Monday, December 31, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Mass Effect 3

Can a computer make you cry? That was the question posed by an Electronic Arts magazine ad in 1982. It might seem like a misguided metric today, but if a game is capable of making the player cry, it shows how much the game resonated with them on an emotional level, as well as how much of themself they invested in it. Mass Effect 3 was not only the first game to make me cry, it did so twice.

Mass Effect 3 doesn’t make the same leaps in combat as Mass Effect 2 did to the first game, but it sprinkles enough improvement all-around to make combat feel varied and substantial depending on class and weapon. Besides the weight system, new melee attacks, and interesting upgrades to powers, enemies feel diverse when fighting Geth, reapers, or Cerberus troops, requiring different strategy and tactics to take each type down. Narratively, each mission in Mass Effect 3 feels grand in scope and scale. It doesn’t follow the same neat mission structure Mass Effect 2 did; this isn’t one big recruitment mission. Shepard will have a direct hand in solving problems the galaxy has faced for centuries, with consequences and outcomes that will ultimately shape the future for each alien race.

For a third game in a trilogy, there usually isn’t much surprise in the formula. However, Mass Effect 3 brought a great co-op wave based multiplayer mode into the mix that’s fast-paced and fun, whether playing solo or with friends. When originally announced, it was easy for many to jump to the conclusion of a tacked-on multiplayer devoid of any depth or longevity. But with the constant events, updates, and free downloadable content, it’s the one multiplayer game I kept coming back to, netting over 200 hours of play, more than Battlefield 3 or any Call of Duty game.

Now, let’s discuss the ending. I didn’t have the same reaction most people did upon immediately finishing Mass Effect 3. Multiple times before release BioWare talked about how Mass Effect 3 was the end of Shepard’s story. They spoke about how if there were to be more Mass Effect games, they would not center on Commander Shepard. His trilogy was over.

To me, this could only mean one of two things: Shepard was going to die, either by the hands of the reapers, or through self-sacrifice. Or Shepard would head off into the far reaches of dark space, hunting down the last remnants of reapers in the galaxy, similar to how Revan headed off into deep space at the end of the first Knights of the Old Republic.

When Shepard died at the end of Mass Effect 3, I felt satisfied. A conclusion, my conclusion, came to Shepard’s story. Finality is something many games tend to skip. Even when games do close the book on their stories, they tend to leave behind small breadcrumbs for a spin-offs or prequels. There’s no coming back for Shepard. He’s gone. Sure, there are plenty more stories that can be told in the Mass Effect universe, both before and after the core trilogy, but they won’t involve Commander Shepard. My hope is we’ll see a prequel with Anderson as the protagonist, taking place during the first contact wars with the Turians.

Despite the complex weave of player decisions ranging from the beginning of the first game, Mass Effect 3 manages pull off a connected narrative that feels both thorough and natural. From the meek introductions of characters in back alleys of the Citadel to self-sacrifices to save an entire race, Mass Effect 3 clicked with me for not only its gameplay, but also its characters and personality. Mass Effect 3 is my game of the year.

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