Mass Effect 3 PC Review
Mass Effect 3's defining feature is called Effective Miliary Strength and, in the singleplayer campaign, it's something you check on in the Normandy's War Room. Here you can see all the War Assets you've gathered - troops you've rescued on side missions, fleets you've secured by completing larger story segments. Some War Assets are gathered in beautifully subtle ways too, such as interrupting squabbles on the street or agreeing to take a correspondent on your ship.
Either way, all War Assets contribute to your Readiness. Readiness in turn acts as a multiplier for your Effective Military Strength, which is your up-front indicator of how well you will fare in the final battle. A maxed out EMS will give you the best ending the game can offer.
However, the problem is that in order to max out your EMS in just the singleplayer mode you'll have to go through a lot of grind. You'll have to scan every system, avoiding the Reapers who now chase you like Pac-Man when you do so. You'll have to listen to every conversation you overhear. You'll have to complete every turret sequence. It's entirely possible you can miss something not because you make the wrong decision, but because doing all this grunt-work is simply boring - scanning planets doesn't take long, but it's a hassle when success relies on it.
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The alternative is to play the multiplayer campaign, which presents itself as an on-going battle against the Reapers but essentially boils down to seen-it-before wave-based survival. You and a few friends work together using your persistent characters to repel enemies, securing territories which in turn raise your Galactic Readiness and lower the barriers for success in singleplayer.
The problem then is that success in Mass Effect 3 is needlessly complicated, and will likely force singleplayer focused games (the players Mass Effect has previously catered for) into either playing a mode they want to avoid or to hours of grind.
The reality too is that, while the multiplayer content isn't terrible, it's hampered by the fact that combat simply isn't what Mass Effect does best. The controls, for example, are so streamlined that they can pose problems - with Run, Cover, Use and Vault all mapped to a single key. We've died more than a dozen times because of this control setup, with Shepard leaping over obstacles when we'd meant to take cover, or vice versa.
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Bioware has tried to bleed a bit more strategy into the combat at least, with a weapons bench now letting you place upgrades on your guns and a new load-out screen bringing weight into the considerations. Now, while kitting your soldier out with every gun you can is tempting, you'll suffer penalties to your endurance and speed. While adding a little more depth to your choices however, it's hardly a meaty addition to the game - the reality is that Mass Effect 3 has stayed largely the same, except for the changes wrought by multiplayer and Galactic Readiness.
The thing is though, that's no bad thing. As anyone who's listened to our old podcasts will now, Mass Effect 2 has long been our favourite and most well regarded game at Bit-tech. The fact that Mass Effect 3 stays largely similar to it, uses many of the same characters and take the story down a similarly bleak set of objectives is No Bad Thing. The only things we don't like about the game are the areas which infringe that - so, not the multiplayer itself, but the way it links to the singleplayer. And the turret sequences.
In every other respect this is very much the Mass Effect finale we've all been waiting for - big, bold and ceaselessly bleak; a world where you really feel like you need the friends you've built over the last two titles. If you've come this far, it's a sin not to go further.