Did Mass Effect 3 Really Deserve All Those 10/10 Review Scores?
I’ve spent the last 10 days of my life thinking about Mass Effect 3. Having written one review of the game and finding myself knee-deep in a second (one for the console version, one for the available-later PC version), I’m a little puzzled by the number of glowing reviews the game has picked up.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very clear reasons why Mass Effect 3 can be considered a masterpiece. It includes some moments of incredible brilliance: a mix of spectacular set pieces, long scenes of phenomenal character development, and largely some of the most satisfying plot-line conclusions ever set down in a storytelling franchise. Discussions of the final 10 minutes notwithstanding, the game really does have moments of incredible catharsis, masterful storytelling and real, true emotional resonance. BioWare is to be commended on a lot of points with the story it brings to the conclusion of its popular and expansive trilogy.
But 10 out of 10, or 100 out of a possible 100? Did we play the same game? Because while Mass Effect 3 is definitely a strong game and fun to play, it’s not without its considerable, numerous flaws that seriously detract from the title. Mass Effect 3 deserves a high score, but a perfect one? Definitely not.
RPG System Smoke and Mirrors
The biggest letdown of Mass Effect 3 is the supposed return of RPG systems. While Mass Effect was inundated with inventory management and weapon decisions to the point of being bogged down and Mass Effect 2 stripped out both in favor of a leaner gameplay experience that disappointed RPG fans, ME3 was meant to combine both approaches into a system that actually worked. And for a while, it seemed pretty useful.
But a few of the systems appear to be more useful than they actually ever are. Weapon modding is the biggest culprit. Each weapon type gains five different mods, and across every weapon, they’re basically the same: damage upgrade, ammo extension, weight reduction, and so on. Trouble is, these mods are never really that useful. Most players will find that snapping a scope and a barrel extension on every single gun they carry works just fine, and while there are lots of mods to find in the game, they’re all better versions of the five basic mods you can get for every gun. Once your mods are in place, there really isn’t a lot of necessity or incentive to continually re-spec your weapons for varying situations.
The same is pretty true for character development. BioWare added perk choices as players developed their powers, requiring them to make decisions between upgrading damage or upgrading recharge time, for example. While there are some definite pluses to the system — it does require players to think about what they’re choosing and why — the player has to really work to spec a character in a way that would promote a serious adjustment in play style. Picking a 10 percent damage boost to biotic push over 25 percent faster recharge just doesn’t translate to much of a gameplay shift on the battlefield.