Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)

The effect this game had on me, it was… large?

Mass Effect, for me, is possibly the most important RPG series there has been so far in gaming. At least it’s up there with Final Fantasy, Ultima, and World of Warcraft. It symbolises the purest form of the Western RPG. There’s no schoolgirls, few tentacle monsters, and what swords exist are properly proportioned.

I played the first Mass Effect, but I don’t remember ever finishing it. Even if I did it must have been on my first Xbox 360 and so the save is long gone. I didn’t particularly like it to be honest, I was just impressed with the cinematic graphics and an interesting universe. Mass Effect 2 blew me away. I played it right through and loved every moment of it, even the planet-scanning. I felt like I’d been waiting for Mass Effect 3 for years, and now I’ve finally completed it, I feel content.

One of my favourite hallmarks of Western games is the ability to play in small chunks. I’ve played Mass Effect 3 over the course of a couple of weeks and only twice have I played more than a couple of hours at a time. At any point, even during the first and last missions, it’s fairly easy to save and come back later, using the codex to catch up on any plot you’ve forgotten about. If you only have ten minutes spare, no problem; just wander round the Citadel talking to people, or your ship. If you fancy a quick bout of the surprisingly addictive multiplayer you can finish a game in around fifteen minutes. When I did play for longer I felt more invested in the story, and one of the storylines involving an old disease had me so hooked I completely lost track of time.

The game looks and sounds wonderful, with an ageing engine disguised by a myriad of cinematic lighting effects and a spectacular sense of scale. The scenes from the demo show a daytime planetary attack, and the lumbering robots and collapsing infrastructure are reminiscent of the visuals in War of the Worlds or Cloverfield. In an entirely good way. Oddly some effects we come to expect as standard are missing. There’s little to no dynamic lighting, everything is scripted. This becomes an issue in the many dark areas of the game, when I tried firing my gun to look around but it didn’t light up the walls at all. The sounds of the aforementioned robots are incredible, and with a decent sound system they’ll fill you with dread when you hear one in the area.

As a Mass Effect fan I found the story to be engaging and well-told. I felt a little less in control of events than I did in Mass Effect 2, but you still have real decisions to make, and they’ve found ways to really make you question your own beliefs and values. Like I said earlier you can play for a few minutes at a time, but you might find yourself thinking about the choices you’ve made long after that. The ending was always going to be difficult, and I’ll include my thoughts on that linked on to the end as not to spoil anything. I strongly urge you to play the game through to its conclusion before reading anything about the endings available. Make your own mind up first. One thing I must say is to lower your expectations in regards to consequences. Throughout the game I felt like very few of the things I decided in the second installment actually mattered or were remembered. Often a choice will just be referred to in dialogue, or a character you let die will be replaced by someone similar. This is a bit of a blow to fans of the games, but could be liberating for newcomers. Don’t feel like you have to play the first game to enjoy this one. I would definitely play the second one, you need to have that emotional investment for this game to have an impact, and the second one is fantastic. Just don’t feel like slogging through the first game’s terrible UI and combat is necessary.

Gameplay feels similar but is improved in lots of little ways, from a better health system to slightly more powerful, erm, powers. They still haven’t got the armour/weapons system right, but it doesn’t get in the way. I just wish they would decide if they wanted armour to be cosmetic or useful. It feels like the items system was added on at the end, with objects found in some weirdly incongruous places.

The DLC is unfortunately pretty important. I’m all for DLC that expands the game in interesting ways for those who want it (see the non-horse armour Oblivion expansions), but the DLC out so far for ME3 is basically a character who should have always been in the game. His quest provides backstory and his comments help you to understand what is going on. I really think the game would be much worse without him around, and charging 800 Microsoft Points for the privilege of having him in your party seems greedy.

Overall I feel the game is a triumph. Bioware make games I like. They’re not too long ( I finished this in around 29 hours after doing nearly all of the side quests) the stories are relevant and interesting, the characters are likeable, and the action is well paced. I enjoyed playing this trilogy, but I hope Bioware move on. They’ve shown their versatility with Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic, I’d like it if they took on another universe now, the Mass Effect story has been told, and I loved it.

Verdict: 8/10

+Gorgeous looking game for the most part
+Sounds amazing
+Interesting stories
+Compelling combat
-Some weird lighting problems
-DLC a necessity
-Lack of consequences for the choices you have made

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