Thursday, May 10, 2012

Return of the Spectres!

Game: Mass Effect 3

System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Release: March 2012

Bioware is to be commended for creating the amazing universe found in the Mass Effect trilogy. The aliens, characters, worlds, and stories will be talked about for ages to come. One could even argue that this is the current generations Star Trek or Star Wars phenomena. A theory that will be tested with time.

Mass Effect 3 marks the conclusion of Commander Shepard's adventures. The game begins with the much anticipated Reaper invasion. Once again Shepard must take command of the Normandy, and lead a team to save the universe from extinction. As with my other Mass Effect reviews I will not spoil the plot, but rest assured the journey is a worthy experience. The ending, however, leaves much to be desired, and will be the focus of another post.

The major difference between the first two titles and the last is the invasion itself. Everything seems much more urgent and desperate then before. Wandering the galaxy collecting resources, for example, has been streamlined. Now planets are scanned while the Normandy is flying about the sector. When the ping picks up anything of interest the scanning mini game returns from the second game. The more scans used, the greater chance Reapers will find, give chase, and destroy the Normandy. This adds to the looming external threat that was only briefly felt in the earlier games.

In the second Mass Effect, the main focus was building an elite team and forging a relationship with the crew. If you didn't complete quests for squad mates, then odds are they would parish at some point in the game. No such power is granted to Shepard this time around. The focus is the ever present invasion, and the need to gather resources. This is what drives the majority of missions, and as a result I didn't feel as connected with some of the new crew mates.

Speaking of the crew, the Normandy is not home to has many characters as the previous titles. There are about half as many combat comrades, and four of them are from the other games (Garrus, Tali'Zorah, Liara, and Ashley/Kaidan). New characters include EDI, who finds herself with a new sexy body, and James Vega, the tough but lovable soldier with a Latin flare. As with most Bioware games each squad mate has deep conversation trees that could lead to potential intimate relationships and side missions. The latter, however, is lacking compared to ME2.

(On a more personal note, I really liked how Mass Effect 3 had characters visiting Shepard's quarters on the Normandy to talk. In my Mass Effect 2 review I mentioned how annoying it was to sit through load screens just to discuss personal issues. Glad someone out there was listening/reading critiques from the fans.)

What about those lovable folks from the second game? If they aren't apart of your crew, then they're featured in various segments through ME3. Some play a more pivotal role then others, but rest assured Bioware left no one out. Unless, that is, you had them killed over the course of the trilogy. In that case they'll be replaced with a similar but different character, or will not show up at all. Tali'Zorah, for example, is a key figure in the third game. Her untimely demise will have a greater impact then the death of Grunt or Jack.

This brings me to one of the most awesome features of this series--the imported character. Bioware has created a world where one character can be played in three games. The choices made are felt throughout the series, which increases re-playability substantially.

From big story beats to subtle conversations you truly feel like your decisions matter, and will have an impact in the game world. Despite the controversial ending, I praise Bioware for providing an awesome connected experience across three different games. Something I've personally never seen before.

Regardless of your past decisions, with the Reaper invasion in full force you'll be spending plenty of time in battle. Combat in ME3 is fluid and fun. Like the second game powers can be mapped to three hot keys, and encounters can be stopped at any time by bringing up the power wheel. This allows players to coordinate teammates for devastating blows against more challenging opponents. Level design is suitable, and a few of the scenarios fit the cliche--edge of your seat action!

Unlike the first game, each class is fun and offers a unique experience encouraging multiple playthroughs. In fact, the combat and classes are so much fun that they are the main force driving the somewhat repetitive multiplayer. That's right folks. ME has MP.

Four players take on the rolls of various species and classes to fend off waves of enemies. Each class has a number of races to choose from. The cool part is the leveling system. Classes gain experience as a whole. E.g. Playing as the Geth engineer will level up the Human of the same class.

There was even free DLC adding more maps, weapons, and characters to unlock. Completing multiplayer mission objectives will be rewarded with credits that can be cashed in for additional content. There are numerous packages to purchase that offer a variety of rewards. The more expensive the pack, the more likely a rare item will be unlocked.

This seems awesome at first. A reward system to increase re-playability. Then you spend an entire weekend trying to unlock one character and fail. All of a sudden MP has lost its replay value. Unfortunately if you want a particular ending for the campaign you will have to play MP.

Yep! The multiplayer affects single player, and will dictate subtle events during the final part of the game. A map appears in both segments denoting the "Galactic Readiness." The higher the percentage the better, which can be a challenge.

The percentage declines steadily over time, but will never go below 50%. If an MP class reaches the level cap at 20, then that class can be promoted to SP. This will result in a permanent percentage increase in your Galactic Readiness, and the promoted class will be reset to level one.

Although the relationship between SP and MP is poorly explained in game I do enjoy the concept. Not many games connect various modes into a cohesive unit. Multiplayer is also a good quick fix for fans who want more action then plot. All of this illustrates an attempt to mix up the traditional Bioware formula.

Mass Effect 3 has it all. An ending to a trilogy brought to us by the awesome folks at Bioware. They continue to uphold their reputation for great writing and fun experiences. They've also improved each iteration in the series at numerous levels. Add on some multiplayer and you have a robust package that is sure to please fans of shooters and RPGs alike. I whole hearty recommend this franchise, and I look forward to future (non-Shepard based) adventures in the Mass Effect universe.

No comments: