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Mass Effect 3 [2012 -- Bioware]

Started by Starfox, Mar 24, 2023, 12:14 AM

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Originally published on July 29, 2013

Yep, that's it I won't be doing a full review of Mass Effect 3 even though we (with Silver Sorrow) did it for the two previous games. The main reason is: I don't have the time for that. The second reason is... who cares? in fact it's almost a miracle that I take the time to even write this QuickView because I'm one of those reviewers whom hate to have to say bad things about a series they really do love. But well, here we go so let's get started and be done with it.

A bit of the story so far (consider it a refreshment course). For this purpose I'm going to assume you are familiar with Mass Effect 1 and 2 and particularly the Arrival DLC (although you don't need to have played it, the game will adapt the dialogues in this case). Remember when Admiral Hackett told Commander Shepard that he expected him to "face the music". Mass Effect 3 begins that way. Shepard is kept under guard in the Alliance headquarters on Earth (amusingly, in three Mass Effect games, it's the first time you get to be on Earth). Officially Shepard is imprisoned because of his/her former alliance with Cerberus. Off the record, the Alliance just want to keep the Batarians off his/her back following the Alpha relay "incident" (Arrival) which caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Batarians (if you never played Arrival, the event never happened and the game will switch lines just stating that if Shepard was not already thrown in a dark jail it was because of his/her knowledge of the Reapers).

While the Commander learns to be almost civilian again "soft beds, hot food" the Reapers decide to launch their massive offensive which thanks to Shepard was delayed but still unavoidable. The Batarians are the first ones obliterated because they are at the backdoor that the Reapers need to use to enter our Galaxy so they just "stood in the way". Then, possibly because Shepard was a real pain in the ass for them, they target the Alliance 5th fleet headquarters at Arcturus before heading directly toward Earth. This would be the occasion for Shepard to say "I hate it when I'm right" but there's no time for that. In a matter of minutes the situation goes from bad to worse. The Alliance brass are decapitated (almost literally). And that leaves Anderson and Shepard fighting their way through the rooftops to escape the mayhem. Their objective, to rejoin the Normandy, escape what is rapidly turning into a lost fight, regroup with what forces remain in the Fleet and organize both the resistance and some counter attack plans. By the way, you're also rejoined for the occasion by either Ashley or Kaidan -- whomever survived Vyrmire all those years ago. A few fights after Shepard finally board the Normandy but Anderson decides to remain behind to organize the resistance on Earth. He reinstates Shepard (but with no promotion, it occurs to me that our dear Shep is the only one who never got a promotion -- Ashley/Kaidan were promoted, twice(!), during that time, Anderson made it Admiral, even Kirahee -- the Salarian Captain who supported you during Vyrmire -- became Major; I guess that "Captain" Shepard was sounding less cool than "Commander" Shepard.). Anyway, Anderson gives him the task to find help for what is now a shooting war while he will try and hold the fort on Earth or what will be left of it after the initial carnage. On leaving Earth orbit, Admiral Hackett contact the Normandy and order her to the Alliance facilities on Mars. Apparently Liara (which led some research there while Shepard was detained) discovered something that could stop the Reapers. It is therefore vital to retrieve that piece of info before loosing Mars to the Reapers. Unfortunately, Cerberus and the Illusive Man have their own agenda about that.

For the remainder of the game, Shepard's task will be to play diplomat, fight the Reaper forces, fight Cerberus, and attempt to assemble the largest fleet that the Galaxy has ever seen and that of course begin by gaining the support from the Turians but since their own military is being pounded by the Reapers they want in return the Krogan support which automatically involves the Salarians because of the Genophage (and considering Krogan relationships with Turians/Salarians which are far to be stellar, it's like fighting a second war). The whole process may be facilitated or not by the decisions you made in the previous games but on the whole what really impact the end of Mass Effect 3 are the decisions that you are making within Mass Effect 3 and then again, not all of them. What mostly impact the end is your Effective Military Strength (EMS) and don't get me started on that. The fact that 50% of the damn thing relies on the supposition that you go multiplayer grates my nerves horribly. Anyway simply put very low EMS means that you'll win the war but at tremendous cost, high EMS means that you'll win the war with acceptable losses. Some people claim there is a very high EMS (8000+) which is supposed to be the best case scenario but you won't get that just playing the Single Player campaign (personally I never witnessed it and I think this claim is kind of an urban legend anyway). Playing the SP campaign making all the good choices and playing ALL the DLC available will just get your EMS to the acceptable level where you may win with reasonable losses.

