Mass Effect 3 Review in Progress

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Few games come with the amount of hype Mass Effect 3 has swirling around it. As the culmination of BioWare's epic sci-fi RPG trilogy, Mass Effect 3 hasn't garnered this groundswell in an artificial way. Rather, anticipation steadily sits at a fever pitch because the previous installments -- Mass Effect, and especially Mass Effect 2 -- rate amongst the best games ever made. And in many ways, Mass Effect 3 has set the bar even higher as the worthy conclusion to one of the finest stories ever told in gaming history, even if it's still admittedly imperfect.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_0c250fbba0526e1764ee21fb69226eb7" class="ign-videoplayer" width="480" height="270" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/03/06/mass-effect-3-video-review"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:480px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/03/06/mass-effect-3-video-review"><center>Mass Effect 3 Video Review</center></a></div><br/><br/>Mass Effect 3 throws you back into the role of Commander Shepard, the first human Spectre that has, at this point in the story, gone above and beyond proving his (or her) commitment to galactic order. After reluctantly working for the xenophobic human-first organization Cerberus and jumping through the Omega-4 Mass Relay to fight the Collectors at the center of the Milky Way in Mass Effect 2, Shepard's greatest challenge still lies ahead.<br/><br/>Once considered the stuff of lore, the Reapers rear their heads in our own backyard. Having returned to the galaxy after a 50,000 year hiatus, the Reapers conduct an all-out assault on the galaxy's organic life. Earth itself suffers heavy bombardment as Mass Effect 3 begins, with millions suffering and dying daily. Your task: fight back, not only for Earth and humanity, but for all galactic races that find themselves simultaneously under siege.<br/><br/><img src="http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/116/1166009/mass-effect-3-20110504114324753.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/>Shepard and his allies aren't nearly strong enough to combat the Reapers' planet-sacking death squads on their own. The earlier Mass Effect games focused on exploring the galaxy as you complete quests, building up your reputation and ultimately careening headlong into the endgame. Mass Effect 3 has all of that too, and it's all conducted through the lens of truly consequential, wide-ranging decision-making. This brings yet again an exceptionally plot-heavy slant to a series already deeply reliant on amazing story-telling.<br/><br/>The Reapers pose an existential threat to life in the galaxy, forcing Shepard to navigate through tricky territory wrought with age-old grudges, conflicts and old-fashioned hatred in order to get all affected parties to work together. The Krogans hate the Salarians and Turians because of the Genophage, while the Quarians have waged war with their rogue machines, the Geth, for hundreds of years. Conflicts like this exist everywhere. The challenge before Shepard lies in his ability to get all of these races -- and many others -- allied in order to fight the Reapers as one united front. This represents the galaxy's only hope in defeating their overwhelmingly powerful adversaries.<br/><br/><img src="http://xbox360media.ign.com/xbox360/image/article/121/1219568/mass-effect-3-20120301020049213.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/>Accomplishing such feats of diplomacy resides at the heart of Mass Effect 3. Gone are the loyalty quests of Mass Effect 2; things aren't quite as personal this time around. Shepard must still make a staggering number of choices in conversation, and how he treats those around him heavily affects the game's outcome. He'll still make friends and enemies, have personal conversations and learn a great deal more about those he encounters. And the more time you spend speaking to others and exploring everyone's stories, the more you'll extract from the game.<br/><br/>But now, the galaxy's problems are greater, and Shepard must think bigger. By helping out individuals, militaries, governments and entire races, Shepard will collect War Assets and form a higher and higher level of Galactic Readiness. These will become integral to the success or failure of Mass Effect 3's endgame, and bring an entirely new slant to the series, one that's both welcome and fresh.<br/><br/><pagebreak>On an individual character level, Paragons and Renegades still rule the day. There's little room for grey area, making Mass Effect 3 -- like its franchise predecessors -- worth playing at least twice. Better yet, characters can be imported from Mass Effect 2 (which in turn could be imported from the original Mass Effect on Xbox 360 and PC), giving you an even larger range of consequence, impressively widening the paradigm in which choices you made in the original two games come to bear upon the trilogy's finale.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_2dda903f61ec419ab4d5d14ab2066774" class="ign-videoplayer" width="480" height="270" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/03/02/mass-effect-3-launch-trailer"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:480px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/03/02/mass-effect-3-launch-trailer"><center>Mass Effect 3 Launch Trailer</center></a></div><br/><br/>For those new to Mass Effect, the game will prompt you to make a character fresh if you don't import a save from Mass Effect 2, and will even ask you to make some important choices that will affect the game's outcome. But without understanding the full gravity of these choices by having played the original two games, Mass Effect 3 will certainly be a shallower, less fulfilling and more confusing endeavor. Consequently, playing Mass Effect 1 and 2 before playing Mass Effect 3 comes highly recommended.