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|A Bold Attempt That Misses the Landing: “Mass Effect 3”|
|Lifestyle - Gaming|
|Written by Grant Williams|
|Thursday, 19 April 2012 09:05|
Mass Effect 3 has a lot to live up to. The concluding installment in Bioware’s blockbuster science-fiction epic finishes a story that for many players began five years ago with the original game, and anticipation was high for a satisfying resolution that incorporated and responded to the many, many choices players have made along the way. The game mostly meets expectations, but in a few instances – especially the last act – it falters.
For the uninitiated, the Mass Effect games combine a third-person shooter with a role-playing game that emphasizes narrative and choice over more conventional action. The plot is a mostly straightforward space opera, with the player trying to save a galaxy of humans and other alien species from annihilation by sentient machines, but strong writing for individual characters and the merging of player decisions with the story have elevated the series into something worth paying attention to. Unfortunately, while Mass Effect 3 introduces a new character specifically to relay the events of previous installments, playing this game but not the first two would be a bit like seeing Return of the Jedi with no prior exposure to Star Wars.
While the first Mass Effect centered on exploring new worlds and the second on meeting new people, Mass Effect 3, appropriately, is about people and places we already know, calling in all the favors and goodwill earned in the past two games to convince the galaxy’s species to work together in spite of their sometimes-ancient grudges. Almost every mission involves meeting up with characters from previous games, demonstrating their contribution to the fight, and resolving their personal stories. Even the new planets are not distant colonies but the previously unseen capitals of the alien nations the player has interacted with throughout the trilogy.
Regrettably, shooting monsters constitutes a slight majority of each mission, and it hasn’t gotten more interesting than in previous games, remaining a way of treading water between the conversations that are the meat of the game.
However, if the player imports saved data from Mass Effect 2, each mission does reflect, in major or minor ways, choices made in the past games. This is perhaps Mass Effect 3’s most ambitious achievement: The game adapts not only to various small actions but also to whether a dozen important characters are alive or dead. Getting the aid of the habitually violent Krogan, for example, is much easier if Wrex – a squad member from the first Mass Effect – survived to assume leadership of his people.
Unfortunately, the final act fails to integrate the player’s decisions in the same way. In the month or so since Mass Effect 3’s release, the series’ ardent fans have been in an uproar over the ending. The last five minutes of the game are indeed surprisingly terrible – the climatic scene tries to offer unnecessary explanations for plot devices and a “meaning” to the game beyond being an entertaining space opera, but it fails by being both poorly written and full of contradictions and inconsistencies.
It would be easy to ignore that and still appreciate the rest of the game. But it’s another aspect of the final act – the actual battle with the machines – that’s more troubling.
Unlike in previous games, where a few choices had specific consequences in the finale while most were ignored, almost all of your actions in Mass Effect 3 play a role in the final battle – a welcome change. However, they do so by being assigned a numerical value that’s added to your total “war assets.” Every character, ship, and fleet you recruit is part of this total. But that score, and nothing else, decides the result of the final battle.
Even worse, your war assets are multiplied by a “galactic readiness rating” that starts at 50 percent – reducing your prospects by half at the outset – and can only be increased by participating in the otherwise-throwaway multi-player mode or playing an iPhone game that must be bought separately.
It’s a crass attempt to increase revenue. Success in multi-player largely depends on equipment, which is bought either with points earned through multi-player or with real money. In other words, increasing your readiness rating requires playing a lot of drab multi-player or forking over cash.
The ending is a sour note on an otherwise polished and accomplished game, the rare mainstream hit that privileges characters and narrative over killing more monsters (even if there is a lot of that, too). The game deserves to be celebrated for attempting something more, even if it doesn’t stick the landing.
Mass Effect 3 is available on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 for $59.99.
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