There will be minor spoilers, as the games have been out a significant amount of time. I have been chronicling my thoughts here (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) but this article will cover my overview thoughts on all three entries.
The original Mass Effect was an XBox exclusive, so I didn’t get to really experience the franchise until this trilogy pack came out. But does the original still hold up?
The world of Mass Effect is a beautiful and engaging one. The party members were hit or miss, but the ones that hit were engaging and interesting. And the ability to make decisions that affected your world hit a new precedent here. When you look back and realize that a different decision could have killed a character that was integral in Mass Effect 3, you have to appreciate that complexity.
For instance, you can choose to save either Kaidan or Ashley and for some reason, I left Kaidan alive. Ashley seemed kinda boring to me.
I played pretty diabolical and chose to include Garrus and Wrex in my party almost all the time.
What doesn’t work?
In this game, I had chosen to play as a straight-up shooter and unfortunately the shooting mechanics aren’t that solid, compared to other first-person shooters. In later games, I dove more into biotics but in this first outing, only shooting for me.
The visuals also seemed a bit aged, though not enough to really detract.
Mass Effect is a creative and solid outing, which gives you a ton of choices, hopefully which will pay off in future installments. The world is vivid, though some of the characters lack depth. The shooting mechanics aren’t as polished and this becomes evident if you play a character focused on shooting.
Mass Effect 2
This sequel is on many “Best of Playstation” lists and for absolutely good reason. This game got so much positive press that it eventually broke the barrier and became available on PS3, though many gamers didn’t want to start the trilogy on the second entry, so waited for a complete version of the trilogy.
Mass Effect 2 improved everything from Mass Effect. Every character is engaging and has a huge plethora of stuff to discover about them, either through dialogue, reactions to moments in your journey, or through their “loyalty” missions. These missions gave you time to get to know their stories, as well as earning new powers for your Shepard to use in battle.
The world is also more engaging, as it feels more natural to discover new missions in the universe. In Mass Effect, you’d discover something on a planet and have no idea what it meant. In Mass Effect 2, you might land on a strange planet and discover a derelict ship, which you’d explore carefully, as the ship slowly teeters on the edge of a canyon. Some of these small side quests were some of the most memorable moments of ME2 for me.
The combat was also stepped up. Shooting felt much more natural and the use of cover was well-implemented. I went with a Vanguard class this time around, adding some biotics to my arsenal. It’s extremely satisfying to rip a guard’s shields from his hands or to throw him up into the air and blast him with a few rounds.
It was also cool to see consequences of your actions in ME1 come into play. Did the Council survive the end of ME1 or did you let them die? Did you shoot Wrex because he got mad at you? Did Kaidan or Ashley survive? Tons of variants.
What doesn’t work?
I can’t think of anything that I disliked about this experience, other than that it eventually had to end. The most common complaint that I’ve seen is that ME2 had too many party members for you and that it distracted you from the main story. The party characters and time spent with them were my favorite part, I didn’t mind the distractions from the main plot.
Mass Effect 2 is a perfect game. Visually stunning, amazing characters, and a much more dynamic world to explore. The combat is much more fluid and satisfying and the choices from the past game definitely impact you. This is a world that I can’t wait to re-explore with different characters. Getting through the sometimes clunky Mass Effect again is worth the payoff in Mass Effect 2.
Mass Effect 3.
This game had a lot to live up to, being the climax to an amazing trilogy. It advertised amazing and dynamic battles for planet Earth, in a scale we haven’t seen before. So did it pull it off?
It does impress on a whole new scale. There’s a battle against a Reaper on the planet of Tuchanka that is mindblowing. In the opening moments, as the Reapers assault Earth, it’s crazy as you see destruction in the distance. The scope is incredible. Luckily, the combat mechanics are still solid and this game (moreso than the others) feels more like a polished first-person shooter. It even further emphasizes the cover system and develops a few melee combat mechanics, as well as new ways to upgrade and evolve your weapons.
Visually, it looks much crisper than its predecessors, pushing the PS3 to the envelope (which is kind of a weird phrase). There also seems to be stuff… happening. The environments are constantly moving and there’s tons to see.
The game also ramps up to a very satisfying conclusion. The defense of Earth is an incredible sequence of action scenes, which almost seem impossible but you always just barely scrape through, which is a satisfying feeling. I remember melee punching a brute to death because I was out of ammo and I managed to knock it out with just a bar of health left… It was thrilling.
And while there weren’t character loyalty missions, I appreciated the style of “army loyalty” missions where you’d have to gain their trust / convince them to fight for you. These often gave you huge decisions, some which wiped out entire races. It reminded me of Dragon Age: Origins, where you have to contemplate if it’s worth saving the elves or the werewolves. Similar conundrums.
What doesn’t work?
Mass Effect 3 did take some steps backwards from its second installment. Your party was greatly reduced. I only had four options because of deaths/etc in the previous games. And out of the four, I really only used EDI and Garrus. Liara had a similar biotic setup as me and James was just uninteresting. I would meet characters like Wrex and Thane and I would be like “Yes!” and then they’d go off their own way.
And after all the work of gathering armies, I couldn’t help again to compare to Dragon Age: Origins. Other than a few clips in the cinematics, it didn’t really matter who you saved. In Origins, you would summon werewolves to fight for you or you’d see dwarves fighting alongside you. Here, I never saw these other armies. In the basecamp, yes. But I wanted to be fighting in the trenches along with the krogan. I wanted to see the slum gangs of Omega. I wanted to see a payoff, but it felt just like a number I had to arbitrarily reach.
I encountered the original ending to the game because I didn’t realize there was a free download for the extended ending. I didn’t mind the original ending that much, though I do understand the lack of closure for your party members. I’m not sure if the altered ending (or the Citadel DLC) address these issues… they might.
This might be a bit of a minor complaint, but the inconsequential nature of ME1’s side quests seemed to make a resurgence. I’d be walking through Citadel and I would automatically accept like a dozen side quests, which are just scanning planets and bringing back items. I don’t mind getting these items, but I wish I had more context (such as actually talking to these people, instead of creepily easedropping). And it was a tad overwhelming to have an extensive quest list after one visit to the Citadel.
I also had a few bugs and glitches which required me to restart entire missions.
Mass Effect 3 was a great game that I sank about 40 hours into and plan to replay again, at least once. It was a great and climactic ending to the trilogy but it lacked some of the emotional throughlines that ME2 had. It lacked the variety in your party, as well some of the engaging loyalty quests. The entire game’s gimmick was rallying armies to your cause and you didn’t really feel that in the final battle. Maybe after another playthrough, I’ll notice details I had taken for granted. Overall a stellar game but made some minor missteps.
Mass Effect Trilogy Overall…
While Mass Effect 2 is my favorite of the three, you need to setup that emotional arc in Mass Effect and you get the climactic conclusion in Mass Effect 3, both which make the ME2 experience more memorable. Hands down, this is an amazing trilogy that pushed the limits of technology and gave us a smart RPG and some amazing battle mechanics: a balance that’s rare. Now that it’s available in its entirety, all PS3 owners should put this on their list to play, if it wasn’t already.