middle of the conversation. Despite level design sometimes getting the short end of the stick when it comes to graphical accomplishments, Mass Effect 3 is generally one beautiful thing to look at.

Jack Wall's composed the music for the franchise from the beginning, but he backed out from the Mass Effect 3 project at an early stage. Well, let's see. We need a composer specialized in electronica and alternative, and since this game is mostly about the destruction of our home planet, a little bit of epic, dramatic, classical touch wouldn't hurt. Let's call film director Darren Aronofsky and see if he could borrow out Clint Mansell, his court magician who composed the score to many of his masterpieces such as Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler. Yes, he could... let Mansell compose a couple of songs, at least. The soundtrack's been promoted as Mansell's work throughout, but actually it's Sam Hulick, Christopher Lennertz, Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco who composed most of it. Either way, they're all on level with each other and the music sounds very consistent throughout the line. Epic, symphonic stuff, spiced up with just the right amount of electronic jive. I like it. Mansell's "Leaving Earth" is my favourite individual track - the scene it appears in was made to blow minds in itself - and will surely end up as the VGTune of the Week very soon.

The voiceover work is better than ever, and that means it's off the charts. Most of the original voice actors from Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, even those that played the most minor of characters, return to reprise their roles with just a couple of exceptions. The work of the couple of new actors is absolutely indistinguishable from the old, and you have to remember that I'm good at this - I'm good at spotting the tiniest errors to things like rhythm of speech. Like I said, there aren't that many all new major characters in Mass Effect 3 as you have a lot of loose ends to take care of, but your crew has four new, prolific members in specialist Samantha Traynor (voiced by Alix Wilton Regan), shuttle pilot Steve Cortez (voiced by Matthew Del Negro), on-board news reporter Diana Allers (voiced by Jessica Chobot of IGN's Daily Fix fame), and finally, your "right hand" James Vega, who's voiced by none other than the latest addition to the franchise's list of cult stars, Freddie Prinze Jr. - whose only touch to sci-fi so far has been 1999's film adaptation, or "abominaptation" of Wing Commander. Let's not hold that against him; even if he isn't nearly as fine in the big book of geeks as Lance Henriksen (Vice Admiral Hackett), Carrie-Anne Moss (Aria T'Loak) or Tricia Helfer (EDI), he delivers, and his Mexican dialect is quite believable. Then, of course we have Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Adam Baldwin, and a whole truckload of the voiceover scene's finest. Jennifer Hale, Steve Blum, Claudia Black, Simon Templeman... I could drop names forever. But I won't. You'll just have to take my word for the quality of the drama. It's one of the things that truly keeps you going. I like when they all come together like this - I'm more than tired with Quinton Flynn, though. The dude's been in almost every single game I've played the last ten years, starting with Final Fantasy X, and he's really not that good. That lisp is really annoying. I would blast at him some more if he played a central character - in Mass Effect 3, chances are you won't even bump into his character.

Whoa dude, watch it with those biotics of yours!
Back in a time instruction manuals were hot shit, reviewing these kinds of diverse games was easy. I just flipped through the pages and gave my opinions on each feature, then scrambled it a bit to make it all look and sound sensible, and talked a lot of important and less essential shit to make it my own. Gave me good reason to look at the damn thing - back in the good old times of 8- and 16-bit, instruction manuals ended up laminated, they were so great. Even if you didn't need guidance, you read the manuals over and over again because they looked so cool all over. Then they started doing them in black and white to minimize expenses, and then they stopped making them altogether. I just have to trust that utilizing my experience with the Mass Effect franchise results in a review that covers most of the game.

