"Mass Effect 3": The Review

“Mass Effect 3” is a great game; compelling, detailed, well-written, well-designed, and above all, fun. It’s definitely worth whatever you’ve likely already paid for it. All that’s left are, really, the nitpicks.

If there’s a problem with this game, it’s the lack of a sense of urgency; Reapers are destroying planets, killing billions, and you’re just kinda hangin’ around, finishing side missions, giving people power plant schematics, stuff like that. Of all the open world games out there, only the “Dead Rising” franchise has ever experimented with a ticking clock, and that would have done a lot to improve the drama of the story.

Still, that is a nitpick, and part of that is the fact that the game gives you a hell of a lot to do. You’ll be scanning planets under Reaper noses for resources, finding random plans and schematics and giving them to NPCs, and hunting down traitors and other war assets. You’ll also be kicking a lot of ass.

In terms of the dumbing down we were worried about, it’s present, kind of. You can choose right from the start to skip dialogue trees entirely; everything will play as a cutscene. Upgrading your character or getting weapon improvements isn’t nearly as granular or involved, although the game does introduce power trees that split; you’ll have to choose, for example, between more health and shields, and more melee and weapon damage. These decisions can be surprisingly hard to make, as the gameplay is balanced and both branches of a power tend to be incredibly useful. There are more than a few times where pistol-whipping your target to death is the best option, certainly the most satisfying as you stab some Cerberus soldier in the neck or crush a Husk’s skull like a grape. That said, some sort of “lock” function on the melee would have been incredibly useful.

Speaking of upgrades, the game throws experience points, weapon mods, and credits at you like they’re candy; finish the first main mission or two, and you’ll have enough credits and found enough toys to overpower your guns considerably and enough experience points to amp your health and damage scores considerably. You can only choose two mods at a time, but you can collect them and experiment fairly easily. By the second main mission I played, I had a heavy pistol, which is way more stable than the assault rifle, with a large-caliber barrel and a scope; essentially, any human sized enemy I could see, I could pump an entire clip into their faces at range (possibly lighting them on fire while I was at it) and mostly what they could do about it was hope someone else was shooting me.

Which they probably were; this game tends to feature swarms of enemies. If you see one, expect six. If you see two, expect ten. And those will probably be the first of five waves. It’s fun, and it gives the battles an epic size, but the enemies can be kind of dumb, to the point where you’re shooting them and they don’t react for the first few shots.

Still, these are fairly minor problems, and to be honest, there are major improvements over the last game in almost every respect. One of the more fun parts of this game is still wandering around, listening in on conversations, and poking anything the game will let you with the X button. In fact, you have to: being an eavesdropper is how you pick up side missions, some of which are actually vitally important that you complete, and you can step in and take sides in minor disputes that bolster your reputation and even can give you an edge in fighting. Even if you don’t get a reputation reward, it’s still worth chatting with everybody you find: BioWare hid a ton of in-jokes in the dialogue.

In short, “Mass Effect 3” is a lot of fun, well-designed, and well-written. Worth your $60? Absolutely.

image courtesy EA