Revisiting Mass Effect 3

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the Mass Effect franchise. I played through the trilogy back when it was released, and ever since the release of Legendary Edition, I’ve been running through it again.

This recent playthrough has taught me something interesting: I like Mass Effect 3. I like it a lot.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t think badly of ME3. I didn’t like the ending at first, but the Extended Cut DLC went a long way to fixing that. It always occupied a middle ground in my head, though–Mass Effect was the clumsy first effort that stuck out as the worst of trilogy, Mass Effect 2 was the perfect middle chapter where the universe clicked into place and the mission design was unparalleled, and Mass Effect 3 was somewhere in between. Not bad, but not as ascendant as 2.

Replaying the trilogy, though, has been a bit of an education. The first game (though still the weakest by far) does a lot of worldbuilding that I’d ascribed to the latter two; for instance, it tells you stuff about the geth that I thought wasn’t revealed until much later. The series as a whole is more… problematic than I was conscious of back in high school. And the third game is a much stronger entry than I gave it credit for.

There’s a chaotic energy to Mass Effect 3 that I really love. You can feel the desperation as Shepard rushes around from star system to star system, trying to gather allies for an impossible fight. The character starts to run ragged in the narrative, and it really makes you understand why. You’re flying around the galaxy doing the impossible, and it feels hard even if the gameplay itself isn’t.

Speaking of gameplay, it’s even slicker here than it was in Mass Effect 2. There’s a huge array of weapons and powers to choose from, and cover, gunplay, and movement are noticeably smoother than in previous entries.

Playing all three games back to back also drives home what a good job 3 does of delivering on threads started in earlier games. That’s not always true, of course; the rachni resolution is a little sloppy. On the other hand, getting emails and war assets tied to seemingly minor choices you made two games ago is amazing. Did you save the colony of Zhu’s Hope? Cool, now you get to add a psychic fighting force to your war assets. Did you convince Jack to spare the the guy looking to restart experiments on Pragia during her loyalty mission? Keep an eye out for an email explaining how that dude saved a bunch of civilians from a Reaper attack. There’s so much stuff that I didn’t notice when playing the games years apart.

It’s also nice to have all the game’s DLC from the get-go. I remember being unimpressed by Leviathan and Omega when they initially came out, but playing them again now, I really like them (well, mostly; Nyreen’s death is still bullshit). They play much better when they’re part of the story, instead of hurried through months after beating the game.

There’s just so much to like here. I love the sense of impending doom, honestly; every time I head out to the Galaxy Map and see several new systems overtaken by Reapers, I get a little chill of excitement. It consistently raises the stakes in a way that I appreciate. At the same time, it’s kind of the most hopeful game in the franchise–yes, there’s a war for the fate of the galaxy, but the things you can do. You can cure the Genophage. You can broker peace between quarians and geth. You can do the impossible, and it’s inspiring.

The missions are also great; the main path has you doing awesome stuff like kicking Cerberus goons off the Citadel and pitting a Reaper against the queen of the thresher maws. The sidequests usually feature cameos from beloved characters, wrapping up their stories before the big finale. It’s all phenomenal.

I’m really glad I’m playing through ME3 again. It does so much right; I feel bad that it was overshadowed by the controversy around the ending. Is it a perfect game? No. There are some narrative choices I’m not crazy about, especially near the end, and overall I think the timeline is too compressed to make a lot of sense (I really wish there were a timeskip or two so the Crucible took a few years to build instead of, what, a handful of months?). But it’s a damn good game, and I think it might actually be my favorite in the series.

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