It's difficult to end a trilogy. Perhaps that's one reason why developer BioWare has yet to produce a third Baldur's Gate game (though rumor is they may be working on it). Mass Effect 3, the conclusion to the Mass Effect epic, does a good job being the franchise's final chapter -- even if many don't like the manner in which it ends.
Similar to the previous two games, Mass Effect 3 is a hybrid of a third-person shooter and a Western-style RPG. The story finds the evil insect-like Reapers returned and are harvesting organic life around the galaxy, eliminating civilizations one by one, as well as a pro-human group known as Cerebus going to unsettling lengths to execute its own agenda. Of course, it's up to the player (as hero Commander Shepard) to rally the remaining troops and eliminate the threat. While this is largely the same as the previous title, it's main differences is how things are done and what the player is actually doing.
Gone are the drawn-out "loyalty quests", instead integrating what would have been such missions into Mass Effect 3's main storyline. This really helps smooth things out and keeps the game from being too jumbled with annoying side projects. Also, the fact that early in the the game the Reapers invade Earth, provides a bit of added intrigue to the game's above average story.
One thing that the final third of a trilogy are expected to do is tie-up loose ends. Mass Effect 3, as a whole, does a good job at this. Characters who, for whatever reason in the past, have gone missing or simply haven't been a factor in the storyline, return and BioWare does a good job of writing them into the story in a way that works out. And while a number of gamers are crying foul over the final few minutes of the game itself, a very polarizing ending is trumped by the roughly 30 hours of very good gameplay that precedes it (yes, even including the dull process of scanning planets).
Gameplay-wise, BioWare has made a number of tweaks and changes to the way Mass Effect 3 is played compared to its predecessors. The most obvious of these alterations is the inclusion of Kinect-based controls. While the game does not make use of Kinect's motion tracking (BioWare deserves a big thank you card for that decision), it does utilize its microphone and allows the player to bark out orders not only to the other members in Shepard's party, but also to the Xbox 360 itself by allowing the player to verbally do things such as saving one's game simply by telling the game to do so.
Actual combat has been retooled a bit, too. The actual handling of characters should feel very familiar to players of Mass Effect 2, but the design of the levels their handled within has been improved. Gone are the seemingly endless corridors, leaving well-designed areas that feel more open and allow for Shepard to actually do things while under fire that don't include only returning gunfire. It's stuff like this that further differentiate the Mass Effect games from more gun-heavy titles such as the Gears of War series.
The focus on player choice is as stern as it ever has been in a Mass Effect game and those made in previous entries into the series actually matter in this final game. This assumes, of course, that the player imported save data from the other games. These past choices might impact something as trivial as some basic dialogue between characters, or something more substantial like entire quests being affected. And as would be expected, the choices made within Mass Effect 3 by the player affect how things progress in this title as a stand-alone game.
While the game overall is quite good, there is an aspect of Mass Effect 3 that should have been re-imagined before including in the title (if it even needed to be included at all). Multiplayer, a new feature in the Mass Effect franchise, at first seems like a welcomed distraction and a way around some of the game's dull fetch quests. Since completion of these somewhat tedious quests are required to get the game's best ending, players will find themselves wanting to go multiplayer to, in turn, minimize the number of these missions and still get the desired outcome to the game.
Co-op wave-based gameplay works out pretty much exactly as one would expect and basically comes across fairly well. The big problem here, however, is that a good number of character customization options -- some weaponry included -- can only be accessed by the player literally purchasing a "pack" from EA. Much like a Facebook or free-to-play online PC game, these packs can be bought by spending in-game credits that are earned at a snail's pace (and yield random results); or the player can simply spend some of his hard-earned cash ($60 of which was already spent on the game as it is) to speed up the process via microtransactions. Microtransactions work great with games from Nexon and such, but, in a triple-A caliber title such as Mass Effect, they just come off as cheap and shady.
Mass Effect 3 was straddling the line between a very good video game and a great one, meaning that it could have gone either way. It's great graphics, tremendous gameplay, terrific storyline, and well-implemented Kinect-based controls were heavily pushing it beyond being simply "very good". Unfortunately, the game's extremely polarizing ending, a big-enough selection of frustratingly dull side quests, and a multiplayer mode that seems to follow the freemium model do just enough to hold this game back from achieving greatness.
Final Game Guys grade: B+
(EA provided a copy of this game for review.)