After a couple of sub-par performances with Dragon Age 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, some wondered if Bioware was losing its magic. Running in parallel to these perceptions, a confluence of circumstances conspired to inflate expectations for Mass Effect 3, chief among them the previous two games themselves. The result is an unenviable position for our noble RPG developer. Fear not, ME3 is a sheer delight to play for newcomers and precisely the wrap up that longtime fans of the games and books deserve. Bioware wisely ends almost every story thread and character arc, going out of its way to cover all its bases before the curtain falls and the mythos is consummated.
No question: the existing fans were the primary concern when crafting the incredibly dense but rarely convoluted finale of the Reapers v Shepard in the battle over not just Earth but all of organic life. You’ll bump into your favorite characters left and right, lending a hand or just a hi-five in what could be described as the ultimate high school reunion…in space! Many will join your crew, while others have their own thing going. Almost all are expertly woven into the story though out – with a standard suspension of disbelief serving you’ll never scrutinize when another familiar face drops in for the 4th mission in a row.
Said devotees to the series will appreciate the smart renovations to the weapon customization system, which has a more visually intuitive operation to it. Probably the most appreciated facet of the combat’s facelift is the ability to hurdle objects and ascend to new elevations, giving the battles a new vertical dynamic to them. Veterans will notice these and other subtle changes that coalesce to create a slightly faster, more intense shooter experience.
It goes without saying that your previous save should be loaded from Mass Effect 2 to continue your specific journey with your Shepard through the galaxy you shaped. The flipside is that, despite Bioware’s gallant efforts, newcomers to the series will feel lost. Go play ME 2, you won’t regret it.
Mass Effect 3′s epic plot points and general grandeur owes to these burgeoning story arcs that mature across all three games, the chief example being the Reapers themselves. Rarely does a series continually hype a colossal threat for the hero while illuminating few concrete clues. Mass Effect 3 uses its own rich history and codex fill-ins to rightfully cash in on that buildup to great effect.
Now that all the cards are on the table, it’s clear that the genius of the Mass Effect series at large isn’t the story or mythos per se: it’s how Bioware uses wisely calculated storytelling in the setting of a few deftly implemented gameplay devices to make your story your own over the course of multiple games. Those characters are there because you saved them, and so-and-so respects you because of your actions. Precious few trilogies even attempt such a feat and nobody pulls it off this well.
The payoff goes way beyond concepts like replayability and the value of a consumed media product. Mass Effect makes you and your Shepard feel unique, like nobody else out there saw the same sequence of events unfold or made the same calls. Bioware even ended it at the precise moment – a ME4 would contain too many contrivances and simply collapse under its own weight, unable to support all of the possibilities borne out over previous iterations. The devs did everything right here, more than enough to sell me on their ensuing new IP.