A major change is that any class can now use any weapon. In Mass Effect 2, the Sentinel could only use pistols and machine pistols, but now they can equip assault rifles, sniper rifles, and heavy weapons. They've balanced this decision out with the weight system. The more guns you take into battle with you, the slower your tech and biotic powers will recharge. We made a habit of only ever taking an assault rifle with us, because there's always plenty of ammo, and it increased our recharge speed by almost 200%.
It's not just enemies you'll be fighting; Shepard has his own morals to wrestle with too. Cleverly, the game's choices are tied into the war assets system. Do you sacrifice a colony to get a fleet of volus bombers on your side? Do you use your influence to free a dangerously violent criminal from prison in order to recruit her mercenary gang? You're constantly torn between increasing the power of your army, and sticking to your personal beliefs.
One choice in particular, towards the end of the story, was one of the most difficult we've ever had to make in a game. There are two sides to take, and just when you think you've settled on one, the game throws something at you to make you reconsider - and keeps doing so over the course of an hour, toying with your moral compass. It's hard to convey how effective moments like this are without revealing anything specific, but if you're invested in this world and these characters, some of the decisions you're forced to make will hit you hard.
FRIENDS IN NEED
It's not all big, universe-changing events, though. The writers have done an excellent job with the small stuff too; the quiet, reflective moments where the characters open themselves up. Between missions, exploring the Normandy and the Citadel will see you running into your companions and talking about how the Reaper invasion and the mission is affecting them.
These discussions are touching, subtle and funny, giving you a welcome mental break from the desperate chaos of the Reaper invasion. As well as returning characters including Ashley Williams, Kaidan Alenko and Liara T'Soni from the original Mass Effect, there are a few new cast members. One of the best is an old friend from Mass Effect 2 who appears in a very different form (that's all we can say), while James Vega, an Alliance soldier, is surprisingly likeable, despite looking like a Jersey Shore extra.
There are some other distractions too, like buying fish for the tank in your quarters, or collecting model ships. Scanning is back, but you won't be spending hours slowly dragging a crosshair over planets looking for minerals. Instead, you have to explore Reaper-controlled systems to rescue survivors and acquire more war assets for Shepard's army. When you enter a system, you can scan the immediate area. If you pick up a signal, you can then scan the planet and pick up war assets, or quest items.
The problem is, the Reapers are alerted whenever you use your scanner, so you can only use it two or three times before you hear their telltale mechanical growl, and they come swarming after you in a tense game of galactic cat and mouse. If they touch you, it's game over.
The instant death is fairly pointless, as you can reload to when you first entered the system without penalty, but this new system is far less tedious than the mining was. There's still a percentage rating for each system, so completists can keep track of how many war assets they have, or haven't recovered.
That feeling of freedom and adventure - of being in command of your own starship, exploring a vast galaxy - is as intoxicating as ever. If you're the kind of gamer who values storytelling, atmosphere and immersion above everything else, this game is laser-targeted at you - and if you don't, it's still a brilliant sci-fi cover shooter in its own right.
END OF AN ERA
It's a fitting end to the trilogy, although it's not the leap that Mass Effect 2 was from the original. There's a lot of new content, and the combat is superior, but it still has the same rhythm and general feel of the last game. That's an incredibly minor gripe, though. Mass Effect 2 is one of this generation's best games, so the similarity is no bad thing. It's iteration rather than repetition.
We're not sure where BioWare will take Mass Effect next, but we're glad that Shepard's story has been given the closure it deserves. Closure that, depending on the choices you make and how strong your army is, will either leave you teary-eyed with joy, or tinged with melancholy. Few endings are so powerful.
Need tips, cheats and guides? You need our Complete Mass Effect 3 Scanning Guide - and How To Get The Perfect Ending tips, our 10 Essential Tips For Saving The Galaxy in Mass Effect 3, our expert Mass Effect 3 Class Guide or our tour of Mass Effect 3's Normandy.
Tough choices that test your morals to the limit, richer combat, and a haunting ending make this an unforgettable end to the series.
- A thrilling, unpredictable story
- Addictive new war assets system
- Dozens of possible ending alternatives
- Not a huge leap from Mass Effect 2
- Overwhelmingly bleak at times