Let's start with my favourite subject, or at least what used to be my favourite subject up 'til I hit the wall with the character editor, and just one of the things that makes the Mass Effect franchise so unique: importing your Shepard. Although it's at least temporarily a fatal struggle to get your old Shepard's tailored face into the game just the way it was, all of the other stuff is in place. You can change your character class if you want - although class specifications hold even less meaning they did in Mass Effect 2 - but your background and reputation stays the same. If you hit the level cap in the previous game, you will start from Level 30; this one's got a cap of 60. Don't go thinking that even though the first Mass Effect game is apparently the harbinger of the problems with the facial import, that the decisions you made in that game wouldn't count. Oh, they do - they do count, for a lot. People have tried to figure out which ones count for more, the decisions you made in Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2; I'd say it's a pretty even match. And, ALL of the DLC counts for something. Bring Down the Sky, Stolen Memory, The Price of Revenge, Firewalker, Overlord, Lair of the Shadow Broker, Arrival. ALL of them count. Even Pinnacle Station. Go figure. I mean, extra war assets, whole side missions based on downloadable content for previous games, and notable changes to ones that exist without 'em. If you haven't downloaded them yet, now would be the perfect time. I think I would rate each piece of DLC better than I did back when I made the guide, after seeing the heavy consequences in Mass Effect 3. There's no doubt left in my mind; after this is over, I'm rebooting the trilogy, doing everything I possibly can, and in a better order to dictate an even better and more consistent story. I have the power - and that is the magic of Mass Effect, the magic that hasn't gone anywhere, for the most part.

Mass Effect 3 begins with a bang that shouldn't leave anyone out in the cold, but still long-time fans have taken it upon themselves to unleash holy hell on the game for having only two decisive dialogue choices 99% of the time. Seriously, when did you ever need more than one choice that builds up your Paragon status and one for Renegade? I don't understand what that fuss is all about, but I do acknowledge a few problems with verbal communication in this game, and the biggest problem, most definitely, is auto-dialogue. In the first game, everything that Shepard said was up to you, and that was king. In Mass Effect 2, he/she was given automated lines that weren't always to your liking, but those lines were way too few in numbers to make a huge difference in such a fantastic game. In Mass Effect 3, Shepard mostly talks all by himself/herself, with you having a say in it only in the most important key points of the conversation; I'm guessing this travesty was made because there's so much dialogue in the game already, that if you were given more freedom of speech, the game would span one extra disc, as if two wasn't enough. So, I find it very hard not to forgive the game - because constantly switching discs is frustrating as it is - but, it is still very disappointing how BioWare alienated us players from the character we players created. I didn't want to admit it after Dragon Age II, but I guess that now I have no choice: BioWare is not the same company it was a decade ago.

And who are you supposed to be, Batman's son?
The Paragon/Renegade system is very little more than artificial. I guess it was left in as tradition. It doesn't matter which side you are on, the fate of the galaxy still rests on your shoulders, and people respect you in better and worse. The only thing that matters is your general reputation, which is kind of like the Charm and Intimidate skills from the first game clasped together. The rep meter dictates potential dialogue choices, and the general population's takes on you, while P/R's just for show. Nice actions still raise your Paragon points, and being an asshole raises your Renegade points, and every action you take raises the rep meter in a linear fashion. Reputation alone improves your chances of being able to charm or intimidate people (the blue and red comments on the left, as usual). The choice to charm or intimidate is extremely rare, though.

There are very few true side missions or assignments in Mass Effect 3. Almost every single mission, be it one for the main goal or one taken care of for N7, counts towards a better conclusion. There are no rest stops - no hidden craters with ancient weapon schematics that silently show up on the galaxy map in the middle of the game and make you go apeshit. In the beginning of the game, once you make it to the galaxy map (it'll take hours), you have very few choices of where and how to proceed - just a few systems are open for exploring. One thing that truly rubs me the wrong way about this game... you go on the Citadel. You walk around, minding your own business. You overhear people talk, not really paying attention to what they're saying since you cannot converse with them. Side missions keep popping up. OK, so whatever they're talking about, whatever their problem is, you can help - by fetching them stuff from systems blocked by Reaper forces. You're not really sure what they need the stuff for since you were not listening in the first place, but that's not the point - the point is that getting the quest does not mean you can do it. It might take a damn long while for the system with their object of desire to unlock. What's the point in receiving assignments you simply CANNOT do? All the assignments and main missions pile up into a big ole' clusterfuck in your codex menu, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it - since you got most of the assignments just by walking the Citadel's streets, which is something you are mandated to do. Also, since there's no item menu, you can't always be sure if you have the item in your possession or not. You have to constantly keep track on your findings by utilizing pen and paper, if you wish to conquer the majority of this game. A wise and experienced BioWare fanatic would say: go to the codex menu, and collapse the quest to see your next objective - if it says "Deliver item X to person X", you've got the item and all you need to do is go back to whoever wants it. I've got news for the BioSages: that doesn't work. There are no current objectives marked on the quests - just the goal of the quest. Which is quite funny, 'cause standard codex files still expand to eternity.

