Mass Effect 3 Review

Developer: BioWare / Publisher: EA / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence]

I like to think that of all the Mass Effect fans that work in gaming, we here at Machinima have the most passionate group. At least once a week for the last year, Mass Effect has been the subject of lunchtime conversation. To that end, to say that Mass Effect 3 was eagerly anticipated around these parts is a galaxy-sized understatement. When I wasn’t trying to shield my nearby coworkers from massive story spoilers as I played, I thought I might have to physically beat them away from my desk. Their eyes glinted with Gollum-like desire and their mouths frothed up just a little bit when they caught sight of the box. So when they asked me how the review was going, I felt as though I was taking my personal safety in my hands when I said “it’s goddamn amazing.”

On the bright side, I was telling the truth, and Mass Effect 3 is easily the best game of the year up to this point. Why? Let’s take a look.

Story

To speak in any sort of detail about the plot and narrative of ME3 would be to do a disservice to anyone who plans on playing it. From the opening moments of the Reaper arrival on Earth, the game takes you on a space-faring adventure that compares with the best sci-fi has to offer. The real star of this story is not any particular event, per se; instead, this yarn pulls you through to the end credits on the strength of its character moments. BioWare’s writing team has achieved an incredible victory with the conclusion of the trilogy, in the way that they’ve managed to showcase a fictional galaxy facing imminent destruction, the complete removal of fictional life from fictional history, all the while creating characters that feel more real than you’ll be able to comprehend.

And they’ve done this because they’ve had more than five years to develop and mold these characters into beings with extended arcs. Looking back at the young, naïve asari scientist Liara T’Soni from Mass Effect 1, for example, and comparing it to the brooding, sometimes haunted Liara of Mass 3, you’ll get the sense that this character, this person, has lived an actual life that has persisted, even when you weren’t playing a Mass Effect game. In other words, every single being that you have come across in your time with the Mass Effect franchise has stayed with you. You just didn’t know it. But they’ve been in your head, whether you were conscious of it or not, and their presence in the story of Mass Effect 3 is their opportunity to remind you of their intricate depth and subtle personalities. The crew of the Normandy are your friends, they’ve been there with your Shepard as you flew out to save the galaxy time and again, and I dare anyone not to feel some sort of emotional connection during some of the game’s poignant conversational moments.

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If it was just the characters alone that were indelible, you might think I was writing off the rest of the storytelling as average, but that is simply not the case. Each successive mission you play builds on the previous mission’s atmosphere, establishing a rising sense of scale that is so massive it will drop your jaw when you see it. Take everything you remember about Mass 1’s final mission against Sovereign, and ratchet up the intensity two, three, sometimes tenfold. And might I add that the reward of seeing the game’s amazing conclusion is truly something I will treasure as a gamer.

Fanboys and fangirls everywhere will rejoice at the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to detail, as well as the small surprises sprinkled throughout; even elements from the novels play a role in the story. The only major downside to all the great narrative is that occasionally the storytelling gets a little lazy, and convenient circumstance will help the heroes get through some tough spots. But if you’re not expecting every miniscule plot hole to be buttoned up firmly, the overarching story is engaging, compelling, and entertaining.

Visuals

The game’s visuals aren’t too shabby, either. In classic ME style, the game will give you a portal through which to view the beauty of the universe, be that the multi-hued nebulae of space; the grand, sweeping vistas of alien worlds; or the ravaging beauty of a city crumbling under the siege of Reaper forces. ME3 doesn’t want for aesthetically pleasing locales.

On the downside, we are playing a game that is based (at least in part) on tech that’s closing in on seven years old. Because of this, many textures won’t exactly set the world on fire. Animations, too, are a bit stunted and jerky, especially when you answer questions in dialogue before NPCs finish their speech, causing Shepard to unnaturally shift to a new position without the intervening frames allowing for natural movement. Lip-syncing isn’t too great, either, which makes me long for L.A. Noire’s facial tech to be broadly applied to other games.

