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8 April 2022

Mass Effect 3 Review

by Florian

Is Mass Effect 3 a great game?

It’s really, really hard to say. On the one hand, it tackles almost every single plotline that I took issue with in the first game: The Geth are fully realized characters, the Quarian plotline is fleshed out, the genophage is dealt with. When Mass Effect 3 hits its major plot points, it’s incredibly good.

The problem is - for the rest of the game, I just didn’t care all that much?

A Return to the Alliance

In ME1, you’re very briefly a part of the Alliance military before becoming a Spectre. After that, you’re pretty much given free reign to do whatever you want. You don’t have to interact with Admiral Hackett or Anderson if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to talk to the Council if you don’t want to.

So while you’re ostensibly “part of the Alliance” in Mass Effect 1, its not really a “military” game.

Mass Effect 3 is a military game. You’re not a lone wanderer amidst the stars. You’re an Alliance commander representing Earth’s fleet.

This was a pretty jarring change for me. The game confidently acts like this is the logical outcome after ME2 - back to business on Earth. But it’s not! At all! Shephard could have been sympathetic with Cerberus and allied with the Illusive Man. He could’ve turned his back on the Alliance altogether and joined up with the Council Spectres. Besides, if it was so easy to just nope out of the Illusive Man’s contract, why didn’t Shephard do it sooner?

It’s so odd that the game essentially resets to the beginning of Mass Effect 1 with basically zero transition. That said, it makes a lot more sense after you realize that…

Mass Effect 3 is a War Game

There’s a lot of fuss made in game criticism over how a game’s gameplay relates to its underlying themes. Say what you want about ME3, but it does an great job of relating the gameplay to the world it’s set in. This is a universe at war, and the game feels like it.

The combat has been revamped and upgraded a lot, the pace of everything is much faster, and the dialogue is shorter and snappier. Some of this has been attributed to rushed development, but it also fits here. This is a game about wartime. Things are meant to be a little more brusque. The combat and fighting should be the focus of a game about an inter-galactic war.

It’s a neat idea, but Mass Effect 3 can’t quite pull it off. The tired trope of space Marine fighting for Earth is tired here too. Admiral Hackett is a dull character, and, frankly, so is Captain Anderson. The combat is much improved, but it’s still pretty lackluster compared to an FPS or 3rd person shooter.

As a result, swaths of the game are just… dull. I didn’t really care about collecting war supplies or helping Hackett with some mission to shore up defenses against the Reapers. The world of Mass Effect is what makes it an interesting series, the central plot - often less so.

The Central Plot

The main plot of the game I could not track with. The Reapers are shown, repeatedly, to be damn near unkillable. It takes the entire human fleet to destroy one Reaper in the first game. Thousands of these things are attacking Earth and millions (?) more are attacking the rest of the galaxy.

But, early-on in the game, humans discover the Crucible which can completely obliterate the Reapers. I was hoping the game would play out similar to Mass Effect 1 - you go on a galaxy hopping expedition to recover pieces of the Crucbile, assemble it, and defeat the Reapers. That would have made sense.

But you don’t! Instead, you collect a bunch of “war assets” to fight the Reapers with. You collect such indomitable forces as a military news reporter and some mercenary ships. Why bother! That’s going to do nothing against this force. You’re better off investing your time and energy in building and assembling the Crucible as quickly as possible. So, that’s what I did and then missed half the game since what you’re “supposed” to be doing is building up a literal warchest of supplies.

The entire premise of the war assets system only makes sense within the context of the game’s ending. You need the fleets & soldiers as a distraction to prevent the Crucible from being destroyed. But, on first playthrough, you don’t know that and it feels kinda silly to be running errands to get mercenaries to fight for you when the most promising solution is right there.


Akin to the central plot, the plotline of Cerberus really frustrated me. The long-and-short of it is: They’re evil now!

This is so much less interesting than the way they were portrayed in Mass Effect 2. In ME2, they’re a shadowy semi-terrorist organization who, in some ways, try to do good in the galaxy. They have a real utilitarian, “ends justify the means” attitude, but they aren’t wholesale evil. Many of the Illusive Man’s actions are semi-altruistic in ME2 - reviving Shephard, saving the colonies from the Collectors, trying to establish communication with the Geth (DLC).

This is almost completely rewritten in Mass Effect 3, largely for the worse. Cerberus is evil now. They indoctrinate their soldiers. They’re harvesting refugees. They’re trying to control the Reapers. They’ve become the Nazi archetypes of this universe, and it’s frustratingly simplistic.

Oh, but what about all the characters you liked from Cerberus - Miranda? Don’t worry, they left. Wait what? Aren’t they the die-hard Cerberus loyalists in ME2? And they just left? It’s a little too convenient.

You’ll notice, ME2 did not do this. Kaiden meets up with Shephard early-on in Mass Effect 2 and is like “Oh you’re working with Cerberus? Well, I’m not, good luck.” They didn’t off-screen rewrite his entire morality and character arc just so that he could be a companion with your crew.

I loved the twist that the Illusive Man was being indoctrinated by the Reapers, and hence the change in his attitude. It was a solid, lore backed explanation for his change and I really enjoyed it. But again, this is premised on you finishing the game. And even then, I think I’d rather have had them as an interesting 3rd party you have to negotiate with instead of the cartoon villian you get.

The Geth, Quarians, and the Genophage

As the third game in a trilogy, Mass Effect 3 had a lot of loose ends to tie up, and it did a phenomenal job of finishing the series’ best plotlines.

The Geth are actually treated as fully fleshed out characters, not only that, they have a fantastic retcon of the Quarians as the oppressors and the Geth as the downtrodden, “people without a home.” The role reversal of the Geth and the Quarians was poignant, well done and superb writing. Given how cookie-cutter the main plot is, I was floored by how great these sections were.

Likewise, I liked the resolution of the genophage. It was wrong and Mordin takes ownership of that. The Krogan are reborn as better versions of themselves. It’s a solid piece of writing, with a cinematic ode to Mordin that I really enjoyed.

The Protheans

Whoever wrote the Protheans in this game was genius. It turns out, they’re kind of assholes. This hallowed, almost holy species that the entire galaxy reveres are really arrogant, authoritarian jerks who believe themselves to be “the superior race.”

It’s a bit like pulling the founding fathers into the present and then being like “Oh yeah, these guys owned slaves.” It’s a great reminder of the way we romanticize history and how little you can know a culture just by studying it and not experiencing it. A really great tidbit of this series.

The Ending

As a I said before, the ending of Mass Effect 3 explains a lot of the different plot lines. Cerberus’ descent into madness is explained, the necessity of stocking up “war assets” makes sense, the Crucible and its role/origin is explained.

For all the controversy surrounding the ending, it’s… fine? I didn’t think it was all that different from the other games’ endings. I enjoyed the alien, synthetic mind trying to grapple with the idea of a chaos in the universe. It reminded me of Asmiov’s The Last Question and fit with some other themes the game touched on.

Is your main character dying a cliche? Sure, but again…

This Series Has Never Been About the Plot

In my Mass Effect 2 review, I wrote about how it’s like a heist movie where you don’t really care about the heist. I think that generalization carries throughout the entire series - these games have never, really, been about the Reapers and the threat they pose to civilization. It’s been about the characters, the world-building, the dilemmas and moral choices, and sure the Reapers are a part of that but it’s not why you show up.

The problem with Mass Effect 3, though, is that the game forces the Reapers to become your sole focus, and you’re left with a hollow shell of what the previous two games were.

tags: posts - video games