My deep love and admiration for the Mass Effect franchise is no secret. Exceptionally well-versed in the first two games in the series — I wrote IGN’s epic strategy guides for both — Mass Effect 3 constitutes a sort of singular focus for me as I look forward to the games I’m anticipating most in 2012. I crave finality for Commander Shepard‘s galactic quest of monumental importance, and now that I finally have Mass Effect 3 in my hands, it appears that the resolution I seek rests close.
Like I did with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning mere weeks ago, over the next seven days, spread across three updates, I will be filling you in on my impressions of Mass Effect 3. I’ll be touching on both the over-arching themes of how Mass Effect plays, looks and feels, but I’ll also focus on the minutiae that makes a series like Mass Effect stand out. Oh, and you needn’t worry about story-specific spoilers apart from how the game starts, because there won’t be any.
As you read, you should prepare to post in the comments below. Feel free to sound off about all things Mass Effect 3, and ask me the questions you feel are most pertinent. What do you want to know? What do you care about? I’ll grab around 20 questions straight from the comments for both future updates, and much of the structure of those last two updates will revolve around the things you want to know about the most.
But enough chatter. Let’s get into it.
As I put Mass Effect 3 in my PlayStation 3, I wondered what I’d find when I started the game up. Unlike so many others that are eager for the third game in BioWare‘s space-centric trilogy, I conducted a patience-driven virtual media blackout on Mass Effect 3. While this proved to be exceptionally hard — I work in the gaming industry, after all — I achieved my goal; I avoided recent trailers, I never read impressions of the game, and I didn’t play the demo. Needless to say, where Mass Effect 3 starts and where it subsequently thrusts you remained a mystery to me.
immediately found myself caught in a conundrum, however. Should I prepare my Mass Effect 2 save for importation into Mass Effect 3 or start fresh? I decided to go with the latter option. With the inclusion of new (and, I’d argue, unneeded) multiplayer options and the ability to play through the game with various slants on role-playing, action and story, it’s rather clear that BioWare and EA want to open Mass Effect up to as wide an audience as possible. And I wanted to try to get the “every man” experience, and not the one that Mass Effect fans like myself already know and expect. After all, it’s not as if you’ll avoid buying and playing Mass Effect 3 if you Mass Effect 2 enamored you.
I found being on Earth at the outset of the game refreshing. As humanity’s homeworld, it’s strange that you never actually get a feel for Earth until now. And when you do finally see it with your own eyes (and not just orbiting it from above), you find it in the most dire of situations. The infamous Reapers, once thought to be nothing more than a primitive religion-derived myth, have proven to be real. And as they do every 50,000 years, they’re hell-bent on cleansing the Milky Way of all organic life.
Using Turian-like techniques relying on overwhelming force and firepower, Earth doesn’t stand a chance against the Reapers. With millions being killed around him, Shepard barely manages to escape, but not before seeing a grisly scene of carnage that sets a decidedly dark tone for the game. The Reapers represent an existential threat to all creatures throughout the known (and unknown) reaches of the galaxy. Your success or failure, surrounding the revival of ancient Prothean technology, will dictate the future course of the galaxy. And unlike in previous games, where, for instance, Salarians and Krogans still hold grudges against each other over ancient conflicts, the theme now rests with achieving a sort of galactic unity that’s necessary for the survival of all races and species.
The opening conflict on Earth sets an interesting cadence for the game. Not only are you learning (or relearning) the third-person mechanics of Mass Effect, but you’re also introduced to a few new (albeit minor) additions. Mass Effect 3 immediately comes off as a more vertical game than its predecessors. For instance, you’ll be jumping over gaps and doing a bit of rudimentary platforming as you run-and-gun through enemy forces. You’ll find these minor mechanical themes repeated as you continue through your adventure.
It’s also worth noting that a few technical issues arise on the PS3 version as soon as you start playing, too. Fairly serious framerate issues plague the opening cinematic on Earth, and while this particular problem clears up as you play further through the game via future cutscenes, these hitches certainly concerned me early on. Likewise, lip-syncing is almost always off and characters sometimes appear stiff and can even flicker in and out of cutscenes when camera angles change.
