Did Mass Effect 3 Really Deserve All Those 10/10 Review Scores?
Illusions of Choice
There are many, many great moments in which player choice in Mass Effect 3 leads to emotionally gripping, often heart-wrenching moments. If you haven’t explored all the choices at the end of the main mission on Rannoch, for example, I encourage you to do so immediately.
But for all the important moments of choice that really do matter to the way the story unfolds, there are many in Mass Effect 3 in which BioWare pretends that you’re making a meaningfully different choice, when the outcomes are really pretty much the same but with Shepard gritting her teeth more. We saw a lot of this in the demo/opening moments of the game, and a second playthrough quickly exposes the “behind-the-curtain” moments in which the game tricked you.
Don’t get me wrong — plenty of these carry some extreme emotional weight, and if your choice is actually meaningless, you might not necessarily know that, and the story works just fine. But pull the curtain back on a second playthrough and you start to see that much of Mass Effect 3 is like an old western movie set, filled with pretty facades that don’t have any buildings behind them. That kills replayability, as well as the power of being a meaningful actor in the story.
Combat and Multiplayer Issues
The combat in Mass Effect 3 is easily the best in the series, but compare it to some of the best-in-class third-person shooters out there and the flaws become readily apparent. ME3′s cover system is annoying, often causing players to hop up out of cover in order to get shot.
The real trouble is the same thing that many other cover-based TPS titles suffer from — one-button-itis. Like Gears of War, Mass Effect 3 crowds running, jumping, taking cover, leaping over cover, picking things up and interacting onto the same button. Epic Games diversified their controls some over the course of three games (though not nearly enough) to remedy that situation, but BioWare has gone in head-first to trying to make the game understand one input command for all actions. That means trying to revive a squad mate will generally make you dive clear, and picking up a much-needed heavy weapon will usually result in standing up and getting your head blown off.
Further, a game with a multiplayer mode has to be judged on that mode, and while the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer can be fun, it’s too unsubstantial to really score highly among much better multiplayer offerings in other titles. Multiplayer features more of the same combat found throughout ME3, and carries with it all the same problems — except that it includes only four maps, no story to speak of and little to keep the player engaged long-term. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but it’s certainly not 10/10 perfect.
Great, But Not Perfect
Ross Lincoln and I have spent a ton of time talking about the ending of Mass Effect 3, and while he was pretty well devastated by it, I still found 95 percent of the game to be stellar. That said, it’s far from 100-percent perfect. Nagging issues that have been present throughout Mass Effect remain, and while BioWare tried to clean up some of the messes the earlier games made in terms of gameplay systems, much of what they changed doesn’t go much beyond a surface appearance of deep role-playing integration.
The emotional weight of the game, however, shouldn’t be underplayed — and factored very heavily into my own 88/100 review of the Mass Effect 3. Lots of players will come away feeling that ME3 might be one of the greatest video game experiences they’ve ever had, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But that doesn’t make it a pristine bit of gaming, just well-created tale with transcendent moments. Seeing ME3 for its flaws helps to make well-reasoned judgments about it, and hold BioWare to the standard the Mass Effect series deserves.