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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (399)

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Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5

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Mass Effect 3   PC (Steam) 

[insert ‘Massive’ joke here]    3.5/5 stars

A scant two years after “Mass Effect 2” first hit PC and Xbox consoles, the third and final part of the trilogy that first hit planning stages nearly a decade prior came to light. “Mass Effect 3” is the first game in the series to release simultaneously on all three major platforms, and is also the first (and only) entry in the series to receive a release on a Nintendo platform, though the WiiU port was delayed by a few months.

The developer, BioWare, had gone through many trials and tribulations by this point, both having been devoured by EA and put to work in the Big Three member’s salt mines, and having built-up unsustainable levels of hype and adulation from the ‘Mass Effect’ fan-base. Not being a part of that ecstatic throng, I have been privileged to experience the entire ‘Mass Effect’ trilogy as a single, unbroken narrative.

While the original game shocked me with its sub-par mediocrity, the second game largely made-up for the original’s flaws and shortcomings, while introducing a few of its own. “Mass Effect 3” does not improve appreciably on the quality level of the middle game of the trilogy, delivering a finale that, while still good, neither demonstrates the superior quality BioWare fanboys have attributed to the series, nor the horrifically-bungled ending those same fanboys spent months eviscerating after the game’s release.

Presentation
Not a whole lot has changed about “Mass Effect 3’s” visuals. We’re still looking at an Unreal Engine 3 game from 2012. Some visual fidelity has improved over the previous entry, but with increased character quality come increased visual glitches and odd behavior. To be fair, for a game that is nearly a decade old as I’m writing this, the visuals hold up pretty well. They don’t really have any ‘wow’ factor, and there are still moments of uncanny valley, but I’d definitely say that releasing a game with attempted-photorealistic visuals that still looks acceptable a decade later is an accomplishment. Regardless, I still encountered far more episodes of visual weirdness in this game than in the previous two combined, whether it was a character’s arm bending in a completely unnatural way, or a character’s head and neck flipping out during a conversation, the camera zooming in on a blank wall during a cutscene as the character that was supposed to be standing there delivered a line from off-stage, or characters and objects awkwardly clipping through each other, “Mass Effect 3” delivered plenty of *facepalm* worthy moments.

These visual gitches are exacerbated by the fact that “Mass Effect 3” tries to be far more cinematic than its predecessors. BioWare nearly reached Sony territory here, with the number of interactive cutscenes, in-engine cutscenes, and pre-rendered cutscenes that flesh out the game’s narrative. And aside from the afore-mentioned glitches, these cutscenes are very well-done, almost reaching the level of a straight-up sci-fi movie… on SyFy Channel.

Audio in “Mass Effect 3” is the same as it ever was, with an excellent cast providing the voice acting and a miserable, forgettable soundtrack that may as well not even exist.

Technically, “Mass Effect 3” maintains the gripes I had about both previous entries, and introduces a new degree of EA meddling via a completely useless and pointless multi-player mode, which was clearly an attempt at transforming the game into a proto-Live Service that fans could continue to mess with for hours and hours after they finished the story. See, this multi-player mode allows players to bolster certain sectors of the galaxy, but this increased readiness decays over time, requiring players to pump endless hours into the game to keep the galaxy’s overall readiness above 50%... which actually does NOTHING for the single-player mode, rendering the entire thing moot. Returning gripes are the lack of controller support in the PC version (and, naturally, lack of motion controller support in the console versions, so it’s a wash), which has, once again, been patched back in by modders, as well as greedy, piecemeal DLC. Thanks to a fortuitous sale on Origin, I snagged all the DLC I was missing from the trilogy after buying the ‘Deluxe’ editions of “Mass Effect 2” and “Mass Effect 3,” and some of this add-on content strays dangerously close to Pay2Win territory, since the premium weapons are generally MUCH better than the ones that can be found in the basic game without DLC.

Story
Six months after stopping the Collectors from harvesting humanity and transforming our collective genetics into a giant AI spaceship called a Reaper, and (in one of “Mass Effect 2’s” DLC missions) after destroying an entire solar system in order to prevent a massive fleet of these Reapers from invading the Milky Way and eradicating all spacefaring intelligent life in a cycle that repeats roughly every 50,000 years, our hero(ine), Commander Shepard, has been relieved of duty and is sitting in military prison. Shepard’s crimes include destroying the afore-mentioned solar system, as well as working with a splinter group called Cerberus, a ‘humans first’ terrorist organization that actually believed Shepard’s intel about the Reaper threat (from the original “Mass Effect”) and scraped up our dear Commander and put Humpty Dumpty back together again (from “Mass Effect 2”), when neither the Human Alliance that governs Earth and its colonies, nor the Galactic Council of alien species believed Shepard’s reports to be anything more than delusions.

