A galaxy-spanning tale, five years in the making, has finally come to an end. The original Mass Effect game came out in 2007 to rave reviews and a spot at the top of many Game of the Year lists. Mass Effect 2 continued the story in 2010, and Mass Effect 3 brought it to a close last month—selling a whopping 1.5 million units since its release.
The Mass Effect universe is a feat of world-building. There are numerous alien cultures, complete with fascinating back-stories, mythologies, and home planets to explore. I’ll be as spoiler free as I can, so I’ll just say that the “The Reapers Are Coming!” fear that the first two games built up becomes “The Reapers Are Here” in this third game. You have to pull together as many allies from as many corners of the universe as you can. What makes it interesting is that some of these species can’t stand each other, and won’t even put aside differences to fight this massive threat. You get to figure out how to overcome that.
The gameplay is largely unchanged from Mass Effect 2. Some shooting, some roleplay, some customization… I was more conscious of the obvious waist-high pieces of cover that signaled a fight was about to go down. Maybe my senses were heightened after recently playing Gears of War 3, but it took me out of the game a few times.
After you’ve achieved a certain number of missions, you’ll reach a minimum military rating that allows you to head right into the final fight. But the more you do, the “better” your ending will be. There is also a Galactic Readiness rating that hovers around 50% if left alone. This is one of the things about the game I dislike: The only way to build up that rating (other than an app you can pay for on the iPad) is by playing multiplayer—which is available for the first time in a Mass Effect game.
It’s basically a Horde Mode where you and up to three other players fight off 11 waves of bad guys. There are numerous locales you can choose from, and you’ll fight either the Geth, Cerberus, or Reaper forces. Play the game and your Readiness Rating increases, but if you don’t play the multiplayer every day, your readiness % erodes over time. You might come back two days later and it’s dropped by 6%, so you have forced incentive to play every day. It’s really annoying.
So if you get all of the allies you can, and play enough multiplayer to get to 100%, you can get the “best” ending. I won’t spoil anything, but I did just that, and my best ending didn’t seem so great; the other ones must be terrible.
One of the big draws of this series is that the choices you make shape the game in profound ways. That was a big promise, and I don’t think they were able to pull it off. Bioware claimed that there were hundreds of variables changing the story depending on your decisions, but I just didn’t see much evidence of that. If you killed character A in the first game, that person wasn’t there in the second one—but they were just replaced by character B. Or someone might be harsh toward you in ME3 because you were mean to them ME2. That’s cool, I guess, but I’ll bet most people’s stories were remarkably similar in the macro, even if there were differences in the micro.
If you’ve played the first two games, there’s really no reason not to finish things out. If you’re wondering whether to go pick up a cheap copy of the first game and see what the hype is all about, I would recommend you tread lightly. There is bad language; it wasn’t as bad as Gears of War 3, but it’s there. There is killing aplenty, but it doesn’t seem as bloody as other shooters out there—though some powers make the bad guys explode in a burst of blood. And finally, this game is notorious for the sexual relationships you can pursue. There’s always been cross-species love, but in this third installment your character can even have a relationship with someone of the same sex. There’s some partial nudity shown in the love scene, but because this is a game about choices, and you’re creating the story, you can choose not to pursue any relationships.
Stuff to consider:
- Alcohol—Some characters drink, and you spend some time in a nightclub called Purgatory.
- Violence—Lots of killing, but the species you’re fighting determines how much blood-n-guts there is. With Cerberus and Geth, there’s almost no blood. The Reapers are gross.
- Language—There’s some bad language—it’s worse than some and not as bas as others.
- Sex/Nudity—Some partial nudity if you choose to pursue a “relationship” with a crew member, but you can choose not to. Homosexual relationships are possible—the game doesn’t steer you in that direction; it’s just an option. Also, the female characters are all ridiculously proportioned, and the game will sometimes draw your attention to it—such as placing the camera in a cut-scene where it shows off their butts.
I can’t deny the scope and audacity of the series. There are some powerful moments, and great characters and character arcs—and it’s all wrapped up in a fleshed-out and interesting universe. The nudity/sexual relationships aspect is a very small part of the whole, but it’s one that still looms large. That aspect alone makes this a game I can’t fully recommend—unless you’re willing to forego those relationships. Prayerfully consider whether this is a good game for you.
Rated M: Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence
Scott Firestone IV is an avid gamer who had a disturbing epiphany after finishing this game—he’s spent ~100 hours of his life in the Mass Effect universe.