How wonderful it would have been to experience a game like this before the internet outrage machine. It felt as though everyone had made up their mind about this game’s awful ending before even touching the game itself. And that ending certainly put a damper on my experience – after playing the first two Mass Effect games multiple times, I only bothered with a single playthrough of Mass Effect 3. There seemed to be little point in seeing how my choices would affect things when the series ended in a funnel. But this is an epic RPG, and focusing so much on a failed landing ignores everything else which this game does remarkably well.
Mass Effect 2 transformed the original game’s wonky combat system into one of the best I have ever experienced, and Mass Effect 3 builds upon that. The RPG mechanics naturally lock the player into a certain role, but the addition of cooperative multiplayer missions give the option to experience tons of styles. I mentioned before that I only played through this game once, and while part of that was due to the ending, another part is that the game simply offered more chances to experience all the different styles without needing to start a new campaign. While integrating success here into the campaign was a questionable choice, this decision did force an active community into what turned out to be one of the game’s strongest aspects. There’s also the simple pleasure of finally being able to play as the other species in the series, each coming with their own abilities.
Like so many other choice-based experiences, Mass Effect 3 makes up for a lack of true control by having consistently stellar writing – the real reason the ending is so bad is not the lack of impact from previous decisions but by the entire experience feeling disconnected and poorly written when compared to everything else. They tried to go the 2001 route without surrealism, and this is simply not what the series was building toward. This feels particularly egregious because the rest of the game juggles so much more with style.
Each of the Mass Effect games capture the galaxy in a different atmosphere, and the apocalyptic nature of 3 fulfills what the series was promising would happen. Watching these worlds being attacked is devastating, which really emphasizes our investment in these alien species. The biggest success in this story is managing to focus on the interspecies conflicts which have been brewing since the first installment. Everything comes to a head here. One would think people would come together in such dire circumstances, but so many of these species have been pushed to the edge. A galactic civilization built upon acts of genocide, several species doubt their survival whether or not the reapers kill them all. Many games with dire situations can feel like the protagonist is being distracted by minor squabbles, but this game benefits from the series having weaved an intricate political web. Even with the entire galaxy falling apart, every minor issue has a sense of urgency because Shepard needs everyone unified without distractions.
Despite one glaring flaw, Mass Effect 3 feels like everything fans could have wanted – an oppressive atmosphere, strong writing and callbacks, all wrapped around a perfect third-person shooter/RPG hybrid.