Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers regarding Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. This review was also based off Mass Effect 3 with the Extended Cut DLC installed. This review is based off the PC version.
So Shepard stopped the rogue Spectre Saren of the first game, the Reaper Sovereign was destroyed and Shepard hopefully survived the Suicide Mission of Mass Effect 2. Those challenges are nothing to what Shepard is about to face in Mass Effect 3, the final conclusion of the Mass Effect trilogy.
Having returned to Earth and 'grounded' in an Alliance base, Shepard is about to face trial for his/her actions from the events of Mass Effect 2. However, something is coming to Earth at a rapid speed and a massive size. The very threat Shepard had been preaching and trying to warn everyone had finally arrived. The Reapers are here.
The beginning of the game is probably the most intense of all three Mass Effect games, as within minutes of the game's opening, the Reapers are attacking Earth at full force. Shepard escapes the massacre and is sent by Admiral Anderson onto the Normandy, to fly across the galaxy and recruit the galaxy's most powerful races and rally a force to return to Earth to stop the Reapers. Not only does Shepard have to worry about the Reapers though, but the Illusive Man and Cerberus are hunting Shepard down due to his betrayal at the end of Mass Effect 2. It's all on the line.
Should players import their character from Mass Effect 1 and 2, they will receive in-game bonuses such as skills and levels. Should the player be new to the franchise, then they'll have to make a new Shepard from scratch, with either default male or female look, followed by a character background and character class. Backgrounds range from Sole Survivor, War Hero and Ruthless Solider, while origins include Earth-Born, Spacer and Colonist. All the original classes make a return with some tweaks, including Soldier, Engineer, Vangaurd, Sentinel, Infiltrator and Adept.
Players new to the franchise have the option to download the 'Genesis' digital comic book, which retells the story of Mass Effect 1 and 2 and allows players to make the dialogue choices to alter Mass Effect 3. I wouldn't recommend this way of playing but, it'll at least bring new players up to speed. I wouldn't recommend playing Mass Effect 3 without prior knowledge of the previous games.
The game play has changed more to the direction of third person shooter than RPG, which frankly I'm just fine with as the game play mechanics are a lot of fun. Shepard is much more mobile on the battlefield, with unlimited sprint, being able to climb ladders, jump across gaps, and perform forward, side and backward evasive rolls. Shepard's melee combat has been upgraded a little, able to hit enemies with melee attacks and one, super damage dealing heavy attack.
The cover system works better now than Mass Effect 2, as Shepard can now vault over cover and obstacles without having to crouch down behind it to begin with. Shepard can now also slide across cover should he/she be sprinting towards it, making him/her much quicker and deadlier on the field.
Most of the skills are based off Mass Effect 2 albeit have been tweaked and modified slightly. The skill tree is constructed differently, with different ranks of skills giving players one of two options. For example, with the returning Adrenaline Rush, players might choose one of their ranks of the skill to give them more head shot damage, or to give them slightly more overall damage when using the skill. It adds a lot of versatility to the game and the skills.
As always, Shepard is on the field with two of his comrades to form a three unit squad. Squad mates are all upgradeable in the same way Shepard is, and as with the last two games, the player can still freeze combat and then carefully instruct one of their squad mates to perform a specific skill against a certain target. Should they have survived the Suicide Mission of Mass Effect 2, many characters return as cameo or key parts to the story, while some characters return to join Shepard on his/her mission.
While shields still regenerate as always, the game uses a mix of health bars and regenerative health. The player now has a number of health bars. When health is damage, the health can recover however if the player runs out of health in one bar, they cannot recover that bar and must use a medical kit to restore it. It's a nice touch and keeps things challenging. This is by far the most difficult Mass Effect game yet.
Shepard can acquire a large number of weapons, either by purchasing them or by finding them on missions. However, Shepard can only carry a certain number of weapons. In Mass Effect 2, a soldier class Shepard could carry up to five weapons. This time, it depends on the size of the weapon and its weight. If Shepard carries too many weapons and too much weight, the player will suffer for it, reducing Shepard's cool down speed for his/her skills.
These weapons however can be upgraded with different parts, such as extended barrels, scopes etc. This makes the weapons more powerful and more useful. Weapons themselves can be upgraded by purchasing the next model of the weapon.
Similar to Mass Effect 2, new pieces of armour can be collected which not only change your appearance but also change Shepard's stats, really it's personal preference. Some pieces of armour may increase overall health, or shields, or melee combat damage. It's up to you and what you find.
The levels are bigger and more explosive then ever, there's always a lot going on. The game seems less focused on exploration and more focused on combat, which actually makes a lot of sense considering what's going on. Almost every planet you visit is being invaded by Reapers, or being attacked by Ceberus soldiers. Still, there are moments when you do get to explore and find things, but exploration isn't as deep as it was in the previous games.
In between missions, players can spend time on the Normandy, explore the ship and talk to their squad mates. Despite exploration being less of a factor in exchange for more combat, there is a lot of talking when you're not fighting and once again the conversations are very deep and engaging. Players can also explore the Citadel more so than ever before, but that being said, the Citadel and the Normandy are really the only true explorable places in the game.
Like the previous games, a lot of dialogue choices and physical actions can alter the game's storyline and reward the player with Paragon or Renegade points. Once again, Paragon or Renegade actions come into play and can be used in specific cut scenes at specific points.
Graphically, Mass Effect 3 has the best graphics yet of the trilogy, especially with everything going on. The explosions, the massive Reapers walking and roaring in the background, everything looks a lot better. Even the hair of female characters has been fixed and looks a lot better. This is the best looking and sounding Mass Effect game yet.
Mass Effect 3 also introduces multiplayer for the first time in the form of Galaxy at War. Players play in a cooperative fashion with up to three other players, fighting Reapers or Ceberus soldiers in a variety of missions. Players can create a character based off one of the classes from the single player campaign, but are also able to unlock a wide variety of hidden classes and different races to play as. Players can also unlock new weapons to help them in their cooperative mission. While multiplayer is unfortunately co-op only, it still is a lot of fun and is very much recommended. Still, it would have been awesome to allow players to play as either Cerberus or Reaper forces in a player versus player match up.
Not to spoil anything, but the ending of Mass Effect 3 received a lot of criticism and rightfully so. Thankfully, Bioware released the “Extended Cut” DLC to rectify a lot of issues with the original ending. The DLC is available for free.
Mass Effect 3 is an exciting and emotional roller coaster that sadly comes to an end. Despite the dark storyline of Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3 is the most intense of the series where everything is on the line. To truly experience Mass Effect 3, I would highly recommend playing the first two games first and importing all of your data into the finale, including the Extended Cut DLC.
Mass Effect 3 is available on X-Box 360, PS3, Wii U and PC.
If you'd like to read my personal experience about the Mass Effect trilogy, check out my block entry “One Month Aboard the Normandy” right here at GameRevolution - http://www.gamerevolution.com/blog/Master_Craig/one-month-onboard-the-normandy-93065