GAME PLAY: Mass Effect 3’ ends series on a high note

All good things must come to an end.

Such is the case with Bioware’s critically acclaimed “Mass Effect” trilogy — a futuristic, spacefaring epic depicting the intergalactic ventures of Commander Shepard. In “Mass Effect 3” the Reapers, a race of synthetically organic starships hellbent on wiping out the majority of life in the galaxy, have finally landed and it’s up to Shepard to form an intergalactic army to stop them.

The build-up for this final showdown has been culminating ever since the release of the original “Mass Effect” in 2007, and now, half a decade later, the series concludes in dramatic, satisfactory fashion.

What has set the “Mass Effect” series apart from most others has been its heavy emphasis and execution of storytelling and unmatched continuity and consequence of player action throughout each entry. Like the two games before it, players in “Mass Effect 3” make decisions and uncover information through a very robust dialogue wheel in conversation, with many of these decisions having far-reaching consequences. The fact that the game has 16 different endings should indicate just how deep and varied these decisions can be.

The final game in the trilogy has improved upon the others in almost every single way.  While the changes from “Mass Effect 2” to “Mass Effect 3” are more marginal than those from “Mass Effect” to “Mass Effect 2,” they are noticeable and plentiful enough to create a greater overall experience.

Shepard is much more mobile this time around and even able to do some limited platforming. He’ll effortlessly switch between cover positions, combat roll, climb ladders, jump over gaps and vault over obstacles, making firefights and exploration much more visceral and interactive. The downside to this however is that every one of these maneuvers, as well as a few others, are all mapped to the same button. As you can imagine this may occasionally cause players to perform actions they weren’t intending to do, and in dire situations can even cause a few deaths that could have been otherwise avoided.

Character advancement is more robust as well.  Players will once again choose from a list of specialized classes each with an assortment of unique abilities to be used in battle. Like previously, players spend points accrued through level advancement into these abilities, but unlike previously, almost every advancement presents two different options to upgrade the ability, as opposed to before when this only applied to the final tiers. This results in a greater range of customization.

Furthering the customization is the very detailed weapon upgrade system. Almost every piece of each weapon can be swapped and upgraded to provide a multitude of different bonuses.

Space exploration is back and also improved. Gone are the days of tediously scanning every inch of the planet for resources. The ordeal is much more streamlined now, and instead of resources for upgrades these endeavors now yield what are called war assets.

War assets, obtained primarily through planet scanning and questing, are used to quantify the readiness of you and your companions for the last battle. Go into the fight underdeveloped and your experience will be dramatically different than a well prepared completionist.

One of the biggest contributors to the greatness of “Mass Effect 3” is its sense of scale. These Reapers aren’t chumps, and some of the battles and set pieces are massive, epic, and a blast you won’t soon forget. There’s something about dodging the death rays of a 200 foot  machine while simaltaenously dispatching it’s formmidable foot minions that sticks to memory.

Kinect owners have the option of performing many of the game’s actions with voice commands.  While far from infallible, voice commands can be convenient for those who wish to stay in the action and avoid having to rely on the radial wheels for using abilities by you and your teammates that exceed the allotted mappable buttons.

If storytelling isn’t your thing and you’d rather focus on the combat, or if you’re the opposite and would rather rush past the fighting and focus on story, either option is available. When players choose a new game from scratch they are given the choice of play style, with the former preference given as the “action” option, the ladder being “narrative,” and the default, “role-playing,” being a mix of the two that plays the same as the first two games.

Alternatively, players may import their characters from a completed “Mass Effect 2” saved game and have the appearance and decisions of that character carried over. Bioware claims that over 1,000 decisions are transferred, creating a prominent butterfly effect that really gives ownership and weight to previously made choices.

“Mass Effect 3” is by far the best in the series, and aside from a few mechanical impediments is an excellent play through and through. Look for it to appear as a candidate on many “Game of the Year” lists.