PC, PS3, X360
I finished Mass Effect 3 (ME3) in thirty-plus hours over three days. That’s just over ten hours a day. I’m not what I used to be, able to play marathon runs of games where day and night – the real world – recede into my peripheral vision and it’s just me and the game. But those three days playing ME3 was the first in a long while that the old me, self-destructive with his time, came out in full force. Not even Skyrim inspired such sad obsession.
The crucial part of why has to do with the fact that ME3 is the culmination of a galaxy-spanning story that began in 2007. Unlike other sci-fi or fantasy epics in videogames, however, ME3 is the culmination of your Commander Shepard’s story. Most of the major and even minor choices you made in the first and second games are paid off in style here. There are so many of these choices that it’s a little hard to believe that any two gamers’ play through of this third and final act will be exactly the same.
It’s not so much your choices in and of themselves, however, that make this trilogy what it is. The spine of it, like any story, is in the characters and the relationships you develop with them over the three games. To watch Krogan warrior Urdnot Wrex go from lost mercenary with nascent revolutionary ideas to the leader of his species – that’s if you don’t opt to kill him in the first game – is enormously satisfying to behold. These relationships – and there are so freaking many of them – are at the core of this experience: they’re formed both by the characters you interact with and the attitudes you’ve imbued your Commander Shepard with.
Your Shepard’s attitude can be multilateral or unilateral; she can be a unifier or a xenophobe; she can be afraid of synthetics (machines) and AI or see them as an entirely new species with their own legitimate goals of actualisation. You can have any combination of these attitudes and even develop arcs for yourself where your attitudes change based on your choices and encounters throughout all three games. Or if you’re someone who hasn’t played the first two but is in need of an epic fix, you can play through this one without worrying about backstory or making choices or building relationships – the game actually gives you this option, but really, you’d be missing out on a lot of what makes these games truly special.
I haven’t talked about online play or Galaxy at War – these are fun diversions, but aren’t essential features even if they factor into the outer edges of the story. The star of the show is, as ever, your Commander Shepard.
Sertan Saral is on Twitter: @OddlySurreal