All that said, the game doesn’t look bad; it’s just not revolutionary. The various filters and lighting effects all serve to evoke emotional reactions to the game’s many atmospheres, and the characters are so well written that you should be able to forgive the blemishes.

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Gameplay

If you’ve played a Mass Effect game before, especially Mass Effect 2, you’ll be right at home (which is great, since the game doesn’t come with a physical instruction manual). The gunplay does feel marginally tightened up, even over ME2’s improvements, and the new functional melee system means close-combat situations don’t induce panic attacks.

It’s interesting. The structure of ME3 is like an amalgamation of the first two games. Where ME1 felt very wide open (and sometimes aimless), and ME2 felt too tightly constricted, Mass 3 straddles a fine line, adopting both games’ strengths and discarding their weaknesses. Obviously with a plot about the fate of galactic society hanging in the balance, it pushes forth a sense of urgency and driving narrative. That said, the Citadel is much bigger this time around and serves as a side quest hub for those looking for content off the beaten path. The galaxy map, too, is bigger than it’s ever been. By the end of the game, dozens of star clusters will be available to explore, most containing valuable supplies or soldiers the Normandy can recruit to the fight against the Reapers.

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Thankfully, the tedious planet mining from ME2 is gone in favor of a more elegant solution. You now scan solar systems from space (which has a chance to draw Reaper attention to the system; get caught and it’s game over). If something valuable shows up on the scan, you can then zoom in on the planet or area of space in question and use the world-scanning interface from ME2 to locate said asset and recruit it to the cause. Sure it’s nothing more than menu management when all is said and done, but at least your fingers won’t be bleeding.

All that out there, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Kinect. Thankfully, the Kinect integration is unobtrusive, optional, and at its best, actually useful. While there are a number of functions Kinect can supplant during your experience, the best are the ones that allow you to forego using the weapon/power wheels during combat. Simply using your own voice to tell Garrus to switch weapons or Liara to use her singularity power on the enemy on you is an experience that is vaguely futuristic, but definitely cool. Protip: Don’t play with a friend behind you who has a penchant for messing up your gameplay on purpose by yelling out random commands to trip you up.

Using the Kinect to speak Shepard’s dialogue choices is somewhat less fun, mostly because pressing a button is faster and doesn’t make you look or sound foolish.

Multiplayer

Unfortunately, the multiplayer side of the game was not yet operational at the time of this review. From what I can tell from my time with the demo (and assuming everything is working properly on launch day), multiplayer should significantly extend the life of the game with its addictive upgrade system and gameplay-differentiating classes and races. I really wanted to give the full suite of features a whirl, as I put more hours into the multiplayer demo than some full games I own. The jury is still out, so please take the final score on this review to be inclusive of the main campaign only.

Sound

The voice acting is incredible. The actors themselves feel like they’ve grown as much as the characters they’re portraying, leading to some incredibly authentic and nuanced performances. Musically, the soundtrack is varied and generally well-conceived. Combat features explosive, driving melodies that heighten the intensity. Old classics return (such as the galaxy map theme, and the Illusive Man’s foreboding anthem), but the most standout pieces are the gentle lilts of the music that accompany the more touching and understated moments between characters. These songs reflect the ties between beings who relate to one another as individuals, a fact that stands in direct opposition to the cold logic of the malignant Reapers. Naturally, the songs used in these most human of moments drive this point home nicely.

On the sound effect front, there’s a great meatiness to the audio textures. When guns fire, you know that whatever is on the other end of that bullet is getting decimated. The mechanical whirring of machines, the sinister noises of enemies, and the general ambience of the environments are all just component bits of a delicious auditory meal.

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Bottom Line

I’ll say it: Mass Effect 3 is the best game in the trilogy. It takes enough elements from its two predecessors and combines them very effectively, an achievement that very clearly indicates a BioWare team who has spent the last half decade refining their success and missteps to master their craft. The niggling issues with the visual glitches detract slightly from the overall score, simply because everything else is so damn good that they really stand out as the major dings. But what you’ll remember when you’re done with ME3 is not the glitches, it’s the adventure and the characters you shared it with. As a trilogy, it is one of the most well-realized pieces of science fiction ever created. As a videogame, let’s just say I hope I’m alive to see a series of this scope again.