Naturally, these chickens all come home to roost, as Shepard’s star-destroying antics only delayed the Reaper invasion, allowing “Mass Effect 3” to pick up with the fleet of ancient AI’s suddenly appearing in the Sol system and attacking Earth, as well as multiple other inhabited planets across the galaxy. Shepard’s old CO, Admiral Anderson, reinstates our illustrious hero, as the two make a daring escape from the Human Alliance HQ in the midst of this overwhelming alien assault. The two soon go their separate ways however, as Anderson orders Shepard to reassume command of the SR2 Normandy and scour the galaxy for allies and tools that can be combined into a single force and brought to bear on the seemingly indestructible foe.

“Mass Effect 3” ties up nearly all of the loose threads left dangling by the previous two episodes in the series, and in doing so manages to be one of the few games that actually delivers on its hype about giving the player choices that matter. Decisions the player/Shepard made way back in the original game, as well as “Mass Effect 2” will have consequences beyond the superficial, sometimes eliminating entire storylines from “Mass Effect 3.” This final game in the trilogy also brings together all of the allies (and enemies) from the previous games, intertwining their ongoing story threads with a number of new characters.

With praise given where it was due, “Mass Effect 3” also leaves a number of plot holes and sometimes feels like the writing team didn’t really have an ending in mind when they started. But what about THAT ending, anyway?

Around the time of its release, ‘Mass Effect’ fanboys were livid, raging across the internet, proclaiming that their beloved ‘Mass Effect’ trilogy had one of the worst endings in all of gaming. Not knowing anything about the series’ narrative, and thus not caring about these ravings, I managed to avoid spoilers up until my own encounter with the ending. Or should I say, endingS. “Mass Effect 3” has four main endings, with numerous minor variations patched in as part of a free Director’s Cut DLC that BioWare hastily threw to the bloodthirsty mob. Whether the player has a final choice in these endings depends largely on how well they played “Mass Effect 3” and how thorough they were in completing optional missions. Playing ‘poorly’ simply causes the game to select an ending, whereas playing well gives the player free choice of which of the four endings to go for. One of these endings is a little weird (and highly reminiscent of the “BattleStar Galactica” reboot that ‘Mass Effect’s’ writers were clearly mining for inspiration), one is anti-climactic, but all four of them are interesting and thought provoking in their own right.

Thus, I wondered, how in the world could ‘Mass Effect’ fanboys get their panties in such a Gordian knot over this finale? So I looked up some online articles about the debacle and learned that, somehow, the fanboys were upset because they didn’t feel like they had enough of a choice in Shepard’s actions in the end sequence. Really! Either all of them barely played any of the game’s content and thus got the ‘bad’ ending, or they simply weren’t paying attention. The color-coded ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ choices are right there, as are two ‘in-between’ choices. Sure, the ending has a fairly big twist to it, but it’s not a complete out-of-the-blue blindside, and a little bit of critical thinking reveals that the Paragon and Renegade choices line-up perfectly with the morality/ethics those choices have always represented.

Like its predecessors, “Mass Effect 3” clocks in at about 40 hours for a thorough playthrough. Thus the entire trilogy is a roughly 120 hour experience, which is pretty good for a single narrative-heavy game, but ultimately feels lopsided with this particular trilogy. Most of the narrative heft is in “Mass Effect 3,” while the first game barely feels like a side-story by comparison. It’s probably too late for hope at this point, but it would be nice if “Mass Effect: Legendary Edition,” which is slated for release in May of 2021, would just mash the entire game into a single experience with a single gameplay engine, streamlining out the more excruciating parts of the first game, and letting it serve as the prologue it was clearly meant to be.

Gameplay
Let’s start off this section of the review with a reminder: ‘Mass Effect’ is not, nor has it ever been, or even remotely resembled any form of RPG.

“Mass Effect 3” is another bog-standard cover-based Third-Person Shooter with linear mission structures and a handful of new and returning mechanics that make it feel slightly different from “Mass Effect 2,” sometimes for the better, usually for the worse. First, the weapon modding system from the original game is back, allowing the player to find or buy an array of add-ons for each weapon category. Each weapon has two mod slots, and the player can freely mix and match to their liking, though ammo types are still character-specific ‘powers’ as they were in “Mass Effect 2.” Mods, like weapons, operate as unlocks instead of discrete items, allowing the player to equip Shepard and the entire team with the same gear after finding a single copy. Additional copies of mods and/or weapons acquired during gameplay allow each item to ‘level-up,’ with 5 quality ranks available in the first run through the game and 10 ranks available in New Game+ mode.

