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I finally finished Mass Effect 3 at around three o’clock this morning and I’ve never felt this conflicted over a game before. On one hand, you have this utterly amazing game 99% of the time that’s a vast improvement over the previous two instalments. Unfortunately, it’s that 1% right at the very end that puts a massive damper on what could easily have been one of the best games ever made.

Before getting to the ending, I think it’s important to go into more depth on just how excellent the game is besides. So much is improved upon and refined. The way in which you explore the galaxy and collect resources (in this case War Assets, salvage and fuel) is easily the best of the trilogy. Gone is the repetitive Mako missions and tedious planet scanning. Instead, you scan the system and outrun Reapers who detect and chase after you. Perhaps the best thing about the War Assets is that they give even the most mundane side-quests a sense of weight and importance that they didn’t have before. It actually feels like you’re making a difference.

The weapon customisation makes a welcome return as well. Though not as extensive as in Mass Effect 1, it’s a system that works better. You get upgrades but you aren’t left with the older versions of those upgrades, it replaces them. You also have a weight limit, restricting the weapons you can take with you on missions, meaning you have to think about your equipment, rather than just give yourself the most powerful weapons.

I’m also rather fond of the soundtrack for the game. As disappointing as the departure of Jack Wall is and the fact that Clint Mansell is only responsible for two tracks, Sam Hulick. Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan do a great job on the rest of the score, though I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t have been nice to see what Mansell could have done if given a free-reign.

As for the gameplay, that’s been upgraded nicely. I was worried when playing the demo that it had become clunkier, but I found myself pleasantly surprised at how fluid it felt in the final product. It’s not changed all that much from Mass Effect 2, but I didn’t think it really needed to; they’ve just improved on a winning formula.

The highlight of the game for me is the character moments. There are lots of them littered throughout the game and the emotions they generate can leave you crying or laughing. The new characters are also done very well. James Vega, contrary to my earlier expectations, is actually a decent character. Secondary characters like Cortez, your shuttle pilot, and Samantha Traynor, the replacement for Kelly Chambers, are great additions with a good deal of depth to them. Plus, they finally have crew interaction on the Normandy, either by commlink or by visiting them in their quarters. It adds an extra dimension to life aboard the Normandy where people aren’t separate but do in fact talk to each other, in some cases even forming relationships together.

Really, this game would be damned near perfect if not for the ending. Now, I’m not going to be like some people and say that it ruined the game for me. I cannot stress enough how fantastic the game is prior to the last fifteen minutes. It just makes no sense and there’s a real lack of closure, a quite literal deus ex machina plot device and plot holes you could fly the Citadel through. It’s incredibly lazy writing on Bioware’s behalf and I can’t believe that it was okayed by management. It’s not even that it’s a sad or tragic ending. I could deal with that. Instead, you’re left remarkably unfulfilled and with a very bitter taste in your mouth.

What is so disappointing is that it’s such a lost opportunity. If the ending had been done that bit better then Bioware could pat themselves on the back for creating probably the best video game trilogy ever made. Now, with the fan backlash generated by the ending, they’re left in a difficult place. Do they release some DLC to alter the ending to provide something more palatable for fans à la Fallout 3? Personally, I think that’s what they were planning from the beginning. The ending is left highly ambiguous and gives ample scope to be able to retcon. Of course this will generate backlash from those who liked the ending as well as from those who hated it, seeing it as profiteering from fan anger as I’d be amazed if it was free.

Ultimately, Mass Effect 3 goes from the sublime to the ridiculous at a rapid pace of knots. Does it deserve the merciless bashing it’s getting across the internet and the precipitously small user scores on the likes of Metacritic? No. Is it as good as it could be? Definitely not.

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