the artistry and psychology of gaming


Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3

Earth is being ravaged by the Reapers, intergalactic warfare is on the brink, and Martin Sheen just wants some attention: that about sums up Mass Effect 3.

But where do I truly begin to adequately convey all that is appropriate about this game without finding myself in an almost passionate denial about what I’m about to say? In late 2007, the original Mass Effect came out to tremendous praise from all facets of the gaming universe: critics and consumers alike. This was it. This was the reason to finally buy an Xbox 360. Having never been much of a Halo fan, I’d withheld the urge to jump into the deep end with Microsoft’s sophomore release, so I waited, patiently, for something to come out that I just could not resist any longer. This was it. Mass Effect was the first game I bought and played on my very own Xbox 360, and never a day goes by that I regret my decision. But here I am, five years later, at the conclusion of this monumental trilogy, and I find myself unable to answer one very difficult question: can the culmination of a story be so unsatisfying that it retroactively ruins all that I hold dear about the series?

The Reapers are here. Are you ready?

That’s the dilemma I’m presented with as I try to process my thoughts on Mass Effect 3. But before I begin my heartbreaking analysis of the story, I will start with something that the Mass Effect series has improved upon with each game: the combat. Above all else, there’s at least one thing you can count on when you look at a Mass Effect title, and that’s solid gameplay. The formula has not been rewritten: you still use cover and mix biotic and tech powers with traditional weapons, but the level design has been vastly improved and the fluidity of party control remains as promising as ever. The game is still presented in a rather linear fashion, with random quest objectives coming up as you progress that serve as detours on the galactic map, but there’s still a strict one-way progression from beginning to end. Thankfully, each individual mission is structured so that combat feels less like shooting at enemies from one end of a corridor to the other, and more like an actual tactical operation. Enemies flank and sometimes ambush thanks to the more open environments, and smart placement of self and crew is the key to survival.

As a Vanguard, I frequently found myself using Biotic Charge to catch an enemy or group off guard, and then followed up with the new Nova ability to disperse them and deal significant damage. The risks of this are that I put myself right up on enemy lines, which tapped into my fascination with strategy-based games. I couldn’t just abuse Charge as much as I would like, especially on the harder difficulties. New enemies such Brutes provide a fresh pace to battle when they’re introduced and even more intimidating are the Banshees, which howl and screech as their name suggests and teleport around with terrifying presence. Combat never feels dull, and in fact is the most fun and challenging it has ever been in the series. The return of weapon mods and full upgrade customization also keeps progress consistent, as you are always finding newer, better guns to swap out and replacing older mods with improved versions. An ample amount of your time may very well be spent at the shooting range on the Citadel trying out all of your new guns just to see what you like best.

Brutes are a formidable new addition to the enemy team.

Quests are automatically acquired as you explore the Citadel and eavesdrop on the ambient conversations of other people. There’s no intrusive “Do you want to accept? Yes/No” pop-up, or forced dialogue that requires you to sit there and pay attention to what they’re saying (most of the time), so it all feels very subdued. You overhear a conversation with someone about a random artifact on some planet. You can go check it out if you want, but you’re never inclined to stand there and tell them that you’re going to find it. As the Nike tagline goes, just do it. The benefit of all of these missions, however, comes in the form of War Assets. Mass Effect 3 introduces a new system known as Galactic Readiness. The war with the Reapers is imminent, so it goes without saying that an army must be assembled and trained. As you’d expect, Shepard is at the forefront of uniting the races of the universe into the Alliance fleet – because what else would he be doing? Nearly every quest and consequence in the game has an effect on your overall military strength. That ambient quest you picked up about that random artifact may be desired by some high-ranking military official who will agree to help train new soldiers for you, should you find what he’s looking for. Most of these missions are from the new planet scanning mechanic, which has seen a most-welcoming retrofit from Mass Effect 2. In all honesty, it’s a little too simple now, but that simplicity also eliminates the frustration, so it’s okay in my book.

Now as you explore galaxies, you’ll have the ability to scan on the over-map from the Normandy. Scanning has the potential to discover hidden assets buried on planets, or in other cases space wreckage from which you can harvest fuel for inter-system travel. The offset to scanning is that most of the systems that have any kind of asset to be found are also occupied by Reaper presence. Scanning has a tendency to alert them of your location, and if you scan too much – or too quickly – they will arrive and start chasing you down. The legitimate way to get rid of the alert is to do one mission and then return, but there are much easier ways to abuse their slow-moving chase that it almost seems like their presence serves little purpose. Finding these assets, however, adds to your overall readiness and military strength. So it behooves you to do what you can, as often as you can, to improve these ratings, because these have a major effect on the game’s outcome.

The War Assets are one of the biggest deciding factors in the ending.

This leads into an area of the game that begins to stray from conventional storytelling. Perhaps Mass Effect 3’s biggest addition is that of multiplayer. In the end, the content itself is nothing short of traditional survival mode with you and three friends: defend against wave after wave of enemies, upgrade your abilities, and customize your character. The addition of Mass Effect’s biotic powers in multiplayer does lend itself to the occasional amusing time, but in the end the game would have been neither better nor worse without it. However, because the multiplayer is also directly related to the Galactic Readiness of the single player, it makes it almost a necessity to play if you want to improve your rating to the point of getting the best ending. Myself, having not touched the multiplayer at all prior to finishing the game, could only achieve an Effective Military Strength somewhere in the 3,500s. The required amount for the “best” possible outcome is at least 5,000. I did every sidequest I came across, scanned every possible system to 100%, and took part in every ambient conversation I found in the game (including the oft Spectre-authorization messages you can find at the Citadel Embassies), and I still missed the threshold by 1,500. There is a New Game + feature which carries your rating over and opens up new quests, but the idea that the multiplayer essentially must be played should someone want to see the best possible ending without having to go through a second thirty-hour campaign isn’t only insulting to strictly-single player gamers, but it’s one of many recent signs that Bioware has completely lost touch with the concerns of their fans.

