Reader Review: Mass Effect 3

We've all heard about that ending. But what about the rest of the game? Kotaku reader Tristan Damen went on board the Citadel one last time to finish the final missions of Mass Effect 3. These are his thoughts.

My heart was pounding, my hands shaking. On board the Citadel, I looked to my squad. Would the people standing next to me survive this mission? Who would be next to make a sacrifice for the good of the galaxy? At times, the tension was too much to bear.

While I've never been the greatest advocate for the Mass Effect series, some of the characters who I've encountered, fought with and romanced over the last five years have come to mean something to me. So much so that I was nearly brought to tears during this, the last of instalments. In fact, if not for my newly-acquired puppy, Loki's conveniently-timed release of waste products, I'd have been reduced to a blubbering mess on roughly three occasions. Depending on your choices across up to three games, Mass Effect 3 is a moving reunion with old friends and a farewell tour without equal.

The story is the only reason that anyone would need to play this game. All things considered, its value is questionable to anyone who hasn't played the second instalment at the very least. The high stakes tale is in no way self-contained, and while not overly complicated, would have little to no impact on a newcomer. The writing is sharp and the sense of camaraderie between Shepard and the crew of the Normandy -- both new and old -- is abundantly clear. The implications of choices made at all stages of the greater Mass Effect tale reverberate through a great many of the game's missions and downtime; meaning that the third instalment is nothing short of a fully-realised triumph for series veterans and what I imagine to be a bloated, incomprehensible bore for anyone yet to finish the first two games.

That being said, combat is another reason why Mass Effect 3 could be a hard sale to newbies and any vets without a Mass Effect 2 save. Troubles with importing your customised face aside; by importing a save from the last game, you'll have made quite a bit of progress towards a powerful character without encountering a single husk. I found that my BroShep was at level 28 upon commencing the game, and that in turn meant that he and his companions had access to some powerful tech and biotic powers from the get go. This is just as well, because combat gets hectic pretty quickly. Being able to call upon fully-developed versions of powers like Singularity and Concussion Shot in the early stages allowed for me to not tire of the fidgety cover shooting until much later than I otherwise would have.

Unless you build up a surplus of credits, the combat in Mass Effect 3 becomes painful, repetitive, and fails to compare to competitors like the Gears of War and Uncharted games. Even the biotic, tech and weapon powers get old after you've seen enemies get airborne for the fiftieth time. None of the standard issue weaponry really packs a punch, so you'll need to invest in the Spectre exclusive weaponry to feel anything akin to enjoyment while you're gunning down the indoctrinated masses. Heavy weapons have been removed from your inventory and are only now available in specific missions, meaning the best aspect of Mass Effect 2's combat only comes out on a handful of occasions to save players from bullet-riddled boredom. By the last boss-heavy firefight, I can understand why BioWare afforded players a "Story" mode that ditches combat in favour of a focus on the dialogue and choices that have the potential to haunt you for days.

There are also some unrelated (and somewhat minor) technical hitches that hold Mass Effect 3 back from greatness. The visuals may be grand in scale and wonderful to behold when the PlayStation 3 can handle it, and in terms of mission design, it's frustrating that the game has you heading back to the Citadel after just about every mission. Not only does this counter the apparent urgency of the galactic invasion, but each level of the station takes an eternity to load. Also, planet scanning is back and it's as monotonous as ever. These issues didn't impact too significantly on my experience, but they are noticeable in this release.

Mass Effect 3's multiplayer is a poor man's Horde from Gears of War 2. Wave-based survival is becoming increasingly popular, and the inclusion of the odd King of the Hill objective fails to differentiate BioWare's effort from the... well, erm, hordes of competitors. The different classes and races aren't being properly utilised though, so be prepared to see Concussive Shots ad nausea as most opt for the Human Soldier class. It's not unplayable, but it's nowhere near as enjoyable or fleshed-out as anything similar that's currently on offer.

Forgettable endings, combat and multiplayer aside: Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter of an enjoyable and at times bloated story of unity, sacrifice and perseverance against odds of galactic proportions. It's a treat for returning players, and BioWare have shown a real ability to pull at the heartstrings when the grim nature of the three game saga is revealed. Not one character emerges from this tale unscathed, and it proves to be an essential experience for anyone who's invested a great amount of time on the Normandy. Avoid like the plague if you've never played a Mass Effect game before, and bring a box of tissues if you've been there since Eden Prime.

