The bronze medal for Midlife Gamer’s Game of the Year goes to Bioware’s Mass Effect 3. It was a thrilling conclusion to the story, mired in much controversy owing to that ending, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
So is Mass Effect ‘our’ Star Wars? A brilliantly constructed and realised future brought to life over three 40 hour plus games, along with novelised spin offs and an anime, it tells the story of Commander John Shepherd, soldier, lover and the Citadel shopping mall’s number one voice over artiste. Set almost 200 years in the future, the universe of Mass Effect is connected by a series of Mass Relay’s that act as warp points across space that facilitate fast travel, and built by the Reapers. The Reapers themselves are an almost unstoppable force, with vastly superior technology, they return to our Universe every 50,000 years to harvest all sentient life.
We’ll keep this mostly spoiler free. Following on from the events in Mass Effect 2’s final DLC ‘Arrival’, ME3 begins with the Reapers reaching Earth. Cue lots of Inception styled ‘BRAAAAP’ noises and a whole lot of destruction, Our hero Shepherd leaves Earth in the Normandy to round up many former allies and familiar faces, as he sets about forging new alliances with old enemies and building a pan Universal fleet to take on the Reapers. Shepherd doesn’t only have the Reapers to contend with, but also the synthetic race the Geth, and the Pro Human organisation Cerberus led by the Illusive Man, voiced again by Martin Sheen.
The game was well supported with post game single player DLC adding more missions and background to a story that you had likely already finished. Indeed, this is a common problem, LA Noire springs to mind in a similar way. You’ve already seen how the story ends, yet you find yourself reloading to an earlier time, where your protagonist certainly hasn’t reached his final destiny.
However, more controversial was the inclusion of day one DLC that introduced a significant new character and that it could be argued should have been in the game in the first place. This though, was nothing compared to the shit storm that blew up as people started to complete the game.
As in any good RPG, a game driven by player choice and whose decisions are carried over from one game to the next, makes Shepherd ‘your’ Shepherd. And yet the ending felt like a let-down for so many, as all the hundred plus hours you had invested in the series, all the decisions you had made about who lived and who died, ultimately came down to one final decision. That nobody liked much. Such was the debacle at the time, Bioware agreed to construct a free of charge Directors Cut ending that added additional cut scenes and did much flesh out the gaps that players thought were missing. The series makers had always said that Mass Effect was Shepherds story so his/her fate shouldn’t come us too much of a surprise come the end of the game. Well, unless you played a ton of the multiplayer, and your effective military strength rating was at maximum.
The multiplayer portion of Mass Effect 3 deserves a special mention and was quite frankly a fantastic game in its own right. A horde based shooter with customisable characters; it would see you defending a particular base after it had been liberated by Shepherd in the main game. As your character progressed, they could be converted into war assets that would help you get the best ending for the single player campaign. Again, this was really well supported after launch with lots of free map packs and enhancements and objective based weekends. There are still plenty of people playing it, and if you’ve never tried it, you really should.
Perhaps I’m focusing too much on the negative side of things. Mass Effect 3 achieved a Metacritic rating of 93 and marked the conclusion of a trilogy that set out to accomplish much and it did it very well. In a year that games really did start to form strong emotional bonds with the player, I for one can’t wait to see what Casey Hudson and the team at Bioware do with the franchise next.