McMillan’s Codex #39 by C.T. McMillan
Mass Effect 3
Rich Evans of Red Letter Media put it best when he referred to the games following Mass Effect 3 (ME3) as a funeral march. Up until then, you had this sprawling and complex universe for which you could change at will. Your decisions in ME1 carried over to the second game and you would expect those choices to pass on to ME3 before coming to the cold realization that it was all for nothing.
First off, the combat was the only improvement of note. The shooting is smooth and responsive with the ability to modify your weapons. You can add scopes, barrels, and other items that improve fire rated and accuracy. Such enhancement is another dimension to already serviceable mechanics, but does not make up for the glaring downgrade in the narrative.
Everything is wrong when you discover none of your original team is present. At the end of ME2 it was implied the people you worked hard to recruit, form relationships with, and struggled to keep alive in the final mission would stay by your side to fight the Reapers, sentient robots that cull the galaxy of life every 50,000 years. Instead, a majority of your team shows up in cameos with about three available for your squad, another from the first game, and two who are brand new.
The new character Javik is quite interesting, but the other, Vega, is so flaccid he did not need help from the voice of Freddy Prince Jr. to be boring. The teammate from the first game, Ashley, is a one-note human I did not care for in the slightest. Those from ME2 are background characters that help with the main conflict and nothing else. You do not talk to them for very long or see them often, serving as glorified plot devices. If they die it is meaningless because you do not spend enough time together for their deaths to be impactful.
The fact you cannot use them in gameplay is more frustration as they have the most useful abilities like Kasumi’s cloak or Grunt’s charge. They are also better characters with a ton of realized personality. Mordin was the fan favorite with his quick speech and whit, and Legion had a unique naiveté. Furthermore, any romance you pursued is rendered irrelevant because ME3 separates characters. I developed a relationship with Jack and all I could do was talk to her a few times with no chance to take things further. There was, however, a downloadable add-on that let you have a reunion in a fan-service kind of way, but it did not provide adequate satisfaction and did not it matter in the end.
The story is where ME3 falls the farthest. What could have been a compelling narrative about gathering resources to save Earth in the midst of a Reaper invasion turns into an unfulfilling pay-off that does not change no matter what you did. The ending is a selection of three outcomes: Control, where you take over the Reapers, Destruction, where you kill all synthetics, and Synthesis where you assimilate with synthetics. How you get there is superfluous because it does not have any general affect on the finale. You recruit allies, attack the Reapers, and push a colored button for your desired ending.
This is another case of missed opportunity because the lead up could have been dramatic and compelling. Your goal as Commander Shepard is to gather military assets to save Earth as the galaxy itself is trying to stave off the Reaper incursion. While that is exactly what you do, you are never really involved in making a difference. You go to a planet under attack, get what you need, and leave. There is no heroism or innocence to save like you would expect as you progress in a technical manner.
What if you had to sacrifice more people to gain allies? Earth is just one of a billion worlds and you have to convince aliens to abandon their own cause in exchange for yours. If the previous team were available, the process of saving worlds by giving up your friends would have emotional weight and meaning. You have to decide if letting go of the people you care about is worth saving the galaxy, when in reality both choices lead to significant loss. The fact this is not the case makes the actual losses especially insulting when you do not spend time with those characters like you used to and the ending makes their sacrifices worthless.
Mass Effect 3 is good for the wrong reasons. The improved combat and epic scope is punctuated by probably the worst executed narrative I have ever played. Not only does this game contradict the intent of the series; this game destroys everything you loved from its predecessors. ME3 is an affront to fans and I cannot in good conscious recommend it unless you are a completionist. I would have imagined Mass Effect: Andromeda to be a return to form had the lead writer and development director not left before the game was finished.
C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer. He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.