Despite wrapping up character arcs and managing to have a great story, Mass Effect 3 ends the trilogy on a slightly sour note. Commander Shepard’s final game reaches some great heights but also stoops quite low. Fair warning, in this review I talk in-depth about the fate of certain characters and the divisive ending, so a spoiler warning is in order. Also, if you haven’t read my Mass Effect 1 & 2 reviews, I really recommend them before starting this one.
The third game kicks off immediately with a Reaper attack on Earth. We’d heard from these creatures before, and had even seen glimpses of them in the first and second game, but seeing them invading Earth actually puts in perspective how big and scary these things are. As the world falls apart around Shepard, they manage to escape on the Normandy. Their mission: rally up all races in the fight against the Reapers.
Mass Effect 3 feels incredibly big, and I’m not just talking about the Galaxy Map. Everyone comes back. All the characters you’ve encountered in previous games impact this entry in one way or the other. You know that Smash Brothers Ultimate announcement trailer where they go “everyone is here”? Yeah, that’s basically what Mass Effect 3 is like. It’s incredibly cool that characters like Wrex get to come back, but it does mean that newly introduced characters, like Javik, don’t really get the chance to actually develop.
To me, the best mission and fight in the entire game is “Priority: Tuchanka,” where you get to cure the Genophage (an illness that makes Krogan infertile). The entire build-up to this is absolutely amazing. Mordin’s growth from the one who modified and spread the Genophage to the only one who can cure it is so well-written. There’s a scene where he sings while he knows he won’t make it out alive, and it is absolutely gut-wrenching. The actual mission on Tuchanka is great as well; we get to learn a lot about the past of the Krogan and the boss fight against the Reaper made me feel like I was playing a God of War game. It was incredibly satisfying.
There are some other moments in the game that hit incredibly hard, mostly due to the characters involved. Choosing between the Quarians and the Geth, for example, had me pause my game and pace the room for a minute. But the reason these choices are so hard isn’t because of the story, but because you got to know your squadmates in the past two games and you don’t want to hurt (or even kill) any of them.
Another fun addition the game made was that you can now walk into characters on your ship calling other characters. It makes it feel a lot more natural and the conversations are actually fun and interesting to listen in on. Joker calling Liara to ask her about what the things on top of her head are called or Garrus discussing politics with Adrien Victus are all things you can walk in on. It makes the ship feel more alive.
Oh, and I can’t talk about great character writing without at least mentioning the Citadel DLC. I won’t say too much, but it feels like playing an amazing fanfic. It’s crazy but in the best way possible. Please, if you haven’t, go play it.
Mass Effect 3 Ends the Trilogy on a Slightly Sour Note
Obviously I can’t talk about Mass Effect 3 without discussing the ending. I really dreaded starting the final mission—so much so that I decided to literally do everything else on the map first. This opened up the possibility for the secret cutscene, since I had enough War Assets. In the final mission, you and your squad want to retake Earth and take the fight to the Reapers with the Crucible, a weapon capable of destroying them. The game then gives you the chance to say goodbye to every single one of your companions. Some of them were more heartbreaking than others, but all of them were perfect. The only complaint I have here is that certain love interests will only say goodbye to you in a hologram.
Then, the final mission actually starts. It feels more like a Call of Duty setpiece than a Mass Effect game if I’m being honest, but since this is the final fight, I can live with it. Towards the end, you get separated from your squad (and if you bring your love interest, are treated to some more heartbreak). You arrive at the Citadel and finally get the chance to shoot the Illusive Man, thank God.
So far so good, but Shepard is hurt and sits down next to a dying Anderson while looking at Earth. It feels like a fitting ending and the conversation between them genuinely made me cry—except, it’s not the ending. The next five minutes of the game feel like a fever dream. Some kid that has been appearing in your dreams throughout the game turns out to be the embodiment of the Reapers and gives you a choice: destroy the Reapers, control the Reapers, or synthesize with the Reapers. The game frames this as some big choice, but no matter what you do, the outcome is the same. I chose destroy, as I wanted that secret cutscene.
Aside from the ending, there are some other pet peeves I have with this game. They introduced weight to weapons, and as someone who invested in the Black Widow (the best sniper in the game), this was a real pain in my butt. It even restricted which pistol I could bring with me because some were just too heavy. They also added a scanner between the war room and the bridge, meaning that every time I had to go check my War Assets, I had to awkwardly stand still for a few seconds. This was incredibly frustrating, especially because the Citadel also has scanners that allow you to just walk through. I also really miss the hacking minigames from the previous installments.
In conclusion, Mass Effect 3 proves that the journey matters more than the destination. It has the advantage that the characters are well-written and familiar by this point, which really adds to the experience. The ending might have been incredibly disappointing since the choice didn’t matter whatsoever, but I will never forget my first time playing through this trilogy. It’s one of those incredibly special stories that you just have to experience for yourself at least once.