Do you agree with Tristan review? Did the rest of the game live up to expectation or did it leave you cold? Let us know!


Comments

    I thought the game was excellent, until the last 30 minutes of the game.
    I don't understand how such an excellently written game could just fall flat on its face at the end.
    I wasn't expecting a happy ending, just an ending that isnt full of plot holes and feels like Mass Effect.

    I disagree with the majority of this review, though, to be fair, I'm a pretty big fan of the series (and Bioware in general) so I'm obviously biased towards a positive review.
    I loved the story, including the ending, and had a hell of a lot of fun with the whole game. Multiplayer does feel rather tacked on, but this didn't diminish the level of fun I'm having with it.
    Playing on PC the load times were very minimal even on a fairly outdated rig. Sucks to hear that consoles are having a poor time with that...again...

    Having said all that, I appreciate getting the perspective of a gamer that is somewhat less of a rabid Mass Effect fanboy than me :P

      at lest some one liked the ending,
      i thought it was a waste of space on what could have been a realy great game

        I can understand why some people wouldn't like the ending. I mean, hell, that happens in every game. But the reaction that came from it was so incredibly over the top. A petition to change it seems pretty drastic from my perspective, not to mention the people thinking legal action is necessary...

          the ending was not meant to be linear , like gears of war or halo it was meant to be shaped by all your choices via the last 5 years.. and it wasn't.. thats the problem ME is not like a movie or other FPS with ONE story. If you say that, then you don't get what ME is all about! plus the ending just makes no sense... AT ALL!

            Well it is following the one story, sure you change a few variables that changes certain things through out, but in the end, it's still Bioware telling a story, much like an interactive story book.
            in the end of ME1, no matter your choices the overall theme still collided, same at the end of ME2, while there were a few possible outcomes, the overall picture always remained the same, at least in my opinion.

            this also allows Bioware if they decide to continue with the universe, to not catch players out because "well that doesn't fit into how my ending was" type of scenario... i see what they did, and it does make sense

              Compromising your ending so that it will allow you to more easily pump out more sequels to cash in on is one of the most despised practices in any form of storytelling. It does make sense from a business point of view, it doesn't make sense from an integrity view, or a narrative view, or pretty much any other view I can think of. Dat almighty dorrah :(

              that is the problem with the ending Pixel. the endings are so similar as to not impact on future games set in the universe. i rather have an ending determined by small changes in variables having a larger effect on the ending then being forced to accept an ending to allow further expansion on the universe.
              To me the ME universe is like a tree. ME1 you start at the base, it is linear with a few offshoots leading to an inevitable outcome. ME2 is where the story starts to branch more. decisions has greater impact and you could die in vein or succeed with many levels in between. ME3 felt like it abandoned that concept as to satisfy newer gamers to the franchise. this can be seen with the rachni queen, geth, human counsillor, possibly krogen and the ending arcs. they have in essence been compromised in order to satisfy new people not as emotionally invested in the game so they get the most out of the game and in the end to ensure they can still make money at the cost of compromising the product for the sake of more money.
              Bethesda, the only company i can think that has a franchise remotely similar to ME3 has proven that you don't need to compromise the story to ensure future products don't break canon set in previous games. its not perfect but it can be done. with BW and EA it just felt they rushed and made a quick decision to ensure this cashcow lives on into the foreseeable future.
              i am not mad about that but the way in which the handled it will forever stain the experience of one of the best franchises out there. I have come to the conclusion that changing the ending by fixing plotholes, adding dialogue to explain different aspects such as the normandy leaving should not be done. it is just a little too late. sad to say but it is. i will continue to enjoy the game but not as much as if they actually put the same effort into the different aspects of ME3 as the previous 2 games

            Also I would like to share this with every one who felt the ending was lacking, http://arkis.deviantart.com/art/Mass-Effect-3-Alternate-Endings-SPOILERS-289902125
            Something along the lines of this would have made sense story wise, because in the end its a RPG and having the choices you made either come back to help or haunt you is what you expect from the closing act of this series.

