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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

Next 16
 

Mass Effect 3   PC (Steam) 

Yeah, I said it: Episode XI    4.5/5 stars

When a series (be it movie, book, video game, etc...) arrives at its conclusion, the creators often try and make the final chapter of the story a combination of elements from previous chapters. Old friends (or foes) return. Familiar locations may be revisited. The story may find a way to return to a familiar location.

Mass Effect 3 is no different. This game truly is a combination of the previous two, both in terms of the story and in terms of gameplay. Not only will you get a chance to tie up loose ends across the galaxy, but the gameplay manages to strike a better balance between action and RPG than Mass Effect 2 while also striking a more slim figure than the occasionally bloated original Mass Effect game.

This is the point in the review where I caution anyone who hasn’t played the first two games in the series. PLAY THEM. This series is one of the most important, if not the MOST important, series of the last console generation in terms of truly ADVANCING video games as a medium. This franchise really attempted to raise the bar. If other developers are brave enough to accept the challenge laid by Mass Effect, we as gamers will all be better off for it.

Play the previous games. Play them on the same platform, do whatever legwork you have to to keep your save files, because preserving YOUR story throughout the series is key to truly appreciating the work that went into creating these games.

Read my reviews for the previous games. I’ll mention them a time or two here, and I won’t feel bad if you don’t get where I’m coming from any more than if you’d played Mass Effect 3 without playing the other two and didn’t get it.

I guess now we start where the game starts. As the game opens, Commander Shepard is on Earth facing charges for his actions in Mass Effect 2. Well, not but a few minutes into the game, the Reapers arrive at Earth, having found (I guess) another way back to the Milky Way since the standard plan to return was foiled in the first game. Despite the repeated warnings of one of the most successful and famous soldiers in the galaxy, no one was ready for the Reapers return, and so all of existence finds itself behind the 8-ball the instant the Reapers arrive.

But all is not lost! This is a war of attrition from the Reapers’ perspective. The longer it goes, the better their odds get. So when plans for a weapon to destroy the Reapers are discovered (plans started by previous civilizations) you must set out pulling together whatever forces you can from every corner of the galaxy to gather at Earth, fight the Reapers long enough to use said weapon, and hope we can all read blueprints drawn by a species that died 100,000 years ago.

Your crew is mostly comrades from the first Mass Effect game... assuming you didn’t get them killed here or there along the way. Two (or three, depending on if you have access to the “From Ashes” DLC which launched with the game) new faces will join the crew, along with NO ONE originating from the 2nd Mass Effect game. The team is (as usual) a varied and likeable mix of well-acted and fleshed-out characters that you easily find yourself caring about. The crew does have ONE sad flaw, and this is a personal preference: no krogan squadmate, despite the potential to have a couple to draw from from previous games. Like the 2nd game, each character is also one of the 6 classes your main character can be, with each character also having one unique ability. This gives you several chances to balance your team for every scenario they may face without having to feel like you’re leaving all the good personality back on the ship in favor of what keeps you alive.

As you travel across the galaxy, you’ll find yourself wheeling and dealing with a variety of races. It seems that on the verge of being literally scorched from the face of reality, some folks just can’t let the little things go. Bitter grudges being held over from wars a decade or a century ago will cloud the judgement of the armies you’re trying to enlist, so many of the game’s adventures are spent with you having to pacify both sides of a disagreement so they’ll stand and die next to each other in battle. It seems odd having ONE soldier, who has no true authority, and who represents nothing except making the decision to live together or die alone would end up mediating all these conflicts older than most of the crew of the ship. But in a weird way, it works. The galaxy KNOWS who Commander Shepard is and nearly every being in the galaxy respects him as a leader. While he has little official authority outside of the human race, by this point in the Mass Effect series his word carries real weight and the credibility of his accomplishments.

Still, it feels as though the writers may have tried a little TOO hard to tie up loose ends in this game. I’ve always said that Mass Effect does “big” and “grand” and “epic” better than anyone, but it almost became a little over-done at points in this game. Mass Effect has always “felt” big without ever feeling like it was trying to be big. Previous stories felt epic because they WERE epic, not because someone tried to MAKE them epic, if that makes sense. I feel as though BioWare got a little carried away tying up loose ends. It’s probably a personal thing, it hardly does the game any harm, and the game still does BIG very well on other occasions.

Speaking of big, this is probably as good a place as any to talk about... the ENDING. Yes, THAT ending. The ending that resulted in whatever the internet equivalent of villagers with pitchforks and torches is. The ending that HAD to be fixed, stalling the creation of the first wave of paid-DLC so that BioWare could crank out a free DLC fix. I rarely talk about the “ending” of a game, but seeing how this is the conclusion to more like three games than one, it seems fitting to talk about it here.

I HATED the original ending, for two reasons. Reason one is that it was simply not to my taste. Maybe a lot of other people enjoy these sorts of ambiguous conclusions that teach us that maybe an issue is more complex than previously thought. I’m a big “closure” person, though. And it’s not that this ending left the story hanging, but more than this end made me feel like any choice I made could potentially have been the “wrong” one, ultimately. I can’t say more without spoiling anything, but the takeaway here is that this was another personal preference, so maybe you’ll like the concept of the end more than I did.

Reason two for not liking the original ending was that it was simply TERRIBLE and LAZY. Setting aside things like “concept” or “story” from the ending, we’re simply talking about execution, now. It was awful. Every single aspect of the story needed to be fleshed out more. More explanations, more follow-up, more, more, more. This was the conclusion to a story spanning THREE games, and the amount of work that went into the ending was laughable. Even if you’d liked what they’d TRIED to do with the ending, no one could argue the craftsmanship was embarrassing. This aspect was largely fixed by the free-DLC/patch, so it can partially (but not entirely) be forgiven.

