Award – Best Game in Its Respective Series (Given Time and Distance)
Mass Effect 3 is the best game in the series. There, I said it.
Gone are the elevators, cookie cutter outposts, and clunky inventory management of the first game. Gone is the never-ending mineral scanning of the second game. Still present are the phenomenal story and immersion. Add to that tight, responsive combat and what you’re left with is the role-playing game that thinks it’s a third-person shooter. So much has been made of the various controversies of Mass Effect, and in particular the conclusion of the trilogy, that people tend to forget just how good the game itself is.
During the first two games, Shepard spent most of his energy warning people of the coming Reaper invasion, only to be met with skepticism and indifference. Now everyone sees that he was right all along. It’s up to Shepard to unite the largest fighting force the galaxy has ever seen to battle the greatest threat they’ve ever faced. No pressure, huh?
Mass Effect 3 is one of the few games I’ve played that actually lives up to the scale it wants to portray. This is clear from the get-go in an opening that rivals and almost eclipses the beginning to Mass Effect 2. There are no random fetch quests without any relation to the main story. There is no grinding, waiting for Shepard to become the soldier he was in the previous games. Visuals, controls, and sound design work together in such a way that you are very seldom reminded that you’re playing a game: you are in the story. You are commander Shepard. On more than a few occasions I ended up playing longer than I’d intended because the game drew me into its sense of urgency; I felt like the galaxy really did depend on what my Shepard did.
The burning question on your mind at this point is probably this: did the ending ruin the game? I’d have to say no, but then again the first time I played through it I didn’t see the ending most people did. My Shepard didn’t capitulate to anyone, and he wasn’t about to start at the conclusion of the series. (When given a choice between A, B, or C, I chose to do what my Shepard always did: start shooting)
What sticks with me now, eight months after finishing the game, is that the strengths of Mass Effect is and always was its characters. Commander Shepard, and by extension the galaxy, was on a mission, but so was everyone who journeyed with him. Garrus, Tali, Wrex, Mordin, Grunt, and Legion have earned a fond place in my memories with many other characters from books and movies I’ve read over the years. They aren’t cookie-cutter plot devices that are a means to an end, they feel like living-breathing people that rely on you, and you on them, to save the galaxy. Being a part of their victories is an emotional high, and seeing their lows genuinely tugs at your heartstrings. Mass Effect 3 isn’t a game where everyone survives war and goes home to live peace; everyone carries a wound, and that’s what sets it apart.
At the end of it all I’d say that Mass Effect was never about winning the war, it was about how well you fought the battle.