            For any other type of game the ending could be passible, but Masseffect is an RPG and has been waving its choice factor as its major draw point.
            Because in the end im not mad at the ending for what it has, but for what It dosen't.

            You're right, I know nothing! Thank you for clearing that up!

            The fact that your previous decisions didn't factor into the end result wasn't an issue for me. Allowing people to choose however they want to finish the game is not evidence of poor work/storytelling. What about the people who played a complete prick for the majority of the game who suddenly gets the urge to redeem themselves at the end? Should the answer be "no, you were bad, so now you can't be good"?

            More to the point, considering how specific the Cerberus Paragon ending requirements were, it's not like it meant nothing to be good.

          Yes but usually ( I stress usually, not always) it's because an ending is subjectively bad, ME3's is objectively bad from a storytelling narrative point of view. That doesn't mean you can't like it, but in a series that was strongly about narrative, an flat out badly written conclusion is going to cause a lot of problems.

      I find it strange that as a big fan you liked the ending? From what i've seen it's moslty the hardcore fans that hate the ending and the people who arn't as interested in the lore/characters etc. that are more ok with the ending having such little closure and full of plotholes.

    Have to disagree with some small issues. I played on PC and xbox and didnt have any large loading times at all.

    Also after finishing a missing i almost never had to go back to the citadel again, i often ended up going 5-6 sub missions as well before heading back..

    Overall still liked the game, but the endings will properlt hurt it more, expected more from Bioware (when compared to all its other game endings they made)

    BRILLIANT GAME all round (Except the ending).. I have been there since Mass Effect 1, the second instalment was the best in terms of game play and story, this was great until that totally waste of space ending! Still one of the best Game series ever to hit this planet!

    I'd argue the games biggest mis-step was the 'cameo' apperances from the crew of ME2.

    I was looking forward to pinching sweet bro nipples with Zaeed again and taking down some Beyond-the-stars horrors while he told me that this reminded him of the last time this happened.

    It made me wonder why I even bothered busting my arse to save them on the third run through. I empathised with the crew of ME2. They'd been through hell with me and I'd brought most of them back. And while I enjoyed the brief cameo's a few of them had, I would have killed to have a few of them back in the rotation. Even if it meant not bringing Vega along every now and then (He wasn't that bad a character)

    At least I still had Garrus, and I'm glad I paid 10$ for the Prothean.

    Good review. Its sort of hard to rate the end of rate a game that relies so heavily on the emotional investment of veterans of the series on its own merits.

    I'm mostly enjoying the game, but...

    The combat sucks. I came straight off the back of Gears of War 3, which was a far smoother experience. I could excuse clunky combat, if the game had more strategic appeal, but it doesn't. Although some of the powers are pretty handy - like the one that smashes shields, mostly its a no brainer.

    But really, I'm playing for the story. Thus far, its pretty good, with the exception of some lazy writing where we see the human face **spoilers** through the death of a child. It was cheap, predictable, required the child not to follow the soldiers, and keeps getting dredged up **spoilers**.

    Kind of dreading the ending though. Particularly miffed it doesn't involve your choices throughout the game.

    Not how I would have reviewed the game, but opinions are just that :P

    I have found the multiplayer experience on xbl to be quite enjoyable once you start doing silver or gold. Not exactly seeing hordes of human soldiers, as there seems to be a good mix of almost all classes and races.

    I think that the lead up to the ending has some of the most amazing moments in a game to date. The only gameplay gripe I really had was how there seems to be much fewer dialogue options and promts than in the first 2 games.

      I played enough games to bump my readiness rating to ~85%.

      Can't recall any games where I saw more than one Soldier, even on Bronze. Most of the people I played with didn't seem to have many unlocks, so Human was definitely the dominate race.

        Same here. Actually, most soldiers I saw weren't human (quite a few Turians). This is on PC.

      Ok - I thought it was my imagination, or because I'd played the Witcher 2, but it feels like there were way fewer dialogue choices in this game, and that they were more arbitrary. My suspicion is that it was a concession made to the auto-choice options.

