One third of a great space saga

When this game first came out last spring, someone asked me to describe the Mass Effect series of games in one sentence. I thought a minute and replied, “Mass Effect is the Star Wars of videogames.”

The trilogy from acclaimed developer Bioware might never yield Lego sets or terrible prequels—seriously, please, no terrible prequels—but in terms of epic, galaxy-spanning adventure, Mass Effect more than lives up to the comparison.

Over the course of all three games, players are allowed to create their own version of Commander Shepherd, a character committed to keeping order in a galaxy overflowing with chaos. Your own Shepherd can be male or female and, as with the best role-playing games, they’ll make decisions affecting their relationships with other characters and the story as a whole.

Whether righteous or morally bankrupt, Shepherd must face the same overarching challenges: becoming a Spectre, fighting the Collectors, and, in the latest installment, returning to Earth to face the Reapers.

It’s been 50,000 years since the Reapers last plagued the galaxy. During this time, the races that share the expanses of space have developed their own allegiances and enemies. Now, facing a shared threat, Shepherd must convince them to work together lest more than humanity be lost.

If you didn’t guess, story still rules Mass Effect 3. The depth of the various plotlines will have fans of series like Game of Thrones and Lost salivating. If keeping up with a dozen relationships between friends and foes is your thing, this game won’t disappoint.

Those who aren’t compelled by the game’s role-playing aspects can instead focus on the action. You still need to partake in conversations to guide the story, but you don’t have to dive in completely. However, putting the RPG aspects of the game on the back burner limits the game’s impact. This isn’t Gears of War, and the story is what keeps the action interesting. Play it as you will, but be aware of what you might be missing.

No matter how you choose to play, once you get to the action, you need some skill to survive. Enemy AI is sharp. Your foes work together to overwhelm you—not just with firepower, but with their tactics. When you find yourself flanked or cut off from support, you’ll need some solid strategy—and a good bit of skill—to overcome threats. Fortunately, the AI for your teammates is equally strong, so you won’t face the onslaught alone.

Of course, the graphics and sound live up to the series’ high standards. Though the game’s look and feel aren’t a marked improvement from Mass Effect 2, fans won’t be disappointed.

Herein lies the problem with the Wii U version of the game: it’s unlikely that those who played the first two installments of the series will be picking this up on Wii U. They’ve probably played the 360 or PC versions already, and even the PS3 finally received the whole trilogy earlier this month.

So who exactly is Mass Effect 3: Special Edition for?

Well, if you’ve been curious about the series and haven’t had a system to play it on then this is your chance to jump in—albeit two-thirds of the way through the story. There’s a comic book-style “previously on Mass Effect” feature that will allow you to catch up with the story, but it isn’t the same as playing through them and crafting your own saga from the get go.

There are also a few nice features provided by the Wii U GamePad. First and foremost is the ability to view maps with enemy locations on the GamePad screen. You can also survey your team and plan your strategy without having to flip through menus on the main screen. Plus, the ability to play the game on the GamePad while your partner watches TV is still one of the Wii U’s best features, and one that cannot be minimized. Still, I’m looking forward to the second generation of Wii U games that make better use of the console’s big selling point.

Significantly, those who play the game on the Wii U need not worry about the game’s original, abysmal ending. The revised ending, which Bioware released after fans charged the developer with virtual torches and pitchforks, is better, though still not perfect, and is included here by default.

As with the versions on other systems, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition features one significant addition to the series: multiplayer. While completely ancillary to the single-player mission, multiplayer gives players an opportunity to earn more experience and explore a portion of  the Mass Effect universe with friends.  At this time, multiplayer is limited to a single mode with six stages. Much like the Horde mode from Gears of War, players must face waves of enemies that only have destruction in mind.

Multiplayer adds its share of excitement to the game, but it can’t hold a candle to the single-player offerings. It doesn’t fail, but it feels out of place, and developers should have postponed it to the franchise’s inevitable next installment.

Overall, Mass Effect 3 concludes the trilogy in grand fashion. And though not required, I recommend players grab the first two installments before giving this one a try. This trilogy deserves to be experienced in its entirety.

SUMMARY: Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is the same game as previously released on other systems, but the first two games of the series are glaringly absent from the Wii U. To make up for that, the developer included a motion comic to catch players up on the previous story. It’s lacking, but what can you do? Other Wii U enhancements include the ability to view maps, enemy locations and party status on the GamePad, which is extremely useful. All in all, Mass Effect 3 is a great RPG and deserves to be played. If this is your only option, then by all means, have at it. But if you can play the first two games first, that’s still the best way to experience this grand saga.

  • THE GOOD: The additional functions assigned to the GamePad really streamline the game.
  • THE BAD: The revised ending really isn’t that much better than the original.
  • THE UGLY: Using the motion comic to learn about the first two games is like hearing about Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back from your drunk uncle Phil before going to see Return of the Jedi. 

SCORE: 9.0

Mass Effect 3 is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, and Wii U. Primary version reviewed was on the Wii U. To read our review of the Xbox 360 version, click here.


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About Marc Camron

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Marc somehow survived E3. The crowds were big, the games were loud and somehow he managed to get a sunburn on the top of his big, bald melon. Yet, despite all of this, he had a blast, seeing people he only sees once a year, playing all of the new games, and staying up way past his bedtime. Next year he might even have a beer. Find him on Twitter @RkyMtnGmr