For those who have been living under a rock when Mass Effect 3 was released and have consequently missed the whole fun about it and the endless complaints that spread from the lowliest webpage up into the very financially serious Forbes website, the game should have been subtitled "How to kill a 100 hours story in 10 minutes" because this is about the time it takes for the ending to negate more than 100 hours of delicious narrative spread over five years and three different games. It's also one of these few occasions where both PC and Console gamers agreed about something: "The ending sucks" (well, technically it should be "these endings suck" but the difference between the final choices are so few that it's not even really worth putting a plural in there).

Problem is that despite of that ending and some other lesser flaws, 90% of the game is as solid as were the previous ones. Hence for the purpose of this review, Mass Effect 3 receives a .

If the ending was properly handled (and by "properly" I mean "at least making some basic sense instead of denying most of the important points of the series lore and story") the game would receive a . That's all the difference.

There are a load of well written articles available on the web (like this one beware that contains gigantic spoilers so if you still have to play the game, avoid reading it for now; a more complete list of such links is available on Bioware official forum [March 2018 note -- since the writing of this review the Bioware forum has been shut down] ) which describe at leisure why Mass Effect 3 ending is an awful one so I won't be going through that all over again. Let's just say that for whatever reason they had, Bioware just fired a bullet in both of their feet with this one and in the Mass Effect series in general.

The most curious thing about Mass Effect 3 is that its level of quality is roughly divided in three big parts that are plainly obvious. The first one is really excellent and bring tears to the eye and makes us really proud of Bioware. The second part which begins about at mid game is also brilliant but slightly less polished than the first one with one or two not so bright moments but still pretty much on the excellence mark we came to expect from Bioware. Then we get to the third part which begin with the final return to Earth, to London more precisely, and there the atmosphere begins to disintegrate rapidly, turning into a vacuum until the very deplorable ending itself. It's like if Bioware had great plans for the ending -- in fact some of the existing game elements seem to be laid in preparation for a completely different ending than the one finally chosen -- but just completely dump them two thirds into the game and compiled instead a quick and sorry excuse for an ending just because there were running out of time; a contingency plan of sorts.

And there you can see in the background (I swear, just below Harbinger's death ray) the shadow of Electronic Arts marketing department and their miraculous scissors that already emasculated more creative game developers than you can count on your fingers. Sadly it seems that Bioware is just the next in line. EA is probably already engraving the tombstone "Here lies Bioware because they were dumb enough to accept to be bought... by us... muahahhaaaah". The tombstone will probably become official after the sale results of Dragon Age 3 if they are really bad that is and if Dragon Age 3 is anything like Dragon Age 2... they will be; or maybe they'll make the effort to wait for the release of the next Mass Effect game -- I shiver to the thought if Mass Effect 3 ending is any kind of indicator as to the future of the franchise. In any case it would not be the first time that EA issues a statement along the lines: "Well it was a good studio with talented people but -- through no fault of our own -- it stopped to be good and actually became a liability so we're forced to close it. But we keep the rights on the franchises because we know we can still milk them like cows... err we mean make very good games worth of their lineage of excellence; blah blah blah".

Wow I could have never put the above paragraph in a normal review... seriously. You know, that's a good thing to not be on anyone's payroll. Sometimes it just allows you to really go and say what you truly think.

Anyway. Now that I have vented my hate for EA current sucking dumb policy we'll take some interest in Mass Effect 3, at least the numerous parts that are actually good. But before that we still have to deal with another bad part... the multiplayer (I swear this is the last bad part mentioned).

So yeah, Mass Effect 3 has a multiplayer component that was quickly added to the game in the last year of development because EA CEO during ME3 development (John Ricitellio, the guy resigned in March 2013 so it seems he just remains enough time to screw some important franchises, including Mass Effect) according to his own words was very proud that all the games released since he took the job came with at least a basic multiplayer component out of the box. Did anyone even try to think about the consequences of including a MP component into a SP game exclusively character and story driven? Did anyone even stop and ask for a while if ME3 really needed that component or if it was just one of the things that could be easily dumped to make room for... let's say... a better ending? Probably not because when the CEO has spoken the CEO has spoken and the CEO is always right, especially when he is completely wrong. The truth of the matter is: the Mass Effect series was perfectly fine during two games without multiplayer. Multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 brings absolutely NOTHING to the story or even to the table for that matter and furthermore is implemented just so it can get in the way of the single player campaign just enough to upset most fans of the series.