Compound this with the much-discussed “From Ashes” DLC which comes pre-coded into the game disc but is only available as a purchased downloadable (or from the collector’s editions), and you have some of the most peculiar business decisions I have seen in a long time. It stands to reason why most people are upset that they’re being forced to pay extra for something that was readily available with the launch of the game. Granted, let’s get one bit of discussion out of the way: is the DLC itself significant in any mechanical way? No. It’s a fairly standard mission by Mass Effect’s pedigree, and doesn’t do anything particularly special. On the other hand, it does introduce possibly the most important support character in the history of the trilogy: a living, breathing, real freaking Prothean. You know, the race that was thought to be extinct from the last Reaper genocide 50,000 years ago? Yeah, those guys. Not only is this character important to the mythos of Mass Effect, but on principle I included him in every single mission of the game from the moment I acquired him to see his dialogue, and learned some fascinating and important information. Information I would not have learned otherwise.

This guy whom everyone might not get? He’s pretty important.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the Mass Effect series has and will always be choice: the promise that your choices, from the miniscule to the major, will affect the story’s grand finale. In truth, many choices do come to fruition in Mass Effect 3. Minor threads are concluded, characters that have no real significance to the plot return for some good old fun, and in the end, these all serve to make the game feel connected and whole. It’s a rare feat for a series of this magnitude to pay such close attention to the little details. But at the same time, it seems like most of the major decisions in the game ultimately have no bearing on the ending. Your military strength contributes to a number of different endings you may get, and the final choice at the end of the game decides the rest, but all of the possible endings still have many significant things in common, making each one feel less special or unique. The only significant event in the entire series that has any other bit of consequence on the ending is what you decided to do with the Collector base in Mass Effect 2. In the end, it completely diminishes any lasting connection you might’ve had to certain characters, or influences you’ve felt when making certain decisions throughout, knowing that they didn’t matter.

The relationships you’ve built up with characters, and the places you visited, don’t matter in the end. What matters is the decision to an arbitrary, deus ex machina ultimatum that attempts to use forced guilt of an event early in the game rather than the emotions you might feel toward characters you’ve grown to love. Truthfully, this series without its characters is nothing special. The moments that I will cherish forever are the ones spent with the crew: Garrus, Wrex, Liara, etc. These are the people I’ve grown to care about over the course of the trilogy, and they are the beacons of light in a dark place. For all Mass Effect 3 does wrong, it rarely fails on characters. Voice acting is typically one of BioWare’s proudest accomplishments, and it continues that legacy for the most part here. The returning characters all retain their distinct evocative personalities and are voiced with exceptional class. Some supporting or ancillary characters miss the mark, but they’re so forgetful that it’s barely worth mentioning.

The sound that the Reapers emit is both terrifying and hypnotic.

The music is a true symphony of melancholic orchestral themes and motivational wartime anthems, and I can’t think of a single point in the game where anything felt out of place. Visually, the game has seen a decent improvement over the previous two, particularly in the pre-rendered scenes. Galactic space battles never looked so good. The occasional framerate hiccup and animation bug crops up here and there, but rarely enough to draw your attention away from what’s happening.

Mass Effect 3’s faults rest more on the shoulders of the decline in BioWare’s ethics rather than their inability to craft a good game. Fundamentally, it’s still the same game I fell in love with five years ago, and in many cases, it’s a better one. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the time I spent with it, and I find myself grateful to have played this series. But, I am still conflicted by that one persistent question: can the end of one game tarnish those that came before it? I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that completing the first Mass Effect left me with an unprecedented level of satisfaction, so much so that as soon as the credits rolled and that infamously perfect closing theme played, I got chills. That is what I choose to remember, because in the end choice is all that matters.


Colorful and vibrant where necessary, dark and ominous elsewhere, Mass Effect is still a great looking series despite persistent flaws that most BioWare games fall victim to.


Structurally improved from its predecessors in nearly every way, this is the definitive Mass Effect gameplay experience you are going to find yet.


An exceptional score and a well-rounded cast make the poignant scenes stand out despite the overall inadequacy of the end result.

Lasting Appeal:

The multiplayer is shamelessly tacked on and offers nothing new or competitive compared to that of other contemporary shooters, and the single-player game loses nearly all of its luster after you see the fruits of your five-year efforts go to waste.

The Verdict:

Mass Effect 3 goes out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Your crew: remember them fondly.



  1. Thanks for giving your ideas. I’d personally also like to mention that video games have been ever evolving. Today’s technology and improvements have made it simpler to create genuine and interactive games. These kinds of entertainment video games were not actually sensible when the concept was first being used. Just like other kinds of technology, video games way too have had to progress through many many years. This itself is testimony towards fast development of video games.

  2. The story was great. I was on the edge of my seat digging it, that is, until the last hour minutes or so when, in my view, the totality of the trilogy came crashing to the ground. There is a huge, heated debate about the ending of the game where both sides are calling names like rather ill-behaved children. I do not intend to call names here as games, like movies, are very subjective. However, I do have some thoughts about the ending and the story. If you don’t share these thoughts, great. But don’t be pompous, acting like your opinion is the only one out there. And, beware of spoilers.

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