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Mass Effect 3 Review

  • First Released Mar 5, 2012
  • Reviewed Mar 6, 2012
  • PS3

Mass Effect 3 is a remarkably satisfying conclusion to a beloved trilogy, and a poignant and memorable role-playing action game in its own right.

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Sacrifice. It's Mass Effect 3's major theme, and rightly so. After all, the reapers were coming--it was only a matter of time. And now, those sentient space vessels are here, and with them, a galaxy's worth of destruction. Mass Effect 3 brings the sound and the fury, but these aren't meaningless shows of laser fire and alien devastation. The series has earned its right to showcase such destruction by drawing us close to its characters and teaching us of its universe.

Mass Effect was about time and place; you discovered the Milky Way's landmarks and races, guided by memorable characters like Tali and Garrus, who served as representatives of their cultures. Mass Effect 2 was about people; you learned more about old friends and made new ones, and drew each of them close to your heart. Mass Effect 3 fearlessly manipulates those personal bonds, forcing you to make difficult choices and consider the greater good--even when the greater good isn't always clear. The game is structured less like Mass Effect 2 and more like Dragon Age II: three dramatic acts, each concluding with major events that might leave you in tears, or at very least, shivering from the emotional impact.

Mass Effect 3 is focused more on plot than the previous installments were, and at first, you might miss Mass Effect 2's more obvious personal touch. You meet some new characters, but you develop few new meaningful relationships. A couple of notable exceptions aside, your party members are familiar faces, and as Commander Shepard, you aren't traveling the galaxy seeking individual crew members, but rather the assistance of entire races. Some of the plot devices seem a bit transparent; what are the chances that Shepard would just happen to find an old acquaintance on almost every random planet? But once the plot is in motion, the human element returns, and poignantly so. Mass Effect 3 frequently reminds us that the loss of a single shining soul often takes on more meaning than a planetwide massacre. (After all, what carried more emotional weight in Star Wars: Obi-Wan's death or Alderaan's destruction?)

This brute is hardly bothered by your piddly little bullets.
This brute is hardly bothered by your piddly little bullets.

Like Star Wars, Mass Effect 3 is an incredibly fulfilling story that deftly balances plot, character, conflict, and resolution. After a short exposition, an opening combat scenario cleverly combines the "big" of a reaper attack on Earth with the "small" of a single death. That one death haunts Shepard until the moving and jaw-dropping conclusion. While there is plenty of action, developer BioWare subverts our expectations. Every so often, the shooting heats up, only to lead to a climax that comes not in the form of an explosion or a boss fight, but in a simple quiet conversation, or a few limping steps.

The reapers aren't your only adversary in Mass Effect 3: the pro-human organization known as Cerberus, led by the Illusive Man, complicates the conflict. Your ultimate goal is to rid the galaxy of the reaper threat with the use of a superweapon, yet the Illusive Man has different ideas and goes to some disturbing lengths to implement them. Discovering his goals and means is one of Mass Effect 3's better story threads, in part because the Illusive Man is such a strong presence. Actor Martin Sheen brings a calm, chilling strength to the character, but also exudes a touch of vulnerability when the Illusive Man is forced to confront his own demons. Not that Sheen outshines any given actor. A few inessential characters aside, the galaxy's inhabitants seem authentic. You hear stoicism, fear, or resignation in the simplest of line readings.

The varied level design is matched by varied landscapes.
The varied level design is matched by varied landscapes.

The series' focus on player choice is as vital as it has ever been in Mass Effect 3. The effects of choices in previous installments have an impact in extraordinary ways here, more so than in Mass Effect 2. Sometimes the nods to prior choices are subtle. A lover might fondly recall her previous entanglement with you, while still supporting your new romantic interest. At other times, the impact is far more dramatic. Entire quests, conversations, and characters shift as a result of your actions in previous games (not to mention, your decisions in this one). As a result, you might be delighted by characters other players never meet, share intimate talks with crewmates other players never interact with, and deal with decisions other players never make. And as in previous Mass Effect games, your entire attitude when choosing dialogue options (paragon or renegade) can drive you to conclusions other players could never consider.

