And so the finale of one of the greatest franchises of this generation of consoles reaches its climax. The tale that started in 2005 finally comes full circle with BioWare’s latest project, Mass Effect 3. An all-out war has begun, and the fate of the entire galaxy will be ultimately decided in the last venture into Commander Shepard’s story arc. The real question is, however – does the game emerge unscathed, or are there casualties along the way.
Set shortly after the events of Mass Effect 2’s last downloadable content (DLC) release, Mass Effect 3 stars with Commander Shepard being grounded on Earth, and put under scrutiny by the Alliance for both his/her actions in the Arrival storyline and his/her knowledge of the Reapers. When it appears that the Reapers, the all-powerful machine race bent on extermination of the galaxy, may be heading for Earth, the head brass of the systems Alliances calls Shepard to explain what is going on. Suddenly, the Reapers penetrate the defenses of the Earth and begin a full assault on the planet. Realizing the inadequacy of the current forces, Shepard begins his/her quest to really all the forces within the galaxy for a final showdown with the Reapers.
The scope of the plot this time is grand, driven by various sub-plots that play out through the duration of the game. Adding to the plot are some tough decisions that come along the way. What’s different here is the way the story is presented, exploiting the grittier aspects of war, and some heartfelt moments as well. While it immerses players into the story to some degree, a lot of the impact is absent and the plot begins to lose stream during the final chapters – a first for a Mass Effect game. Fortunately, the refined mechanics help alleviate the situation – to a degree.
The gameplay been crafted to incorporate players from a larger demographic to join in the fight for survival. For starters, the game lets you choose right at the beginning the sort of experience you would prefer and how the game plays out. Your focus is not limited to main missions but also various side quests that help set the pace for the game. With the main focus on getting all the help you can get, the game encourages you to venture into different parts of the galaxy and explore various systems using the revamped (and not nearly as monotonous) planet scanning mechanic. Completing any sort of mission or scouring the galaxy helps yield War assets such as new technologies, crew, fleet and supplies that can help you in the final battle. Most of the War assets you gain, however, are only represented as numerical factors showing what your chances of survival are, but it’s a good way to chart your progress. The game also incorporates a co-op multiplayer mode called ‘Galaxy at War’, where teams of four fight off incoming waves of enemy soldiers and complete various objectives for a certain number of rounds.
Combat in the Mass Effect series has gradually been improved to reflect a decent third-person shooter and this third installment feature further adjustments to the system. The action is much more fluent, with a whole new range of offensive options and maneuvers. Your character can now duck and roll to evade fire, and is outfitted with a heavy melee attack executed by holding down the button. Weapons can be outfitted with modes to improve their stats, and the gear you take into battle determines power recharge time. Ultimately, the game boils down to your skill and aim with the weapon of your choice, along with giving your squad-mates the right orders during encounters. The AI is brilliant, making full use of their potential by using flanking maneuvers, grenades, smoke screens, turrets, armored shields and a host of other abilities.
Audio and visual
There’s no denying that Mass Effect 3 is a beautifully rendered game. Apart from a few faces that don’t seem to work, the cast looks great with detailed animations and facial expressions. The environments are gorgeously rendered whether it’s the invasion on Earth, storm-covered Mars, or the home world of the Salarians and Turians. Reapers are a common occurrence in the background, showing off their enormous scale and bringing home the magnitude of the fight, and the effects are superb. Voice-acting remains brilliant and brings to life the personalities of every character – including a minor one you meet along the way. The music composed by Clint Mansell is excellent, as it hits all the right notes, whether you are encountering danger on the battlefield or partaking in conservation with a wounded ally. Even on modest hardware, the game looks and feels brilliant; though be prepared for some stuttering issues and slowdowns if your rig is not up to spec.
The final chapter of Commander Shepard’s saga comes with all the bells and whistles you can expect from a great game. While the storyline may not be on par with its predecessor, Mass Effect 3 delivers a riveting plot, great play mechanics, a decent multiplayer suite and some brilliant visuals and sounds. For fans of the series and gamers new to the fray, this fight to take back Earth is one they should definitely enlist for.