Taking Back Earth in “Mass Effect 3”

By Michael WORKMAN

For some fans, it’s a bittersweet moment in 2012. There are those who began an immersive and breathtaking experience with the  first “Mass Effect” seeing a long, exciting journey come to a close. BioWare’s epic space opera series about the heroic protagonist Commander Shepard takes to the stars one last time in “Mass Effect 3.”

Since the initial encounter in the first “Mass Effect,” Commander Shepard has been warning the council of alien races that pose the greatest threat ever faced by the galaxy. Coming from the deepest regions of dark space, a race of highly advanced machines known as Reapers has come to wipe out all advanced life. With Earth becoming the front line in the fight for survival, Commander Shepard is tasked with rallying all alien races to stop the Reapers once and for all and end the cycle of genocide.

From the very start, “Mass Effect 3” shows that the stakes have never been higher as the Reapers obliterate Earth’s defenses seemingly with ease. The player leads Shepard through an intense battle just to simply get a ship off Earth. Before Shepard leaves, the player helplessly watches as a child gets on a refugee transport to leave Earth and is destroyed by a Reaper’s massive laser. This sets the tone loud and clear for the player that you can’t save everyone. People will die.

If the story wasn’t gripping enough, the gameplay has been overhauled to be just as entertaining. Combat is now smoother and more dynamic in “Mass Effect 3.” RPG elements make a comeback from the first “Mass Effect” such as customization and modifying of weapons and skills. Players will find items that will boost the quality of certain weapons to give the player different styles to choose from. Enemy AI has been improved since the first two “Mass Effect”s to the point where enemies will try to flank the player and work as a team to take Shepard’s team out. This has made it much more challenging for players and keeps the action fresh and intense.

The command system has also been streamlined so players can order their squad-mates to use their abilities almost instantly. Players that bought the Xbox 360 Kinect can take further advantage of the command system by being able to issue orders with voice commands. Space exploration is still a part of the gameplay, but there is little to really explore. Only missions tied to the main story line will let players actually see certain planets. All other planets have a short description but players are not able to land and look around. The player’s ship now sends out a signal that instantly finds objects of interest, taking away the challenge of actually exploring a new world for items or new missions.

Key features BioWare added for “Mass Effect 3” are war assets and military readiness. These both contribute to the overall rating system in how prepared the galaxy is for the final battle against the Reapers.

When the player helps other alien races or finds valuable items, these are compiled into war assets that increase the military readiness, giving a better chance to defeat the Reapers in the coming battle. For those who don’t want to do every single mission just to boost the military readiness, “Mass Effect 3” has add multilayer for the first time in a co-op mode called “Galaxy at War.” Players can choose to play as humans or other races in the “Mass Effect” series. Each race brings different talents and classes for players to choose from as they are given objectives to liberate a planet controlled by Reapers or defend highly valued resources from falling into enemy hands. By completing objectives in “Galaxy at War,” players can raise their military readiness in the single player game gaining a better chance of getting the best possible ending.

The “Mass Effect” series has gained much praise over the years. The critical acclaim “Mass Effect 2” received two years ago led to huge expectations from the developers at BioWare for “Mass Effect 3.” I’m pleased to say that “Mass Effect 3” not only lived up to the hype but exceeded all expectations.     The characters all add to the narrative, seamlessly drawing the player into deeper immersion than ever before and gives a sense of what is at stake. “Mass Effect” is known for giving choices to the player to shape the story and “Mass Effect 3” offers some of the biggest choices to date. Again, the player can’t save everyone, and even characters that have become very popular among fans of the series may be compromised. The player could make a choice with very tragic results even if it was the “right” thing to do.

There were moments that actually made me cry and this has never happened to me while playing a video game.

Once again, BioWare has delivered an amazing game that any sci-fi fan should consider. Although Commander Shepard’s story is over, many are eager to see BioWare continue the “Mass Effect” series with a new central character to have new adventures across the galaxy, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations.

For its wonderful storytelling and solid gameplay, “Mass Effect 3” is one of the best games of 2012. A five out of five.

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