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Last week was the one year anniversary for EA and Bioware’s Mass Effect 3. It was the highly anticipated conclusion of an epic trilogy that lasted the whole console generation, but the game has been through alot this past year. Personally for me, it was the ending for a memorable cast of characters that I was emotionally attached to for six years. The franchise itself did set new standards for the genre and storytelling, but not without some hurdles especially with this last iteration. It received our award for best post-release content last year and deservedly so today especially with last week’s release of the Citadel DLC, the last piece of new content for the game. We take a look back on Mass Effect 3 in the past year from its triumphs and controversies (There will be spoilers, so you are warned if you haven’t beaten the game or its DLC yet).
Mass Effect 3 was mostly about finishing the war against the Reapers as they launched a ferocious attack on the Earth. Commander Shepard knows what it takes to defeat them considering he was the only one that warned everyone that they are coming and coming hard. The structure of this game followed a similar path to Mass Effect 2 as Shepard had to gather a crew of new and old squadmates to help him win the fight against the Reapers. Following a similar structure to the last game at the time felt like a flaw and still is today since BioWare was not willing to go outside the box. Instead they had to cater a little more to the popular shooter crowd, but still managed to keep the RPG elements intact. That is why some still love the first game over the other two because it was Bioware being Bioware before having to attract those who love playing Halo or Call of Duty.
Despite the journey still be a satisfying one with Shepard and his crew, Mass Effect 3’s ending was the subject of controversy in the gaming world for several months. Fans of the series were disappointed how the whole trilogy ended because all the choices you made throughout the three games were basically thrown out of the window for this one and final decision. The three endings: control, destroy, and synthesis, had minor differences to the point they were divided to just three colors. The last scene had its share of differences in terms of which of your crew survived and that was it at the time. Numerous theories such as the infamous indoctrination theory came out on the internet about the game’s ending, but Bioware themselves had enough of the angry e-mails, forum posts, and disappointment by releasing the Extended Cut DLC this summer. It was a crazy move altering a game’s ending because of fan outcry and there was nothing else like that in the game industry in recent times. The Extended Cut was able to fix most of the issues with the ending with extended epilogue cutscenes of what happened to the crew and a little more explanation of Shepard’s big decision before making it.
Four pieces of downloadable content rounded out the whole Mass Effect 3 package. From Ashes was the first piece that came out the same week as the game’s launch and it should of been in the main game in the first place because it included a playable character once it was completed. Javik the Prothean was a great addition to the cast of squadmates and actually one of the regular guys I use in missions. His perspective on the war and his species were also worthwhile, but maybe it was EA’s decision it had to be DLC that players get on its launch week. After the Extended Cut, Leviathan was the first big single player DLC post-release featuring a heavy bit of story that crucial to the finale. It had more background on the Reaper threat even though it was about finding a key weapon that is supposed to be the whole answer to the Reaper problem. Last fall was the release of the Omega DLC featuring more combat than story and it was arguably the weakest of the three. Last week, the last piece of DLC for the game came out and it was designed as a farewell for Shepard and crew at the Citadel, which you can read my hands-on impressions of it here. Out of the all the single player downloadable content for Mass Effect 3, you can pass on Omega, but From Ashes, Leviathan, and Citadel should not be missed.
When multiplayer was announced for the game, many including me were skeptical how would this fit in a Mass Effect game. Fortunately, it was not your typical competitive multiplayer seen in most shooters, but surprisingly a great take on the co-op horde mode formula that was first famous in Gears of War 2. It also had a pivotal role in the campaign in some ways in which you can promote characters to the war against the Reapers, this game’s version of the prestige concept seen in the Call of Duty games, and win back regions that are in enemy control. Back when Mass Effect 3 came out, there was a decent number of classes playable in multiplayer, but now there way more classes to play. As multiplayer DLC packs came out and all of them were free, the classes have more variety in terms of powers compared to Shepard’s campaign. These classes are also more fun to play as well. Bioware was also consistently updating multiplayer with balance patches, new maps on the DLC packs, and weekend challenges that kept players busy.
Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer model for the time was not only unique, but it became a new standard for EA games thanks to the addition of optional microtransactions. The game has a credits system to buy packs that contain weapons, items, and characters, but they remind me more of buying trading card game booster packs. In other words, every time you buy a premium spectre pack for example, you pray you get a rare character class and a new weapon than repeat ones. However, if you are in a rush to get everything the multiplayer offers, you can spend real money to buy these packs instead of playing for in-game credits. If you ever played Mass Effect 3, chances are that you spent real money at least once on these microtransactions just to see what it is like, but you rather grind it out on the maps on varying difficulties. It is a model that works and now EA has implemented it in Dead Space 3 and will for future games made by them.
With Mass Effect 3 reaching its one year anniversary, Bioware has said that they are moving on from the Shepard arc for future games in the franchise on next generation consoles and PC. They won’t forget, however, how much of an impact the first three games had on the game industry, specifically this third game. They were able to actually conclude a story, which is something many developers struggle to achieve with most franchises today. Sure, the ending was controversial for several months, but Bioware did try to make things better with the Extended Cut DLC. The single player DLC also had its ups and downs, but most of them were great additions to the conclusion of Shepard’s journey. Lastly, the multiplayer surprised everyone and is still played today by players thanks to patches, DLC packs containing new maps and character classes, and weekend challenges. A new multiplayer microtransaction model was also introduced and it is now a new standard in present and future EA games. It was not a perfect ride, but Mass Effect 3 had a crazy year and will still be remembered as one of the most important games of this console generation.