The Reapers have arrived. You’ve spent the past two games warning the galaxy that these eons-old living machines were coming to harvest organic life, but nobody wanted to listen to the annoying human and his crazy stories. Hell, that one Turian councilor even gave you a dismissive “Ah, yes! Reapers…” kiss-off complete with sarcastic air quotes.
This is what I get for saving his ass back in ME1.
So with Shepard labeled “The Human Who Cried Reapers,” the galaxy at large is entirely unprepared when the invasion commander attempted to forestall finally occurs. Countless waves of Reaper ships descend on the home worlds of every sentient species and start wrecking stuff, with our very own London getting some of the worst of it.
Mass Effect 3 starts off rather dramatically with Shepard narrowly escaping Earth onboard the Normandy, the ever-present Joker still at the helm. Many backseat critics have mocked an early scene that features Shepard watching helplessly as a small child he failed to save gets vaporized by a Reaper dreadnaught’s ominous red-eye blast, but I found this moment rather powerful. It’s an early sign that the old rules have gone out the window. You’re no longer flitting about the universe willy-nilly on some grand adventure and every second you spend gathering your forces is the death knell for millions of innocent people. The crux of the game involves forging alliances with all the races you’ve interacted with previously. Turians, Asasi, Salarians, and even the elephantine Elcor are required to vanquish the Reapers.
Meh, strap a canon on its back and you’ve got yourself a tank with legs.
Mass Effect 3 is a lot less concerned with individual stories than its predecessors. Personal quests and character arcs take a back seat to moving the war forward. While Mass Effect 1-2 filled the gaps between main story quests with squad loyalty missions that forced Shepard to resolve his team’s nagging personal issues, ME3 ditches much of the existential angst of prior games. There’s a war going on and most everybody you meet has his head in the game.
And you will meet a lot of old friends. While the actual size of the team you can assemble is about half of what it was in ME2, every single character big or small that had a role in previous entries makes some form of appearance in Mass Effect 3. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to recruit roughly 90% of your old friends and most of the new additions (cough! Vega! cough!) are entirely bland and add nothing to Mass Effect’s overarching story. In fact, one of my biggest complaints concerning ME3 story is that not enough attention is given to providing satisfying endings to several character arcs.
Whatever love interest(s) you’ve cultivated throughout the series are given especially shoddy treatment. Sure, if you play your cards right you can trigger one of Mass Effect’s popular sex scenes, but without spoiling the ending, your choice of companion means absolutely nothing. Which means all the time and effort I sunk into ensuring that my Shepard and Liara would go on to produce little blue he-she’s was all for naught.
A minor annoyance is the developer’s decision to suddenly include several characters from Mass Effect‘s extended universe. Kai Leng, an assassin formally only appearing in comic books and novels based on the series, has a major role in the storyline. Which is all well and good for people who have read the novels. I had to Wikipedia Leng to find out who the hell he was.
Bioware’s treatment of several beloved characters borders on the insulting. Tali, the environment suit-wearing Quarian, whose face players have never gotten to see, is a textbook example. If your Shepard’s romance with Tali is rekindled in ME3, the Commander will have a picture frame of her in his cabin. Finally! Fans have been rewarded for their patience! Oh wait, those same fans figured out that Tali’s face was actually a stock photograph found on Google’s image search. Wow, way to put your back into it, Bioware! And then there’s the divisive ending, which we’ll get into a bit later…
No review of Mass Effect 3 would be complete without at least mentioning the so-called “Gay Agenda” that Bioware has seemingly developed of late. Notice the Turian-style air quotes I put there. While Bioware games have always been LGTB friendly, the company seems to have taken what was once a respectable stance and gone a bit overboard. While I have nothing against gay and lesbian characters in mygames, my pet peeve is that Bioware needs to decide which of its characters are straight and which aren’t. They can’t keep making everybody in the galaxy a bi-sexual. It’s unrealistic and it ultimately ends up hurting characters. (See: Anders in Dragon Age 2.)
Also, Mass Effect 3 is totally bi-polar in it’s depiction of homosexuality. On the one hand, I found that the game’s treatment of openly gay crew member Steve Cortez and the loss of his husband was handled surprisingly delicately. On the other hand, if you play as FemShep, there’s this ludicrous, Skinemax-style lesbian shower scene that completely destroys any pretense at handling a touchy subject matter with finesse.
FYI: We’re keeping track of how many people click the “Lesbian Shower Sex” link. You know who you are.
Read about the gameplay in Mass Effect 3 after the next jump…