by: Will Pipes
Picking up Mass Effect 3 was, for me at least, exciting and scary. It was exciting because it was the last installment in a series I’ve come to love, but scary because I was worried that it would be a whimper of an exit to one of the most brilliant marriages of science-fiction and the modern video game industry I’ve ever seen. After fighting against only two of the spaceship-sized sentient machines known as Reapers, who are intent on destroying all organic life in the galaxy, for two games, I was concerned that fighting a war against thousands of them wouldn’t feel at all real. However, I’m happy to say that Mass Effect 3 made the series go out with a bang, several of them in fact, by retaining the most popular aspects of the first two games while still showing enough growth and evolution to have an identity of its own. The game continues the biggest tradition of the series: letting players choose what their stories turn out to be.
Instead of being given a cardboard cutout of a protagonist with an arsenal of witty one-liners and a charming smile, players get to make Shepard (the main character) in their own image, male or female, mix and match three different styles of combat, and manage the war effort as they see fit. If they choose to be the compassionate, caring hero who everybody loves, then they can do that, but likewise, they can also be the ruthless antihero that everyone fears. Either way, the decisions you make in the game (and in previous games if you’ve played those) stay with you and play out in front of your very eyes before the end of the game. Along the way you gather an assorted group of compatriots, both alien and human, who, instead of playing second fiddle to Shepard, have their own backstories and their own emotions and problems that come to light as the game goes on. The game does an excellent job of portraying the scope of the war as truly galactic in size, by showing how humans and various alien races are affected by the Reaper invasion, and by having the player go through the process of smoothing over relations between these races, as well as building a galactic armada in order to fight for the survival of all organic life.
The gameplay is completely overhauled from the second game, changing a stiff-and-awkward-to-control Shepard to an agile and mobile force of destruction in combat, giving the environments the breadth and depth they need to feel realistic and not restricted, and giving the weapons in the game enough customization options to form a strategy around but not so much that players are lost in the myriad of options and advantages. The added multiplayer portion of the game brings an entirely new aspect to bear for the Mass Effect series, tying into the story in a unique and inventive way.
The bottom line is that Mass Effect 3 delivers a rich, compelling, player-driven narrative, smooth, unhindered gameplay, and a fun, challenging multiplayer, all of which create a game that only comes around once in a blue moon and pits not just the player’s reflexes, but their mind and personality against an enemy to see just how good of a job they would do defending the galaxy.