The rest of the combat changes for the trilogy’s finale are less rosy. First, heavy weapons are no longer particularly relevant, as they’ve been relegated to one-and-done pickups available only in specific missions. Next, the basic movement mechanics for Shepard now include a dodge-roll, because, apparently every game in a post-“Demon’s Souls” world needs to have a dodge roll. This mechanic feels incredibly awkward to use, largely because sprinting, dodge-rolling, and sticking to cover are all mapped to the same button, which gets messy. Lastly, most weapons in “Mass Effect 3” have had hideous, disgusting, unruly amounts of recoil added to them when compared to their “Mass Effect 2” counterparts. While this excessive recoils still isn’t as bad as the muzzle sway weapons had in the original “Mass Effect,” its presence goes a long way toward making a sizeable portion of the game’s huge arsenal feel bad, and tends to railroad the player into using a handful of weapons in each archetype, mostly the DLC weapons.

And speaking of DLC weapons, not only are most of them just flat-out better than the basic arsenal, many of them are incredibly fun and interesting. As a perpetual sniper in the series, I quickly grew to love the Indra full-auto (!) sniper rifle for its ridiculous rate of fire, huge ammo reserves, and nearly non-existent recoil. Other exemplary DLC weapons include the Anti-Synth Rifle, which rapidly fires exploding electricity balls that also have slight homing capabilities on top of their area-of-effect damage… and no recoil (though giving these rifles to allied squad members can be annoying, since they make Shepard’s camera shake when fired nearby), as well as the Silenced Pistol, which, again, has no recoil, and deals obscene amounts of headshot damage for such a tiny gun. As I mentioned in the Technical Presentation paragraph, the fact that all of the best weapons in the game are DLC additions kind of feels like Pay2Win shenanigans. However, the game is fully playable and balanced using the default set of weapons, but not nearly as much fun.

Character classes remain largely unchanged from “Mass Effect 2,” though Shepard starts at around level 30, with a large number of points available to unlock skill perks from the outset. “Mass Effect 3’s” ultimate level cap is 60, allowing the player to completely max out all but one skill for Shepard and each squad member by the end of the game. I, once again, imported my original Shepard and continued playing as an Infiltrator. As mentioned previously, I enjoyed the sniping a lot more in “Mass Effect 3” than in any previous game simply due to the array of sniper rifles available. However, it’s interesting to point out that the hacking side of the Infiltrator is essentially dead in “Mass Effect 3” because in the trilogy finale, BioWare finally trashed all the annoying locked doors, encrypted terminals, and minigames altogether. Now, on the rare occasion when Shepard runs into a locked door or some piece of tech that requires hacking, a simple animation plays (occasionally with a time meter requiring Shepard to stay close to the object in question while it unlocks). I have no idea why it wasn’t like this from the outset, other than the fact that “BioShock” and “Oblivion” both had annoying lock-picking mini-games, and BioWare thought they were following some sort of industry standard.

The biggest innovation in “Mass Effect 3’s” gameplay, though, is the fact that the entire game revolves around gathering strength to fight back against the Reaper invasion. This strength is represented by a green progress bar on a computer in the new tactical bay aboard the Normandy. There’s a readily visible line across this bar that shows the minimum amount of strength required to get a non-terrible ending, while maxing it out only improves things in the long run. Filling this bar largely comes down to the much-vaunted decision-making mechanics in the series’ dialog system, and as mentioned in the Story section, oftentimes decisions made in the first two games of the trilogy have actual consequences that directly affect the player’s ability to fill up the progress bar. Typically, being ‘nice’ (Paragon) and scouring all three games in the trilogy for optional side-missions brings the best results, while misjudged decisions from the past can come back to haunt the player via a direct hit to the overall galactic strength meter. While I do think having a visible meter is a bit ham-fisted, I really appreciate the fact that “Mass Effect 3” tries so hard to make narrative and gameplay interdependent on each other, and a system where doing side missions, gathering – rather than alienating – allies, and pooling resources improves the narrative in the long run is a great way of handling it.

Lastly, “Mass Effect 3” no longer even pretends to be an open-world experience. Whereas the original game left the player free rein to explore boring, empty planets and the second game let the player fly all over the galaxy performing boring mineral scans on planets, “Mass Effect 3” partitions off the galaxy, only allowing the player to explore specific sectors after specific points in the main mission chain. The player also no longer scans individual planets, but sends out a magical space sonar while traveling in a given star system, which will highlight planets or regions of space where ‘something’ is available to discover. However, thanks to the Reaper invasion, pinging the magical space sonar too often will draw a fleet of Reaper squid-ships to the Normandy’s location, requiring the player to evade them in real time. While it is significantly less boring than the exploration systems in the first two games of the trilogy, constantly evading Reapers is no less annoying.

Overall
“Mass Effect 3” is a solid finale for the trilogy, and wraps up nearly all of the narrative threads for the world and its characters in a neat bow. That said, the narrative itself feels too derivative of sci-fi TV shows like “Babylon 5” or the rebooted “BattleStar Galactica” to really stand on its own, and the gameplay is merely ‘fine,’ with nothing truly exceptional. I have no regrets waiting a decade to play through the entire trilogy in one fell swoop, as I think doing so is the optimal way to experience the epic scope BioWare was aiming for.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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