Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter in the Commander Shepard saga. In this chapter Shepard is faced in the final show down against the ancient enemy the reaper in a struggle for earth. You are reunited with many old characters, your ship the Normandy. You watch others perish as you struggle to survive a very much hopeless war. While the center of much controversy because of it's ending I believe the game overcomes these controversies and continues to be a great game and a fitting end for the Normandy crew.
Story: The story relies on a mix of linear and RPG elements to blend into a saga filled with decisions and life or death actions for you and your crew. The way you play the game and the number of missions you accomplish can change your view of the game tremendously. Fail certain missions and you may see a favorite character die in their attempts. Meeting certain characters (like Leviathan in the DLC) gives you great insight into the fearsome Reapers.
The story also relies very heavily of the use of cut scenes. These cut scenes are very well crafted and serve to be powerful moments in the game. (the attack on Palaven or the Fall of Thessia comes to mind). Watching characters die or entire planets be decimated serve to show the player how dire the situation is and the power that the reapers possess. The game blends well between gameplay and cut scene moments.
Obviously not all people will agree but after lots of though the ending of the series has grown on me. With the edition of the extended cut DLC and Leviathan DLC the ending to the game makes more sense than it did at launch. That being said it was certainly a bad call by Bioware to fail to include these much needed elements in the original version of the game. The game ending does provide very touching moments and I feel it does provide an adequate ending for Commander Shepard.
Graphics: While certainly far from revolutionary the graphics are the best of the series. Realistic environments and active backgrounds makes the game engaging. There are few places where there exists half finished backgrounds (the Presidium on the citadel is one example) and a few areas of obviously low resolution textures. Despite these flaws the game still looks very nice and the character and situations become very believable.
Acting: I have always been impressed by the acting in the Mass Effect series especially the acting of Jennifer Hale, often hailed as one of the best in the series. It's the voices that add depth and feeling to the characters. Without the depth that these actors add to the series their deaths and triumphs would certainly not seem so significant.
Combat/Gameplay: The combat in the game felt the most refined of all the games in series. With the ability to combo physical attacks and use powers and range attacks with ease the combat felt fast paced and very responsive. Getting into a firefight was exciting and fun and could also at times proved very challenging. Ordering squadmates around remained very much the same as in the previous version of the game. They did perform power attacks and take cover on their own but the player was also given the ability to pause and target specific enemies for squad mates to attack. I felt this system could have been a little better refined and was sometimes difficult to master but overall it was an enjoyable experience.
There are several side mission throughout the game which involve scanning planets and finding materials or intel that can assist in the war effort. These mission are necessary to achieve all the option in the end game experience and like Mass Effect 2 and overly repetitive and boring. Although they are easy and quick to achieve. Side missions within actually quests are also very common. You run into characters (usually on the Citadel) that provide you with side missions they'd like you to complete. These just happen to correspond with important missions you are already undertaking. They certainly feel out of place considering somethings and some characters seem to appear just by happenstance. As an RPG the game creators could of instead created completely new side missions that the player could choose to undertake in order to accomplish these quests. As it stands it can sometimes make the story seem weird at times.
The objective of completing missions in the game is to gather support in order to launch a final desperate attack on reaper forces. This support is listed in game on a Normandy console. The higher the score the great the chances of victory are during the final battle. It also effects the number of squad members that survive and the type of endings that the player can choose from. Unfortunately in order to achieve the highest score possible and select from every ending the player must use the online gameplay feature to help boost their score. While this certainly helped EA and Bioware boost the number of people playing multiplayer it certainly wasn't fair to users who simply sought to have a single player experience with the game.
The loot system is not much different from the first game. This time however without the annoying research gathering minigame. The gathering is still there but in much smaller doses. The only kill loot a player receives this game around is currency which can be used in game to purchase upgrades to various character equipment and weapons. These upgrades can also be found lying around in various locations throughout the missions and can be further upgraded in Normandy's cargo hold.
The gameplay overall is very exciting. There is certainly lots of game to be played, battles to fight and information to be gathered to keep a player busy for many long hours.
Online: There is an online portion to the game this time around. This part of the game involves 4 player squads fighting off hoards of enemies at a variety of in-game and other locations in the Mass Effect Universe. This online experience can enhances your single player readiness score which helps your troops in the final battle. Apart from aiding in the single player experience the multiplayer is genuinely fun. It's fast paced, it provides a good variety of enemies and it forces a reliance on team members to survive. With a unique upgrade system and points that can help you enhance your arsenal the multiplayer is an experience that you can continue to come back to. It is also works well with both new and veteran players. It may not be the most immersive multiplayer experience or the best but at the very least it is fun.
Overall: I consider the Mass Effect series among one of the greats and it certainly is one of my favorites. While the game has it's small quirks and flaws and of course the controversy surrounding the finale, the game is still a blast to play and provides with plenty of content to keep players active. The great gameplay, phenomenal story, superb acting nets this game a 9/10.