This intense narrative is met with an equally intense presentation. Mass Effect 3 is more atmospheric and darker in tone than even Mass Effect 2 was. You hear more expletives and raise your voice in desperation far more often, and the environments you do battle in reflect the rising pitch. An ominous storm encroaches, giving battle an even greater sense of urgency. The sheer darkness of a subterranean ruin enhances the sense of danger. The blue and rose bands of light that periodically stretch across the screen may seem old hat after Mass Effect 2, but the trick remains effective. That blue is also the color of Garrus' eyepiece, Liara's skin, and a harvester's glowing lights. That rose is the color of Wrex's armor, Mordin's forehead, and the Normandy's war room terminals. Both hues are used in the game's various interface elements, which makes other colors more effective when used. Witness, for example, the starkness of Jack's black-and-white ensemble and how it contrasts with the rich colors around her.

This virtual space is no less interesting than the real ones.
This virtual space is no less interesting than the real ones.

These are exquisite details, though other details come across as a bit sloppy in comparison. The frame rate stutters on occasion. Camera movement and viewing angles occasionally go askew; the camera might jitter in weird ways during cutscene transitions, or focus on a wall instead of the character speaking. A scripting error could force you to restart a mission should an event not trigger properly. And if you play on the PlayStation 3, you could run into a crash or two. These flaws stand out because Mass Effect 3 is otherwise such an elegant experience.

It's also packed with action. The basic third-person shooting is the same as Mass Effect 2's, though it has been given a few minor tweaks. You can now deliver a charged-up melee attack, for example, and slide around corners while still in cover. Such mechanics don't drastically change the flow of battle, which is still occasionally sullied by returning Mass Effect combat quirks: occasional cover glitches, unintelligent friendlies that crouch on top of crates, and enemies that thoughtlessly tumble against walls and end up going nowhere as a result.

The Quarians may be nomads, but they're willing to fight for your cause, given the high stakes.
The Quarians may be nomads, but they're willing to fight for your cause, given the high stakes.

On the other hand, the improvement in level design is remarkable. Unlike the previous game, Mass Effect 3 isn't about "take cover behind the obvious barriers, shoot the enemies that predictably emerge, and then do it again." Combat areas are more expansive and some enemies are more aggressive, so not only are you given room to move about, but you must use that space. One such enemy is the banshee, which destroys you in a single grab if you let it come too close. These shrieking horrors join charging brutes, dogging you in tandem in a memorable combat sequence and providing a challenge the previous games lacked, at least on normal difficulty.

And so you can't always trust a single cover spot to provide sanctuary--not when you have three guys in humongous robot suits blindsiding you. You sprint and tumble about, sliding into cover and using cryo ammo to freeze a creepy cannibal before smashing it with a powerful shock wave. As you level up, you eventually make choices on how to upgrade your powers. Do you increase the Pull ability's recharge speed, or do you learn to launch two Pull projectiles at once? Don't assume that Mass Effect 3's missions are all about guns and space magic, though. A pistol isn't much help when you traverse a virtual space made of neon cubes and floating platforms. Facing an old nemesis isn't a battle of guns--it's a battle of wits.

The very model of a scientist Salarian.
The very model of a scientist Salarian.

Nevertheless, you do a lot of shooting, and Mass Effect 3's primary customization element is in its huge supply of guns and the large number of modifications you can make to them. There are five weapon types and loads of choices within those types, each with its own pros and cons. You find weapons and mods in mission areas and can purchase them from vendors on the Citadel or from a terminal on your ship, the Normandy SR-2. You don't just need to consider your play style when choosing weapons prior to battle--you also need to consider how their weight might affect your ability to perform biotic and tech skills. The heavier your loadout, the less often you can send the bad guys flying into the air.

You may also spend credits to level up these weapons, which gives Mass Effect 3 a fine sense of progression. A dinky pistol and submachine gun lead to assault rifles upgraded with scopes and sniper rifles with damage modifiers. And if you've never found much use for certain weapons, the broader level design may have you rethinking your approach. If you were never inclined to use a sniper rifle, now you can find a good vantage point to zoom in and let loose. You may never have let an enemy get too close before, but a nice shotgun and a melee attachment can make it a snap to fend off hawkish husks that intrude on your personal space.

Every race has its secrets, the Asari included.
Every race has its secrets, the Asari included.

It's worth noting that Mass Effect 3 has added a notable feature to the series, but has lost another. The Xbox 360 version supports the Kinect peripheral, allowing you to call out commands to teammates ("Liara: Warp!"), perform your own skills ("Pull!"), interact with objects ("Open!"), or choose dialogue options. This is all absolutely functional, and sometimes even enjoyable. For instance, calling out to a team member to let loose a biotic power means you don't have to pause the game to pull up the radial menu. On the other hand, there's enough of a delay when speaking your wishes aloud that it's more efficient just to push a button. The feature lost, on all platforms, is that of hacking minigames. They were fine diversions, but Mass Effect 3 varies its pace enough that you won't likely miss them.

