My Spoiler-Free Mass Effect 3 Review

A recent picture of me, Commander Aravan Shepard.

Now that I’m sitting down to type this, I’ve realized that I have no idea who this review would be for. If you played Mass Effects 1 and 2 and loved them, then you don’t need my encouragement. If you played them and hated them, it doesn’t matter what I have to say, because (mild spoiler) Mass Effect 3 is a lot like the first two. And if you have never played Mass Effect at all, then I wouldn’t recommend starting with ME3. Buy the first one and play it. If you liked it, play the second. If you liked that, buy this one. But maybe you’ve played the first 2, liked them, and didn’t know if this one would be any good. Maybe you’re scared. Understandable. I was apprehensive in the extreme. Already this year I’d played a game I was really looking forward to, only to find cruel, bitter disappointment. Maybe it would happen again.

Well, after 30 or so hours of multiplayer, then playing from 6pm to 3 am Tuesday, then 10 am to 2 am on Wednesday, then 11 am to 10 pm Thursday, I can give you my opinion of the game. It’s only one guy’s opinion. Maybe you will disagree. But here is my eleven-word review:

HOLY FUCK THIS IS THE GREATEST GAME I HAVE EVER PLAYED.

It really is. The writing is excellent. The gameplay and combat is more challenging and more fun. The visuals of the game are off-the-charts stunning. The little touches are awesome. The tie-backs to previous actions and decisions in the other games, from minor to quest-related, are gratifying. The emotions it can invoke are intense, and to me, that is the highest praise I can offer. Emotional connection to a bunch of goddamn pixels is hard to achieve. But when a game makes you feel an actual sense of loss when some person in that world dies, and makes you rethink the things you said and wonder if you could have changed it somehow – yeah, I think it’s on to something. I think it’s successful.

I find it actually difficult to articulate how good I think this game is. I mean, games like Fallout and Skyrim are huge and give you all the freedom in the world, along with an overarching storyline. They’re huge, they’re chaotic, and you can run around and be whatever you want to be, and that is undeniably awesome. Games like Portal 2 might have funnier or wittier dialogue. True. Other shooter games may have better physics models. OK. But nothing, and I mean nothing, combines all of those elements into one whole like the Mass Effect series. ME3 is more linear than the open-world games, yes. But at the same time there is a sense of purpose driving you to do these things. In Skyrim, I put off the main quest as long as I could, savoring the minutiae. In ME3, it’s everything I can do to NOT plow through the main quest and to take the time to do side missions. It’s not that those side missions aren’t rewarding, because in some ways they are as much or more in terms of story and action, but it’s because I really want to save the fucking galaxy. I am Commander Mother-Fucking Shepard. I am the biggest badass in the galaxy, and there is no one better than I at doing what it is I do. Do I deliver a little hand-flick of dismissal every time I fit a sniper-rifle shot through the tiny viewslit of the shield that Cerberus asshole is carrying and make his head explode (Mail Slot!)? You’re goddamn right I do. My wife looks at me like I’m absolutely crazy every time I do, but she’s playing it next to me with her own headphones on and I won’t air her own particular idiosyncratic movements and favorite curse words.

FemShep kicks some pretty serious ass, too.

The craftmanship and details in the game are awesome. Like the idea that the little slot in the shield is made to be fired through – seriously, most games would just assume the whole shield is the shield. Not here. Getting an email from someone I was nice to 2 games ago, pledging their support in the war and having it actually making a difference is freaking awesome. Seeing old friends from prior stories is literally like seeing a real actual old friend. My face fucking lit up when I saw who I was running into more than once, and I’m a miserable cynical bastard whose face isn’t accustomed to that. I honestly feel like they looked at the prior two games and asked themselves: what worked, what didn’t, and what just isn’t fun, and either added, fixed, or removed them respectively. Take the hacking process from prior games. ME1 was quick random button-presses, not fun. ME2 was Mini-Concentration and matching games. Better, but still not really fun. In ME3, there is no mini-game. It just takes a set period of time to do that action. I like that. Likewise with the scanning of planets for resources. In ME1, you drove around in the Mako, which was either fun or hell-on-earth, depending on your own preferences (for me, hell-on-earth). In ME2, you did a planet-wide scan thing and launched probes. Still time-consuming and honestly not fun. In ME3, it’s much shorter, much easier, and much less important. That makes me happy. Add in things like a Citadel that feels more like ME1’s (which I preferred to ME2), a ship that combines the elements of both 1 and 2, totally free choice in weapon loadouts, and you’ve made me one seriously happy gamer. They even added a melee aspect to the game, which I couldn’t adore any more than if it was my first-born child swaddled in a blankie.

