I've posted a separate article with my thoughts on the "Extended Cut" DLC, intended to assuage the feelings of the fan community.
Mass Effect 3, the conclusion to Bioware’s trilogy chronicling the adventures of Commander Shepard, is a stunning piece of work, despite a few notable faults. The third installment in the series adds co-op multiplayer, Kinect support on the Xbox, and tie-ins with iOS apps.
ME3 is stunning. The environmental art is meticulously detailed and rendered at high resolution. Characters are fully normal, specular, and emissive mapped, with no compromises made on the player model despite the use of a procedural face generation system. The cinematics for the climax are stunning, and there are some visuals that I’d rank as top-5 of all time in gaming.
Mass Effect 1’s UI was widely regarded as a mess, when it came to inventory management. ME2 improved on this significantly while removing customization depth. Mass Effect 3 has struck a good balance between the extremes by reducing UI complexity but returning some level of customization back to the player’s control.
Always a strong point in the series, ME3 does not disappoint. Sound effects are well-mixed and designed. Weapons that you think should have punch, do. Energy weapons and environmental sounds have the sizzle and hum that fits the visuals. Music continues to be pitch-perfect and adds to the atmosphere without ever unintentionally distracting the player from the gameplay.
Bioware’s business is story, and 99.9% of this game delivers on all the promises made by the previous two titles in the series. Playing a character all the way through from the beginning (ME1) yields some amazing conversations and events that really impress. The ending is the source of that .1%, and phenomenal amounts of controversy online. I will not go into specific spoilers here, but I will state that either a fan theory is correct (that Bioware has refused to confirm or deny), or there was no continuity checking done and the ending was rushed. Either way, the ending felt incomplete... but I’ll discuss this more below.
There were significant tweaks to the player’s movement and combat in ME3. It is easy to tell that the game runs on Unreal Engine 3 and borrows much code from Epic’s Gears of War 2. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Gunfights now feel even more polished, and the use of powers and skills is quick and precise. The changes, including the addition of ballistic-trajectory grenades, completely changed up the feel of combat versus the previous installments in the series. Players who enjoyed the methodical, strategic pace of the previous games have commented on their disappointment in the changes.
One of the most significant additions to the series is multiplayer, in the form of 4-player co-op. Once again borrowing from GoW2, Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer is clearly drawn from Horde mode in Gears. It is enjoyable and challenging, but does suffer from some of the bugs that plagued its predecessor. It is not uncommon to have an enemy spawn beneath the world, rendering the match unwinnable, or for an AI to go hide in a corner when outnumbered. There are no in-game controls to mute annoying players, either... entering the player’s profile in the dash is required.
iOS tie-in games
- Playing Mass Effect: Infiltrator, a solid rail shooter for iOS, grants you additional War Resources for your battle against the Reapers.
- Kinect support: It is possible to issue voice-based squad commands via the Kinect on Xbox 360.
Mass Effect 3 has spawned more controversy among gamers than almost any other title in recent history.
- Confusion over galactic readiness: Players did not realize that their multiplayer scores affected the number of choices at the end of the game.
- Lack of choices at the end: When it comes down to it, there are three fundamental endings you get to choose from in a very Monty Hall-esque way that is jarring from a narrative point of view.
- The end: As mentioned above, there were many arguments over the end of the game/series. There was a media perception that gamers were unhappy with a "sad" ending, but on the contrary, their issues largely centered around the disregard for the themes of the series, continuity/logic failures, or that Bioware outright lied by stating "radically different outcomes" would be available. After massive amounts of fan feedback, Bioware has decided to release a free update to expand upon and explain better the existing endings.
- Microtransactions: Instead of the increasingly-common system in FPSes being used (RPG-like leveling up and unlocking weapons), Bioware chose to use a CCG-style booster pack system for collecting weapons... tied into microtransactions. F2P game, Combat Arms, uses a system like this, but the inclusion of such a system in a full retail game raised many gamers' ire.
- DLC on disc: There was a backlash from the community when it was realized that some of the game's first DLC was partially contained on the retail disc. In actuality, the necessities of development required certain assets to be shipped on the disc for compatibility reasons.
- Gay romance: While previous pseudo-lesbian (human female with humanoid alien female) relationship options were available in Mass Effect 2, ME3 brought in further controversy by enabling a male-male relationship between Shepard and one of his crew. EA dismissed the controversy as mere politics.
- Initial non-support of multiplayer events on the PS3: Until late April, the weekly multiplayer promotional events run by Bioware were only available on PC or Xbox.
Mass Effect 3 is a triumph of modern game development. Merging superb storytelling, art, sound, and technology, it caps off one of the most ambitious game franchises with a bang. In the end, it is a series that should be remembered for its successes, not its controversies.