Mako had its fans, and one hater - that was me. The planet scanning system in Mass Effect 2 had its haters, and one fan - that was me. OK, I never really liked it all that much, but I preferred it over the Mako sequences. Whereas scanning one whole star system's resources might've taken hours in both previous games, in Mass Effect 3 it takes about two minutes. This is how it works: you go to a system, pick a cluster, and activate a sonar pulse. With luck, that pulse might pick up a signal. You go to that signal. It could be just about any sort of debris just floating around, or a planet you can scan for one single resource. You have to shoot one single probe to render the scanning of one planet complete. If there's still an unclaimed percentage of stuff in the cluster, just fly around and keep setting off those pulses to find another signal. There's a twist, and it's almost just as useless and annoying as buying probes and fuel in Mass Effect 2: that twist has a name, a name given to an ancient force by humans who never really understood them. Of course, I'm speaking of the Reapers. The Reapers have taken most of the galaxy under their control, so it's only natural they're controlling well over a half of the galaxy map. Each time you use the pulse, you attract Reapers to your location. This is supposed to happen only in Reaper-controlled territories, the game even tells you that, but it happens wherever there are resources available. Once the Reapers have detected your presence, they're coming for your ass in swarms, and make probing and simple salvaging extremely difficult. You're not even supposed to be able to probe or salvage anything in a danger zone, not until you've completed a mission - that settles the bastards down - but actually, all you need to do is get out of the cluster, and check back in to see if luck's on your side. If it's on your side, you'll re-enter just next to the signal, and be able to investigate before the Reapers reach you. Feels more stupid than it sounds like, I assure you. Oh yeah, and in case you're wondering, getting caught by the swarm means C.M.F. - Critical Mission Failure. However, by resuming the game, you'll end up in the cluster you died in, so not much is lost. Checkpoints do work, absolutely - and the fact that they finally came up with use for the Select button, that no one can complain about: it's the universal quicksave button.

In-depth conversation really hasn't changed all
that much. There's just less of it.
Action is the game's strongest trait, but since most of the game is comprised of it only, a game of traditional RPG length, I can't blame people for getting extremely bored with it at some point. There is very little conversation when it comes to any mission in the game - most communication with characters happens on the two hub worlds of the game, which are, of course, the Normandy and the Citadel. My only real negative when it comes to the missions - once again, I was personally prepared for all-out action - is the minor flaw that Shepard cannot holster his gun. I feel stupid running around my gun pointed at nothing all the time, especially since holstering was an option in the previous games. Indeed, all forms of decryption minigames are gone. All you have to do, basically, is to fight your way forward through wonders of enemy design - I mean, damn. God damn. - and at least on higher difficulty levels, you need to think of elaborate strategies to get by. Things are scattered around as they always were; exploring for them is a pain in the ass, though, and you will very rarely find anything unique. It's usually just ammo, weapon upgrades, armor pieces, new weapons... nothing you wouldn't find from (your favourite) stores on the Citadel if you happen to miss them. On just one occasion, I found myself exploring for a key item, 'cause I was lucky enough to remember that I had to keep an eye out for it on a specific side mission. I would like to embark on side missions with the sole purpose of fetching optional stuff that'd make a difference to me, personally, like I did, a LOT, in Mass Effect 2 - that's just not the way BioWare intended Mass Effect 3. Now I'm just out getting war assets - which don't make a stinking difference to me if I don't get some friend to co-operate with.