The good news is that these problems don’t injure a title that relies almost entirely on its otherwise top-notch presentation. If you can get past these sorts of aesthetical hiccups, you’ll find a title drowning in a deep, well-fleshed out story surrounded by intriguing characters, both familiar and unfamiliar. Remember that the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 also had their own technical problems — long load times and some severe texture pop-in, for instance — but that those problems didn’t at all erode away the overall story-driven experience.
Speaking of story, one of my major obsessions in the first two Mass Effect games revolved around my incessant reading of the game’s primary and secondary codices. I’ve already lost a couple of hours to codex reading, and continue to be absolutely floored by just about every aspect of Mass Effect’s lore. It’s truly fascinating how deep the game’s fiction is, and I can tell you right now that a more compelling cross-game narrative doesn’t exist.
Likewise, combat still feels tight, fluid and familiar. I enjoy playing Mass Effect as a gun-toting soldier, and in-game radials to toggle through both my weapons and skills appeared to be identical to that of Mass Effect 2’s. Taking cover can at times be a little bit finicky, especially with one of your squadmates trying to use the same piece of cover, but otherwise, my complaints about fighting in Mass Effect 3 remain scarce. In fact, I rather enjoy Mass Effect 3’s combat, and find it stronger than most third-person shooters. That speaks volumes about a game where story and role-playing sit paramount over actual gameplay.
I also found it refreshing to find new enemies as soon as you gain control on Earth. That’s not to say that you won’t fight enemies you’re already familiar with, but you’ll still find welcome diversity in Mass Effect 3 between the old and the new. And you’ll find that diversity immediately upon starting the game up; after all, you’ve never fought the mystical, galaxy-destroying Reapers until right now, and you have no idea what they’re capable of.
As I explored new planets, territories and ships, I also noticed something that will hit those familiar with Mass Effect like a ton of bricks; experience point distribution seems far more liberal than in the second game. Resulting from this more liberal experience scheme, characters appear to level up more regularly and with more rapidity. Of course, should you choose to import your character from Mass Effect 2, you’ll get an immediate boost in level. Mass Effect 2’s level cap of 30 is fully realized in Mass Effect 3, thus extending Mass Effect 3’s level cap to 60. And better yet, while you can’t make many changes to imported characters, you can still choose to play as a different class than your existing character should such a change suit your preferences.
Skill points still dictate your character’s growth arc, and you’ll be given plenty of point-spending options. Most of this will depend on your characters’ innate strengths, which in turn are derived from their class. I always find it most effective to dump points first into the more obtuse statistics that directly dictate your power and health, but in a choice-laden game like Mass Effect 3, you’ll be able to chart your own path not only with Shepard, but with all of the playable characters you stumble across as well.
I’m over a dozen hours into the game now, and have found myself inundated with both main and side quests. Likewise, I’ve found Mass Effect 3’s changing ancillary features both welcome and disruptive. You won’t be landing a craft on myriad planets ala Mass Effect, and scanning for precious ores and minerals like in Mass Effect 2 is a thing of the past. Now, your focus apart from questing is on developing and retaining precious war assets while scanning the known galaxy’s solar systems for a much more limited array of planets to land on, items to find and more.
But one thing’s for certain. I’m extremely excited to see more. I want to see where this story goes, and how intricate choices made through the game affect the outcome. Moreover, I’m excited to eventually import my Mass Effect 2 character and see how my choices in the previous game shine through in Mass Effect 3. But for my review, I’m focused on this ‘every man’ experience (one admittedly littered with hindsight), and so far, I’m having a blast.
Now it’s your turn. Sound-off in the comments below on your preliminary thoughts concerning Mass Effect 3. Are you excited? Not so much? What are you looking forward to most? What scares you or makes you apprehensive about Mass Effect 3?
But above all else, ask questions. What do you want to know more about? Your questions will be used to dictate the course of the next two updates to our review in progress.
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