My point is: the MP component was included because of the CEO desiderata and Origin (the Steam-like EA platform) launch. The ending of Mass Effect 3 was wrecked because the game was to be released right on time to promote Origin (which is the reason why Mass Effect 3 was an Origin exclusivity and not proposed on Steam; by the way, even as I write these words a year and a half after its release, Mass Effect 3 is still not on Steam and there is no reason for it to be on Steam for a very long while, if ever -- understand that: if you want to play ME3 you have to install Origin and if you want to play ME3 MP you have to be connected to Origin). The real product EA was trying to sell with Mass Effect 3 was Origin, NOT the game because they already knew that the game WAS going to sell on its name alone even if it was horrible. The game was just this big AAA carrot that was intended to hook gamers to the Origin commercial platform where they would be presented with other games -- result that wouldn't have been possible if EA tried to attract people with a game titled "The daring adventures of Pinocchio". Unfortunately Mass Effect 3 suffered the consequences and Bioware even more so because a lot of vengeful people were pounding on Bioware while the real target of their ire in the whole mess should have been EA. OK, some people will say I'm conjecturing and that EA is a clean little angel...  So go and prove me wrong. Don't try too hard though because there's a reason why EA won two years in a row (2012 and 2013) the Worst Company In America yearly award.

But enough about that. What's done is done and the poor Extended Cut DLC that we got several months after the game release and after many complaints -- that same DLC that does not even address any of the real issues with the ending galaxy-sized plot holes -- is the only concession we'll ever have from Bioware and EA which is to say just about nothing. I'm afraid that Mass Effect will remain known for the ages as one of the very best series in gaming history with one of the worst ending ever. In fact if I had an advice to give to people who still have to play ME3 it would be this one: When the big death ray hit near the end of the game (you'll know when), quit the game close your eyes and just imagine your own ending. Whatever you may come with will be better than the "thing" they gave us... seriously.

However and after all I said, the very bad ending doesn't erase the fact that 90% of the game is solid gold. With the notable exception of the Kai Leng character; here's a guy that was a true villain when first written in the Mass Effect book "Retribution" by Drew Karpyshyn and that just became a dumb ass in the book "Deception" and a sword bearing clown in Mass Effect 3. How this character that could have been a formidable opponent as depicted by Karpyshyn -- who seemed to have written the Kai Leng Character as some sort of Shepard's Nemesis -- just became a pitiful joke is dumbfounding. that aside the rest of the game is about zero fault. Especially in the first half of the game where you really feel that Bioware had the time and the means to deliver their full potential.

Of course your mileage may vary depending on decisions you made in the previous games possibly even more if you managed to get most of your team killed at the end of ME2 or if you killed Wrex on Vyrmire in ME1. Whatever people survived however, you'll meet them in ME3. If they didn't make it they'll be replaced by new people and that will generally result in grim things happening. I didn't test all the scenarii, of course but I imagine for example that if you had Mordin killed at the end of ME2 and that you didn't prevent him to shoot Maelon and even end up destroying Maelon's data about a Genophage cure then the first part of Mass Effect 3 will be a much more sordid affair where you'll have to lie and cheat (I'm led to believe that's called "diplomacy").

The voice acting, as usual, remains excellent even during the pitiful ending (alas actors can only deliver the text that is passed to them). Graphics wise, Mass Effect 3 managed to look slightly better than its immediate predecessor while not draining significantly more resources. As a cheerful note, I didn't experience any significant bug aside from the Galaxy map check (due to the MP component) and the DRM checks that occur when one launches the game and may prevent you to use the main menu during 20 second up to more than 1 minute in extreme cases depending on server load and DLC installed.

There you go. Mass Effect 3 is a mix of 50% mind blowing, 40% amazing, 9% "What The F...?" and 1% "You gotta be kidding me!!!"; and just about in this order too. However and because of the 90% that didn't go wrong, Mass Effect 3 still deserves the blue smiley I decided for it.

Expect some reviews coming for the ME3 DLCs next... I should have more fun writing about them. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to review a game when the true bad point of the game is the ending and that one has to minimize spoilers? A nightmare...  ::)

DLC reviewed for this game:

Extended Cut
From Ashes

Guess what it means!