    For all those that hate the ending so much. (Spoilers) Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ythY_GkEBck&feature=player_embedded

    Should explain alot, But also Leaves you with a sour taste, wanting more conclusion. I love this Theory

    I'm curious about how people found the combat, there was so much focus on the ending that practically everything else was drowned out other than the fact it's an otherwise good game. And while I agree the combat was technically fine, I'm just a little tired of it, enter room, doors lock, shoot baddies in survival sandpit. Repeat. The exact same thing happened with Uncharted 3, I suppose I'm just not someone who can play shooters endlessly.
    Playing on hardcore at least kept it from being simple point and shoot, but even so, I just found myself sighing a fair bit as the next wave appeared.

    Your comment about everyone playing the soldier on MP is 100% untrue. The stats released not long ago prove it. Yes soldier is the most popular class at 18% but it is followed by the Vanguard at 17% and then the Infiltrator at 16%. Adepts would probably be around that point as well.

      I can remember at least three matches that I played were my three teammates were exclusively human soldiers, with no use of any classes or races. I didn't say that no-one uses the other classes/races, rather the community (or my experience with it at least) seems to have a predilection towards the human soldier class.

      I've played with Turians and Quarians, but more often than not, I found my colleagues were Human Soldiers.

        Well i can understand that beginners at like level 1-5 would be using humans because there is a relatively high chance that they haven't unlocked another race yet - not everyone is lucky enough to unlock an alien in the starter pack. But after they have gone past those first few levels and have got a few packs i rarely find anyone playing soldiers and/or humans.

          ... So noone over level 5 could possibly play a human soldier, I have a level 19 human soldier and am at a rank of 30 something on N7; this is my go to character and while I have most other races play this in almost every match; get your head out of your arse ;-)

    Yeah, I rarely see human soldiers in my MP playthroughs. Although it's most fun when everyone's a Krogan and you see the maturity level just drop as every just charges in and melees. It's hilarious and surprisingly fun.

    Generally dislike thus review. Mainly as the issues you had, didn't occur with me

    I also prefer to play Engineer in Mulitplayer, overload is alot more effective on shield/barrier enemies rather hten trying to blast the shields/barriers off.

    Heavy weapons were the best part of ME2's combat? Um... ok... that's his opinion I guess... Standard issue weaponry not packing enough punch? Wonder if he knew what the upgrade system was... The Vindicator is considered to be the best all round assault rifle in the game for all classes. Mattock coming at a close second if you can carry the extra weight. There isn't even an assault rifle from Spectre Requisitions, and all their gear is extremely heavy.

    If you're not playing Mass Effect to see the people being thrown around then what are you playing it for? I'm just having trouble wrapping my head around how the combat system is any less meaty than other "shooters". Multiplayer I can somewhat agree being a little shallow but single player combat... yeah I don't know.. ME3 re-implemented weapon mods, as well as the weapons upgrade system so people could pick and choose how their Shep and squad mates fought and each mission provides you with more than enough to upgrade. As for load times, none over the length of 2 seconds exist on PC, and if you'd consider that long then perhaps you shouldn't be playing video games....

    All in all, I don't agree with the review. It seemed lacking in detail explaining why the reviewer has such an opinion, namely lack of reference point.

      What do you mean by a "lack of reference point"? I said that the combat felt underwhelming when compared to other third person shooters (Gears of War 3 and Uncharted being used as reference points).

      I'm well aware of the upgrade system, but that didn't alleviate the feeling that I was using pea shooters for most of the game. I was using the Mattock with upgrades to damage and bullet capacity in case you were wondering.

      Personally, I play Mass Effect games for the story and characterisation, which I got in spades in this instalment. I played on PlayStation 3 and the load times (particularly in the Citadel) were well over 2 seconds.

        Just to clarify - because you've stated you used the Mattock and what mods you were using, but you do know you can also level the gun up by buying upgrades too, right? each new gun starts at level 1 and you can advance it to level 5. You can further advance it to level 10 on a new game+.

        I know you probably do know this, but I just have to be totally sure.

        Sorry, "lack of reference point" was a little vague in itself. What I meant was, your opinion of ME3's combat is that it is inferior to that of GoW3 and Uncharted 3 and "fails to compare", however you don't state in what respects (whether it be enemy AI, enemy variety, style of tactics used against the AI, "realism" of combat, to state some examples) and how this is so. By stating a couple of these things, readers are able to gauge where the reviewer is coming from in terms of forming his opinion of the game being reviewed as oppose to sweeping statements such as "X is not as Y".

