By MADELINE MCDONALD
Last Tuesday, March 6, after years of waiting, “Mass Effect 3” finally hit the shelves, much to the delight of gamers everywhere. The final installment in the story of Commander Shepard, the customizable protagonist of the franchise who can have varying gender, race and even sexual orientation based on player’s choices, and the fight to rid the galaxy of the Reapers, a genocidal sentient machine race, is the conclusion of a narrative that started with the original “Mass Effect” in 2007.
After Shepard’s countless unheeded warnings to the galaxy the Reapers finally arrive to, well, reap, beginning with Earth. The Commander is sent out into the galaxy for help and destroy the Reapers once and for all.
The “Mass Effect” franchise has always hinged on its letting players decide how their Commander Shepard looks and acts and the plot of “Mass Effect 3” is especially exciting because of this. Decisions like whether or not a player saved the galactic council or decided to kill the creepy-crawly Rachni Queen have major consequences in the game. Shepard also has to navigate his or her way between not so friendly alien races, sometimes having to decide to choose one ally over another in order to further his or her cause.
One small fault with the plot, though, is how immense it truly is. At times all the missions lined up in Shepard’s journal seem like too much, and the game can feel a little overwhelming. Luckily, everything from the smallest side quest to a major attack on a facility to a simple conversation with civilians has an effect on the outcome of the game. The action is constant, and everything Shepard does or says seems to have a purpose. Every choice Shepard makes enhances his or her Reputation Bar, a new addition to the game. This, along with Paragon and Renegade points (attained by being essentially polite or ruthless), affects how the rest of the galaxy views Shepard.
One major thing that stands out in “Mass Effect 3” as compared to its predecessors is the focus on Commander Shepard. For the first time players get to play around with Shepard as a character with thoughts and feelings and a past rather than a digital decision-making machine. Players get to see Shepard as a person who is under an enormous amount of stress and doubt. It’s nice to know that one of the strongest people in the galaxy isn’t always sure of themselves from time to time.
Side characters in the game come back stronger than ever as well. It’s very clear that the writers have put a lot of thought and care into crafting these individuals, rounding and deepening their personalities and stories, sometimes to a fault. Fan service abounds, as can be seen by the number of subtle jokes scattered throughout the game. While little in-game jokes and references are delightful, at times they feel unnatural.
Another exciting development for the series is the inclusion of same-sex relationship options. At long last, Shepards everywhere have the choice to fall in love with whomever they want. It is truly exciting to finally have a same-sex romance option that isn’t just available to a female Shepard and who isn’t an alien. Players have a chance to be more true to their characters as well as themselves.
What’s possibly even more awesome, though, is finding these relationships elsewhere throughout the galaxy. It’s encouraging to hear a woman on the Citadel asking for information about her military wife or to listen as Steven Cortez, the shuttle pilot aboard the Normandy, speak with tears in his eyes about his deceased husband. It’s a bright look at a future universe where someone can love who they love, whether it be man, woman or even an alien, with no backlash.
As can be expected, gameplay has changed from the last installment. Shepard finally feels like an actual soldier who rolls, jumps and climbs over and around everything. However, all this rolling and ducking for cover often backfires. It is extremely easy to press the wrong button at the wrong time and end up dead due to an unexpected yet stylish backwards somersault into a group of enemies.
The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. Characters look more realistic than ever, especially the aliens. Everyone and everything looks like it’s just a few steps away from actually being a real person or place. It can’t be said here how the saga will end for you, or if your favorite characters will survive, but the journey to discover those answers is definitely worth your time and energy. “Mass Effect 3” is an amazingly well crafted game that clearly has had a lot of time and effort put in it to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. Yes, there are some things that don’t work quite right or aren’t what was expected, but these issues are minor when placed next to everything that was done well. Even people who are new to the series are bound to enjoy how amazing this game is. Between the strong story line and characters and the exciting gameplay and graphics, it’s almost impossible not to get sucked in.
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