Hey, buddy, got something in your eye. Lemme get it out for ya.

The game isn’t flawless, and one of the new characters kinda looks like ass, in my opinion, but everything is as good as or better than my highest hopes have been. I’m not done yet, and I don’t even think I’m much past the halfway point at that, and that’s fine by me. As far as I’m concerned, this game will always be too short for me, even if I put in 400 hours on it. In a way, I already have. I’ve played through ME1 and ME2 4 full times, and according to the handy little “hours played” on each saved game, I already know I’ve put in 300+ hours before playing a minute of ME3. It’s been worth every bit of it. Even the multiplayer is a blast, and it ties back to the single-player game. The more multiplayer you do, the better-prepared the galaxy is in your own game, and the better your chances at victory. You don’t have to, but it’s actually a lot of fun. I read one review that complained a bit that the game was inaccessible for new players. Yeah, that’s probably true. It would be like calling the Return of the King inaccessible to new readers. Again, that’s true, but it misses the point. This game is designed and intended for the player to play all three games. Not playing all 3 will definitely remove some of its charm.

And that’s it. I won’t talk about the story plot at all, other than it’s incredibly satisfying, and unless you’re even more jaded and miserable than me, this game will pluck your emotional core, make you sad, make you feel triumphant, and make you laugh out loud in a carefree way. It’s oddly affecting, and for me, that’s the highest compliment of all.

I love this fucking game.

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on March 9, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I’ve never played Mass Effect. I’m jumping right into 3 based on your recommendation. Because you are the God of Video Games, I wholly trust your expert opinion and detailed critical analysis. I mean…Holy Fuck, right?

    • HAHAHAHA yep, this game series turns me into a raving drooling fanboy of the first order.

    • Shawn Fitzpatrick

      I’d recommend starting with ME2 It will build a lot of what Alan has described for you, and isn’t at all dated at this point.

      ME1, is cumbersome in it’s interaction, so I wouldn’t go back that far, but ME2 is definitely worth playing through to ‘set the stage’ just so.

      • Also, there is a DLC, which I think is for all platforms, which walks you through some of the “big” decisions from ME1. I haven’t actually tried it out, but might be worth it to get some of the highlights. Supposed to be just 15 minutes.

  2. I would concur. I’m always hesitant to put labels on things when I’m in the middle of them, but at this moment, I definitely think this is the greatest game I’ve ever played. I was rather nervous about it going in. I felt like I was guaranteed to like it on some level, but they had set the bar so high, that I was worried they’d screw something up. So far, not only have I not felt let down in the slightest, I feel like I’ve been pleasantly surprised in some ways. Sure, I could nitpick little things here and there that I would improve if I really wanted, but this game is just incredible.

    I actually started playing with ME2, and then played the first one afterwards. I liked my ME2 playthrough so much, though, that I just kept with that. The default choices maybe aren’t the best, but ultimately I’m ok with them. Ultimately, there was only one choice that bothered me, but I was able to talk myself into it. Honestly, I’m not sure I could replay ME1 at this point. The main plot would be fine, but I would have a hard time with all the side stuff, while the completist in me would have a hard time not doing them. Point being, I think someone could jump right in with ME3 and still have a great experience, but I agree that it would be best to experience the whole thing.

    • I agree with you – there are a few things I could nitpick about, but that would be the equivalent of not liking the shade of brown in the Mona Lisa’s bottom left corner. I think starting with 2 is a viable option. I’ve been considering doing another playthrough of the whole shebang, and I know what you mean about ME1 – I wouldn’t want to do all the side stuff, but I’m too completist to skip it at the same time. It’s probably the only thing holding me back, heh.

  3. My problem with replaying ME2 is that I have an OCD compulsion to scan planets for resources even when I already have more than I will ever use.

    • Heh, then you and Lisa have the exact same disease. She’s the only person I’ve ever known who took a day off from work to do nothing but scan planets for resources.

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