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Game Review: Mass Effect Comes To A Close [Mostly Spoiler Free]

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GamerBy: Stephen Crane

Well, it's finally out, and I've had more than enough time playing the game that I feel I can give it a fair, objective review. Mass Effect 3 hit the shelves a little over a week ago, and it has received a lot of praise, and a lot of criticism at the same time. How did the game shape up in my book? Keep reading after the jump and I will tell you.

Release Date: 3/6/2012

Released For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

System Played on: Xbox 360

Hours Played: 48

Single Player Progress: Finished single player campaign. Chose one ending. 5,000+ Effective Readiness.

Single Player Thoughts: The Mass Effect franchise had a lot to hold up to. Its two previous games provided an incredible amount of choice, and we would see the consequences of these choices in this game. Further, the engine in Mass Effect 2 was such a leg up from its predecessor, many were wondering what the new changes would bring. How could ME: 2 be improved upon?

Let me be clear now so that my following criticisms do not overshadow my thoughts: Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game and well worth a spot on your shelves. It has its flaws in every part of the game, but it's also an incredibly detailed, beautifully made end to a well-loved franchise.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's look at what went wrong when playing the game. First and foremost, players will notice the game is buggy. This seems to be pervasive in all formats of game whether it's the PS3's lag and framerate issues or the Xbox 360's poor texture mapping and occasionally missing characters in cutscenes. A lot of these bugs can be seen as sort of silly, or quirky, but some of the ones I encountered on the Xbox 360 were game breaking and absurd.

In one mission, I was apparently just too darn good, and the game would not let me progress. I was mounted on a turret, and I was killing husks and brutes with incredible ease. The enemies barely had spawned before my weapon cleaned them out. Then, they just stopped spawning. I had nothing to kill, and when I left the turret I was told to get back on it and kill the enemy that was not there. I explored the little area, but there were no triggers. I reloaded, did just as well, and saw the same bug. After a third try and not being so fast on the draw, the game let me proceed.

This wasn't the only example of a bug where I had to reload. Occasionally I would get "stuck" in the environment, or my Shepard would randomly use powers I didn't tell him to, or switch to different weapons. It's plausible this is due to the game shouting out words that my Kinect picked up and thought was me.  It's still a rather frustrating event.

Me2Another large letdown in the game was the new Journal system. Quest logs don't update with any relevant information. Instead, they sort of tell you that you have a quest without real information about it. You have to go to the Citadel, open up your map and see if there is a person of interest. This is a "floor by floor" process, and can be time consuming. The map wasn't always entirely reliable either as persons of interest could not be spoken to, or were missing entirely. You could pick up quests just by walking around without knowing about it until there was an indicator on the galaxy map.

To BioWare's credit, the galaxy map was wonderfully updated, and any system where there is a possible quest is flashing so the player knows to go there. It's an easy way to scan a map for areas of interest. Further, if you missed picking an item up in any of the missions or side missions, it can be later purchased from the Spectre store which definitely helps completionists.

The load times on the Xbox 360, even after an install on the system were often painful. If it wasn't a direct loading screen, it was a hidden one. If a door takes long to open, it's probably a hidden loading screen. The body scanner when leaving the war room? I'm willing to bet that was its own loading screen. I can see the function and the beauty behind hiding loading times, but other times it was frustrating to watch. BioWare did do a good job of trying to mask them, but they were too frequent to completely ignore.

The story is impressive, though the ending is… well, I'll save my thoughts on the ending until a future post. I want to give enough space to address my feelings and my concerns. The ending wasn't horrible, and in many ways BioWare did something artistically interesting by subverting expectations. My feelings on the ending are too nuanced to be tagged onto this, especially if I don't want to give away spoilers.

 

Every negative I found in the game, though, was outweighed by some of the impressive moments of core gameplay. The combat is for the most part improved. Balancing out weapon variety and upgrades with weight and power recharge leads to a lot of character customization and play styles.

When the mechanics all came together, they really worked well. Even my Kinect got some use, as I was able to shout out voice commands to abilities I did not have mapped to my controller. Due to some pretty heavy lag in response times, these abilities were mostly "first aid" or "incendiary ammo." It helped a lot with the flow of the game, and meant I didn't have to pause to activate specific abilities.

The story was diverse, and complex. I have had the chance to share my single player experiences with friends, and it quickly becomes apparent that even though we were playing the same discs, we were not playing the same stories. In the overall plot, past decisions do matter, if only because of our emotional attachment and familiarity with past characters. In many instances, my personal feelings towards a specific character surfaced when I didn't expect it to, and I either laughed or cried.

From beginning to almost end, there is still that strong concept of "my Shepard." To an impressive extent, what "my Shepard" did wasn't what my friend's Shepard did. That, in itself, is impressive to consider.

I found little use for the Kinect in dialogue options. It did little to immerse me as a player if for no other reason than what I was saying into the Kinect was not at all the script used by my Shepard. It just felt like extra effort and wasted time while breaking immersion. Its functionality felt forced and was a net loss for the game.

Multiplayer Progress: Reached Level 25

Multiplayer Thoughts: Adding in a multiplayer aspect to Mass Effect was risky. It's something that's often been discussed, but the past two games have been powerhouses in proving that games can exist comfortably with only single player campaigns.

Me3_coop_1Fortunately, the multiplayer has been rolled out and is a joy to play. The class structure with the similar weight/powers balancing from multiplayer means players can experiment with a lot of play styles to see what works best.

On the Xbox 360, it was sometimes quite hard to get a good game going as a lack of dedicated servers seemed to be a strain for some hosts. Further, if a host left a game, it wouldn't be long before the entire scenario collapsed.

I would have liked to see more variety in environments, if not in enemies fought. Maps used in multiplayer could be easily recognized from the single player campaign. Fortunately, the difficulty is high, so each map is its own challenge no matter who you are fighting.

The forced teamwork is great if only because it's incentivised with additional bonuses in single player. Galactic Readiness helps open up a few options at the end of the campaign, and it feels like a suitable reward. The issue is that it's really easy to get Galactic Readiness up to 99% in the last minute, as each match generally rewards 3% or more if you were victorious, and maybe less if you didn't finish all of the waves.

For a wave-based system, BioWare designed this right. Each wave is perfectly scaled in increasing difficulty, and the objective-based waves offer a decent variety so players aren't always defending an easy position on the map.

I question, however, how long lasting the multiplayer is. Will it hold player attention as long as some previous games like Halo 3, or will it start to show its age soon? In a player vs. computer battle, there is always a finite end simply because the computer has limits a player vs. player battle doesn't always provide.

For a good distraction, and at least ten hours of my time, the multiplayer was enjoyable and exciting. It's easy to just hop in and play through a scenario without too much of a learning curve. I hope more can be added in the future.

Overall Thoughts: Mass Effect 3 is a worthy addition to the franchise. As a strict ending titles, I have mixed emotions. I wanted to see more from the end, and to know the fates of everyone at the end of the battle. Even a spreadsheet including the war assets you started the battle with, and the war assets when the battle is over would have been nice.

The story is brilliantly told, although not brilliantly concluded. The campaign is such that it will continue the tradition of sharing stories and experiences between gamers. "My Shepard" is still present, although I struggle to say "my Shepard" would have finished the franchise the way he did. Perhaps there is an underlying genius to the end, but that is something I will discuss in the future.

Multiplayer is strong, and mostly fun, though I question its longevity. Will we see DLC to make it more long lasting, and will there be an endgame that's worth replaying beyond maximum level? I would like to see how BioWare will handle these struggles. Despite claims, you can't really seem to get the "best" ending without multiplayer, but you don't have to play all that much of it to get your Galactic Readiness as high as needed. Players can comfortably play at the lowest level and reach a sufficient readiness level.

All in all, I would recommend this game as a purchase, especially if you have played previous games in the franchise. It's memorable, powerful, and worth a lot of the emotion brought up by some of the game's larger flaws.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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