Release Date: March 6, 2012
Publisher: EA
ESRB Rating: Mature

Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter in BioWare’s epic space opera. The Reaper threat that’s loomed over the first two installments in the series comes to fruition in the opening sequence of the trilogy’s conclusion. Earth is one of the first systems to fall under siege and it is hit hard. Amidst the carnage, we find series protagonist Shepherd doing his best to survive. He’s quickly reinstated by Admiral Anderson and Admiral Hackett (Shepherd was relieved of duty following the aftermath of Mass Effect 2 and its DLC), and he is tasked with unifying the other races in the galaxy in opposition to the Reapers’ attack.

In one of the earliest missions, Shepherd is reconnected with former teammate Liara, who has discovered blueprints to a Prothean device that may have the power to destroy the Reapers once and for all. Construction on the device, codenamed “The Crucible,” begins right away, and most of the game revolves around Shepherd and the rest of the Normandy‘s crew seeking out crucial components, especially “The Catalyst,” which The Crucible won’t function without.

On top of all this, Shepherd is battling an old ally in the form of the pro-human organization Cerberus. Their leader, the Illusive Man, is hell-bent on controlling the Reapers instead of destroying them, and is in search of The Catalyst as well, to promote this goal. If this weren’t enough, many of the galaxy’s other sentient races are reluctant to divert resources in the defense of the humans, forcing Shepherd to assist them in various ways to earn their promises of assistance against the Reapers attacking Earth.

One of the most satisfying aspects of ME3 is its fan service. Throughout the course of the game you’ll not only encounter nearly every notable character from the first two games, you’ll finally get closure to many of the recurring issues throughout the course of the series. For instance, whether or not to cure the Krogan genophage once and for all, or who to assist when the Quarians start a war with the Geth are just a couple of the decisions you’ll have to make as you prepare a galaxy for war.

Overall gameplay is very similar to previous Mass Effect titles, incorporating a combination of space exploration and third person shooting. The exploring and resource gathering has been shifted away from the tedious planet scanning from the first title, and instead uses a system not unlike sonar. A ping is sent out from the Normandy, and if there’s anything notable in the area it’s highlighted on the navigation map. Watch out though, too many pings and the Reapers will come to investigate the source of the scans, forcing you to flee the system for a time. Resources you gather go to the war effort, and your diligence in this matter will determine the Alliance fleet’s overall battle readiness.

As far as the shooting sequences go, the cover system has been improved, making it easier to advance on targets without exposing yourself to too much enemy fire. The friendly AI seems smarter, taking up flanking positions automatically and doing a fair job of protecting themselves. Enemy AI is similarly improved. They use their cover smartly, and some units will try to fall back if you charge forward for a melee attack, or attempt to outflank you if you hold one position for too long. This makes some of the enemies quite formidable, especially on the hard difficulty setting. In the end though, these are only tweaks to already established gameplay. If you enjoyed the firefights in ME2, you’ll find more of the same here, just smarter and sometimes on a grander scale.

The only real gripe I have with the game is the ending. In fact, after hearing several complaints about Mass Effect 3‘s conclusion, I was half tempted to write this review before finishing the game. With 25+ hours in, I had a pretty high opinion of the experience to that point and didn’t want to tarnish that. I thought better of it however, and went ahead and finished the game. Although it wasn’t as bad as I had prepared myself for it to be, it was disappointing. Ultimately this had to do with the stunted, cookie-cutter closing cinematic however, and not a deficiency in the nature of the ending itself.

If you haven’t played a Mass Effect game before, this is probably not the place to start. In fact if you haven’t played a Mass Effect game before, I’m surprised you’ve made it to this paragraph. All this talk of Reapers and Quarians, Krogans and Crucibles must be dizzying. If you’re a PS3 owner you should start with ME2, as it eases you into the mythology of the game at an easy to digest pace. Also because the first Mass Effect title was, and still is, exclusive to the 360.