I’m not going to give any spoilers or talk about the ending (see here for that), I just want to address the story and game mechanic changes from ME2 to ME3 and give my general impressions.
There was one often asked question when Mass Effect 2 was released that’s been making the rounds again, “Should I play from the beginning or just start at 3?” My recommendation from then is as true if not more so:
You don’t have to play the first to enjoy the second, but it is a better experience having played both.
The game is much better if you’ve played both 1 and 2. There’s two entire games worth of emotional investment in the characters and events. This is one of the few video game series where I’ve laughed so much, and it’s the only game I can think of that’s made me tear up. And ME3 did it twice.
I have been consistently impressed and amazed with how many characters from previous game I ran into. I got to see how people I helped from both prior games had gotten on with their lives and what difference my Shepard’s actions had made in their situations. My only regret was that it’s been so long since I played the first game that I often had to be reminded (conveniently enough there was always an option via in-game dialog) who they were.
One disappointment for me was how few crew from either the previous two games were available to return to my ship for use on missions. The extended dialogs available on the ship are great, but there are also some awesome lines available during the missions. Of course all of the ones that were most important to me were there, but after the wide selection available in ME2, the mission team selection screen seemed a little empty.
For the most part, the combat in ME3 is the same as ME2. You have powers to set an ammo type, thermal clips to handle reloads, and a cover system.
You are no longer restricted to certain weapon types because of your class though. Instead all weapons have a weight value, and the more you carry the slower your powers recharge and become available again. I really liked this as it let my Soldier Shepard load up on several different types of weapons to handle sniping, general combat, and close range situations, and accept a hit to how fast powers became available again. Had I been playing an Adept or something similar, I could’ve gone the other route and just carried the lightest pistol possible and had super fast power recharges.
The weapon customization system has also a changed. You can add two upgrades to any weapon. Upgrades can be found on missions or purchased (either at the Citadel or through your armory once you’ve visited a Citadel store the first time). I especially liked that you could put a scope on any weapon and have a scope sight when you actually aimed it. For someone like myself, who’s not all that accurate with a sniper rifle, having a pistol with a scope and damage upgrade was really good as a high rate of fire rifle replacement.
The pace of combat has sped up. Enemies will use grenades to force you out of cover (and vice versa), so tactical movement become much more important.
Speaking of cover, I’ve read a lot of reviews complaining about the fact that going into and out of cover as well as jumping from one cover spot to another shares the same button as sprinting. While I got caught on that a few times myself, I didn’t find it frustrating. I imagine that has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t play shooters often. Mass Effect is a hybrid RPG/shooter (action?) game and as such doesn’t do either as well as a more specialized game does. Someone who doesn’t play a lot of shooters won’t notice the rough edges as much.
I was really not happy about the addition of multiplayer to the game. It felt to me like something that EA was pushing so they’d have a way to add more revenue streams, like selling multiplayer maps. After seeing some of the videos I was a little less leary of the idea though, and I tried to keep in mind the lessons I learned from ME2 that the PR tone of a game often has little to do with the tone of the game itself (such as the aweful Jack promo videos).
Just after the game released, there was a bit of drama related to War Assets versus Readiness where people were upset that you had to play the multiplayer in order to get the best ending. Basically BioWare designed the system so that for every fleet or unit you recruit to the effort to free Earth you get points. However the points are adjusted by a readiness percentage, with the idea being that the more combat practice units get the more effective they’ll be. This incentivises people to play the multiplayer, which a lot of people didn’t want to do.
For myself, I had planned to give the multiplayer a shot, and I’m super glad I did because it turned out to be a lot of fun. How much fun? My final playtime for the single player game was roughly 32 hours. My overall playtime is 66 hours (or at least it was when I wrote this), and I’ve been continuing to play even after beating the game when my Galactic Readiness doesn’t mean anything.
I’m enjoying it so much because it’s co-operative multiplayer not competitive. You’re on a four person team fighting through 11 waves of enemies. You can revive fallen comrades for a short time and anyone who gets killed before they can be revived automatically revives between the waves.
An interesting side-effect of playing the multiplayer is I’ve gotten a chance to play the non-soldier classes, and this has started me considering additional play throughs of ME3 to try out the other classes in the full game.
If you’ve loved ME1 and/or ME2 but haven’t picked up ME3, you should. I know there’s a lot of drama around the final minutes of the game but that’s 15 minutes out of 32 hours, and even then it’s a matter of personal taste. Lot’s of people like the ending, lot’s of people don’t, but there’s only one way to find out for yourself.