You honestly expect me to believe that seven completely different individuals gave Mass Effect 3 generally positive to excellent review scores simply because it's a good game?
I suppose that's reasonable.
Here at Kotaku Frankenreview Central (the desk in my den) we've yet to play Mass Effect 3, so I have no first-hand knowledge of the quality of Commander Shepard's third adventure. I hear there are some nasty aliens descending upon the Earth, and it's up to Shepard, her ship, and her crew to help turn the tide and save humanity from utter extinction. Does one review call it out for being the world's most elaborate Space Invaders clone? No. Not a one.
Someone has obviously been paid. Paid to play Mass Effect 3 and offer their objective opinions without being swayed by a raving Frankenreview writer's outrageous and uniformed logical leaps. Well... good job.
Mass Effect 3 faces expectations that are almost impossibly high, partially due to the high quality of its predecessors and the richness of its fiction. BioWare managed to create a sci-fi world worth obsessing over. Expectations are also off-the-charts because of the nature of Mass Effect's story. By adjusting itself to the choices you've made across the previous games, players have become attached to their version of the story, to their Commander Shepard. It's unreasonable to expect it to exceed every possible aspect of its predecessors, and I've tried to keep my own personal expectations in check. Mass Effect 3 certainly isn't a bad game, and ultimately I'd recommend that anyone with an importable Shepard from Mass Effect 2 should check it out. But even after making a real attempt to be pragmatic about Mass Effect 3, I've come away from it feeling a little disappointed about the way this trilogy closes out.
In comparison to what has come before, the world and atmosphere of Mass Effect 3 is bleak, gloomy and uncompromising - the kind of place in which good is never wholly good and bad is never wholly bad. There are no right and wrong answers to the universe's problem; no matter what you do and how you act in keys moments, there will be winners and losers. Whether through force or by choice, there will be sacrifices for the eventual good of the survivors.
This being the final curtain of Shepard's story and all, I don't want to spoil anything for you so I'll stay well away from even hinting at the choices you'll need to make. Other than to say it falls on your shoulders to decide the likely future of each of the universe's respective species and that some of those decisions are tough. More than once I had to pause the game and think things over for a few minutes before coming to a conclusion, and even then the choice came with consequences that didn't sit well with me.
Mass Effect 3's combat kicks things up a notch or twelve, as well, a change that's not always entirely welcome. The new enemies are daunting (and at times terrifying), but while you could get through Mass Effect 2 with minimal attention to cross-disciplinary styles, Mass Effect 3 seems to really, really want you to coordinate your attacks with your squadmates. Perhaps that's because it's easier to do so now that you can use voice commands to control your team (assuming you have a Kinect), but the combat can be frustratingly difficult at times. Your squadmates can be shockingly stupid sometimes, apparently forgetting that they're supposed to be backing you up in a fight. During one particularly brutal encounter, I discovered that my two companions had never followed me into the room and instead were crouching behind some furniture in the hallway. The game's cover mechanic is equally hit and miss, at times letting you roll from point to point with split-second accuracy, and at other times leaving you wide open to assault as you try in vain to take cover behind a wall.
The voice controls work fairly well - though there were times that the Kinect seemed to misunderstand me - but it felt odd to be barking orders at my companions one minute, then listening to Jennifer Hale chat them up back on the Normandy. Using the Kinect is fun from a gameplay perspective, but it doesn't mesh well with the story elements.
But some changes aren't as positive. Mass Effect 3 totes a far looser side quest system that's less compelling and interesting than its predecessors'. It's easy to earn a bunch of side quests only by overhearing conversations in certain locations, with no real context as to what you're supposed to do. While the main quest is heavy on story and action and certainly fulfils in its own right, Mass Effect 3's slant on side quests feels wanting, making the 30 to 40 hours it takes to complete everything in the game just a little more arduous.
BioWare has somewhat down-scaling the RPG-centric nature of the series, but thankfully this dumbing-down is totally optional. Mass Effect 3 still very much acts the part of action-RPG, but players will be given options to lessen the role-playing if you want to jump only into the action or story. Then again, BioWare has made Mass Effect 3 deeper in some ways, too, with features like enhanced weapon customisation. So not all is lost.
Not content to refine its single player, Mass Effect 3 also offers online co-op gameplay in "Galaxy at War". This horde-style survival mode is woven into the larger fiction with you taking on the role of combatant in the war that makes the backdrop for the single player game. What's more thoughtful though is that your success in co-op has an effect on the single player campaign, as your efforts contribute to the preparation of the forces of good in their fight against the Reapers. This is an alternative to doing all the single player activities and focusing on the main quests, supplementing your "galactic readiness" with co-op.
It's a solid, stable, if slight, take on the newest multiplayer mode du jour with all the requisite levelling and upgrading to keep the devoted engaged, but it lacks of the single player game's complexity in combat and, more importantly, its excitement because it is quite disconnected from the Shepard saga. Nonetheless, it is a nice diversion and should find an audience with those who have been requesting some online component to the franchise.
If you're worried that loose ends will be left hanging, don't be — I assure you that Mass Effect 3 delivers the finality that you've been dying for. From the mysteries behind Cerberus and the Illusive Man to the Krogan's situation with the Genophage, everything is laid out on the table and resolved. Bearing that in mind, naturally you will be forced to make conclusive choices that — for better or worse — dictate the outcome of the entire galaxy. I have never had such a difficult time deciding what to do in a video game before. There is a weight to your decisions that dwarfs the choices and consequences seen in the first two games. There are a number of twists and turns along the way, so don't expect a straight forward conclusion. The guys over at BioWare are master storytellers and Mass Effect 3 is their crowning achievement.
Shepard's story - the story of this one leader, the reapers, and the galaxy-that-is - had to come to an end somehow, at some time. Mass Effect 3 is definitively the conclusion of that story, and with every moment I laughed aloud, with every moment I sobbed, and with every moment I shouted extremely unprintable words I knew that it was worth the wait.
Finish the fight!