It’s not perfect, but it certainly holds a special place in my gaming experience. I can’t think of one reason you wouldn’t go out immediately and pick this game up, unless you haven’t played a Mass Effect title before. In that instance, go and start with the first game; it’s a large commitment yes, but you’ll be glad you did when you get to experience firsthand the incredible arc the franchise will take you on. For everyone else, you have no excuse.

9.5/10 

  1. yes… yessss…. YESSSS!!!!! asdfkjwaslkjdflkqjbe

    ok time to change my pants

  2. AAAAAAAhhhhhhh!!!! MY WALLET!!!!!! SHE’S NOT BREATHING!!! QUICK!!!!! GIVE HER AN IV OF CASH!!!!!!!! SHE’S NOT GUNNA MAAAKE IT!!!!! NNNooOOOoooOOOOoooOOOOO!!!!!!

  3. René Mathias Rojas

    Why… Why do you play it on the Xbox…

    • Because then you can get the full experience. All your decisions from Mass Effect 1 up to this point aren’t on the PS3. Plus, the game plays better on the PS3. The PS3 vesion has some framerate issues not present on the 360 version.

      Someone sounds like an upset fanboy.

    • So you’re saying it’s better to play on the PC and use Origin?? I think not. Origin will not come into contact with my PC in any way shape or form.

  4. Shut up and take my money !!!

  5. For me this is the only game that plays and feels the same on all consoles.

  6. Can’t wait!

  7. 9.5? Is this is the first video game you played in your life?

    -”The only major downside to all the great narrative is that occasionally the storytelling gets a little lazy, and convenient circumstance will help the heroes get through some tough spots. But if you’re not expecting every miniscule plot hole to be buttoned up firmly, the overarching story is engaging, compelling, and entertaining.”
    Ok thats minus 1

    -”All that said, the game doesn’t look bad; it’s just not revolutionary. The various filters and lighting effects all serve to evoke emotional reactions to the game’s many atmospheres, and the characters are so well written that you should be able to forgive the blemishes.”
    Oh sweet so at least i cant count on the quality not actual artistic side of gam…

    -”Because of this, many textures won’t exactly set the world on fire. Animations, too, are a bit stunted and jerky, especially when you answer questions in dialogue before NPCs finish their speech, causing Shepard to unnaturally shift to a new position without the intervening frames allowing for natural movement.”

    Oh…
    -”Thankfully, the tedious planet mining from ME2 is gone…”
    -” If something valuable shows up on the scan, you can then zoom in on the planet or area of space in question and use the world-scanning interface from ME2 to locate said asset and recruit it to the cause.”
    Um?

    Pull yourself together Mahchinima.

    • Someone sounds angry and doesn’t want to admit it. This was a very good review. Just because you think this game needs a low score and an army of raging 12 year olds, doesn’t mean Machinima does.

      • But i am angry not because editor’s opinion is different. I’m angry because it is only opinion and not criticism. When you are video game reviewer you are also a critic and your job is not just express your opinion but explain it. When you saying that the game is fun you must say why its fun or your opinion is worth shit. This is not a review, this is annotation on the back of DVD-box with highlights and 9.5 covered in gold.

        This is pretty much the state of modern day game journalism.

    • Don’t waste your time trying to talk to these retards, Theodor. They clearly don’t realize the strain of having sand in ones vagina. And it’s even harder on the gamer when we have to sit down with a stick up our arse. Also, these idiots don’t realize that you not only review games for a living, but you also beat ME3 in it’s entirety. This game clearly deserves a 3/10…

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      • I don’t know if this supposed to be a sarcasm or what.
        And again, my problem with a review, not game.
        I did not play game or gave personal score yet and never said that.