The co-op mode in Mass Effect 3 is just great, on paper. It's undoubtedly great fun to play, but. Microsoft has got to stop with LIVE Gold; LIVE Gold is the ONLY way you can play Mass Effect 3's multiplayer games on the Xbox 360. There is no local split-screen mode, at least not yet. I have LIVE Gold at the moment, so I don't have a personal problem with this issue, but the only person I would like to play with has neither Mass Effect 3 or LIVE Gold, and Mass Effect 3 is the only purchase of those two he's ever going to make. I definitely don't blame him, 'cause Gold is yesterday's news in a world where PlayStation Network is 100% free. Anyway, the co-op missions are directly related to your progress in the single-player campaign. By completing co-op missions, you increase your chances against the Reapers in the form of "Galactic Readiness". No matter how much war assets you attain in the single-player campaign, it's the co-op that deals the damage to the Reapers, so to speak. This is an extremely cool and unique feature, it truly is - the thing about multiplayer modes in games has always been that they don't count for shit, except for Achievements in the modern world. In Mass Effect 3, you can accomplish so much more with a friend, you could even say that the only way you're getting the full experience is by going at the game with someone you trust. It's just too bad that you have to buy a totally useless Gold membership to be able to do it. Fix this, BioWare. Immediately.

So, anyway, combat's fun, in healthy doses. The basics are not that different from Mass Effect 2, but this time you can jump faster over covers - meaning you don't have to take cover and then jump over it - do a dodge roll into four directions, surprise whole groups of enemies just for the fun of it and to prevent them from calling in reinforcements, do individual stealth kills (very rarely, though) and even hijack enemy mechs. THAT'S FUN. Oh, and melee attacks are very important. Since my current Shepard's a Vanguard, he has no access to the much promoted Omniblade, the game's new, prominent melee weapon - but he has a special attack of his own in its stead, an ultra-powerful biotic punch. Since I haven't invested much into melee prowess, it's not all that "ultra-powerful", but it keeps a Husk down. Those guys have a serious problem in understanding the term "personal space".

Experience points come from completing missions and assignments - including the Citadel's one thousand and one cryptic fetchquests - as well as examining personal datapads and all the other crap on the field. The ability points work exactly like they did in Mass Effect 2, just the maximum levels for the abilities are higher - 4 points for Level 4 of an ability, 5 points for Level 5, 6 points for concluding the individual ability tree with a passive superpower. However, the trees themselves are quite different. Indeed, there are six levels to each ability. The first three levels are of natural development of an ability, but the last three you can choose yourself from two potential choices. Let's take Shockwave, for example. At Level 4, you can choose whether you want Shockwave to do more damage to enemies, or if you want it to blast enemies through the air at a wider radius. Level 5 is usually a similar choice. At Level 6, you can choose either one final touch to the ability itself, one final touch to the individual character's attributes, or a lesser attribute boost, which however affects the whole squad. I find the whole character development system satisfactory - it's not what it used to be, but sufficient.

All that was laid down just now was only Part 1 of this review. Part 2 introduces the two hub worlds of this game in much basic detail, because telling everything I can about them without spoiling anything, in close combination with everything I already told you, should give you an idea of what the game is like. Let's start with the Normandy. Your beloved ship, the Cerberus-made version, has been "upgraded" - Debatable with a capital D - to meet with Alliance regulations, so it's a bit different than it was in Mass Effect 2. There are now five decks to explore - your cabin, the CIC, the crew deck, engineering and shuttle bay.

The cabin is exactly the same, with just a few artificial downgrades. You can listen to tunes from the sound system, but you can't change the tune. There's no space hamster - that's honestly my deepest concern. There's no terminal for Achievements. What probably annoys the hell out of most players is that you can still customize your basic armor sets, but the colour palette, as big as it looks, consists of some really crappy combinations, shades and tones. In Mass Effect 2, it was easy. I just picked the darkest red possible for the main tint of my body armor. I do the same in Mass Effect 3, and I still look pink. What is this game's problem with artificial character customization? Really?

Hackett's come a long way from just being
Lance Henriksen's voice on the radio.
You annoyingly return to the back of the CIC after each mission, to the vid comm room, where you communicate with your superiors. The next room is the war room with the strategic console you have no use for if you're not into, or not able to get into (fuck you, Gold) the whole experience of the game. The tech labs are now merely used for local conferences. In the actual CIC, you can check in with specialist Traynor, who replaces Kelly Chambers as your source of information regarding your e-mail and the state of the crew. The galaxy map's where it's always been. There's no weapon room, that's saved for the upper decks. Joker's in the cockpit, making witty remarks as always, and I've got to say he's never been better. His conversations with members of your squad and the crew, including his new co-pilot, are priceless. I've always loved Joker, but this game makes him an irreplaceable member of your crew - you'll find yourself lucky that Joker couldn't die in the previous games.

