For a game that previously denied any sort of gay gameplay, Mass Effect has made a major 180 with the third (and final) installment in the series. I mean, the galaxy can be saved by a giant penis, you can romance any gender, and (SPOILER ALERT) one of the possible endings is Adam and Steve (and some other dude) in a place very much like the Garden of Eden. Let’s give a big, gay hooray! All this, however, is just rainbow sprinkles on the icing of the delicious confection that is Mass Effect 3.
If you’ve played any of the other Mass Effect games and transferred your saves to the third installment, this game is going to take you through some heart-wrenching situations that will pry tears from your eyes and cheers from your lips. The galaxy is at war, a war it cannot win, and the game pulls no punches. People die, cultures are decimated, and worlds are shattered. Your character, Shepherd, has been fighting this war for a while, with a few companions, and the galaxy has ignored his warnings. Shepherd has seen friends die and so has the player, and these weren’t just red shirts; they were fully fleshed, living beings you’ve spent hours with (at least 60, if you played the first two games). Shepherd has reached out and touched every part of this galaxy in big and small ways. You have done this, too, and Mass Effect 3 has not forgotten, and it will show you the progression. It is fantastic and tragic and beautiful. Whether in small conversations or bombastic battle scenes, the story is your story.
Even if you’ve never played Mass Effect before, the game is very welcoming, allowing you to play as you like. Not good or not interested in shooters? Then play it in story mode, where battles are much simpler. Bored with cut scenes and decision trees? Play in action mode. Like chocolate in your peanut butter? Then play it in role play, where you get to do both. Add in different difficulty levels within these choices, plus six character classes that all play very differently. The game loves you for who you are. Everyone gets different variations of the main story, based on if and how they played before. Even neophytes get a compelling story. There is also cooperative multiplayer in which you play as soldiers fighting the war against the Reapers, which is connected to your single player experience.
The game looks great, the locales are varied and interesting: moody space ships, lush jungles, the red sands of Mars. It’s breathtaking. And the Shepherd you make, male or female, looks fantastic and stars in every scene. The voice acting is top notch and the music very effective. All around, the game is solid and a pleasure for most of your senses (though I haven’t tasted it, so…).
If ever I were to use a tapestry metaphor, I would have to with this game. It blends character choices from at least 45 hours of gameplay, weaving in companions with humanity, personality and emotion, as well as meaningful character customization that allows you multiple ways to play. Along the way, themes of friendship, heroism, war and family are artfully joined with a stunning art style and beautiful sound into a living, breathing universe that is a wonder to explore. You know, like a really cool tapestry…only with war and pathos and stuff. Mass Effect 3 is a vision of what video games can be, emotionally and mentally engaging, and a whole lot of fun.
Frag Dean is a podcaster on Silly Frags, available on iTunes, Sticher and sillyfrags.com.