In Mass Effect 3, the dreaded moment that Commander Shepard has fought against for two games has finally arrived: the ancient machine race known as the Reapers have made their way back to the galaxy. Now they are beginning their mission of exterminating all advanced life forms, and each planet’s military is powerless to stop them. Taking command of the Normandy and its crew once again, Shepard sets off on his most crucial mission yet: both to convince the different races of the galaxy to co-operate against the Reapers, and to help build the Crucible, a gigantic weapon that may hold the key to ending the war.
It’s taken me a little while to get through Mass Effect 3. When playing Mass Effect 1 and 2, I would play at least a little bit on most days, but I had several breaks in the process of getting through this one. This was partly because I kept running into difficult areas where I would get stuck, and partly because it wasn’t really inspiring the same passion in me as the other two.
There are certainly some differences in combat. Most of your enemies fall into two camps: soldiers working for Cerberus, or the twisted monsters created and controlled by the Reapers. And the enemies are much smarter this time around: they’ll move around a lot more to make themselves more difficult to shoot at, they’ll throw grenades at you while you’re hiding in cover, and some can even use smoke screens. There are also giant armoured enemies which are particularly hard to take down in the earlier stages of the game. But otherwise, it’s just the same shooting your way through an area as the other two games, and I sometimes felt impatient with it.
Ultimately, this made me realise that what I was really here for was the story and the characters. That’s not something you hear very often in video games, but the Mass Effect has to be one of the best examples of video game storytelling ever. I was impatient to get through the combat parts precisely because I wanted to get to the next chapter of the story – what would Shepard do next; how was the war progressing? Between missions, I would always send Shepard wandering around the ship, talking to his crew members, checking whether Liara had any new information or the artificial intelligence EDI – who gets a new humanoid body for herself – had any new questions about being human. There are endless opportunities for casual conversation, and many lead to truly heartfelt scenes, given that the characters are in the middle of a gigantic war and have no idea if they’ll see tomorrow. At least some of them will indeed be lost along the way, depending on how you play. Along with that, the world of the game remains truly alive: the galaxy hub, the Citadel, is filled with refugees and frightened civilians talking in the background about the problems they’re facing.
And in the case of this review, I feel I have to talk about the ending. If I’m counting the ending as starting from when Shepard gets back to Earth, much of it is handled extremely well. The combat against the Reaper forces became so intense that it left me breathless. The extended breather scene that allows Shepard to share some final words with all his crewmates made me feel more emotional than any video game I’ve played before – I really love these characters.
But the real conclusion….well, I’d heard bad things about it, so I downloaded the extended cut from the Playstation Store a while ago. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to take. So I was faced with the incredibly abrupt, unsatisfying scene of the Reapers being defeated and the Normandy crashing, with very little indication of what the future holds for this world I’ve been so fascinated with. Not only that, but the game failed to properly clarify the route needed for whatever ending you wanted to choose, so I ended up selecting ‘destroy’ when I wanted ‘synthesis’. I was not happy.
That said, I don’t mind so much about the many choices made throughout the game having no real impact on this final conclusion, as many other gamers have complained. What those choices really affected was Shepard’s journey to that point – and that, after all, was the meat of the story that so hooked me in. In addition, the very last scene with the man (voiced by Buzz Aldrin!) and child standing on an unknown world, talking about ‘the Shepard’, does have a simple beauty to it; the idea that the hero had achieved such immortality got me feeling a bit emotional again.
So, mixed feelings about the ending, but I have very much enjoyed playing through the Mass Effect saga. I was just as sucked into the world and its characters as with a good book, and one day, I will go back to it, to send another Shepard on another journey. Rating: 4.5/5.