    • His word choices do make it sound as if hes going to give it a 7/10 or something average. I wasn’t expecting the 9.5/10 after many of the things he described as being pretty big turn offs.

      As for if this is the point you are trying to prove – I’m not sure. I’m tired and half awake atm.

      As a long time fan of the series I would give it an 8.5/10.
      It removed stupid parts but added new ones.
      Didn’t change enough from 2 imo. But i enjoyed 2 so its not as big a deal. But its not going to change the way we view rpgs like the other ME’s did.

    • Are u that anal retentive that you picking holes in a minor flaw that could n most likely b fixed with a patch.
      If it bothers u that much dont play it and if u dont like the reveiwer dont come to the site,its littered with enough idiots like you that we could do with out and what is the point you are trying to make if any at all.
      Is this the 1st reveiw or game you have read or played thats what we should be asking.
      The fans will decide,till the be quiet FOOL.

  8. 9.5/10 disappointing do ju give out tens?

  9. Lol at people that will hate on the game before playing it just bcos dislike bioware or the first day DLC.

  10. This review was fantastic. Hearing about the awesomeness that is the story wrapping up sent chills through my body. The added suite of multiplayer options actually sound cool too and make me want to play them. If this truly is the best in the series, and it seems you believe that it is, then I simply cannot WAIT to play it. Great review Justin!

  11. Mass Effect got 10/10

    Why would the best game in the series get 9.5/10?

    Every anticipated game now gets 9.5/10.

    • ME1 had more pros than cons, so it obviously got a good score. ME3 has some flaws, which were too noticeable for the reviewer to push aside. Flawless games like Uncharted 3, Skyward, Infinity Blade 2, and many others were scored so because people believe that the games were a “once in a console lifetime” deal. Still, I’m not going to put down ME3 just because of 0.5 points.

  12. Geez ppl wtf this review was good enough, who gives a fuck about a number? i think raging over a review is THE most childish and stupid thing to do in a gamers life, some1 else’s score doesnt matter, your score does

  13. Pingback: Mass Effect 3 reviews dish out universal praise | googlegamer.com

  14. Sorry Justin I have to disagree about the end. Worst ending for any gaming series. I was left feeling sour, depressed, and wishing I hadn’t spent so many hours on the entire Mass Effect series to be so sorely disappointed.

  15. funny thing. The user review average is about 3 – 3.5

  16. I agree with the vast majority of what you said, until the ending. As others have said the ending leaves you confused, depressed and absolutely destroyed any motivation for me to replay through the series again. All the struggles I made up until that point were absolutely pointless; the idea that anything positive could come of those endings (except of one that was the most completely insane one of the bunch) is ridiculous (won’t go into details to avoid spoilers). This game deserves a 9.5 up until the last ten minutes, after that I could at most give it a 5 (just for the game play and story up until that point). If you asked just four hours before this post whether it would be possible for the last ten minutes of Mass Effect 3 could ruin the entire series for me I would’ve laughed; sadly I now know that it is possible.

  17. great review but why didnt you mention the worst ending in gaming history

  18. I just beat ME3 and can finally oppress everyone with my omnipotent opinion!!! Spoiler free.

    Personally, I was thrown off by the angle Bioware approached this title, primarily with home worlds and characters. The combat was slick, the choices were morally challenging, and the characters were, as always, emotionally gripping. The issues with glitching around while in conversations was a bit derailing from the experience. The story was phenomenal and concluded in a manner that made me literally sit for an hour or so to consider my choices before I could pick up my controller and finish the game. Seriously.

    I will not be purchasing the From Ashes DLC because it was such a vital column that it should have been mandatory to be involved. I know their excuse for cutting it from the main game. However, I also know that they thought about the DLC before production began and purposefully decided to exclude it from the experience. It’s a shame.

    With my rant aside, I would give this title a 9.5, which it rightfully earned. It’s an experience that I will never be able to forget. I’m looking forward to the future of Mass Effect and what lies in store.

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