Overwhelmed by a powerful foe, and running and jumping over burning debris, Commander Shepard bolts for the Normandy. As he reaches the end of a broken beam, he takes a running leap onto the ramp of his starship. Minutes later, he and his crew are fleeing the planet in search of aid. Unlike most combative video games, the first level of “Mass Effect 3” doesn’t involve entering a battle, or even meeting a foe on equal terms. It’s a retreat.
The year is 2083, and humanity has discovered the titular mass effect technology from a 50,000-year old research station on Mars, built by a mysteriously extinct species known as the Protheans. Mass effect, as the name implies, allows one to manipulate the mass of objects. Despite the laws of gravity, reducing the mass of a starship allows for faster-than-light travel, enabling exploration of the rest of the galaxy. As we have so often postulated, humanity quickly discovers that it is not alone in the universe, and is, in fact, one of many intelligent species, most of which are older and more powerful.
Though the player’s character is completely customizable in terms of gender, features, and first name, he or she is always referred to as Commander Shepard, war hero and captain of the SSV Normandy. Shepard’s valiant actions in “Mass Effect” and “Mass Effect 2” have granted humanity respect from its fellow intelligent beings. Humans are even permitted to join the Citadel Council, along with the three most powerful alien life forms.
The premise for “Mass Effect 3” comes at the end of “Mass Effect 2,” when Shepard discovers that a race of giant, evil machines, known as the Reapers, resides just outside of the galaxy. The Reapers wipe out all intelligent life in the Milky Way every 50,000 years, which explains the source of the Protheans’ demise. With this knowledge comes the horrifying news that 50,000 years are up, and the Reapers are on their way. Unfortunately, neither the Human Alliance nor the Citadel Council believes Shepard, and “Mass Effect 3” begins with the first attack by the marauding machines.
“Mass Effect 3” does have a gripping, emotional narrative, but it is still a combat-oriented game viewed from a third-person, or “over-the-shoulder,” perspective. Many gameplay improvements have been made sincethe previous installments in the trilogy. The game’s many combat missions are smoother, and Shepard moves much more quickly than in “Mass Effect 2”. More emphasis has been put on close-quarters combat, and running up to an enemy for a punch or a kick is no longer a suicidal decision. A powerful, new, heavy melee attack has been introduced, which often dispatches foes instantly, giving players an incentive to get up close and personal with the enemy.
The player has a choice of six different character classes upon starting the game. Each is armed with different mass-effect or tech powers that make them unique. Previously, each class’s powers recharged at a set rate, and each was only able to use a few types of weapons. Things are now much more customizable; any class can use any number of weapons, from any type, until their newly-introduced weight limit is reached. However, it isn’t wise to carry too many weapons because the more weight players carry into battle, the longer it takes for their powers to recharge. This ingenious system forces players to choose from carrying lots of heavy weapons or being able to harness the potential of their class-specific powers. This added customization means that players can now tweak their weapon load-out to match their style of gameplay no matter what class they choose.
Conversations have always been an important aspect of the Mass Effect series. Players converse with dozens of characters across the galaxy, and the dialogue choices that are given often have important consequences in the long run, sometimes changing whole missions or the game’s ending. These changes can be radical, and depend on the player’s choices not only in Mass Effect 3, but also in the previous games in the series. At the beginning of the game, the player is given the choice to “import” their character. This means that choices made in “Mass Effect” and “Mass Effect 2” will also impact the game and ending. If the player chooses not to import, choices available in the first two games are made for them. In order to have a complete experience, it’s better to play the saga from the beginning.
Overall, the gameplay is near-flawless. A reasonably-long play-through will last around 30 hours, far longer than most games. But the fun doesn’t end there. Players can replay the game with the same or different character, and make different choices that can keep the experience new and interesting. A fully-featured multi-player mode is also included, which allows player to work with up to 3 friends over Origin, Xbox Live, or the Playstation network, and try to stay alive for as long as possible while combating an onslaught of enemy forces. This multi-player option, coupled with the compelling and extensive story modem makes “Mass Effect 3′s” fun last for hundreds of hours.
The game remains up-to-date, due to new graphics and sound effects, which are both significantly improved since “Mass Effect 2.” The environments are richly detailed and widely varied: Shepard visits locations all over the galaxy, from the moon of the stricken Turian home-world to the lush, forested home of the Salarians. The massive amount of voice-acting, featuring actors like Martin Sheen and “Battlestar Galactica”’s Tricia Helfer, is just as realistic.
“Mass Effect 3” isn’t a great game– it’s a fantastic game, one that has a shot at being the best game of 2012. The story is thrilling, epic, and a fitting end to the series. The multi-player is well-thought-out and exciting. It’s much better than almost every other video game, and blows most movies out of the water in terms of sheer emotion, writing, and character development. Overall, “Mass Effect 3” is a must-have for any gamer who loves the series, or an average Joe who enjoys saving the universe.