Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
The first Mass Effect had an amazing story and incredible, albeit cumbersome, RPG development, yet its gameplay left plenty to be desired. Mass Effect 2 introduced greatly improved gameplay that was actually fun, yet, so many of the RPG elements that made Mass Effect an RPG were stripped away, and even the story felt a little weaker. Right after I finished playing Mass Effect 2 the first time, I said that if BioWare could find a way to combine the role-playing and story of the first game with the gameplay of the second, they would have a masterpiece. Lo and behold, they did exactly that with Mass Effect 3.
BioWare kept the fast-paced shooter-style gameplay of the second game and perfected a few of the annoying nuances from games prior, such as the hacking mini-games and the ridiculous process that has always accompanied unlocking a friggin’ door. The studio also greatly improved the process of doling out orders to your teammates, and I don’t mean just with the addition of the Kinect voice controls. Giving orders felt seamless with each battle, and I never once felt removed from the action with various menu screens while telling Garrus to take care of that annoying krogan. Even some of the new mini-games BioWare introduced, such as escaping the Reapers and pinging for war assets, weren’t as tedious or irritating as they have been in games past—mining, anyone?
Of course, the most important element of a good RPG is the story, and Mass Effect 3 (for the most part... simmer down, haters) did not disappoint. Players know within the first five minutes of starting the game that this is going to be dark, potentially depressing, and one wild ride. The themes of the past Mass Effect games have always been about the pressure and unrealistic hope of trying to save everyone, but none of the prior games have hit that point home like Mass Effect 3. I saved all of my shipmates from Mass Effect 2, only to watch Mordin sacrifice himself to save the krogan race, no matter how much I wanted to save both of them. I watched Legion die to help the geth, eternally sad that he would never see the geth and the quarians live side-by-side. I sat with awe at each gaming session, absorbing how the effects of all of my decisions from the previous games unfolded. In other words, I really felt like I was role-playing and not carrying out a scripted story with character stat development.
The ending may have been controversial, but the last ten minutes does not take away from the dozens of hours of glorious gameplay preceding it.