As a form of entertainment, games have certainly evolved beyond their simple roots. What began as a means of passing time has evolved into a medium worthy of recognition as a meaningful pursuit. Some games exist to entertain. Others serve as competitive sports. Then there are games like those in the Mass Effect series.
Mass Effect 3 is the final game in the sci-fi RPG trilogy from developer BioWare. Players take on the role of Commander Shepard and can customise their character’s gender, appearance, class, abilities and background. The Commander returns in this title to continue fighting an impossible war only to be hampered at every twist and turn.
Whilst it’s possible to jump straight into the game without having played its predecessors, many of the subtleties in character interaction and plotlines will be lost. Newcomers are advised to tackle at least Mass Effect 2 (ME2) beforehand, if only to develop a better understanding of the universe and the personalities that inhabit it.
BioWare ensures that those who have loyally stuck with the series aren’t overlooked. Save files generated in the original game can be carried over to ME2 and then transferred on to ME3. This preserves important decisions and Shepard’s personality. While the mechanic is seldom employed, it is always enthusiastically greeted, not just for the replay value granted but also for how important it makes players’ decisions seem.
Herein lies the strength of the series – the depth of its story. An expansive original universe has been created with its own set of rules and styles. What makes it so thrilling to play through is not just the how the action plays out, but the sophistication of the large cast of characters that inhabit the setting. Along with impressive dialogue, this makes for a deeply immersive experience.
The plot is shaped by the players themselves and it is not afraid to confront with difficult moral decisions. Indeed, gamers should anticipate many moments of hesitation as they stare hopelessly at their televisions, controllers in hand, thinking carefully about the choices they need to make.
As Commander Shepard, players have been able to develop relationships with the people encountered throughout the series and Mass Effect 3 is no different, offering the opportunity to further or sever these connections as well as develop new ones. Crew members also interact with each other noticeably more and can even develop relationships of their own. It is small touches like these that allow players to feel as though they are part of a living and evolving world.
However, as well written as the characters are, it can feel as though there is a lack of material featuring the main cast. It’s also a little jarring when someone suddenly professes their love for Shepard when there has been no hint of such feelings beforehand. Perhaps this is just a result of being spoilt by the game’s predecessor.
Worthy of particular mention is the voice cast. The actors really breathe life into their roles. It can reach a point where players develop actual bonds with their crew members, reacting to them almost as if they are real people. Rare is the title that provokes this sort of response.
The game contains some brilliantly directed moments, both during gameplay and in cut scenes. This was undoubtedly achieved through the excellent production values. The art design, musical score and scene direction are of a very high standard. As beautiful as it is to watch, it must be said that there are some noticeable frame drops on the both the 360 and PS3 versions. Nonetheless, choppy cut scenes are only temporary and don’t impair the gameplay.
As in past chapters, third person combat makes up a large portion of the game. Shepard can manoeuvre in and out of cover quickly, perform a roll and execute stealth kills when the situation is appropriate. All party members can level up their abilities, learn new skills and equip an array of upgradeable weapons and armour. On harder difficulties, some adversaries require an extra layer of strategy (such as mixing certain skills from party members for maximum effect) but hardcore veterans will still be left wondering where all the enemies went.
The addition of cooperative multiplayer so late in the series was met with a mixed reaction, the concern being that the new mode could be detrimental to the quality of the single player game. These fears are quickly put to rest as whenever players complete multiplayer missions, they are actually boosting their solo progress.
Players take control of entirely new characters, which grants opportunities to experience new races and classes. The team must defeat waves of enemies, with objectives such as recovering data thrown in at regular intervals. When all waves have been completed, combatants accrue experience and credits (the in-game currency) to purchase upgrades.
Teaming up with friends online in the Mass Effect universe is fun and feels completely natural and the chance to contribute to the single player campaign makes the multiplayer experience even more satisfying.
Overall, BioWare has created a universe that is both evocative and memorable. In it, the writers have staged an immersive story driven by player choice. Even if the sci-fi and RPG genres do not tickle your fancy, the quality and rewarding gameplay of Mass Effect 3 deserves at least one chance to prove to you that it is worthy of the passionate fan base it has amassed.