Three's A Charm
Your Actions All Come Down To The Final Chapter
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The Reapers are coming. Well, actually they've arrived and Earth is breakfast. If there's one thing we've learned over the course of the Mass Effect series, it's that BioWare isn't afraid to kill off major characters, so this time it's going to get serious.
Ever since I lost Wrex in the first game, I've agonised over major decisions. I lost some good people at the end of ME2 and made some tough decisions. It's this sense of ownership and living with the consequences that makes BioWare's epic space trilogy so great. Mass Effect 3 is the last in the series, and it kicks off in grandiose style.
Shepard is thrown into the action, as the Reapers invade Earth and the stunning graphics convey the magnitude of doodoo the universe is in. After a quick opening sequence, Shepard is back on the Normandy and a different tone sets in. This adventure is all about diplomacy and all those long-running alien rivalries, so intricately outlined in the previous games, are coming back into play. Shepard needs to unite all the major races to ensure the universe has a fighting chance against the Reapers and total annihilation.
Preparing for War
Time isn't on Shepard's side and the various factions and races seem reluctant to put old differences aside for the greater good. This leaves our hero with a list of missions to complete in order to bring everyone in on the right side. For instance, the Krogan won't play ball until their ancient enemies, the Salarians, cure the genophage. And then, back on the Citadel, rival street gangs must be reunited to provide additional fire power for the final fight.
The main focus of ME3 is building an army and these missions take up the majority of the game. The Normandy has a new area called the War Room, which is updated each time an ally is recruited. Every race that joins the war brings assets with them. These could be ships, military forces or scientists and other important elements. As you play, a meter fills up, indicating how battle ready you are to face the Reapers.
Missions can be gathered on the fly by simply eavesdropping on passers-by, who are painted with the narrative care only BioWare can bestow. My advice is to complete as many of the option side quests as possible, to build up those precious assets. Some players may be tempted to rush through the main story, but the end battle will be almost certain doom.
Finish the Fight
Combat is better than ever in ME3. Enemy AI is notably improved, and now each enemy has their own fighting style. Some squads use riot shields to sneak up on your, but use Pull to grab the shield away and then go in with heavy gunfire. There are new combat engineers who set up gun turrets that pummel you with heavy fire, so take these guys out first to make skirmishes more manageable.
Luckily, you're presented with new weapons to play with. This time around, I find myself switching between about three different weapons to gain the strategic advantage. You need to keep your wits about you, as enemies use grenades to flush you out from your cover. The best bet is to mix it up, using a combination of biotics and gun-play to get the upper hand.
Unfortunately, the 'cover' command is still as flaky as ever. Several times I found myself standing in front of an ornamental planting, frantically hitting crouch, only to stand with my shields slowly depleting, as the enemy mowed me down. That said, Shepard does seem more agile, leaping deftly over cover - when the commands allow.
And thank you BioWare for the return of the weapons modding system. We lost the ability to upgrade weapons in ME2, but now it's back. Add a scope for higher accuracy or modify your machine gun to reduce dampening and increase damage or apply a specific type of ammo. Ever the attentive developer, BioWare continues to tweak the balance between action and RPG. Also, depending on how you buy the game, you can pick up some exclusive extras, like the Gamestop offer of the Valkyre rifle, which we found to be a nice cross between an assault weapon and a sniper's gun. There are a lot of guns to find without these special offers, plus lots of mods, but if you find the game for the same price at a bunch of different places, why not grab the one with a little extra?
Weapons all come with a weight drawback, so don't expect to rush into battle loaded up to the eyeballs. The more guns you carry, the more weight you have, which slows down the recharge speed on your tech and biotic powers, so choose your weapons wisely.
New and Improved
I'm pleased to say that the laborious mining system has been streamlined. ME2 had players trawling the universe and scanning every single planet with their cross-hairs to mine resources that they probably didn't use. This time around we can scan whole areas, and are only looking for specific spots on certain planets. You are told in a percentage form how many artefacts or assets have been found, so you can keep looking until it gets to 100 percent. The drawback to the scanner is that it also attracts reapers if used too many times. If alerted, Reaper ships appear and it's a race to the edge of the solar system map. You can perform a mission elsewhere and come back to find the Reaper awareness reset back to zero, but you are locked out of that system for a little while if they trigger.
BioWare has also dispensed with those annoying lock picking and decryptions puzzles. Now we can just open doors and boxes - hoorah!
The real heart of the Mass Effect series lies in the story and the characters. You'll be glad to hear that the last in the trilogy doesn't disappoint. This series feels like the whole story was mapped out from day one. These aren't cheap sequels, thrown together to make a quick buck. The story is so finely crafted that you really do feel that your actions matter and Mass Effect 3 pulls all your story threads together to a thrilling conclusion.
Fans will be glad to see some familiar faces, depending on who lived and died during their campaigns. Sometimes old friendships are quickly rekindled, but some require a bit of bridge-building, after Shepard's dalliance with Cerberus. James Vega is one of the most memorable new faces, helped along by some quality voice acting from Freddy Prinze Jr. But it's really the old fan favourites that we want to see and happily, they are all woven seamlessly into the story for one final push over the top.
The Needs of the Many
Now that you've invested three games' worth of time and emotion into this series, get ready for BioWare to haul your heart through the ringer. It's time to make some tough decisions. Paragons could find themselves in a tight moral spot or two, as you wrestle with the need to save the world and keep your conscience intact. Do you sacrifice a few to build your assets or stick to your beliefs and risk the whole operation?
Nobody said it was going to be easy and BioWare's writers are pulling all that rich back story into play, so it's time to take sides.
There aren't many games that can make you stop to get a cup of tea and take time out to consider your next reply on that dialogue tree, but Mass Effect 3 is most definitely one of those games. This game is a fitting end to Shepard's story, but what the hell am I going to play this time next year?
Chella is GiN's UK-based product tester. A self-confessed Cornish pasty addict, Chella is never happier than when she's slacking off to play a five-gem game. : firstname.lastname@example.org.