Also available on: PS3, PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter in Commander Shepard's battle against the Reapers and the final chance for players to forge alliances, eliminate enemies and make countless more galaxy-defining decisions in the face of overwhelming odds and adversity. It's the game we've been waiting five years to play, the title that puts all of those difficult decisions to bed, justifying a ruthless streak or punishing that one moment of weakness. Whether seasoned veteran or rookie soldier, Mass Effect 3 is where the war truly begins and ends, in an adventure spanning the outer areas of space and the inner regions of your heart - it's emotional stuff.
"How many humans does it take to fix a mass effect relay? 602. 600 to vote on it, one to ask a Turian for help and another one to request a seat on the galactic council afterwards." One of a surprisingly large amount of jokes and humorous one-liners you'll hear throughout the course of the game, and a line that best sums up what is happening on Earth during the opening stages of Mass Effect 3. Despite Shepard's warnings, Earth's bureaucrats and pen-pushers are reluctant to act on the Reaper threat, that is until the war - or invasion to be more accurate - lands on its doorstep. After a typically explosive and utterly riveting opening act, what follows is a galaxy-wide quest to unite planets and races in the fight against the ancient enemy.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Cerberus continues to be a pain in the proverbial, the Illusive Man with enough fingers in pies to open his own Fleet Street eatery. Then there are the Salarians, Krogans and Turians: three species linked by a long history built on mutual animosity. Getting them all on board is no easy task, impossible even, alienation from at least one of the species a more likely side-effect of your decision to side with the lesser of three evils. The Quarians, meanwhile, are involved in their own war, but you need their fleet, so what do you do? Well, that's entirely up to you.
Mass Effect has always been a unique and personal experience, each game shaped by choice and free will. Whether choosing a human representative for the Citadel council, or freeing a dangerous criminal in order to gain mercenary support, every action has a consequence - some of which are truly heartbreaking. This has never been more true than in Mass Effect 3, resulting in an utterly compelling experience from start to finish. There are no lulls and pointless endeavours, despite a wealth of things to see and do in the 40+ hour campaign.
What makes the latest release particularly rewarding is the addition of war assets. While Mass Effect 2 had players mining planets and performing loyalty missions in order to earn ship upgrades - thus improving chances of survival in the final mission - the latest release sees players recruit soldiers and scientists, all of whom increase your Effective Military Strength rating. In essence, the game is very similar in structure to its predecessor.
Players carry out quests, becoming better equipped to tackle the final mission in the process. The addition of quantifiable human and alien assets, however - instead of metals and minerals - amplifies the importance of each mission and side quest. So whether you find yourself saving a small team of biotics students or an entire species from extinction, you always feel like you have something to show for it in the end.
This is also where multiplayer comes in. Essentially Mass Effect 3's very own Horde mode, Galaxy At War is a four-player co-operative battle for survival. Despite feeling slightly out of place at first, Galaxy At War is a surprisingly addictive multiplayer mode, which utlises the game's excellent third-person shooter mechanics. Galaxy At War provides the perfect opportunity to experiment with different character classes, whether new to the series and unsure about your style or a veteran who's been rocking the same Shepard since 2007.
It's also another way in which players can increase their Effective Military Strength rating, which acts as a motivator when playing and stops Galaxy At War from feeling like an unnecessary extra. And once again, as means of increasing your readiness, it sure beats mining. However, it should be noted that the multiplayer's contribution to your final standing in the campaign is entirely optional - you don't have to touch it to earn the best ending.
Those pesky planet mining sections have been eliminated altogether, in fact, the developers opting for a much more streamlined galactic scanning process. While venturing into new galaxies, players need only scan the environment once or twice, discovering secret assets and artefacts, but also alerting nearby Reaper vessels. Although we would have liked some sort of minigame to avoid Reaper capture - instead of a game over screen - the added danger of entering enemy zones is far more exciting than visiting every single planet in the hope of increasing Iridium supplies.
Exploration isn't the only aspect of Mass Effect 3 that has been improved. Shepard is much more nimble on his feet, better able to slip in and out of cover and sprint through the battlefield, all the while hurdling over gaps and jumping onto platforms. Shepard's melee attack is also much more lethal, the good commander able to unleash combos and power strikes, depending on character class and equipped weapon. By no means are the game mechanics perfect, however, and players will frequently roll into the open instead of cover or shimmy around corners instead of pushing forward.
For those who view scripted sections or combat scenarios as a distraction, the game can be tailored towards an action or role-playing experience. Combined with storyline elements, character classes, weapons and abilities, the ability to customise the type of gameplay experience adds further replayability to a game - nay, a trilogy - dripping with depth and lore. It's also important to point out that despite the obvious value of completing previous games in the series, the latest release does a fine job of filling you in on what you may have missed, whether it's through conversations with fellow characters, or by reading the extensive journal entries.
Unfortunately, the cast of Mass Effect 3 is a little too Mass Effect-heavy, with characters from Mass Effect 2 largely limited to cameos. There are new recruits, of course, the most interesting of whom is embedded journalist Diana Allers, who will interview Shepard about past exploits in the hope of inspiring the people of Earth. Media management is an unexpected addition to the series, but a welcome one nonetheless. Unfortunately, fellow newbie James Vega is well-voiced (by Freddie Prinze Jr) but ultimately a little dull, seemingly filling the generic soldier quota.
There are a few other surprise additions, not to mention some interesting romantic options, not just for Shepard but also for the Normandy's crew. The most intriguing character, of course, is Shepard, the commander suffering physically and psychologically from various labours and losses. This is a character burdened with the task of saving the galaxy, something that can only be achieved at enormous cost and sacrifice.
While there is a definite finality to Mass Effect 3, the wealth of plot-based variables are likely to inspire second, third and fourth playthroughs, not just of the latest game but of the entire trilogy. Mass Effect 3 is truly unique in this respect, leaving no stone unturned and offering full closure, yet still leaving players with countless 'what ifs'. It's these unanswered questions that have driven the Mass Effect experience, and will motivate players to see their mission through to its glorious end.
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