With a flash, a bang, and a faulty character import, “Mass Effect 3” is on store shelves and hard drives everywhere. Having played through the demo, I found the opening sequence a tad repetitive, but nonetheless, my long-awaited intergalactic adventure was finally underway.
As usual, I was instantly struck by the sheer beauty of the game. The “Mass Effect” series provides a level of graphical finesse that is nothing short of spectacular. The textures are spectacular and succeed in recreating the world as seen in previous games. In particular, this installment has completely overhauled the lighting design to add a darker, more sinister, and more dramatic mood. The flashlight scene in the opening Mars mission was especially telling of the game’s darker feel. It also seems there is an increase in the number of lens flares in the third edition, which gives the whole game a J.J. Abrams “Star Trek”-esque futuristic space-ship-y feel.
Story-wise, there’s no more of this “beat around the bush and create the Collectors to prolong the series” bullshit. The Reapers are here, and Shepherd finally gets to shoot them straight in their ancient faces. Overall, the story seems a bit more put together than the second game. Many times during “Mass Effect 2,” I found myself annoyed at the obnoxiously useless things I was forced to do simply to progress the storyline and add extra game time. This game, however, provides more fleshed-out character and plot motivations. Rather than making it a product of design, as the second game was, the writer’s room asserted themselves and motivated the game in a discernible way.
The combat system in this game has been significantly improved, if simply by making it more complicated. The cover system is supposedly improved, though I found myself frustrated at times by the system’s reliance on camera position. In the same vein, the pacing of combat has been vastly increased. Shepherd is forced to dive into cover almost instantly, and enemy AI is considerably better. After getting torn apart by flanking Cerberus troopers supported by turrets and covering fire, I can say that combat in this game is more difficult and decidedly more tactical. The AI funnels players into combat situations where they are forced to make quick decisions and (on normal difficulty) rewards good ones while punishing dumbass-ery. While challenging, it is definitely not impossible.
“Mass Effect 3” is an unquestionably beautiful game. It’s something of a graphical masterpiece, with a passable, if somewhat contrived, story. Overall, it’s a game worth buying and investing time and emotion in. Craft yourself a Shepherd (mine’s ugly as sin and named Ug-Shep), and love him/her forever.