Game of the Month: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 is the epic conclusion of the Mass Effect trilogy of video games. In the previous games your avatar, Commander Shepard, stops advanced forces of the Reapers, a race of sapient machines that want to annihilate all advanced civilisations in the galaxy. But all her efforts could only delay the inevitable and the Reapers finally invade. In an all out galactic war one civilisation ofter another is threatened by utter and complete destruction. Commander Shepard’s daunting task is to end hundreds of years of internal fighting, unite all the races of the galaxy and rally an army to stop the invasion somehow.

The game play is similar to Mass Effect 2: a role-playing game with third person shooter action sequences. But a lot of details have been improved:

  1. Combat was somewhat static in Mass Effect 2. As your character only moved slowly and couldn’t run very far you had to fight from cover most of the time. Advancing during combat had to be carefully planned. In Mass Effect 3 combat is much more dynamic. Your character is faster in general and can run, jump, climb up latters and most importantly dodge attacks by rolling. This allows you to move around in a fire fight without getting killed while trying to flank your enemies. Close combat is also much more feasible as you character is now able to perform a heavy melee attack.
  2. The weapon system has changed significantly. All character classes can carry all types of weapons, even at the same time. But carrying more weapons causes a weight penalty which slows down the use of biotic and tech powers considerably. This penalty depends on the class. Soldiers can carry the most weight but have limited powers to start with. Sentinels on the other hand should carry less weight if they want to use their powers frequently.
    There is now a great variety of weapons.They differ from each other in accuracy, fire rate, damage, ammunition capacity and weight. You can also apply up to two upgrades to each weapon to customise it according to your preferences. This allows you to create a set of weapons that fits your individual play style best.
    Heavy weapons can no longer be carried around all the time. Instead they are only available at certain points in a few levels. While you are carrying a heavy weapon you can not use your normal weapons. If you switch back to them you will drop the heavy weapon.
  3. The power system has also been refined. Each power has now six levels. Starting at level four of each power you can even pick one of two variants of the power. You e.g. have to decide whether you want more damage to a single target or damage to multiple targets. This allows you to tune the characters to suite your game style even further.
  4. The graphics have been improved as well. Levels for example look much more detailed now. The display of the Mars surface with a sand storm at the horizon looks particularly impressive.

In between the action sequences there is room for a lot of story splot. As the war is taking its toll on the galaxy the atmosphere is quite dark. This is reflected in the mood and behaviour of all the characters in the game. All of them show a lot of emotions and sometimes even require the player’s care. But there are also bits of comedy in form of highly entertaining dialogs that you can either witness or participate in.

As in the previous parts Commander Shepard is sometimes faced with tough decisions. Sometimes the fate of an entire race depends on her leadership. And there is not much room for error as you need to gather as much allies as you can if you want to stand a chance of rescuing Earth from the Reapers.

On top of the brilliant single player mode Mass Effect 3 also features an excellent multi player mode. Up to four players cooperatively fight online against eleven waves of enemy forces composed of either Cerberus, Geth or Reapers.  The battle takes place in one of six different maps. Players have to create a character for playing multiplayer which uses the same classes as single player characters and has similar biotic and tech powers. It is even possible to unlock alien races which enables you to create a Krogan soldier, a Quarian engineer , an Asari vanguard or any other of a dozen combinations. As every character class and race has their different strengths and weaknesses you get a new game experience with each of them. By completing missions you gain experiences for upgrading your character and credits for buying equipment packs in the store. Packs will contain a random selection of useful items like rocket launcher ammunition, medi-gel, weapons or character unlocks. You never know what you will get in advance. Besides being very good training for single player combat the multi player mode is a lot of fun. It can also contribute to the success of your single player campaign by increasing the military strength of the forces that Commander Shepard is gathering.

The only downside of Mass Effect 3 is the ending. It caused a lot of public controversy. Fans campaigned against it and even the BBC reported about it. I was very disappointed by the ending at first:

  1. Playing Mass Effect is about the choices you make. And Mass Effect 3 beautifully incorporates all the decisions from the two previous games. Even characters which only appear in the predecessor for a single scene can make a difference. But when the final chapter begins it all boils down to ruthless calculus as Garrus would say.
  2. The game has multiple endings with quite different consequences. But the problem is that they all look almost identical. The small nuances in the final cut scene just don’t provide enough feedback. And none of them felt like a victory.
  3. The ending doesn’t provide closure. It leaves too many questions unanswered and instead raises new ones.

However my perception changed radically after I watched the following video. Although I still don’t like the ending very much I have to admit that it is a masterpiece.

In the meantime BioWare have  announced that they are working on something that provides more closure. Let’s see what they come up with. I guess that at this point I don’t want them to change the ending, I just want Mass Effect 4. 😐

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