Mass Effect 3 isn't all talking and shooting. Outside of combat, you walk around the Citadel, picking up odd jobs and eavesdropping on diplomats and refugees. There are some wonderful moments to be had here: having a bizarre conversation with a virtual copy of yourself, checking in on an old ally in bad health, and punching an old nemesis square in the face. Refugees mourn for the lost and missing, gazing at a collection of photographs that serves as an ad hoc memorial. Again, it's the subtleties that pull you in. A crewmate gets a tattoo to celebrate his newfound ambitions, you ponder the meaning of a human-on-AI romance, and you grab a drink in a busy nightclub. It's a pity that the entertaining lesser races--the Hanar and the Elcor in particular--are in such short supply. Mass Effect 3 isn't big on comedic interludes.

Is this gun not getting the job done? No matter--there are dozens of others to choose from.
Is this gun not getting the job done? No matter--there are dozens of others to choose from.

The side missions you pick up at the Citadel aren't all that inspired. In some cases, you wander around searching for objects to interact with. In others, you head to the Normandy and take to the galactic map. The way you zoom about the galaxy is much as it was in the last installment, though the details differ. No longer do you scan planets looking for resources. Instead, you scan solar regions to identify planets of interest. From here, you scan the planet itself, drop a probe onto its surface, and collect the artifact or object in question. This busywork is complicated by reapers, who appear in these solar systems after a few seconds and swarm and destroy you if you don't make a swift escape. This game of cat and mouse is more annoyance than entertainment, getting in the way when you wish you could just get the job done.

Galactic exploration is important if you want to tackle the reapers with the might of the galaxy behind you. The more side missions you conquer, the more fulfilling the finale becomes, though there is another way to prepare: playing Mass Effect 3's online multiplayer. The more you play, the greater the galaxy's state of readiness. There's only one mode, the standard "defeat progressively stronger waves of enemies" mode, and it's functional, even fun. Tossing grenades and incinerating ravagers as a unified group is a blast, especially when an objective draws you to a central point to defend an area or focus on a specific enemy. The cooperative play isn't particularly special, however; out of context, the action is fine but lacks the heft of Gears of War 3, or Uncharted 3's speedy tempo. Spots of lag can also hinder the experience, however, as can the possibility of having a few enemies get stuck in some unknown place and forcing you to restart the match.

Don't look at me in that tone of voice.
Don't look at me in that tone of voice.

The multiplayer's overall structure is more interesting than the action. You choose from one of six classes and level them separately, and earn credits as you play. You use these credits to unlock packs that contain a number of random items--special ammo, a weapon mod, an on-the-spot ammo refill, and so on. (You can also spend real money on them if you are so inclined.) Because so many of these items are expendable, and because the flow of rewards is slow but steady, you might be drawn to stick with Mass Effect 3's multiplayer even after you've reaped its single-player benefit.

Mass Effect 3 has its flaws, but they're of minimal consequence in a game this enthralling. By filling the Milky Way with vibrant, singular characters, the series has given you a reason to care about its fate. Ostensibly, Mass Effect 3 is about saving the galaxy, but a galaxy is just a thing--an idea, an abstract, a meaningless collection of plutinos, planets, and pulsars. But the game is actually about saving people. And there's a big difference there. Watching cities burn from orbit tugs at your heartstrings; watching a beloved companion die cuts to the bone. Whether you possess a storied history with the series or come with a clean slate, Mass Effect 3 expertly entangles you in its universe and inspires you to care about its future.

Back To Top
The Good
Fantastic, moving story that balances plot and character
Past and present choices impact the game in wonderful and unexpected ways
Much-improved level design leads to challenging, exciting battles
Fantastic art design makes great use of color and composition
Top-notch voice acting brings every major character to life
The Bad
Some glitches and bugs
Galactic travel and scanning aren't much fun
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Mass Effect 3

About the Author

Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play bass in Rock Band.
65 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for Flonne_N_Etna

<< LINK REMOVED >> I'm telling you, play the trilogy in a go is unlike anything else.

Avatar image for 00J

One thing i wish they would drop in games are virtual battles... We're already playing a game on a console/computer, why do they feel the need to put in a less solid environment? This isn't TRON, which I always hated. This isn't the Matrix which was good but went from 1 step to the other, real world is actually a computer world, this whole idea is kind of lost making a computer game world transition into another computer game environment inside the computer game environment. Just isn't needed, and it's a jarring painful experience of games.