Whew. Okay, so now for the “game” part.

Gameplay remains largely unchanged from Mass Effect 2. Third-person, over-the-shoulder, cover-based shooting. You’ll use powers and weapons in combination as well as calling for your teammates to use their powers to maximize everyone’s effectiveness. The improvements over Mass Effect 2 is that your inventory is now worth paying attention to again. There will be a wide range of choices for your weapons, and every character can carry two. The heavier your loadout is, the longer the cooldown will be on your powers. The weapons really are worth looking into, because over the course of the game you’ll collect a great variety of guns differing on basic levels like rate-of-fire and damage. You’ll also have a few guns that behave unlike anything else you can choose from, like a shotgun that behaves more like a flamethrower that shoots lightning instead of fire. I personally played the game with the adept class sporting a sniper rifle with a high rate of fire, large clip, and lower damage and complimented the rifle with a pistol that shot sticky bombs (I really recommend trying that gun).

All the weapons can be modified using items picked up or purchased. These may increase melee damage by adding a bayonet or maybe decrease weight or increase damage... it all depends on how you play.

Between combat, the game is again extremely familiar. You’ll pick up quests wandering around talking to people, and most of the rewards for these will come in the form of new forces that will join your side for the fight against the Reapers. The size of this force won’t come into play until the game is deciding how “good” your ending is. Others will reward money or equipment, giving you more tangible benefits. The size of the areas (especially the main hub for the game, the Citadel) have been expanded over that found in Mass Effect 2, while still staying shy of the daunting and confusing Citadel from the first game.

There's also the part of the game BioWare STILL seems to be unsure how to execute: random planet exploration for resources. In the first game, you drove an ATV around the planet's surface. In the second game, you carefully scanned a planet from space before sending a probe to harvest materials. This game is a modification on the system from Mass Effect 2, with a few major tweaks. Scanning an individual planet is no longer needed, you instead send out pulses from your ship as you fly around and then merely go to the planet that pings your interest. Every pulse you send out increases the alert level of Reaper forces in that system, and after enough scanning you'll be forced to leave, lest you be killed. It's faster paced than it's equivalent in previous games, and the alert levels resetting after every mission you complete encourages you to space out your collection, so you don't put it all off to the end. But still... BioWare seems hell-bent on including some system like this in the game... whether they can actually make it "fun" or not.

Unlike any of the previous Mass Effect games, I now have to set aside a little time to talk to you about the multiplayer. It's a 1-4 player co-op survival-style arcade mode that seems to be all the rage right now. You'll unlock more combinations of races+classes and weapons as you earn money surviving rounds and racking up kills. I've spent more time playing this than almost any play-online-with-random-people game I've ever owned, partially because I specifically like co-op gameplay. It also helps that it's a fairly simple concept, so there's next to no interaction with the other players 95% of the time. The game has built-in voice chat, but it's hardly utilized by the player base... they may as well be bots, most of the time, which helps me tolerate them a lot. Mass Effect 3 throws a wrench into the plans with certain rounds during the match having simple objectives like territory control or recovering objects scattered around the arena, which does break up the pace a little from round to round. BioWare has done a good job with free expansions adding new weapons and classes to unlock, so the hunt for rewards never seems to stop. On easier difficulties, you can survive a round with whatever rabble you meet online, but when you get to the highest difficulties, you'll want to ditch the random online players in favor of a group actively communicating, with a squad comprised of classes specifically to work well together, because the Platinum difficulty will chew you up and spit you out if you don't take it seriously.

All in all, I suppose I keep coming back to the online because I like unlocking stuff, and because the standard Mass Effect gameplay is pretty solid. Though if you're looking for additional reasons, the work that you do in the multiplayer can affect the formula deciding how "good" your ending is. If you spend less time questing in the story and spend that time online, you can still get that best possible ending.

Ultimately, it’s hard to review this game without dwelling on the previous two games as well. The length of time put into this series and the work put into making all the different parts fit together reminds me a lot of the journey the Avengers movie went through. “The Avengers” wasn’t just a movie... it was a project that started with several other movies YEARS before primary work on “The Avengers” had even started. And the success of “The Avengers” wasn’t just remarkable because of the scope of the box office results, but also because of how rare long-running movie projects like that are and how HUGE of a project it actually was.

Mass Effect feels quite similar. Not because of the number of projects, but because of the commitment BioWare put into making it all feel like ONE experience. Carrying over decisions from the first game, through the 2nd game, and finding a way to tie them into the final game is a remarkable undertaking. This is the first game I’ve played that really makes good on the idea that you, as a game player, get to make your own story.

ALL video games are essentially a train ride, when it comes down to it. You can go faster or slower, look out the left or right side... but you have to stay on the tracks the developer puts you on. Mass Effect 1-3 hid those tracks better than any RPG in history, and maybe even better than any GAME is history. The quality that went into things like voice acting, story telling, and even cinematography in cutscenes is remarkable, but as video games become more and more popular and a bigger and bigger business, we’ll see more of this. What we can’t guarantee is games that create an experience as unique to each player, and feel as personal to each player, as Mass Effect has.

You’ve probably heard that saying that humans only use 10% of their brains. Sometimes, the video game experience feels a lot like that... like we’re not tapping the full potential of it. Mass Effect has blown the doors off that notion.

Mass Effect, as a series, has raised the bar for all video games.

Yeah, I said it.

 

 


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