Review: Mass Effect 3 (Including “From Ashes” DLC)

There’s been a lot of talk about Mass Effect 3 since launch. We’ve had complaints about the ability to have homosexual relationships (from the same people who didn’t seem to complain when their Mass Effect 2 female Shepherd got friendly with another woman), the argument about launch-day premium DLC and, of course, the ending. It’s brought some people to be excessively abusive towards EA and its production and sales techniques, but right here you’re about to read a review that is going to talk about something far more important: the fact that Mass Effect 3 is one of the best games you’ll ever play with a story that knocks spots off most Hollywood movies. We’re spoiler free, we’re loaded with donuts and here to tell you just how it is.

With Earth in a spot of bother with the Reapers, everyone’s favourite used-to-be-dead-but-isn’t-any-more guy/girl decides it’s time to put a stop to all the silliness and build a universe-wide army to bring an end to the Reapers once and for all. The following 30+ hours will have you jumping across space, avoiding Reapers and building relationships with a range of races in order to build a superweapon that will kick a sizable amount of ass. Pretty much how most people spent their weekends really.

Anyone who has played Mass Effect 2 will know exactly what to expect here. There are a few key changes which I’ll go into in a moment, but the core gameplay is the same. Controlling Shepherd is as slick as ever, with the cover system still working pretty well and weapon choice and usage being a surprisingly tactical affair. There’s a great range of weapons on offer, including the insanely awesome Javelin sniper rifle, and selecting the right tools for the job is every bit as important as choosing the right squad for the upcoming mission. The option to be a good guy or an utter bastard is still in place, and although the choices follow a bit of a pattern it’s still great to have complete control over how you play the game, complete with split-second decisions that could make the difference between being seen as a hero or a bit of a cock.

The launch-day From Ashes DLC caused some controversy, but if you manage to get hold of it (either with the N7 Collectors Edition or by purchasing it from the store) you’re going to get some great extras. The Prothean mission is fascinating (although I won’t spoil it for you) and you’ll end up with an extra teammate and weapon, both of which prove invaluable throughout the rest of the game. It’s highly impressive how the extra character integrates with the rest of the game, and bringing the mission in so early into the story means you get the most out of the end results. Having played the game with the DLC in place it’s hard to imagine not knowing what I learnt during the mission and not having the extra character available (not least because they have some excellent special abilities) and those who missed out just because they were busy getting stroppy are losing a great chunk of the game. It’s a difficult one to call, and I understand why people got annoyed, but they released a Collectors Edition for a reason, and rewarding those who pay the extra seems fair in a weird way. I can see both sides of the argument, but either way it’s a great bit of DLC and very much adds to the overall story on offer.

As the game moves on with or without the DLC, the story unfolds. You’ll meet some well known characters at regular intervals, with some of the game’s most poignant moments coming at the hands of the old favourites. On several occasions I sat open-mouthed as the events unfolded in front of me, giving a set of emotions ranging from shock and despair through to horror and sadness. It’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s the shocks that will truly shake you at fairly regular intervals.

The war situation never ceases to drive itself home. From the images of Earth being torn apart by the Reapers to the desperation seen on the faces of various races throughout the universe and the wrecked cities of distant planet, it’s impossible to forget just what’s going on. Despite that, there’s always something to distract Shepherd from his task of gathering the biggest army in history. “Right, I’d better go and see if I can get the Geth to join us. What’s that? You need a new headlight for your bike? I’ll do that first…”

But it’s these diversions and side missions that eat into your time and make you go to bed 3 hours after you promised you would. Even a small mission can be a 45 minute battle, but this isn’t where your time will be taken up. Unlike Mass Effect 2 there’s no resource hunting or planet probing to eat your hours, although you can send out scanning signals as you’re flying around. This new method of searching for stuff brings about the danger of attracting nearby reapers, and if they figure out where you are you’ll need to escape that star system for a little while. It’s worth scanning a few systems to get some extra war assets, but it’s not the engrossing mini-game we had last time round. Where you’ll find time flying by is the Citadel. It’s central to a lot of the between-mission stuff, and where you’ll find a lot of other tasks that need doing for people. It’s also the catalyst for some of the bigger moments in terms of storyline, and the home of some critical decisions that will affect the outcome of the rest of the game. You’ll spend a fair bit of time in the Normandy, although some of this is down to the annoying “security scan” in a key area of the ship which is blatantly a cheeky way of making you wait for the main control area to load.

That’s a bit odd when you think that wasn’t needed in ME2, and if you’re on the PS3 you’ll notice something else weird. As Mass Effect 2 used the new game engine, it’s clearly something that the PS3 can easily handle, and yet you’ll occasionally notice some frame rate issues in cutscenes that we didn’t get in the previous game. It’s nothing that’s going to make you turn it off and stick the game on eBay, but it’s noticeable and a bit hard to understand. There’s also the odd weird glitch, such as an enemy sinking into a wall and needing to be killed before you can move on, but these episodes are few and far between and don’t ruin what is an otherwise epic experience.

But even if that was enough to dent the quality, Mass Effect 3 brings something that most people thought was impossible. In the same way Naughty Dog ignored those people who said Uncharted multiplayer modes wouldn’t work (and proved them wrong with brilliance) Bioware have come up with a co-op multiplayer mode that adds a brilliant, and hugely challenging option. With various levels of challenge, a range of maps and weapons as well as free DLC already arriving to add to what’s there it’ll keep you and a couple of friends very busy for quite a long time, and although it doesn’t have the content of other games’ multiplayer options, this is basically a great freebie on top of what is a very worthy ending to a fantastic series.

So yes, there was controversy. Yes, there are a couple of small issues. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Mass Effect 3 is nothing short of utterly brilliant. With well over 30 hours in a single playthrough and an easy option to play through twice to try out different attitude paths it’s amazing value for money before you add the multiplayer. Add that into the mix as well and you’ve got a game that you just can’t afford to dodge. If you like your games fast and constantly action-packed then it might not be for you, and if you’ve missed either of the previous two Mass Effect games then you’ll want to start there instead of here, but despite that this is one of the best games we’ll see this year. The biggest problem is that there (probably) won’t be a Mass Effect 4…

Reviewed on PS3

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