Like platforming in an FPS.

Avatar image for Flonne_N_Etna

<< LINK REMOVED >> I personally enjoy any piece of fiction depicting simulated/virtual realities or abstract environments. So I can safely say that's just your opinion.

Avatar image for 00J

I couldn't even begin to program it anyway so my opinion on that really doesn't matter. Lots of life was used designing mass effect. I respect that.

Avatar image for Keeper_Artemus

I finally finished the trilogy. All I can say is..."you call THAT an ending?" They went full Metal Gear Solid on that one. Wait, what? The smoke monster and polar bear are manifestations of a demi-god who has an island that can move and also travel through time? I don't understand Mass Effect, maybe you should add Templars and an AI Athena so it's less convoluted.


A series that was all about the relationships gets shoved under the bus for a few cheap surprises at the end. Still a great game.

Avatar image for UltraredM

ME3 is a fantastic game, only slightly marred by a somewhat convoluted and messy ending.

Avatar image for m_dorian

This is a PR review right? A 9? Someone here wants to play on ME4 i guess? If not, then mr. VanOrd will be my trusted reviwer, anything he likes i will not buy. Just a matter of taste, ithink.

Avatar image for jakeinator183560

So damned good.

Avatar image for Zekethompson22

Just beat the game and I sat there for sometime afterwards. This is such a great game and I felt the sacrifices I mad in the game felt so real to me. This game is amazing.

Avatar image for roosteraxe1

I've finally found time to start playing this game and it is amazing! My best friend let slip a few things that happened when he played before I shut him up so he wouldn't ruin it for me. Oddly the things he mentioned didn't happen the same way for me. I am very much looking forward to finishing this great game so we can discuss how differently events unfolded based on our choices. I love that there's a sense of hopelessness and sacrifice throughout the game. This is a tale about the end of days. Not a fairytale. It takes a very realistic view of war and the tough decisions soliers face.

Avatar image for Blackened_Halo

Best game of the whole trilogy :)

Avatar image for The_Gaming_Baby

Looking forward to my second playthrough when it comes to PSN Plus next month

Avatar image for Azka_10

can mass effect play online?

Avatar image for kaychun88

<< LINK REMOVED >> Yes it can

Avatar image for henryL306

I love the game, just finished it. I actually liked the ending, most games always have an ending when the hero saves the day and everyones happy and continues to live normaly, but bioware changed things up. They decided to think outside of the box and have an ending when everything went wrong. I would definatly recomend this game.

Avatar image for prem6174

Awesome game!

Avatar image for Eowyin

One more time

Avatar image for freeakura

I never write the reviews, simply because as dad and medical provider I don’t have time to do so. In my younger years I used to play `Halo, Star Wars Republic Commando, or Unreal Tournament. Lately as my kids are growing older I invested my pass time into newer titles like Mass Effect2. I enjoyed this game with my family so I immediately purchased remaining titles ME, and ME3. I must express sore disappointment in conclusion of the series that only offers hopelessness, and futile despair.

From psychological perspective as you invest your self in characters they become part of you, and your entertainment.

Since this series end in tragedy it releases whole slur of negative feelings.

Final points:

What’s the sense of follow up movie production with Warner Brothers if all the fans know the tragic finale- It will be jet another major flop in production.

For Bio.Ware crew, please invest some revenue for good behavioral theorist and advise. This will give fans that they want and multiply you earnings. I strongly recommend Dr. Gordon Neufeld Canadian and pioneer in attachment theory. “attachment theory”.

I blog from economical perspective with Peter Shiff, Dr. Tom Woods, Lew Rockwell, and Gerald Celente just to mention few.

I personally don’t think any company that creates such huge fan fallout will weather well in the future….especially in this market.

Respectfully: Andrew Kurtyko R.N.

Avatar image for dnguyen3

Do I need to play the first two games to understand or really get into this one?

Avatar image for superepicbaws



Avatar image for jannamadden

wow can't wait to get on this << LINK REMOVED >> check it out!

Avatar image for ChrisP20

I really want to get this game. I'm going to purchase Mass Effect 2 first because I want to beat that one.

Avatar image for Aziz557

It's awsome just as ME2

Avatar image for waterproof9

I have ME2. After I finished the game, couldn't wait for ME3. I hpoe it's as good as 2. Sometimes the final installment can be disappointing.

