Mass Effect 3 is, as the title may imply, the third in the long running Mass Effect series that started on the Xbox 360 way back in 2007. Since then, the franchise has become one of the most successful of this generation, seeing multiple console and mobile game releases, novels, comics and even an anime to come. Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is, however, the first time the franchise has been seen on a Nintendo platform. This version is much the same as the same game on other platforms, save for a couple of nifty Wii U exclusive features making use of the GamePad. The Special Edition also includes all previously released DLC on the disc, including From Ashes, Extended Cut, and all multiplayer DLC up to date. Mass Effect 3 is one of my favourite games of this year, and I hope that this review can go some way in expressing just why this is.
Before even starting the campaign of Mass Effect 3, you are given a choice of how you would like to play the game. Role-playing allows you to have the traditional full Mass Effect experience involving challenging action cover shooting, making decisions regarding characters and events, and building up your squad as you see fit. There are also Action and Story modes, which place emphasis on the action, or narrative decisions respectively. In essence, you can tailor Mass Effect 3 to the way you like to play, which means people who might be intimidated by one aspect of the game, can still experience the rest without worry. If choosing the Role-Playing mode, you are also charged with either using a standard male or female Shepard character, or creating your own personal Shepard. Shepard can be customised with a fairly robust face creation system, and a class of character can also be chosen, with various types of gameplay covered based on which class you choose. Player characters can specialise in gun combat, Tech or Biotic abilities, or just about any combination of these.
The game also gives you the option of viewing “Mass Effect: Genesis 2”. This motion comic is fully voiced by your Shepard of choice, and stretches for just under 25 minutes. In this time, you will be given a reasonable understanding of the events of the first two games that have led up to this point, as well as being given the opportunity to make many of the integral decisions in the story so far. It feels hard to make some of the decisions the comic asks of you, simply because you haven’t had the time yet to fully understand the characters and events involved in the decision. Giving a summary of two possibly 30-hour games in 25 minutes was never going to be easy, however BioWare have done a reasonable job of covering the main story events and decision in a succinct way that at least brings new players up to speed and ready to face Mass Effect 3 proper.
Once properly into the game, you are quickly dropped into what feels like a large scale war, the magnitude of which is really hit home as the battle you are introduced to is occurring on our own planet Earth. The awesome power of the antagonistic Reapers is immediately apparent, they look and sound positively menacing, and it feels like nothing can stand in their way. Mass Effect 3’s introduction is tremendously effective, shocking, and makes you feel simultaneously helpless and eager to find a way to fight back against this seemingly insurmountable threat. From here, Shepard is on a mission to appeal to the various alien races of the galaxy, attempting to make them work together against an enemy that no single race could defeat alone.
To get this done, players are tasked with traveling to various planets, space stations and locales to speak with dignitaries of various races and convince them to join the united fight against the Reapers. In most cases, this involves using Shepard’s military skills to assist somebody in return for their allegiance to the cause. In others, Shepard can use diplomacy to secure allies.
Conversation and decision making are some of the biggest reasons fans adore the Mass Effect series. Nearly every decision made in the game can have consequences either immediately, or much later on in the game’s narrative. These consequences can be immense, with the ramifications of each decision worthy of pause and thought. Shepard at one point has the fate of entire races of people in his or her hands, and the game does a fantastic job of ensuring you know the consequences of your decisions. More than once I have made a decision too hastily, without enough thought, and later on regretted it, haunted by the potentially unintended consequences of my actions. The world around reacts to the way your story has played out, with radio announcements and non-player-characters’ conversations often referencing Shepard’s past exploits. In doing this, the world of Mass Effect 3 often feels like ‘yours’, it helps players forge a connection with the expansive world and its characters rarely seen in games.
The majority of Mass Effect 3’s gameplay uses familiar mechanics from popular cover shooters like Gears of War or Uncharted. Utilising an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective behind Shepard, players can traverse the environment and deal with enemies. The shooting mechanic is sound, shots feel as though they have some weight behind them, and you as the player will feel every hit through use of audio and visual cues. Many of the weapons used also feel unique, some being heavy hitters, others quick and silent. Mass Effect 3 is unique however in the extra skills that Shepard the crew can use to turn the tide of combat.
Players can choose to develop Biotic and Tech skills in an RPG skill system, allocating upgrade points to abilities as they level up. These abilities make the combat in Mass Effect 3 quite different to combat in more typical shooters. A character can, for example, create a Singularity Field which sucks enemies into the air, preventing them from attacking and creating an easy target, or create combat drones which distract enemies and assist damaging them. Each of the game’s potential squad members will specialise in certain types of abilities, and the game encourages you to experiment with trying each of them, as all characters level up along with Shepard, ensuring that players are not forced to stick with a single squad.