        I don't have any experience with the Uncharted series, but do have hands on experience at least with GoW. From a "shooter" stand point, ME3 is face paced and solid especially on the Hadcore and Insanity. Nothing special per se, but definitely not repetitive and painful as you put it. Hell, with the addition of combat rolls and such, the running gag of the game being space opera GoW is truer than ever. In terms of guns not pulling their weight, I'm still puzzled as to where this opinion is coming from. Are you expecting the guns to kill enemies in a burst or two?

          So as per my review, the main issue is that without a carry over character, players are left with predominately weak weaponry and no powers to fall back on. In shooters like GoW and Uncharted, enemies may be bullet sponges, but there are weak points that you can exploit for quick kills if you have the skill/reflexes. In ME3 I only used assault rifles, but I was spamming headshots and higher level enemies were taking their sweet time to die. Hell, even Cerebrus grunts could take headshots from the Mattock and walk away ( severely wounded mind you, but they could still walk away).

          I also had issues with movement. Attaching to cover wasn't too awkward, but combat rolling and running felt cumbersome. With GoW I could dance all over the battlefield, with ME3 I'd be holding back and pressing X(A) and not be doing anything in some instances. You take something like Uncharted where moving between cover and platforms is often joyful and -- unless we're talking about Uncharted 3 -- responsive , ME3 just felt janky.

          Then there's the seemingly new emphasis on melee. Apart from the longer animations and screaming, it really has nothing on the stealth kills and combos in Uncharted or the -- for lack of a better word -- visceral melee kills in GoW.

          When it comes to tactics/AI, in most situations, I was able to have my squad attack and I'd just flank. Sure I'd have to retreat sometimes (because the enemies just wouldn't die!!! :P), but I wasn't really challenged. As per my reply to Matthew K, Mass Effect 3's concept of difficulty was a numbers game. When compared to ME2, I don't think I died anywhere near as often in the third instalment.

          As for the "lack of reference point," again the games in the Uncharted and GoW series are reasonably popular, and its a fair assumption that most readers would have at least played a game from one series or the other; and in your case that proved to be correct. I try to keep my reviews under 1000 words and I really wanted to emphasise how much I enjoyed the story and characters, even in spite of the the underwhelming combat, unnecessary multiplayer and questionable choices in regards to quest design. I couldn't cover everything, and by picking two popular games series, I gave readers what I thought to be a decent basis for comparison. Sorry if this wasn't the case.

    Wow, that was a pretty scathing review of the combat. I personally thought the firefights were quick, sharp, and not at all repetitive - they definitely tightened this up compared to ME2. There's a pretty broad range of enemies to face which keeps things interesting as well. It was jarring to find that I can only use heavy weapons at set points in the game when they were given to me - and that happened what, three times? But in all fairness, that's two more times than I used them in Mass Effect 3, despite lugging around a missile launcher for 35 hours I barely felt it was worth using because you could end just about anything with a liberal application of warp ammo.

    The combat in ME3 made it feel a lot more about strategy, especially once you start meeting Marauders and Banshees.

    I also much prefer the ME3 multiplayer to playing Horde Mode in Gears 3, which I DID find tedious, or the shooting at the same bullet sponges over and over again in Uncharted which ruined an otherwise perfect adventure puzzle platformer.

    For the record I started as a female human sentinel in multiplayer but switched to an Asari adept once I unlocked one.

    Anyway, I agree that the story is great (let's just stop talking about the endings - I liked them but no one else does, so let's just move past it). I'm the exact opposite on everything else. ME3 is well written, well paced, the combat is satisfying and the multipler while completely unnecessary, is nevertheless welcome. I've played a decent amount with friends, and it's interesting to see the different ways they play. One friend likes to play as an Engineer because he can summon drones to do his fighting for him (he's not very good at first/third person shooters), while another friend rolled soldier until he unlocked a Turian (he's a very direct/brute force kind of guy who fancies himself a bit of a badass).

