Approaching zero hour with the Reapers, one update at a time.
March 1, 2012
Few games come with the amount of hype Mass Effect 3 has swirling around it. As the culmination of BioWare's epic sci-fi RPG trilogy, Mass Effect 3 hasn't garnered this groundswell in an artificial way. Rather, anticipation steadily sits at a fever pitch because the previous installments -- Mass Effect, and especially Mass Effect 2 -- rate amongst the best games ever made. And in many ways, Mass Effect 3 has set the bar even higher as the worthy conclusion to one of the finest stories ever told in gaming history, even if it's still admittedly imperfect.
Mass Effect 3 throws you back into the role of Commander Shepard, the first human Spectre that has, at this point in the story, gone above and beyond proving his (or her) commitment to galactic order. After reluctantly working for the xenophobic human-first organization Cerberus and jumping through the Omega-4 Mass Relay to fight the Collectors at the center of the Milky Way in Mass Effect 2, Shepard's greatest challenge still lies ahead.
Once considered the stuff of lore, the Reapers rear their heads in our own backyard. Having returned to the galaxy after a 50,000 year hiatus, the Reapers conduct an all-out assault on the galaxy's organic life. Earth itself suffers heavy bombardment as Mass Effect 3 begins, with millions suffering and dying daily. Your task: fight back, not only for Earth and humanity, but for all galactic races that find themselves simultaneously under siege.
Shepard and his allies aren't nearly strong enough to combat the Reapers' planet-sacking death squads on their own. The earlier Mass Effect games focused on exploring the galaxy as you complete quests, building up your reputation and ultimately careening headlong into the endgame. Mass Effect 3 has all of that too, and it's all conducted through the lens of truly consequential, wide-ranging decision-making. This brings yet again an exceptionally plot-heavy slant to a series already deeply reliant on amazing story-telling.
The Reapers pose an existential threat to life in the galaxy, forcing Shepard to navigate through tricky territory wrought with age-old grudges, conflicts and old-fashioned hatred in order to get all affected parties to work together. The Krogans hate the Salarians and Turians because of the Genophage, while the Quarians have waged war with their rogue machines, the Geth, for hundreds of years. Conflicts like this exist everywhere. The challenge before Shepard lies in his ability to get all of these races -- and many others -- allied in order to fight the Reapers as one united front. This represents the galaxy's only hope in defeating their overwhelmingly powerful adversaries.
Accomplishing such feats of diplomacy resides at the heart of Mass Effect 3. Gone are the loyalty quests of Mass Effect 2; things aren't quite as personal this time around. Shepard must still make a staggering number of choices in conversation, and how he treats those around him heavily affects the game's outcome. He'll still make friends and enemies, have personal conversations and learn a great deal more about those he encounters. And the more time you spend speaking to others and exploring everyone's stories, the more you'll extract from the game.
But now, the galaxy's problems are greater, and Shepard must think bigger. By helping out individuals, militaries, governments and entire races, Shepard will collect War Assets and form a higher and higher level of Galactic Readiness. These will become integral to the success or failure of Mass Effect 3's endgame, and bring an entirely new slant to the series, one that's both welcome and fresh.