The crew deck is the largest one, and most of the crew resides there... duh. There's a memorial plate for every person that ever gave his or her life for Shepard's mission, in the previous games, as well as this one. It's a great thing to look at and if there was a salute button, I'd use it every time. You can do a few things in the med bay, such as nullify your squad's ability points (the first time's free for each individual character) to reassign them altogether, and pick a bonus ability for Shepard from the special abilities of your squad. As in most BioWare's games, you'll have to talk to your squad and get to really know each member to learn their abilities. If they refuse to engage in real conversation with you and you still haven't gained a bonus ability from them, you'll just have to try later. In this game, you can't force a conversation with characters. When they've said everything they've to say at the moment, they trade real conversation for a single random sentence. It's a good thing, really - I had enough of trying my luck with 'em in the previous games. Speaking of trying my luck, Liara's new info office is opposite to the med bay, and there you can follow certain communications between certain NPC's on her personal computer, as well as upgrade your squad with miscellaneous intel usually found by scanning planets. Health and shield bonuses, weapon damage, all the usual stuff.

The engineering deck's exactly the same as it was before, with different people inhabiting its areas. The shuttle bay's the "new" part of the ship, and the most important thing about this deck is that there you can upgrade and mod your weapons in total peace, and buy stuff licensed by the various stores on the Citadel. The weapons have tier numbers like they did in the first game, but switching between them is not a problem. For example, if you have two characters who have Vindicator I equipped, upgrading the weapon just once to Vindicator II is enough to automatically change the weapon to Vindicator II for both characters. A single weapon mod with a higher tier number than the one you have installed on your weapon also replaces the old one automatically, for all characters that have a mod of the same series installed. This removes a whole lot of distraction and frustration. This is how it should've always worked, at least in the console versions. BioWare's menus in console games have thus far been some seriously enfuriating crap. This game has no other problems than the codex menu, and that particular problem is a problem in every version of the game. It's one which having a mouse does not cure.

Romances work very differently and they're much more complicated than they have ever been, mainly due to the stuff you might've done in the past. Reigniting an old flame is not nearly as easy as you'd like to think. Just think about it: if you were a woman, would you just blindly take back a guy who's humped a fine example of visual perfection while you were looking away? OK, so he dumped her right after he found out you're still interested, he's there for you all the time, and his heart still belongs to you, 100%. My Shepard would like an answer, 'cause he got his heart shot bad in this game. I worked hard to mend it eventually, though. Oh, well, even if an epic "back together" story won't end up taking place in your personal Mass Effect universe at all, there are plenty of fish out in the sea, literally. Your squad is very compact indeed, but romance options are not limited to the members of your squad - in fact, you can romance over a half of your crew. Not Joker, though. Thank God. Be wary - BioWare never seems to get enough of forcing your straight characters to come out of the closet. Gay romances are possible, even for men this time; fair play or preposterous misguidance of straight Shepards who are just trying to be friendly? You decide.

Then we have the Citadel. After the first trip, you can quick pick a location, if there's a certain part of the Citadel you must pay a visit to, but since fetchquests are updated all the time, it's recommendable, albeit frustrating, to run back and forth across the whole damn city each time you stop by. It's a good thing that most hot spots are shown on the map, even though you haven't passed them by yet (this works on the Normandy, as well) - important people, objects of interest, all that. The basic rule to the Citadel during the first half of the game is that it's somehow updated after every single storyline mission, there's always something new which kind of forces you to check in and backtrack across its several areas constantly. It's a good thing in terms of balance, but an equally bad thing in terms of actual enjoyability in the long run. It's this game's Kirkwall. I would rather enjoy scouting for assignments across the galaxy myself, or talking to specific people, not repeatedly running through large groups of people with the faint hope of overhearing something about a random alien artifact hidden somewhere on solar system X.