    To your first question: yes, I know. Even with mods and upgrades though, I didn't feel as though I was making much of an impact. I preferred using powers and I found it frustrating that Soldier class characters (Garrus for example) could only really use ammo powers (and Overload until shields/barriers went down) against some of the "boss" reapers like Brutes and Banshees. That being said, high level biotic powers didn't really feel that effective against bosses either so that was also cause for frustration. I loved the heavy weapons because they allowed for me to tear through some of the firefights that dragged on too long in ME2. Balance issues were countered by the somewhat scarce ammo.

    My biggest issue with the combat, however, revolves around cover.. and how it always messed with my power shots. If I wasn't stuck to cover, my biotic powers would often hit surfaces as opposed to the target's my reticule was over. That, and GoW3 and Uncharted 2 felt a lot smoother with regards to the whole cover system (ME3 is better than Uncharted 3 as far as shooting is concerned, but third person cover shooting has been done much better in my opinion). In regards to your argument about enemy diversity, I don't agree either as Marauders and Cannibals (Reapers) and generic Cerebrus grunts made up for about 70% of my kill count. I'll concede that the Phantoms, Banshees and Harvesters et al did mix it up a bit, but after more than 28 hours it began to drag.

    As far as your comment that combat felt more "strategic," I agree in principle but ME3's approach to difficulty was just to throw more [SPOILER] high level enemies at you with the out of being able to flick a switch (or two in the case of the Tuchanka) [END SPOILER].

    As for multiplayer, it's obvious from this comment thread at the very least that there are a lot of passionate players out there, but it just doesn't compare to Horde. Say what you will about the bullet-sponge enemies in GoW3, there are no easy wins and teamwork is a must. I haven't won a gold match, but bronze and silver had me paired up with lone wolves and as an adept, I couldn't get a word in the first few rounds with all of those soldiers (I will concede that not everyone will have had the same experience as I had, sounds like there's a lot more diversity out there now :) ).

    I can't believe you didn't like this game! (caveat - I won't play it until I play Skyrim for another 100 hours). The biggest question is whether you are are Jack or Miranda fan... Anyway I won't give you a hard time until I finish it and confirm that it is a genius triology. But it will be so be warned.

      Miranda fan for the record: http://unbearabledutch.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/commander-shepard-graduates-from-zapp.html

      I loved Mass Effect 3, just quietly. It's funny how that isn't what's being taken away from the review. I just thought there were some issues that were niggling, but hardly deal breakers.

      It is a genius trilogy; part 2 was a bit slow to start, however.

    I never liked Gears of War's combat, purely because it felt way too focused on cover, and the fact that your muscles covered the whole screen.

    In Mass Effect 2 and 3, yes there is a focus on cover and, yes, in ME3 the cover system is a bit wonky. But it's much more free, so many more options than just "shoot this big guy", though if you choose to play that way, you can. I spend so much time choosing weapons, hotmapping powers, I just don't see how the strategy is less.

    Which is not to say it doesn't have problems. Finicky cover, a tendency to repeatedly send me to the Citadel, sometimes awfully written sidequests and graphical bugs every few cutscenes don't help. But the Mass Effect 2 characters, I found, were better written this time (I felt nothing for Jack in the last game, and I only cared for Grunt because he reminded me of Wrex), the relationships with previous crew members like Garrus, Liara and Kaiden/Ashley were beautiful, the combat was quick and exhilarating and the exploration was fun.

    Mass Effect 3 isn't as good as Mass Effect 2, but it's better than the first and still a bloody amazing game.

    Now that I'm not on my phone I can claify.
    Scanning planets-completely streamlined, dissapointingly as I liked getting minerals, with planets that you scan having one thing on them and being identified by the radar. Also avoiding the reapers was different
    Citadel- I mainly did the side missions inbetween missions and the citadel, so to me it felt like I only really showed up there once in a while.
    Multiplayer-Since my first game I don't think I've seen a human-got salarian on the starter pack.
    Combat- I wasn't stupidly expecting Gears of Effect when I bought the game, and so only compared the combat to ME2-granted the lack of heavy weapons was a suprise I felt it made the bits when you used them all the more satisfying.
    Though I respect your opinion, I just don't think that its right or properly informed

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