So I just finished playing Mass Effect 3 recently. Loved it and the whole series so much that now I have to write about my experience playing the games. The Mass Effect universe over the three games was so rich I wanted to live there–it was that good. Up there with Star Wars or Star Trek. I didn’t play the first game as it was never on the PS3, but I have played the other two. I love this series so much that I’m inflicting the following massive post on both of the folks that will end up reading it, lol.
Great gameplay: this was a pleasure because I love RPG’s and don’t often like action games; this played like an RPG and like an action game, but I didn’t even mind the latter aspect of it which is saying quite a lot. Terrific storyline: it’s a plot-driven story and this series had story to spare. It was so rich it kept me hooked from beginning to end. There were also lots of side-missions that you could do, but they almost never felt repetitive or boring. On the contrary they were mostly original and creative, which is really tough to do. Heck there were places you could go if you wanted to go exploring for no reason other than to do it! Fleshing out the universe was done so fully you could go on and write a series of sci-fi novels based on it. I loved the aliens, loved the tech, loved the locations. The characters were so three-dimensional and realistic that whether you liked each of them or not you understood where they were coming from and cared about them (except James Vega, he seemed like something of an afterthought). The series had just about everything.
Now to compare ME2 and ME3. So in any trilogy there will be strong entries and weaker ones. For example, Empire Strikes Back was clearly the strongest of the original Star Wars trilogy even though all three were good. Having never played the first game I can’t comment, but let’s just say it’s the weakest of the three based on what I’ve read about it. On to the comparison!
First, ME2 was a longer experience. That’s not always a good thing, but in the case of these games it definitely is, because I really didn’t want the games to end I was having such a great time. ME2 took between 50-60 hours, whereas three took between 30-40 hours. The depth and quality of the characters were pretty close for both games, but to me the fact that 2 didn’t have any weak characters and 3 did have one tips the scales there. Even the downloadable characters for 2 are both fun and enjoyable.
In terms of pure gaming immersion both games are pretty close, but I have to say at the end of 2 you literally felt like you weren’t sure you were going to survive, and the first time you set foot in a Collector ship it was downright nerve-wracking. There wasn’t quite something like that in 3, though you feel more of a sense all of your choices mattering: the war has begun and you’re trying to gather forces that will directly affect the outcome of the war. Both games had equally creative and interesting missions and side missions, I really enjoyed them.
ME3 had the edge when it came to picking your team–this might seem strange given that you had more choices in 2, but really all that made me feel was like they were wasted because I kept picking the same team members again and again. I remember actually feeling guilty occasionally and picking someone else so they wouldn’t always be hanging out back in the ship.
Graphically 3 also has a slight edge, though they both look gorgeous. In terms of DLC (downloadable content for you savages reading this) ME2 wins this by a mile, but it’s a somewhat unfair comparison as 3 hasn’t been out that long. Still, 3 is going to have to work hard to equal content like Lair of the Shadow Broker. ME3 has a slight edge in gameplay, due to the interface being refined over the course of the first two games. The intro to both games were equally excellent. You think it’d be tough to beat your character actually dying in the beginning of 2, but then when you start playing 3 you witness Earth itself being the first to fall to the Reapers. Just fantastic. Both rewarded having played the previous game first, by being able to import your character and making references to events in prior games.
The ending. Yes, this needs a new paragraph because ultimately it was the most discriminating factor. The ending is where ME3 should have blown 2 completely out of the water, bringing everything together and seeing the results of the choices you’ve made throughout the trilogy. Given the uniformly high level of writing throughout both games I frankly expected excellence. The fact that I have to say ME2’s ending is better is only because the ending of 3 is so utterly bad and disappointing.
How bad was it? It’s as if you have Arthur C Clarke or JRR Tolkien writing a series and then he dies before finishing, so you get someone like me in at the last minute to try and tie everything together. Imagine that train wreck, and then imagine what I decided to do was make the ending about 60 seconds long and make it so vague nobody could understand it. That’s how bad it was. How bad was it?? There are already two articles in Forbes Magazine talking about Bioware’s business practices regarding ME3. How bad was it??? There is an online petition and donation (which at this writing, a week after the game came out, has already raised over $35,000) in order to help convince them to release an alternate ending. It’s a shame.
Those of you who know how I am with video games at ALL know that when I play a game I usually play until I beat it. This is one of the few games I would not encourage someone to play until they win. I think that says it all. Again, it’s unfortunate because the desire for those who have played any of the previous games to beat ME3 is going to be overwhelming, and we all deserved better. *sigh* Okay, off the soapbox.
To end on a happy note, overall they are both utterly excellent games. ME2 is one of the finest games I’ve ever played. Ever. ME3 is right up there with it, but overall ME2 takes it. I hate to get down on Bioware, particularly since they are now owned by EA and I’m not sure how much they had their fingers in the pot. They’ve made some great games, like Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur’s Gate. Still, I seriously doubt EA was dictating how Bioware should end the game, so I’ve got to have Bioware shoulder the praise and the blame for doing such a terrific job overall, only to stumble at the finish line. Don’t let this get you down about playing them if you are thinking about it. Play them! They’re amazing games. Just don’t play them for the ‘big ending.’