<br/><br/>With an imported character or a freshly-rolled one, veterans of the Mass Effect franchise will find a game much more in-line with Mass Effect 2 than the original. While Mass Effect 2 radically changed the series in many important ways, Mass Effect 3 only mildly iterates on what made Mass Effect 2 so great. Some of this tinkering works well; scanning planets for minerals, for instance, has been almost entirely removed, much to the chagrin of nobody. Now, while all planets in known systems can be visited and studied, only some of the planets have something truly interesting to offer you. In other words, BioWare has done a nice job in not wasting your time beyond sucking you in to read the fictional write-ups of the planets in every known system. (And speaking of fiction, get ready for the irresistible rip curl of Mass Effect's amazing codex, which fleshes-out the series' lore in an unimaginably deep way.)<br/><br/><img src="http://xbox360media.ign.com/xbox360/image/article/121/1219568/mass-effect-3-20120301020048333.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/>But some changes aren't as positive. Mass Effect 3 totes a far looser side quest system that's less compelling and interesting than its predecessors'. It's easy to earn a bunch of side quests only by overhearing conversations in certain locations, with no real context as to what you're supposed to do. While the main quest is heavy on story and action and certainly fulfills in its own right, Mass Effect 3's slant on side quests feels wanting, making the 30 to 40 hours it takes to complete everything in the game just a little more arduous.<br/><br/>BioWare has somewhat dumbed-down the RPG-centric nature of the series, but thankfully this down-scaling is totally optional. Mass Effect 3 still very much acts the part of action-RPG, but players will be given options to lessen the role-playing if you want to jump only into the action or story. Then again, BioWare has made Mass Effect 3 deeper in some ways, too, with features like enhanced weapon customization. So not all is lost.<br/><br/><img src="http://xbox360media.ign.com/xbox360/image/article/121/1219568/mass-effect-3-20120301020049634.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/>Mass Effect 2's third-person action returns with some minor changes and upgrades. Characters can still launch into a number of classes that rely on conventional weaponry, tech, biotics or any combination therein. Likewise, the squad members you meet -- some old, others new -- will fit into one or more of those categories. With a level cap of 60, it'll be hard for you to fully upgrade your character in Mass Effect 3 in one go, especially if you don't import from Mass Effect 2. But Mass Effect 3 does support a New Game+ mode once beaten that will let you beef-up your character to loftier heights.<br/><br/>In combat, minor changes are almost immediately evident. Shepard can now jump when prompted, roll around on the battlefield and perform other feats of pseudo-platforming that give Mass Effect 3 a somewhat different feel than Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 3 also feels more vertical than its predecessors. Various maps will have more staircases and ladders than ever, giving you several levels from which to fight, forcing you to employ different strategies to survive against enemy onslaughts.<br/><br/><pagebreak>Cover-based, run-and-gun action is still the name of the game, and overall, this setup works great. Weapons can be toggled through and powers selected with trigger-controlled radials, while AI controls your squad mates almost entirely, save issuing supplemental manual commands. And speaking of AI, enemies also fight smart for the most part. Foes appear to work together, employ flanking and cover tactics and care about self-preservation. This doesn't always prove to be true, of course -- nailing enemy AI behavior is often an imperfect art in game design -- but BioWare has done a nice job in holding your feet to the fire in any case. Few battles can be won without employing some tactical acumen of your own.<br/><br/>For the very first time in a Mass Effect game, a multiplayer component has been concocted to complement the single-player experience. While Mass Effect 3 is still very much a single-player affair, an optional multiplayer suite -- one most closely aligned to Gears of War 3's Horde Mode, though not as good -- will give the game even more replay value. Purists need not worry; multiplayer isn't necessary to play in order to complete the single-player campaign. However, the two do interconnect should players want to explore that particular angle. And Achievement and Trophy hunters will find multiplayer necessary to play in order to get all of their virtual goodies.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_4fc26b0ec3eee5255f2b4d1950fc5a4b" class="ign-videoplayer" width="480" height="270" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/02/24/mass-effect-3-mars-mission-combat"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:480px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/02/24/mass-effect-3-mars-mission-combat"><center>Combat on Mars</center></a></div><br/><br/>Multiplayer itself proves to be quite fun, although it's held back somewhat by Mass Effect 3's more rigid and at times unforgiving mechanics. But even with only one mode consisting of six stages (pulled from the single-player game's N7 missions) and three enemy groups (pulled from the single-player game's primary antagonists), leveling up your characters, purchasing upgrades and generally playing around with up to three other people certainly satisfies. Mass Effect 3's multiplayer may not have been even remotely necessary, but it doesn't diminish the overall product. Quite the opposite, in fact.<br/><br/><img src="http://xbox360media.ign.com/xbox360/image/article/121/1217461/asari_1328556221.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/>Aesthetically, Mass Effect 3 pleases with a mild graphical enhancement over Mass Effect 2, obvious enhancements that shine especially when compared to the original. The PC version in particular totes exceptional load times and an enhanced look over its console counterparts. Voice acting still sounds great for virtually all characters, and Mass Effect 3's soundtrack makes for great sonic accompaniment through both tender conversations and hectic battles alike. Expect to find some texture loading problems, framerate hitches and off lip-syncing from time to time, but these issues don't mar the experience too severely. It's worth noting, however, that on PS3 our Shepard fell through the map and got caught in the environment a couple of times, forcing us to restart.<br/><br/><br><br/><br/>&#169;2012-03-12, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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