Different parts of the Citadel unlock as you go, in an early enough stage of the game, though. There's the main docking bay, as well as a larger docking area that houses refugees from Reaper-controlled planets (such as Earth). This place is just full of emotion. It's the one place in the game where I actually stop to listen to conversations between random NPC's from time to time. Sometimes, you can take part in some of the more heated conversations and support whichever side you wish to gain reputation, as well as Paragon/Renegade points. The Citadel Embassies include C-Sec's main office, the Spectre office where you can inspect and authorize different queries from all over the galaxy, as well as buy weapons and armour exclusive to Spectres (for a LOT of credits), and of course, the different embassies. Once again, duh. In Purgatory, you can lay back, watch respectable soldiers drink their brains to shit and once again find the answer to why Shepard's dancing skills are not very highly esteemed. Squad members who get critically injured - in storyline - are taken to the Huerta Memorial Hospital. Last, there's Presidium Commons - the largest area on the Citadel, with a lot of different stores (too many of them, in fact), and a lot of more or less interesting people to communicate with. The amount of time you'll spend on the Citadel at once highly depends on your deeds in the previous games, just like most of the other stuff going on in Mass Effect 3. So, if you're growing tired of running back and forth, you could say it's pretty much your own damn fault.

But, what if you've never played the previous games? Personally, I would say you're playing the wrong game. But, as it goes, there are certainly many video game fanatics out there, that have never played Mass Effect. Either they were too young to care when the original game came out, or they've never cared for RPG's, or whatever the reason is. Mass Effect 3 has generated so much hype that it's bound to attract new players. BioWare foresaw this, and added a twist. We, who import Shepard, have no say - at least in regards to the first playthrough - how the game will play out, generally. It's the classic Mass Effect experience. New players, however, and veteran players who start out fresh as a new Shepard (I'm missing the point) have a choice between Action Mode, Story Mode and RPG Mode. All players can easily eliminate decision-making altogether (AGAIN, I'M MISSING THE POINT) from the option menu, but these choices affect the whole game on a higher level. In Action Mode, there are no dialogue choices - at all. It's like you're watching any other game's story unfold, and all that you need to do to survive is to fight. NOT MY THING. Story Mode is vice versa. The dialogue options are there as they normally are, but combat is extremely easy. NOT MY THING. RPG Mode is the standard Mass Effect gameplay experience, as far as Mass Effect 3 goes as such. DEFINITELY MY THING. I see what BioWare tried to do here - make the game more accessible to a wider audience than ever - but personally, I find it very hard to believe that someone who's never played the previous games would understand or even enjoy five minutes of Mass Effect 3. It's a marginal franchise, and it's best that way. Final Fantasy, Silent Hill, Castlevania, and BioWare's very own Dragon Age - fine examples of magnificent franchises gone worse or truly bad, simply because their developers tried to suck up to too many target groups at once. Thought they'd learned by now.

The Mass Effect mythos has left such a lasting mark on me in the past year that as I have well promoted, I contradicted my own ideals by pre-ordering the N7 Collector's Edition of the game back in January. Even though they charged almost a hundred euros for it at GameStop, I just had to have it. Well, since the game didn't turn out nearly as godlike as I hoped it would be, and I already criticized the memorabilia that came with it in the video I posted a while back, do I feel stupid and once again robbed of good money? Hell, no. Unlike my Limited Collector's Edition of LittleBigPlanet 2, the N7 is one proud, standout item in my shelf. It has way more to show than a fancy tin box even after all is said and done - in other words, after all the DLC codes are used up. The price of this thing, with every collectable item still intact, will be through the roof some day. The From Ashes DLC pack is an irreplaceable part of the game, it's like this game's Stone Prisoner or Exiled Prince, but just much better! ...Relatively speaking, of course. A deeper review of it will be written some day, if I ever get into making a Mass Effect 3 DLC Guide - I most likely will. Now, it's just too fresh, and telling just a little about it would spoil the experience for those unlucky ones who haven't got it. The digital soundtrack is the bomb, the extra equipment is not OP'd at all, just very useful and universally efficient for players who don't like to spend too much time on tinkering with weapons. The concrete memorabilia might be a little scaled down, but rad and stylish nonetheless. No, I don't think I wasted my money. With as much love for Mass Effect as I have, it's mandated for me to have at least one Collector's Edition of a Mass Effect game.

