I have finished Mass Effect 3. It's an incredible game, cementing the Mass Effect series as one of my all time favorite sci-fi stories from any medium. It's filled with great character moments and amazing action set pieces. I'm not going to go into detail because I think it's best for players to find out about these things for themselves. But I will say that you're given some really tough choices in this game with far reaching consequences and there are some missions that match or surpass the best action scenes from Gears of War or Uncharted. ME3 was the perfect game for me to have on my vacation. It's one of those games where you tell yourself you're going to complete one more mission before going to bed, and then before you know it it's 1am. And I didn't care, because I didn't have to go to work the next day! :)
Now having said that....
It's not as good as Mass Effect 2. Since ME2 is one of my favorite games, this isn't exactly the worst criticism I could make. Still, it's a bit disappointing.
I'll list some of the minor issues I had with the game. I really wish you had the option to spend more time with your Mass Effect 2 squad mates, but most of them just show up for quick cameos. With all the different characters this game is juggling though, that's understandable. Less understandable is the fact that your mission log doesn't get updated when you progress in a mission. So if you're on a mission to find a doodad so that you can bring it to an NPC and you find that doodad, your mission log doesn't indicate that. Since you could have over a dozen sidequests open at one time this is a problem. You just have to walk over to the NPC you're possessed to hand it to and talk to him in order to tell if you've got what he needs. I also found a bug in one sidequest that made it impossible to complete. I had to use a computer terminal to continue the quest, but the "use" option never came up. There's also currently a bug in the game where you're unable to import your character's face from ME2. This is a pretty big deal, as carrying over your character from game to game is one of the series best features. Your decisions can still be imported though, which is the most important thing for me. And hopefully this problem will be patched before too long.
If those small issues were the only problems I had with ME3, I'd still consider the game a masterpiece. But there are some major problems that I still need to talk about.
The DLC. The mission that comes with the "From Ashes" DLC is okay. It lasts about 30 minutes. It's good, but doesn't really stand out from any of the other missions in the game. The real highlight of From Ashes is the companion you pick up after the mission is over. He's a useful character to bring into combat, especially in the first half of the game when your squad options are limited. And he's got some of my favorite dialog in the entire game. He interacts really well with the other members of the crew and when you bring him on missions, some of the reactions he gets from NPCs are hilarious. Unlike the lame Zaeed and Kasumi DLC characters from Mass Effect 2, he really feels like he belonged in the game right from the beginning.
So why is this DLC a bad thing? Well... because it's DLC. I got to enjoy it because I pre-ordered the collector's edition, but most fans will have to pay for it. This is something that really feels important to the game's story, and it's a real shame it wasn't included with the retail price of the game so that all fans could enjoy it.
The multiplayer. Online multiplayer is like the cockroach. I know that it will never be completely exterminated. All I ask is that it doesn't show up in places that I enjoy visiting. When I first heard that multiplayer had infested my favorite gaming series I was afraid that it would harm the only thing I and the vast majority of ME fans cared about; the campaign. It seems like that's exactly what happened.
One of the few missteps in the campaign is that there are a few too many "hold this position against waves of enemies" missions. In all likelihood, that is so they could use these missions for ME3's multiplayer mode. Every time I found an open area and was forced to hang around until I had finished the last wave of enemies I couldn't help but think "this must be a multiplayer map". After finishing ME3 I tried a few rounds of multiplayer to confirm my suspicions. And yes, all the multiplayer maps come from those missions. Wonderful.
But that's the least of multiplayer's sins. The ending of Mass Effect 3 is tied to this meter that you fill up throughout the game by getting ships and personnel to help in the war against the Reapers. To get the best ending, you must fill the "readiness meter" by getting every possible asset you can throughout the campaign. But there's no real indication of the maximum level is. I had the bar filled about midway through the game and I kept adding to total number after that. But I didn't get the achievement for having most of the assets so I guess I didn't get the best ending, even though I completed every single sidequest except that one glitched one. It was pretty easy to understand what the best ending to Mass Effect 2 was. Keep your squad alive through the last mission. You could tell when your squad was loyal to you. You could tell when one of your decisions cost a squad mate his life. There's nothing that clear about the Mass Effect 3 ending. And this only reinforces the idea that most fans seems to have; you need to play multiplayer to get the best ending. If you're going to cram an unnecessary multiplayer mode into your game why add to this mistake by making it affect your progress in the main game?!
And then there's my usual issue with multiplayer. My problems with things liked bugged sidequests and mission logs not showing your progress didn't exist in the previous games. If the resources devoted to multiplayer had been spent polishing the campaign, would these problems have been fixed? I don't know, but I sure would have liked the chance to find out.
The ending. I'm not going to spoil anything here, though some of the things I link to may contain spoilers.
The ending is AWFUL. So awful the last 10 minutes almost made me forget how much fun I was having during the past 30+ hours. It's so bad, even Hitler hated it. My reaction is best summed up here. I'm currently in the last stage of the recovery process, but it's still hard to even think about it. At best, it was a really poorly thought out idea. At worst, it's a shameless ploy to keep us coming back for more sequels/ DLC. This is the end of the trilogy. We were promised closure. We expected to see where all our decisions up to this point would lead. Instead of getting any of that, we're simply dropped back into the galaxy map so that we have a chance to download future Mass Effect 3 DLC.
It may seem like I'm being really harsh on this game, but that's only because I had such high expectations. Mass Effect 3 should have been the brilliant conclusion to one of the most important series in the history of gaming. Instead, it's just a really good game. The real shame of it is that the core game is so great. The things that drag it down are things that look like business decisions. The Prothean squad member being cut away from the game to be used as DLC, the inclusion of a multiplayer mode that was never needed, and giving us an ending that didn't give us the final answers we wanted all seem designed to squeeze more money out of Mass Effect fans instead of making the game as great as we wished it would be.