Mass Effect 3 a mammoth, monumental experience

Bioware’s recent release of Mass Effect 3 has managed to take the best features of both its predecessors and create what is undoubtedly one of the most satisfying finishes to any franchise, let alone trilogy, to date.

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The game opens on Earth, where Commander Shepard is about to be put on trial for his actions in the previous installment. Before the trial can be decided, the planet comes under attack by the dreaded Reaper fleet. In spite of all their preparations, humanity’s defenses are quickly overwhelmed. It is easy to see that, without help, the planet will be quickly overrun.

The player’s first few minutes of game play are spent amidst the crumbling structures of a dying city as he/she finds a way off the planet to garner whatever support is possible from other alien species. While the prequels gave a sense of detachment from the Reapers by portraying them as an inevitable, but faraway, threat looming somewhere over the horizon, Mass Effect 3 immediately establishes the desperation of the situation at hand. There is no cavalry coming. The Reapers are here, they have decimated Earth’s forces and there is one last hope for the galaxy.

The in-game AI has been significantly improved for both allies and enemies alike. This means that more intricate and clever tactics are not only possible, but necessary in order to overcome overwhelming odds. Well-timed commands can allow squads to execute devastating combos, but enemies will also work together to flush you out of cover. Different unit mixes means players have to assess which threats are most significant as they are rushed down by some enemies and picked at from afar by others. Players will also be able to scan areas for “war assets” to prepare for their encounter with the Reapers in the game’s finale. Fortunately, this is much simpler and far less time consuming than mining in Mass Effect 2.

Also unique to the franchise is its hybrid RPG/shooter game play. Fans who were disappointed with certain aspects of Mass Effect 2 will be glad to know that the class and skill system has been significantly revamped, grenades have returned and players can now roll and jump over obstacles without taking cover. The game includes six unique classes that serve as twists on classic RPG staples. Individual weapons can be customized a number of ways from custom ammo to scopes, while skills can be leveled up to rank 6, with ranks 1-3 being linear and ranks 4-6 allowing the player to choose between two different upgrades. Not only does each class come with its own skill tree, but players can now use any weapon they like regardless of class, allowing them to fine-tune their character to suit their own playing styles.

The game even features multiplayer co-op game play through its online mode, “Galaxy at War.” New characters are created for this mode that level from 1-20 (instead of the campaign’s 1-60) and use the same classes as the story, although slightly modified. While playing through these multiplayer missions is not necessary, it is another way to gather war assets for campaigns. The ways in which characters can be built coupled with the game’s multiple endings give it extremely high replay value.

For completionists, the game includes a significant number of achievements and a New Game+ option that allows the player to continue his or her game after the main story ends or start a new campaign with his or her character to grab any goodies he or she may have missed the first time around. While playing the first two games in the series is not necessary, it is recommended as players new to the saga will miss out on a lot of the attachment to the characters and events that comes from having experienced the whole story. However, anyone looking to enjoy the latest third-person shooter can do that too, thanks to the game’s new Action, RPG and Story modes. While RPG mode plays out as normal, Action mode plays at normal difficulty but plays out conversations automatically, and Story mode plays at the minimum difficulty but allows manual conversation choices.

The greatest strength of the series is in its writing. As in previous games, the player will be faced with a number of decisions, each with its own consequences that will ultimately factor into how the game ends. Fully voice-acted and featuring over 80 minutes of cut scenes, Mass Effect 3 tells a brilliantly crafted story that allows the player to invest themselves in a way that most other games cannot match, and is a must for any gamer.