‘Mass Effect’ franchise returns with third installment

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new-5starThe “Mass Effect” franchise has been one of the premiere series of this console generation, engulfing players in the story of Commander Shepard. The choices made in the first game could be seen in the second, giving players a true feeling of investment in this series. Now, Bioware brings Shepard’s story to a close in “Mass Effect 3,” and it is brought to an end in truly grand fashion.

The story picks up several months after the end of “Mass Effect 2,” with Shepard on Earth and stripped of his military rank for his work with the pro-human organization, Cerberus, while also trying to warn the galactic community about the Reapers, an ancient race of sentient machines that return and destroy all technologically-advanced life every 50,000 years. Almost immediately, Earth is attacked by the returning Reapers, decimating anything and anyone in their path. Shepard is forced to flee Earth and rally the races of the galaxy to take back Earth and defeat the Reapers. Over the course of the story, the player will also have to contend with Cerberus forces.

Like with “Mass Effect 2,” players can import their save file, which contains the saved appearance and class of Shepard form the previous title along with a list of major choices the player made in the previous two titles that determine how characters interact with the player. The supporting crew members that the player can take on missions have also been reduced from “Mass Effect 2,” with six characters that can be obtained over the course of the story. These include fan favorites like a Turian named Garrus Vakarian to new editions like James Vega, a human soldier. While this is considerably less than “Mass Effect 2,” it does allow for much deeper relationships with the crewmates who join up to fight the Reapers.

The only caveat is the ending, which, depending on the amount of time someone has put in the series, may not be what the player expects. That aside, the story and setting do a good job of selling that this is a galaxy fighting a near unwinnable battle for survival, with sacrifices and choices made by different characters that convey the desperation each race is feeling.

The gameplay of “Mass Effect 3” has more refined from the previous games. In the first, the game fit the mold of a more traditional RPG, with deep leveling and customization options for Shepard and his crew. In the second edition, the game took a major departure from the first, simplifying the RPG elements while making the action much more fluid and fast. “Mass Effect 3,” however, has managed to strike that perfect balance that Bioware was looking for in the previous games.

The combat is definitely the most fluid of the series, with fast and fluid shooting akin to a “Gears of War” game and a host of different weapons and armor. The role-playing elements of the game have also been updated, with a simple, but deep, leveling and customization options to explore. At a powers fourth level, the player has two options that can change the effect powers have from that point on.

 

Armor carries its own effects, with certain pieces granting better health or damage, allowing the player to mix and match. Weapons are also customizable, with multiple attachments for all five gun classes that affect a weapon’s performance. The weapons also affect power use because of the new weight system, which makes the player manage which weapons they take into missions, as heavier weapons will make cool down for power use slower. This makes equipment management much more important than it was in “Mass Effect 2.” Planet scanning also returns from “Mass Effect 2,” but in a new, refined version. Players can choose to explore different systems to look for war assets to prepare for battle against the Reapers. This makes scanning feel meaningful, as opposed to the planet scanning from “Mass Effect 2” that felt monotonous and unnecessary.

“Mass Effect 3” also introduces multiplayer for the first time to the series. It is a surprisingly fun, but unaddictive, co-op mode where the player has the choice of the six classes available in single player, along with the choice of different races to play as. This is part of the galaxy at war system used in the game to measure galactic readiness for the eventual final battle. As mentioned before, it is a fun mode, surprisingly, but is not a mode that will keep people coming back to the game as much as the single-player will.

Graphically, “Mass Effect 3” is the best in the series by far. The engine Bioware has used has not shown age, despite being five years old at this point. There is an excellent level of detail in all areas of the game, with backgrounds that are as vibrant and eventful as the different scenarios the player partakes in. The only consistent issue is lip-syncing. It does not match up as often as it should. Several other small hiccups can occur, but nothing that is truly noticeable.

In sound department, “Mass Effect 3” also delivers, mainly in the performances by the voice actors. The cast of “Mass Effect 3” delivers believable performances from a cast that includes big name talent, like Martin Sheen voicing Cerberus’ leader, the Illusive Man. The music also fits the “Mass Effect” universe, using a combination of orchestral and techno music to sell both the conflict at hand and the intergalactic setting. All other aspects of sound design are well done, with enemies feeling unique from one another along with sounds that make weapons feel more unique.

Overall, “Mass Effect 3” delivers one of the most memorable experiences, not just in video gaming, but in any form of entertainment. It is a deep, engaging, fun and emotional ride that hooks the player from the start and does not let go until after the credits are over. While this may be the end of Shepard’s adventure, lets hope this is not the last adventure seen in the universe of “Mass Effect.”