In each mission Shepard embarks on, there will be opportunities to amass War Assets which form part of the Galaxy At War, which is a meta game within Mass Effect 3 that determines just how ready the galaxy is to face the Reaper threat. As well as amassing these War Assets, you can also increase your ‘Galactic Readiness’, which essentially governs how capable each of these assets will be when going into the final confrontation. This Galactic Readiness can be increased through playing the mobile game Mass Effect: Infiltrator, using the Mass Effect 3 Datapad application, and through multiplayer. None of these are absolutely essential, however if you don’t use any of these means to increase your readiness, you will likely need to scour the galaxy for more War Assets to offset this lack of readiness. This is not necessarily a problem, especially if you are playing to experience everything the game has to offer, in which case you will likely have more than enough assets by the end to be fully prepared.
As I mentioned earlier, Mass Effect 3 has a multiplayer component, and it is quite enjoyable. A team of up to four human players are pitted against waves of either Geth, Reaper or Cerberus enemies in a struggle to survive. You create a character, choose their class and abilities, and go online to test your skills. Multiplayer can be played on the Wii U with your friends, or with other unknown people from around the world. The invite system is reasonable. As long as the friend you wish to play with is already in Mass Effect 3, you can send an invite to them to join your game, and a notification will appear on their screen. From here, the other player can easily join your game. Voice chat through the Wii U GamePad is also fully supported, with a Push-To-Talk function activated by touching the screen while in multiplayer. Once online, we noticed very little discernible lag, and had a very smooth online experience overall. It’s hard to tell whether the multiplayer will be popular in the future, but with another three people it can be a blast.
The Wii U’s GamePad is integrated rather well into the game itself. It generally serves one of two purposes in the single player campaign. It primarily actw as a map while on missions, showing all traversable areas, as well as enemy positions. While in hub areas like the Normandy ship, or the Citadel, the GamePad will show a more detailed map allowing you to see the locations of characters with whom you can interact, and allowing you to see various levels of the structure with just a tap. While in battle, combat abilities of Shepard and squad members can be assigned to quick-access areas on the touch screen for use in battle. This can be useful in some situations if you take the time to learn using this touch mechanic. The Wii U version of Mass Effect 3 also adds an exclusive weapon which makes use of the GamePad’s touch screen. The M-597 Ladon is a homing rocket launcher which can target up to 6 enemies simultaneously, and these targets can be selected by tapping them on the GamePad screen. During multiplayer matches, the GamePad shows extra non-essential information like individual player scores, and which wave of enemies your squad is currently fighting. None of these GamePad specific features have a significant effect on a player’s experience with Mass Effect 3, they don’t make or break the game. They are a welcome inclusion however. Looking down at the map on your GamePad is much easier than going through menus, and if you learn to use the quick touch abilities, this can help you use more of your squad’s abilities without stopping the flow of combat. Mass Effect 3: Special Edition also fully supports off-TV play. Holding the minus (-) button for a few seconds while in game transfers the entire video and audio experience to the GamePad, with sound coming from the GamePad’s speakers or attached headphones.
Graphically, Mass Effect 3 is quite impressive. It is one of the prettiest games on a console to date, and shows that the Wii U can handle Unreal Engine 3 admirably. Looking up into the sky on an alien planet to see a battle raging in the distance, or a sun setting complete with gorgeous lens flare is awe inspiring. Characters lip sync animations are done quite well too, ensuring the regular conversations in the game don’t feel robotic. The frame rate feels mostly consistent at about 30 frames per second, but there are moments where the frame rate dips noticeably. This often occurs in busy cut scenes or areas such as the Citadel with a large area populated by many characters. There are occasionally a few minor graphical issues in the game as well, such as textures not loading straight away, the camera not focusing quite where it should be in conversations, or the quite humourous bug that I encountered where Shepard’s head rotated on the spot like something out of The Exorcist. All of these graphical issues are few and far between however, and do not detract in any meaningful way from the game as a whole. The game’s sound is also spectacular, with a moving orchestral and electronic score, and the game being presented in full 5.1 surround sound. It is easy to become immersed in the sights and sounds of Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect 3 is a huge game. It could possibly be completed in maybe 15 to 20 hours if you rushed through and focused purely on priority missions, but for the player who takes the time to thoroughly explore the universe, learning about the people, places and history of the worlds, and taking in everything the game has to offer, the experience can stretch to at least 30 hours or more. There is just so much here to do, and almost all of it feels substantial. Each area is individually built, with its own story and events that ensures every mission, whether it be story critical or optional, feels like it adds something to the overall experience. There is something lost in the inability to continue a story from earlier Mass Effect games in Mass Effect 3 on Wii U to be sure, but Mass Effect 3: Special Edition still stands on its own as a game, and can still be very much enjoyed without having to play earlier games in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed Mass Effect 3: Special Edition, and highly recommend giving it a try, it might just be the best way to discover the rich universe of Mass Effect.