Avatar image for Altair_7

Never played Mass Effect 1 or 2 but bought and played Mass Effect 3 for 4 hours straight on PS3 ... i am quite impressed with the gameplay... Hard opponents and many things to do ....

Avatar image for TheNotoriousBIG

The ending was horrible!!! I can not believe they ended it that way.

Avatar image for pinicolaroxa

The game doesnt have fps problem, the ps3 version has.

Avatar image for MareInfinitus

@icetone Go ahead and get ME2 first! It's an incredible game and completely worth it. And then you won't be lost when you play this one :)

Avatar image for icetone

I want this game but I think I should get ME2 1st on the ps3 or does it matter? i REALLY had fun on the coop it was a blast

Avatar image for J-007

Lol now I'm indecisive but i'm more into getting it. I always and only go for highly rated games

Avatar image for badiie05

@battlemed By out of the box you mean allowing players to make choices and suffer the consequences and live a characters story but once it reaches the end of the trilogy it all ends the same and all the effort to make you character please you does not matter at the end, leaving the player questioning what happened.

Avatar image for Battlemed

What's up with negative reaction to the game's ending? What are you, cry babies? Think outside the box f*cking kids... ruining gamers communities...

Avatar image for badiie05

"a remarkably satisfying conclusion to a beloved trilogy"....yeaa >.>

Avatar image for B1ackDr4g0n

Best game ever with the worst ending in history All endings are the same regardless of any previous choices and all of them are terrible Reviewers need to stop ignoring this massive flaw

Avatar image for cifie

The ending of Mass Effect 3 ruined the entire series for me. Not even a glimmer of a happy ending. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Not one decision matters. Might as well just rush through they game, you will get the same ending. Choices matter total bs.

Avatar image for bunbreath

lol the reviewer obviously didnt finish the game with the optimal ending because he states "Ostensibly, Mass Effect 3 is about saving the galaxy, but a galaxy is just a thing--an idea, an abstract, a meaningless collection of plutinos, planets, and pulsars. But the game is actually about saving people. And there's a big difference there. Watching cities burn from orbit tugs at your heartstrings; watching a beloved companion die cuts to the bone. Whether you possess a storied history with the series or come with a clean slate, Mass Effect 3 expertly entangles you in its universe and inspires you to care about its future." Lol in the end no matter what decisions you have made in any of the games you end up ruining galactic civilization. there are no real options aand you dont find out what happens to those characters that youve come to care about. tragic killing of a once great francise

Avatar image for bunbreath

9/10 really id give 9 or even a 10 untill the last mission/endings after that it brings it down to a 5. made me wish i never played 1 or 2 multiple times. I will not be recommending this game anymore so utterly dejected at a copout poorly written ending. seriously the ending was something out of a bad anime just piss poor writing which is astonishing for a series that prides itself on storytelling

Avatar image for akvasu2

Unfairly having to wait till 9th March! :(

Avatar image for Furiousxr

got mine this morning

Avatar image for Eliaseen

on psn now ??

Avatar image for DeadMan1290

I want it. I love Mass Effect. Great score.

Avatar image for simeon22

@JoePiervincenti,there no download PS3 a waiting any willl do CFW 3.55 or +3.60 working

Avatar image for JoePiervincenti

@simeon22 PS3 came out yesterday, just like the 360 and PC version!

Avatar image for JoePiervincenti

@Bubbagum_Bish Move would have been ok, but it didn't really fit what they were trying to do. The Kinect support seems to mostly revolve around shouting commands, which Move couldn't do

Avatar image for DanBoiani

@vorhesse. Gamespot gave a 10 to Metal Gear Solid 4. Deserved? You decide.

Avatar image for najemm

love being a renegade, now i gotta play as the hero

Avatar image for Bubbagum_Bish

I wish they used the Move over the kinect. :/

Avatar image for usmcpwr

Ha! Dark Souls kills another game. Gotta love it!

Avatar image for Romangelo


Avatar image for vorhesse

I think if Gamespot ever gave a 10 it would signal the end of days so I guess we should be thankful

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Mass Effect 3 More Info

  • First Released Mar 5, 2012
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • + 2 more
    • Wii U
    • Xbox 360
    Mass Effect 3 is the conclusion to developer BioWare's action role-playing sci-fi trilogy and completes the story of its protagonist Commander Shepard.
    Average Rating9501 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Mass Effect 3
    Developed by:
    BioWare, Straight Right
    Published by:
    Electronic Arts
    Role-Playing, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence