My Game of the Year: Mass Effect 3
It’s probably apt that I reached my GOTY decision in a partly mechanical manner. In lieu of my final choice doing anything particularly outstanding, my 130+ hours in its multiplayer mode stands as a testament to its lasting entertainment value and elevated it above other close contenders. Yep, I never expected to be basing my decision on the combat – the mechanics – in a Mass Effect game, but here we are.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the final installment of Shepard’s adventure. It was rewarding to finally finish my own personal story of many years, seeing my past decisions play into the current conflicts, witnessing certain scenarios where at least two or three of the characters would not even be present had things occurred differently in earlier games. And it’s full of great moments supported by some wonderful writing; those bright glimpses of classic BioWare.
However, by setting the story during a full-on Reaper invasion, it alters the overall tone and atmosphere established in the earlier games. Gone was a sense of mystery and discovery, replaced by an almost relentless stream of shooting galleries, broken up by overbearing doom and gloom.
On top of that, the whole package feels rushed and underdeveloped. Certain characters and story arcs are given short shrift, when the third game of the trilogy should really be an all-encompassing, fulfilling send-off. It’s by virtue of BioWare’s talent and experience that the end result is still a ‘good’ game. I still savour every moment in the Mass Effect universe, and it is a truly unforgettable experience. I just can’t shake the fact that it also left me deflated and disappointed once all was said and done, with even the ‘journey’ faltering before it reached its destination. Each Mass Effect game has its own flaws but I’d never before felt myself wishing the overall direction of the game had gone a little differently. Essentially, I am nominating it for GOTY on different grounds. Now, to argue my case…
For the most part, it is a blockbuster game and all that implies (good and bad), meaning top-notch presentation and Action with a capital A. Fortunately, on this front, it does not disappoint. The second entry went a long way towards fixing the scrappy combat of the first, while ME3 refined it further, incorporating combat rolls, more responsive melee and even squishy, exploding headshots; giving it a feel much closer to that of leading third-person-shooters like Gears of War. With superpowers.
And it’s the multiplayer where it really gets to shine. As a mode, it’s actually a perfect complement to the single-player. Away from the oppressive main story and bits in-between, it allows you to jump straight into the action with a minimum of fuss. Personally, it’s a great diversion, offering bite-sized sessions of entertainment where I can hop on and play a few games, each as a different character/class, without ever becoming bored by it. Even the smaller offering in the pre-release demo had me hooked.
There’s a purity and clarity to proceedings, as you join up with three other players to face waves of enemies, along with a few objectives that force you to adjust tactics on the fly. The enemies put up a tougher challenge, with further optional difficulties that far surpass those found in the single-player and encourage high-level play and teamwork.
The combat is slick and dynamic, with a neat emphasis on combo detonations – either of the biotic or tech kind – that can be set up between players via a wide range of powers and certain ammunition. The biotic explosion, in particular, has an extremely satisfying sonic boom and pretty, blue light show. Along with the impressive fireworks and other visual effects, the sound design bolsters the entire experience and is truly one of the title’s greatest aspects. With assistance from fellow EA-owned developer, DICE (of Battlefield fame), the audio has been vastly improved. The dynamic range now in use allows a great deal of bass to enter the mix, giving a real heft and impact to the appropriate elements. Shotguns give the impression that they could blast a chunk out of a steel wall, sniper rifles puncture the air and SMGs spew bullets at a terrifying rate.
But what has really kept me coming back again and again, is the assortment of races and classes, each offering a distinct playstyle. No longer do you need to start a new Shepard to get a taste of what different classes have to offer, and it’s livened up by certain species-specific touches. Asari have a graceful dodge manoeuvre and devastating biotic powers while krogan are tanks that move quickly and pack a mean punch but can’t make use of certain bits of cover or dive out of harm’s way.
And nothing this year could match the pure joy of playing as a krogan, head-butting enemies or charging and sending them flying off into the distance (with a brilliant “MRRRRRRRAAAHAHAHA!” to accompany the action). Krogan are the best. Those guys really need their own game (Gears of Rachni Wars, anyone?)
Under the watch of a separate BioWare studio, the multiplayer has become its own entity, functioning on a pseudo buy-to-play model that has allowed it to introduce significant additions; some never imagined or planned before release. In the past nine months they have updated the game with more maps (plus variations of older ones), weapons, gear, roughly ten times as many characters as well as exclusive enemy units and a whole new faction. All at no extra charge. There are still microtransactions (that must be performing well enough to sustain the constant flow of new content), and unlocks are very much like buying packs of trading cards but, personally, I haven’t spent a single extra penny on the game. And here I am, 130+ hours later, still enjoying myself and finding new ways to play.
As well as krogan and salarian, other races not present as squadmates in the campaign make an appearance: geth, vorcha, batarian, volus. Not to mention new classes introduced for existing races. And all of them are enhanced by completely new powers, and variations thereof, exclusive to the mode. A krogan vanguard is as unstoppable as it sounds, volus make for great support classes like never before, ex-Cerberus members carry electric whips useful for close-range crowd control and asari valkyries become walking powder kegs, enveloping nearby enemies in a biotic field ripe for combo detonations. To say nothing of the teleporting human classes, the sword and shield-wielders and jetpacking turians.
If you fired up the multiplayer earlier in the year and found it stale and boring, or were put off by its skinner box-style unlock system, I highly encourage you to give it another look. You might just be surprised at how much things have changed and improved. Plus, with all that’s on offer, it won’t be long until you unlock a character/class or weapon you like (especially since they’ve just introduced new packs tailored towards unlocking either characters or weapons). Overall, it has grown to become a unique and entertaining slice of greatly-refined combat set in the Mass Effect universe. And, as I said before, I savour every moment spent there.