I suppose I should start with this: I like Mass Effect 3’s ending. Describing why would be a terrible waste of time, especially when all I’m trying to say is that I like Mass Effect 3 a lot! Like really a lot!
“It is, by half a foot, my favorite game in the trilogy.”
It is, by half a foot, my favorite game in the trilogy. BioWare weaves in events and questions lingering since the beginning and wraps them up in a way that gives you the power to decide just how they conclude. The conflicts are dramatic; the characters are friends; the journey is often powerful. Mass Effect 3 is thoroughly complete in the things that count. Remember, I’m from the standpoint of the few who liked the ending. I felt like reiterating that. Seriously, I liked it. Let’s drop the subject and move on.
At the very beginning of the game, BioWare accidentally brings up the question: What the hell was the point of Mass Effect 2? Its irrelevance to the central plot is only overshadowed by the characters that were introduced in it, but, really, roughly 99% of that game didn’t matter. It was a game that indulged BioWare’s penchant for character writing, which they’ve always excelled at, and I guess that’s enough. As long as you were obsessed enough to make sure that no one died, they all return, often integrated into the core conflict.
That core conflict is divided into multiple, separate conflicts, each with its problems and hiccups that need resolving. Yeah, it’s the traditional BioWare hub structure, going system to system, planet to planet, figuring out problems with guns and dialogue wheels. It ha been streamlined further by stringing you along with one hub at a time, instead of having the option to tackle them in any order.
BioWare takes advantage of this by making the plotting tighter. It’s one of Mass Effect 3’s better elements; the plot moves and develops quickly, leading on to the next grand event that ends often with BioWare effortlessly making you feel something. Cold-hearted bastards beware, Mass Effect 3 might sneak right past your chilly exterior and make your heart increase many sizes too many.
It’s always something BioWare has always claimed that they were doing, that they make games that are emotionally resonant, but it’s always been something I wanted to believe, instead of something that actually was. With Mass Effect 3, that just isn’t the case. It’s a culmination of half a decade of world-building and character building, now unleashed in a cathartic shotgun of emotion. Something like that.
“Shepard is also much more of a character in the game…”
Shepard is also much more of a character in the game, instead of an empty, vapid cipher trapped by your input. More often than not, a dialogue choice makes up a third of a conversation of which you have any input in, as Shepard emotes, reacts and simply becomes a part of a conversation. You still make the decisions when it comes down to the bigger choices that will affect the fates of entire species, but much of the flavor text is automatic. When Shepard’s barking out orders to watch your flanks and to push forward, you get the sense that he was always a good tactician on the field. When Shepard’s tripping over his words, or gives a character a look conveying a thousand words, you understand the enormity of the pressure that surrounds him in having to save the galaxy. This in combination with Mark Meer’s immensely improved vocal delivery for Dude Shep.
This delicious, well-written center is often almost sabotaged by the amount of bloat that BioWare put into the game. Most of the side quests are such fluff and so empty, that they often look completely shameless. A handful have a good substance to them, while the majority can be categorized as fetch quests. BioWare does doubly wrong by making the quest rewards take the form of War Assets, which determine how ready you are for the counterattack against the Reapers. Mass Effect 3 could have lost ten hours of game and it would have been better for it.
Additionally, as great as the combat is and just how much better all the little additions have made Mass Effect 3‘s shooting all-around excellent, there’s often just too much of it. Too many waves, too many rooms to clear, too many guys to shoot. It’s an extremely exciting thing to be a part of, especially if you’ve chosen the Vanguard and decided to spec its space tackle to destroy everything around you, but contextually, you start to wonder just exactly how the Illusive Man was able to hire almost literally millions of mooks in the span of six months.
You start to wonder just how much better the game could’ve been if the splinter of BioWare who worked on the online co-op didn’t work on the co-op at all. What if they just built assets? Created more interesting side quests and content for the part of the game that matters most? There’s nothing egregious about a Mass Effect game having a wave-based survival mode, but when the cracks of a compressed development cycle of a game of this scale become apparent, you ask these kinds of questions.
In the end, Mass Effect 3 still hits hard. Reading about how some people came close to crying or completely just broke down during certain moments actually doesn’t sound ridiculous. BioWare captures the scale of the conflict well, but always focuses on the people involved in it. It’s pretty amazing just how badly EA disregarded the heart of the game – the characters and the world – when they began their marking blitzkrieg, but don’t worry, it’s oh so definitely there – Day 1 DLC, controversial endings, and questionable use of resources be damned. This is a fine, lovingly crafted game with a clear vision despite the realities of corporations and damning business practices.