The galaxy map's the same, just looks like
someone took a few dumps on it.
The game can be pretty challenging from time to time. There are a few specific combat sequences and boss fights near the end of the game that will have you strategizing deeply and utilizing your squad's different skills, even on Normal, and actually cursing - can't wait to take on Insanity sometime in the future. Although actual challenge doesn't really matter to me when it comes to RPG's - Mass Effect 3 being one is debatable, of course - I am pleased with its "you can't do it, it's suicide!" type of missions actually being difficult and tense unlike the final mission and boss fight in Dragon Age II. The three different endings of the game have been the subject of criticism, but I like the one I got just as much as I liked the story; I just didn't expect or exactly hope for the game to suddenly go on crazy gear in the vein of Assassin's Creed or Final Fantasy X, and I also would've liked to know what I was doing in advance. The game didn't tell me that, I hit the right switch (so to speak... or literally?) out of pure luck. I didn't come this far with my Shepard to screw up during the final moments of the trilogy.

The crafting of the Achievements is surprisingly smart. Mass Effect 3 is the first multiplayer game in the franchise, and very often developers attempt to promote the new multiplayer mode with dozens of Trophies and Achievements linked to the multiplayer mode, which some players do not even have the basic resources to nail. Mass Effect 3 presents a diplomatic solution; you can get most of the multiplayer achievements either by accomplishing goals in multiplayer, OR making equal accomplishments in the single-player campaign. For example, the "Tourist" Achievement is awarded for completing one multiplayer match OR completing two N7 assignments in the single-player campaign. For this, I have to applaud BioWare - they are clearly not idiots that expect each and every player out there to have a top-of-the-line broadband connection or mere interest in multiplayer games.

I wish they'd stop experimenting before it's too late, though. Mass Effect 3 is an excellent game, it truly is - if you're here for the story, and not just any story, but a story you've developed yourself in the course of the last five years. It will strike new players as an everyman action game - to new players, there are probably very few special things about it. The story is a magnificent climax to Shepard's military career in itself, and no real Mass Effect fan and veteran can deny that - it's supposed to be what keeps them going, even at the worst of times. The gameplay lacks balance and liberty to be who you want to be, the game might be a little repetitive, even boring - yes, all that, but as a story, it's everything we hoped for, and even more. In the world of Mass Effect, within the standards set by Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, that means a lot.

+ Shepard & Co.
+ Fleshed out cavalcade of enemies representing three different factions, and good villains altogether 
+ The story will blow your mind, even moreso if you've been a Mass Effect completist in the past
+ In regards to the previous, BioWare's attention to detail is unparalleled
+ The voiceover work is grand
+ The soundtrack is epic to the core
+ Combat (and experimenting with it) is fun as long as it stays fresh
+ Weapon and character development is simplified even further, but not linear by any means
+ There are very few forced conversations
+ The multiplayer mode's a fine addition to the full experience
+ The Trophies/Achievements rock despite the addition of a multiplayer mode
+ The Quicksave button might not be very useful due to the large number of checkpoints (it's a weapon against occasional freezing, though), but it is an excellent invention that I'd recommend to a whole bulk of games I've played lately - here's looking at you, Ninja Gaiden

- Countless, not to mention serious problems at launch for the Xbox 360, including the character import glitch and Origin's potential to fuck your Achievement counters up for the duration of a whole playthrough (this is where I yell "check!")
- You need Xbox LIVE Gold to just try the multiplayer game
- Ironically, character customization is more limited than ever
- The need to run around Citadel and the Normandy after each five-minute trip to God knows where is great, actually doing it is painful
- The level design lacks similar passion that drives the character and enemy design
- The game generally lacks balance; no minigames, no profitable exploration, limited ways to dictate the course of dialogue, too much straightforward action, and in turn, long sessions of simply running back and forth in the hubs
- Scan 'n' fetch seems to be the new name for all extra assignments; well, at least completely scanning the planets doesn't take nearly as much time as it did before
- The Reapers on the galaxy map are nothing but annoying distractions
- The Xbox 360 version demands disc change every waking hour; what was the point of installation, again?

< 8.6 >

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