Mass Effect 3 Review

The end…is just a little harder when brought about by friends.

-Jesus, Jesus Christ Superstar

For years, BioWare and the gaming community were the best of friends. In this generation alone, two excellent franchises sat atop the RPG genre: Dragon Age and Mass Effect. One a fantasy epic of swords and magic and the other a galactic struggle for survival, BioWare’s properties could do no wrong. When Mass Effect 3 was officially announced, the end of this space opera was in sight. Fans opined on how it “should” end. What would be a most fitting sendoff for Commander Shepard and his Normandy crew? With a galaxy of opinions, some were bound to be upset about the way Mass Effect 3 played out.

The backlash over the ending of the game is unprecedented. Rage, profanity, even acts of charity have been directed at BioWare, hoping for an alteration to the last ten minutes of the game. No matter what reason for the vitriolic outcry, all of these ill feelings stem from one core cause of discontent: a perceived betrayal of friendship. These people cared enough about BioWare to tell them directly how they felt about the latest chapter in their friendship. Specific methods of voicing those feelings notwithstanding, those who are angry feel as if BioWare doesn’t care for the fans as much as the fans care about BioWare.

What’s lost in all of this debate is the real beautiful thing: a single game created this type of discussion. BioWare has not violated any rules of friendship, and Mass Effect 3 sets the storytelling bar higher than it has ever been.

Mass Effect 3 takes players to some of the most important worlds in the galaxy, places that until now were only known through Codex entries. Shepard battles the Reapers and Cerberus on the home worlds of the most relevant races in the galaxy – Palaven of the turians, Thessia of the asari, Sur’Kesh of the salarains, Rannoch of the quarian, etc. – to unite the galaxy against the Reaper threat, weaving around conflicts that have existed long before Shepard’s story even began.

The choices made on these worlds weigh heavily on the outcome of the entire battle. I would say “choose wisely,” but sometimes there is no wise choice: friends may become enemies, enemies may become friends, and friends may even perish, but a choice must be made. To this end, the game does an excellent job making me feel like the player is the one in control. I truly felt as if Shepard was a digital extension of myself… or was I a real-life extension of him? The blurred lines between “character I control” and “character I create in my own image” instill a sense of ownership unlike any game before it, an achievement that cannot be ignored.

That ownership engenders an unexpected feeling of responsibility in the player. This is MY story to create, MY narrative to weave. I need to make sure everything goes according to MY plan. Of course, things don’t always go the way I want them to, but the consequences are significant and affective narrative shifts rather than “GAME OVER” screens. As a Paragon, most of my decisions were based on the “good guy” choices, but that didn’t prevent me from losing some highly-valued comrades.

One choice is particularly heart-wrenching, as I watched a favorite squad-mate from Mass Effect 2 fall to the ground, dead, in front of me, despite my having made the “good guy” choice. Although I acted for the greater good, and this character’s death was unavoidable, I still found myself disappointed that my friend would not join me in the final battle against the Reapers. Not even good guys can have everything right, and this game reminds players of that more than once.

While narrative is important, a good story doesn’t mean much if the game doesn’t play well. Mass Effect 3 excels in execution. It doesn’t improve the battle system as dramatically as Mass Effect 2 did, but the gun customization options allow players to craft the perfect weapon, and the improved AI makes for some heated and strategic battles built on the fluid cover-based combat ported directly from¬†ME2.

The biggest addition is the multiplayer content: missions that allow up to four people to play and contribute to the game’s main storyline together. As teams conquer these missions, each player’s Galaxy Readiness percentage will increase, and the higher it rises, the more desirable the final results of the single-player campaign will become. It’s a simple addition, and one that can be completely avoided if the player chooses, but the multiplayer experience is far too enjoyable to be ignored.

Gamers, BioWare is still your friend. The company still wants to maintain the relationships that games like Jade Empire and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic created and the Mass Effect series broadened. While BioWare has brought this particular series to a controversial close, the defensive, sentimental spark it ignites in players is evidence of the three-game arc’s poignancy, and a testament to the quality of this final chapter.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

3 Comments on "Mass Effect 3 Review"

  1. T4nkcommander March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am -

    Why didn’t you mention anything about the ending? Everyone shares a similar opinion with you up until the last 10 minutes…

    • Jason Fanelli April 1, 2012 at 12:32 am -

      I didn’t focus on the end because the review is not about the ending, it’s about the entire experience. I can’t very well let the last ten minutes ruin 30-35 hours of incredible gaming.

      To answer your question though, I’m one of those people who actually enjoyed the ending and don’t want it changed. I didn’t mind it at all. I don’t see any issue with a game that makes me think.

      As for my opinion on the controversy: If we gamers want our favorite industry to be considered an art form like movies and music, we must learn to take what we get. I can see where the end is disappointing for some, but petitions and cupcakes and charity are not the answer. Civil discussion of the end result, treating games as if they ARE art will eventually make games considered to BE art. Until we can learn to do that as a whole community (and less profanity would help, too), we’ll never be taken seriously.

  2. Dan Crabtree April 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm -

    I loved the Tom Hanks Christmas movie ending. You know, the one where Tom Hanks bursts out of the Citidel in order to ruin the Reaper Christmas, so the Reapers convert to Judaism just so they can have a winter holiday, but Judaism forbids the consumption of pork, and in the future the Earth is like 96% pork? That’s the one.

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