Mass Effect Legendary Edition Part 3: Mass Effect 3 Review
Editor's Note: Mass Effect Legendary Edition includes each of the original Mass Effect trilogy's three games. That's a lot of game. As such we've decided to review each game separately, and score it accordingly, too. We'll let you know what our overall thoughts are at the end though. For part 1 of the review covering the first game, click here and for part 2 please click here.
The closing chapter of an epic trilogy, Mass Effect 3 carries a lot of weight on its shoulders and, almost a decade after its original release, it’s also burdened by plenty of baggage: A huge shift in focus, a raft of unfulfilled opportunities, and a controversial ending that is still debated to this day. If only these fundamental issues could be mitigated by 4K textures, improved lighting and a smoother frame rate.
As discussed in my review of Mass Effect 2, the later games in the Legendary Edition are recent enough that a visual upgrade, whilst welcome, doesn’t feel wholly necessary. However, it can’t be denied that the final chapter of BioWare’s ambitious trilogy looks better than ever here. As much as I played down the improvements to lighting and a solid 60fps frame rate, they too are great additions that make replaying Mass Effect 3 that much easier. And yet Mass Effect 3 may actually suffer by being the most recent of the games in the trilogy.
There’s a noticeable shift in how Mass Effect 3 plays compared to its predecessors. Whilst the previous game overhauled combat to introduce rudimentary third-person cover shooting, little to nothing was lost when it came to the deeper RPG side of the game that fans fell in love with. By contrast, Mass Effect 3 feels first and foremost like a dated third-person cover shooter with the game’s role-playing aspects feeling noticeably reduced. The moment to moment gameplay is much more action-heavy; a 2012 gameplay time capsule wherein BioWare and EA tried to disguise a Western RPG as some kind of Gears of War in space. History hasn’t been kind to this radical shift and I felt that the gameplay and overall handling of the game felt far more archaic than the clunkier but more honest Mass Effect 2.
It’s all about personal preference, I suppose. Combat objectively feels much smoother in Mass Effect 3. Popping out of cover to shoot an enemy or hit them with one of your array of powers is smoother and more impactful. However, in leaning into action I feel that Mass Effect 3 loses some of its charm and begins to look and play like so many other games from the same era that have now been lost to time. The addition of a contextual jump might be the biggest tell of this radical change: Whilst the areas Shepard and their team are moving through are now more dynamic and vertical, the way this newfound athleticism is handled in terms of gameplay and animation is a clear sign of the game's age.
The emphasis placed on combat does add some welcome additional elements as well, however. The ability to customise weapons to fit your playstyle is something I’d completely forgotten about until this replay and I wished it had been present throughout the rest of the game — we’ll talk about consistent menus and systems throughout this collection another time though.
In adding more shooter-comparable combat to Mass Effect 3, a multiplayer mode, ‘Galaxy at War’, was also added to the original release. This has been removed from the version included in the Legendary Edition, which creates the biggest change to the game so far, and perhaps any of the games included in this set. Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer was originally connected to Galactic Readiness — a measure of how prepared your Shepard and their team were for the final encounter with The Reapers at the end of the game. In this version, simply playing all of the game’s missions and side quests will increase your Total Military Strength. It even incorporates your time with Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 as well so it pays dividends to transfer a save.
This is an elegant and surprisingly streamlined solution that works very well. Despite Mass Effect 3 now ostensibly missing a feature, this actually works towards fixing one of the major gripes with the game — to a certain degree, anyway.
The quickening of the game’s pace and the concentration on action unfortunately deprives Mass Effect 3 of some of the subtlety and nuance of the previous games. Whilst it contains some wonderful, unforgettable, occasionally heartbreaking moments with key characters – some of which stand as the best in the trilogy – it often felt rushed in other instances. Whole conversations could often feel like filler or as if whole cinematics playing out without much player choice. Dialogue often felt far less important here than it does elsewhere in the series, and other seemingly key scenes from the previous two games are but a memory.
None of this will come as a surprise to series veterans, and much has been written and debated on the topic in the years that followed its original release. However, these changes and omissions become all the more apparent when you play the three games in quick succession. I'll concede that focusing on certain characters, scenarios and relationships may have been for the greater good in terms of pacing, but it still doesn't feel quite right.
Being a series built on a foundation of player choices, Mass Effect 3 has always been marred as the game that often ignores that history. What the player does can and will fundamentally change how the world in the game works (to a certain degree anyway). Being able to do that whilst carrying over progress from previous games was always one of the coolest things about it. Unfortunately, as returning players will know, such lofty promises were not fully kept and the final game in the trilogy often fails to follow the path laid by the two excellent games that came before it.
Much like the changes to gameplay, the story itself is now more akin to a summer blockbuster film than the slower build of Mass Effect 2 or the more politically charged sci-fi found in the first game. Like Mass Effect 2, there’s a fair bit of ‘getting the band back together’ here — which, if you carry your save across, is dependent on the final mission of the last game — but the end goal is certainly less ambiguous. The omnipresent threat of The Reapers which has simmered through the previous two games is now at Shepard’s door.
However, there multiple are instances throughout Mass Effect 3 where story threads are left to dangle and I was left to wonder what happened to certain characters; ones whose arcs my Shepard had been so involved in previously. Again, this becomes particularly obvious when playing the games back to back. Whilst it would be unreasonable to ask for closure in a remaster, the feeling that something isn't quite finished remains.
By contrast, the game's final moments are almost over finished. The ending of Mass Effect 3 has become the biggest stick to beat the game, and the series with. Despite my best efforts, the malaise around finishing the game knowing what’s to come definitely kicked in hard towards the end. The endings themselves come from the additional Extended Cut DLC, content that was originally released in 2012 (after much backlash) designed to 'fix' the ending from being a simple binary decision. Whilst this offers more choice, as opposed to the original release, it doesn't stop whatever ending you choose the game's final moments feeling like anything more than an arbitrary button push. As such, none of the endings feel remotely satisfactory. More importantly, they don't really take into account the hours of time the player has spent in this world and with these characters.
It’s easy to forget a lot of the good when the ending — regardless of your choice — is always so disappointing. The blow is lessened slightly when a) it’s been so long and b) you know it's coming, it presents a lingering “What if?” — or perhaps “If only” — in what should be a triumphant closing moment of an otherwise gargantuan trilogy of games.
Mass Effect 3 is undoubtedly worth visiting / revisiting, but keep your expectations in check. If you can overlook many of the mid-2010s design choices and forgive its lacklustre finale then you should still enjoy saving the galaxy one last time – for now.
You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!