As of this week, I can finally say I finished Mass Effect 3, the game toated as the first blockbuster title of the year. And while I can not join the angry mob who hated the end of the game, I can explain exactly what I thought of the whole thing. Join me now....
Story: Well it has finally happened. You have been warning them for what seems like forever (and has been since the end of Mass Effect 1) but no one would listen. Now the Reapers have arrived, and they spell death and destruction for everyone in the galaxy. So of course only now, do those who are in possition to do anything actually listen to you... but is it too late?
The story from here on will follow your Shepard through the galaxy in your desperate struggle to save the galaxy. Your is a key term here since things you have done in previous games will come back to haunt you... or make you nod in approval, so the details that make up your story won't necessarily be the same as someone else's. For a prime example, watch the video behind this link. (Something not everyone will be offered in ME3. Warning, spoilers) To even be GIVEN this choice you must first do things right in Mass Effect 2. Things like this go througout the game, and make it impossible to give a definite picture of what will happen when you play.
That isn't to say that the game will give you vastly different endings with the ones you get to see being pre-determined by games 1 and 2. In fact, when push comes to shove, there are 3 basic endings to the game with some minor variances depending on well you did including how many you can even get to). And these endings are not decided by your actions in the game, but by one choice you get at the end, similar in line to the way Deus Ex: Human Revolution handled it.... though I think this ending felt better in this fashion. Due to the situation you are in, the game makes you choose and have the resolve to finish it. You only really have time to figure what you want to do and slowly trudge to the ending you want. During that time, if you waver, you will not make it and the game will give you a mission failed screen.
To further enhance this feeling, you can not save here, so looking to do so will only further that you may not get to see the other endings, so you better know what you want and stumble to it. The resulting impression is one of finality, and something I have to seriously give Bioware MAJOR props for. NEVER before has a game made me doubt my choice at the end of a game... that very feeling like I might not get to see the rest of the endings made me do just that.
That isn't to say the end videos you get are particularly special. Let me be up front, they are not. They really do leave a lot unexplained, but they serve well enough to say in a broad sense what happened. Now if only the absolute last scene after the last video played wasn't a text box advertising future DLC, I would have been a lot more content.
Graphics: If I had to choose a single word to describe this game, it would be gorgeous. If your remember how Mass Effect 2 looked, you know how Mass Effect 3 looks now, with some minor interface tweaks.
For those who don't expect the detail in this game to match many of the best looking title out there now. The maps in general are all rendered perfectly and give their own mood to match the mission they hold and enemies and your characters are all very well detailed. In short everything looks pretty much right.
Animation, on the other hand, sometimes could use a little work. Nothing so bad that you will be pulled out of the game, but occasionally the game does fall into the classic "not quite so real" movement for things like drinking at a bar.
That isn't to say to say there were not some technical issues. This time around pop-in basically did not happen, except for when looking at a planet you were already on/orbiting. Then it happened every time. You will also find those occasional moments when someone has to be slid into possition for a cutscene, or even appear for it since the game for some reason did not load them previously.
But I think the biggest graphical issue this game has makes it more of a victim of it's own success in this department. When the game switches to FMV instead of inengine scenes, it's obvious. Not because the video looks so much better, but actually the reverse. Everything looks like it would in the engine, but the video itself runs at a lower resolution then you will likely play on your monitor shows obvious signs of video compression during high action moments, and even seems to cut down frame rate on occasion. Now this may look normal to people who played on console (since in-engine cutscenes that got nice and close to faces for them them tended to do this), but on the PC where everything was literally smooth as silk, this all jars you into seeing it for what it is, a video where for us at least, in engine cutscenes would have performed so much better then videos made to blend in with the performance level below what we experience.
Sound: The music, the sound effects, and all the voices in this game are absolutely brilliant. Bioware has always known how to set a scene. If there is any individual star that stands out, however, it is the Illusive Man. Martin Sheen played the roll brilliantly as ever, and it will be a joy dealing with him. However, this does mean the downside that Mordin does not get to have the spotlight he did in Mass Effect 2.
Again, that is not to say that everything is perfect here... though perhaps a lot closer to it then graphics were. The only moment I can think of that was wrong in this department was a moment when Shepard should have been saying something to Garrus, but Garrus said it, and then answered the question he was asked.... it was confusing, but I guess these things happen.
Gameplay: Gameplay takes a few forms through this game... most notably a Gears of War clone. Functional and with interesting weapons/enemies, combat is pretty much just that: Gears of War with extra powers and the ability to pause to command your troops. It has all the strengths of descent gunplay and melee when needed, as well as the interesting addition of powers you can call on, be it changing the way your ammo behaves or abilities you can launch on command.
It also has the same weaknesses, however... namely the cover system not always behaving quite like you want it to. It's entirely possible your "friends" will push you out of cover, or your sprint to a new possition will be stopped pre-maturely since Shepard got it in his head that that wall you were trying to dive past was the perfect place to take cover rather then the low wall ahead you planed to jump over and use. In short, while it is useful and necessary mechanic for this game, it is also sloppy due to the space bar doing everything, and will make mistakes from time to time.
Outside of combat, you will also have the option to wander around maps and interact with players. Gameplay remains the same control wise, minus cover systems of any kind, or combat of any kind. Instead, these sections are used to progress the story, collect quests, and get equipment. In short, this is the town part of the RPG. There really isn't too much more to that aside from breaking up combat and completing sidequests.
And finally you have what I call hide-and-seek parts. This is when you are navigating your ship. You will fly between solar systems and parts of the galaxy using sensor scans to find artifacts, military power, and occasion side-missions you can do and up your general strength of your fleet for the final battle against the reapers. The hide part of this is because when you scan, reapers become aware. Scan too much, and they will invade the system, forcing you to make a hasty retreat or die.
Together, all of this comes together in a very capable package that rounds out the action of being on the ground with the desperation of the situation... for everyone including yourself. And add this to a very good take on hoard mode for multiplayer that can help improve the ending you get, and you have one hell of an experience.
Bugs: Now, I have to get a little nasty to this game. I didn't see a tone of bugs, but the ones I saw were big... as in potentialy game/experience breaking.
1) Issues importing ME2 saves: Yes, you read that right. Basically, if you had the gaul to play DLC for Mass Effect 2 AFTER finishing the game, it caused this game to not see your save. Im sorry, but when a game requires anyone, much less it's biggest fans to replay the ending of the previous game AND any DLC they want to potentially have an effect to use one of the main features, that game has failed in a BIG way.
2) From Ashes crashes the game: Again, the game has failed in an epicly major way. This was the big reason to get the collector's edition of the game, and while it wasn't the biggest addition to the story, it means that now there is a mission that if you do it the wrong way, you will bring your game to a screaming halt on your desktop. There are 3 known ways to work around it described on the forums, but this should NOT have been allowed on the Origin servers in this state.
Overall: Mass Effect 3 was a very good game, but far from perfect. I would call it a great game, but the issues it has are just too big to keep it great. This is a good game, and worth playing, but... probably not worth the full price.