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SummaryCompetent gameplay execution, but still a disappointing conclusion
The GoodThe biggest strength of Mass Effect 3 is easy to name: is is a very fine third person shooter. Compared to the boring Whac-A-Mole combat of Mass Effect, the series has come a long way: instead of hiding behind a single peace of cover and killing enemies when they look up from their cover, the player is often forced to move because of grenades or aggressive enemies which quickly move into melee range. The previous games already had Husks, but they almost never entered combat together with other enemy types and therefore leaving cover to deal with them was not problematic. Especially the Banshees work well because they have much health, have powerful attacks and a creepy sound. Unfortunately they don't show up often and many fights - especially against Cerberus - can still become a bit stale.
The second good point is the design of the main quests. With the exception of one (boarding a ship; revealing more would be a spoiler), they have varied optical design and are short enough to not become boring. Unfortunately the caveat is that the progression of the main quest is completely linear.
And of course it is still a joy to travel with Shepard's old crew, even if the new additions to the roster fall flat. The best moments of the game are meeting previous crew-mates during side and main quests. My personal favorite is Thane's arc. The interactions with the Normandy crew were shortened: instead of fully animated conversions, there are mostly non-interactive lines either without or automatic interjections by Shepard. In my opinion this is a good change because it ensures everyone has at least one new thing to say after every mission.
The BadMuch has been talked about the ending and many people hate it with a passion. I think it is weak and can only explain it with writers having written themselves into a corner. Otherwise nobody would come up with such a simplistic conclusion to the game's main mystery which - in contrast to the rest of the series - completely ignores all player choices. But it is certainly not worth sending death threats to the developers, especially because the main plot was always only passable.
No, in my opinion the biggest failure of ME3 is found in another direction: the side content sucks. Mass Effect's Mako sections were too time consuming and without any variety while Mass Effect 2's planet scanning was simply boring - but the war asset scanning combines both into a boring, time consuming mess. I have to admit, I just googled the locations of the assets to save some time. The planet scanning in ME2 was quickly done with because after half an hour you had everything you need for the rest of the game (it does not tell you, but that's another issue) - but here is mandatory. At least if you want to unlock the best ending without playing multiplayer.
Most side quests are also tied with the war asset scanning: Shepard overhears a conversation, finds the sought item through scanning and then returns to the person in question. This is not only boring, but also loses all narrative depth because there is no real interaction between Shepard and the quest giver. There are also some other side quests: a few good ones with old teammates and many boring ones on obviously recycled multiplayer maps.
No discussion of ME3 is complete without mentioning BioWare's atrocious DLC policy: Javek, the last surviving Prothean, was cut out of the game and sold as Day-1-DLC. BioWare claims he was developed during the time between gold master and release, but this is obviously untrue: not only is much of his content already present on the retail DVD, but his story is also deeply intertwined with the main story. Playing without Javek makes ME3 a worse game. But to be fair, about one year later BioWare also released one of my favorite DLC of all time (not counting real expansions like Blood and Wine).
The Bottom LineWhen ME3 would have been released as standalone game, I don't think it would have made a big splash in the gamer community. The story and dialogue is not outstanding on its own, but as conclusion of one of the most beloved game series of all times it is definitely worth playing despite the ending. If you loved Mass Effect 2 (or the first one, I guess, even if I can't imagine why), this is a must play.
For the series as a whole, I can recommend it to players who love reading through lore items and appreciate watching great characters grow. But the plot itself is weak and the first Mass Effect is a chore to play.