The final chapter of Commander Shepard’s epic has touched down finally. I’ve put countless hours into it with countless more to go. Before I get to the end of the game and figure out just what all the fuss is about with the endings, I’m here to bring you some initial thoughts and impressions for those of you on the fence or have yet to dive in. If I had to guess I’d say I’m about halfway through the main story. Maybe more.
If you want the learn more about the technical side of things, check out my demo impressions here. For those of you curious about multiplayer, I wrote up some impressions on the multiplayer demo, which should whet your appetite. I can get a little long winded so I figured it would be best to tuck everything else away below the break. Click on dear reader!
Speaking of story, I’m not really going to touch on any of it within this article for reasons of spoilers and other readers sensitivity to said spoilers. The only thing I’ll mention is that so far, BioWare has done a fantastic job tieing in characters from both previous Mass Effect games. It’s really great seeing them again and even remembering where the hell you met them in the first place. Some have taken me by surprise and others I just didn’t even remember. It’s very cool to see this much attention to detail being added in. How intertwined all three games are also means that the main story will be different for many of us which is mind-boggling and quite interesting to discuss where you are with people you know. The story changes can be quite drastic and that’s quite the achievement from a development perspective.
Lets be realistic here, Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game and lives up to the hype and acclaim of the first two games in the series. I find that it tries to take elements from both and mesh them together so you’re still getting the fast paced action of the second game but you have more RPG elements added back in. The RPG side is not quite as in-depth as the first game, but it goes beyond what we were given in the second one. For example, you’re now able to mod your weapons with attachments or other features which change the properties and look of the gun in various ways. Guns can be upgraded themselves mainly through purchasing them from Citadel stores. This honestly is a welcomed addition.
Speaking of the Citadel, BioWare went back and made it closer to what we got in the first game. You’re able to wander around the Embassies, Commons, and many other areas. It’s more diverse and wide open when compared to the smaller sections of the Zakera Wards in Mass Effect 2. It feels much better than it was in the second game and that’s a good thing seeing as how many times you’ll be going back there throughout your time playing.
From a technical standpoint, the load times don’t seem to be quite as long as they were in 2, though I don’t really have any factual proof to back that up. One thing I definitely appreciate is the fact that the loading screens are more dynamic and interesting to look at than they were in the last game. It’s a minor detail but for me, a big plus. Visually the game looks a little improved from Mass Effect 2. I mean, it’s not a huge jump, but here and there you’ll notice the upgrade in the eye candy department.
With all these pluses, I can drop a few negatives on you. They’re not huge issues, just kind of nagging ones. First off, the much maligned planet scanning has been ditched completely. The Normandy now has a pulse that gets shot out and any planets worth investigating will highlight within the area of the pulse. That’s the good news for most of you, I know. On the downside, each pulse you send out alerts nearby Reapers, filling a meter at the bottom. When this meter is full, the sector is overrun and you need to get out of there. The really bad news is that it really only takes two pulses in a sector to get the Reapers to attack. This really limits your ability to find items because most of the time you’re guessing where things are. Thankfully, the Reapers reset after a mission is completed so it’s not a huge deal, just more of an annoyance.
I’ve also noticed a bunch of visual and audio glitches within dialogue scenes as well. Sometimes the person speaking may be invisible, the dialogue may delay before the words are spoken, and sometimes the character animations glitch as someone’s head is turned in an unnatural position. These don’t happen often but are a little jarring when they do occur.
The other issue I have so far is with how side quests are handled. There are tons to find and that’s great. Most of them however give you little to no direction on how to complete them. In addition, some that you get are not actually available to be completed until you get to a certain point in the story as the galaxies you need to explore are hidden on your Galaxy Map until a certain point. There’s nothing provided to the player to explain this so it can be a bit frustrating figuring out what to do or where to go when you actually can’t quite yet. Not only that, the game does not inform you that certain missions will be unavailable if you reach a certain point in the main story. The quests will grey out and be unavailable for the rest of the game. It’s really unfortunate but my advice would be to bang out as many side quests as possible before you advance the story.
So far, Mass Effect 3 is a joy to play and easily one of the best games of the year so far. I know we have a long way to go with 2012 but I’m confident that by December, we’ll still be talking about this one for Game of the Year nominations. I’m extremely happy with the game so far (ending not withstanding yet) and I encourage all of you to at least try the demo. If you’re a fan of the series, I’m sure you already own this, but for those of you looking for a top notch RPG/third person action game, check this one out.