It’s been a couple months since I played Mass Effect 3, but I have not written anything about it because I could not express my utter disappointment through words alone. Still, I have to make an effort to try to articulate what went wrong with the final game in the legendary Mass Effect trilogy. Maybe that’s being a little harsh as the game up until the final mission is good, great even, but the ending leaves a permanent stain on the entire franchise.
The positives of Mass Effect 3 mimic the previous games in the series. Strong storytelling, interesting characters, and a heavy emphasis on player choice. Additionally, Mass Effect 3 plays very similarly to Mass Effect 2 as a cover-based tactical shooter. There are a few new abilities to play around with but for the most part the gameplay is about the same as its predecessor. The big difference between the two games is how quickly the story ramps up. While Mass Effect 2 told short, episodic narratives and focused on your squad members, Mass Effect 3 places less emphasis on your team and more on the galactic war threatening the destruction of all life. The previous two games in the series have been building up to events of Mass Effect 3, and it delivers convincingly with a massive scale war. The game really does a phenomenal job at setting up a David vs. Goliath narrative and making the player really feel like they are the galaxy’s last hope.
Many of the missions that you will play in Mass Effect 3 are life or death for certain species, planets are on the line. As you travel across the galaxy with your small squad of elite soldiers you will encounter past squad mates and witness how they rose to glory in their respective races. These moments are immensely gratifying as you watch Shepard’s old pals lead their races away from certain destruction and work together to destroy a common enemy. And with the emotional highs, come the tear-jerking moments. You will have to make difficult decisions, and some friends and acquaintances might not survive. These types of moments are what Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were lacking, nothing bad ever happened to your squad who you had become so attached to. I guess BioWare was just saving all these moments for the last game, as they are plenty of them.
The first major issue that I have is not just with Mass Effect 3, but with its publisher, EA. EA likes to make money, and is willing to sacrifice product quality and player experience for it. In the case of Mass Effect 3, that means loads of important content being locked behind downloadable content (DLC) that you must pay extra for. There are numerous DLC missions that are integral to the story and background of the game, and that’s unacceptable. Furthermore, you can buy Mass Effect 3 for $10-$15, but if you want all the essential DLC, you are going to need to pay an extra $60. The price for these missions has not gone down and they don’t go on sale either, so even 6 years after the release of the game you must pay top dollar to get the full experience. This is not just an issue with Mass Effect 3, every game published by EA suffers from their greedy mentality. It’s just unfortunate for Mass Effect 3 that a lot of its best content is locked behind a paywall.
The biggest issue with Mass Effect 3 is just how much of a letdown it was as a conclusion to the franchise. First and foremost, the mission lacks the oomph-factor. I would have absolutely loved to see previous squad mates show up to the final battle backed by their armies to assist Commander Shepard and have some impact on the gameplay and mission itself. But the biggest flaw is not the entire missions, but the last 10 minutes. I don’t want to spoil too much, but very little is explained to the player. After three story-driven games I wanted to see a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, but I was met with a punch in the gut. The player is told through some expository the reason for the Reaper invasion, but it does not make a whole lot of sense. Furthermore, the final villain is just portrayed terribly. I really don’t know what the developers were thinking. To drive the issue home, there are three choices for the end of the franchise. And realistically, all of them lead to the same conclusion. Every single choice that the player made in all this time playing the series was absolutely pointless. For a story-driven trilogy with emphasis on player choice, this was so far out of the ordinary that I am still in shock. To further rub it in the player face, very little is explained after the final choice. You really do not learn how the galaxy turns out as a result of your choice. Overall, I felt hollow and immensely disappointed that the series ended on such a low note.
As a whole, Mass Effect 3 is a fine game, it adopts much of what made previous entries to the series so great. If the ending of the game was not such an absolute dumpster fire, Mass Effect 3 would be on par with Mass Effect 2 and the series would be immortalized. Still, the Mass Effect trilogy is legendary. I wish there was a more fitting conclusion, but even without a hard-hitting ending Mass Effect 3 is still unforgettable.