The most important feature that ties into the story is your Effective Military Strength, which keeps track of all the assets you have to fight the Reapers, such as ship fleets, engineers, and other important people. You’ll gather them as you go through the story, as well as through side missions and planetary scanning. You’ll have to gather fewer war assets if you can increase Galactic Readiness, which you do via the new multiplayer mode. Everyone starts at 50%, but the more you level up online the higher your readiness. You can even carry your multiplayer character into the single-player as an asset if you level them highly enough. You can still reach maximum EMS — which is what really matters — if you’re adamantly opposed to playing online, but it will take a lot more exploring in the single-player.
As for the multiplayer itself, it’s far better than all the doomsaying predicted when it was announced. It’s essentially a survival mode not unlike those that have swept the multiplayer landscape since Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, where 4 players take on waves of opposing forces. You select a class the same way you do in single-player and go to town on Geth, Reaper, or Cerberus forces. It’s not innovative by any stretch, but it’s fun enough that raising your Galactic Readiness isn’t a chore. It works, and that’s all that really matters.
Mass Effect 3 also employs some addition by subtraction. The most common gameplay gripe with ME2 was the scanning of planets for resources. You still scan planets, but it’s a far more intense endeavor. Most solar systems have war assets hidden throughout them, but you’ll have to send out a pulse to find them. Each pulse, however, makes Reapers in the cluster more aware of your presence, and they’ll find and destroy you if you’re not careful. Once you find something on a planet, though, it’s just a matter of sending a single drone to the right spot; no more spending five-plus minutes scouring a rock for palladium or eezo. On a smaller but equally positive note, vehicle sections are out of ME3 altogether. The Mako or Firewalker can’t present a problem if they’re not in the game.
This is also one of the most visually impressive console games that you’ll encounter. The Reapers are awe-inspiring in their own terrible way, reducing formerly beautiful landscapes to flaming piles of rubble, and character models look better than ever. Some of the Reaper ground troops, such as converted turians and asari, are grotesque on top of being worthy adversaries. Textures are crisp, and smoke effects are believable. The lighting could be better, especially in the case of an overused blue lens flare that only seems to exist indoors.
There was some concern after it was announced that Jack Wall, composer for the previous games, wouldn’t be working on Mass Effect 3. Those doubts can be put to rest, as the score is classic Mass Effect. It’s a spacey orchestra that helps punctuate key moments in the game, maintaining the series as one of the most audibly unique in the medium. The rest of the soundtrack is equally impressive: high-level voice acting that we’ve come to expect is present, and the sound that Reaper capital ships (and their weapons) emit is chilling.
Mass Effect 3 represents the end to an epic. One way or another, players know that the fight with the Reapers ends here. The gameplay has never been tighter, and that alone is well worth your sixty dollars. It’s the thinking man’s cover shooter, if you will, employing strategies that set it apart from other third-person games. It even works online, believe it or not.
The real star is the narrative, which is thematically head and shoulders above just about anything being put out today. What’s important to you, and to what lengths would you go to save it? How do you press on when presented with the futility of your fight? BioWare presents us with all of this and never takes the easy way out. No matter how “perfectly” you try to play it, you WILL have the rug pulled from under you on your way to the end, and it will probably affect you in some way. It’s the price of trying to save an entire galaxy from extinction.
Mass Effect 3 is more than just a fantastic video game; it’s an important one. It elevates the series as a benchmark example of the stories that can be told through this medium, one that’s mature not for the amount of sex and gore in it, but for the themes it presents you with.
It is absolutely not to be missed.
FINAL GRADE: A+