Mass Effect 3 is a funny game in that at the time of its release, people formed strong opinions about how bad the game was. Mainly this was due to the ending of the game. After spending two games making many massive decisions, people ultimately felt like the game was a lie because the endings were down to four possibilities. People ignored the fact that for the previous 50 hours, you got one of the best crafted, well written, and emotionally traumatizing experiences in video gaming. I personally never had a problem with Mass Effect 3’s ending. From the moment I played the original Mass Effect, I knew I wanted to (spoilers) destroy the Reapers. So, when I was given (essentially) four choices at the end of the game, and one of them was Destroy, I took it. Now, nine years after the original release, I come back to Mass Effect 3 in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and find that I appreciate the game even more. It does have its flaws, sure, but Mass Effect 3 is still one of best crafted closures to any trilogy. Mass Effect 3: Legendary Edition (Mass Effect 3: LE moving forward in this review) is an absolute treat you shouldn’t avoid.
Like I mentioned above, Mass Effect 3 is the concluding game in the original Mass Effect Trilogy (concerning Commander Shepard’s story, at least). In Mass Effect 3 the galaxy is invaded by the villainous Reapers, who are set to destroy all life in the galaxy. As Commander Shepard, you must try to stop the Reapers and a twisted human organization called Cerberus, and you must unite the galaxy together towards an all out final war against the Reapers. Mass Effect 3 originally released in 2012 on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U. Mass Effect 3: Legendary Edition includes the base game, all the pre-order armor and weapon content, the extended cut content, and all four single-player DLC packs (From Ashes, Leviathan, Omega, and Citadel).
One of Mass Effect 3’s greatest strengths is its fantastic writing and characters. Mass Effect 3 is a story of loss, desperation and resilience. These aspects are written beautifully throughout the game. The galaxy is at war, massive loss of life is happening everywhere, and you cannot win on your own. It’s how the game is written that truly pulls you into everything. This isn’t a game about beating the Reapers without loss. This is a game about losing and never giving up. Without spoiling the story (for those who haven’t played), Mass Effect 3 excels at presenting this horrifying galaxy that is losing and constantly giving you moments of hope. The characters truly shine as BioWare chose to pull back on your squadmate roster and instead give you more meaningful interactions with each. It’s the fact that Liara is so (spoilers) devastated at the destruction of Thessia or Garrus concerned for his father and sister on Palaven that really drive the emotional weight of the story home. Really, when you stop and experience Mass Effect 3, that’s exactly what you’re being given. A very emotional, weighty journey. Mass Effect 2 was about overcoming long odds and getting everyone out alive. Mass Effect 3 is about sacrificing everything you hold dear simply to do the right thing and survive. Some characters you’ve grown to love will die, and that makes the game so emotional. Its writing is simply top notch.
Another major strength of Mass Effect 3 is its evolved gameplay. Everything from squad commands, movement and gunplay have all been refined from Mass Effect 2 and made better. Directing your squad now feels more precise and definitely feels like your decisions with them have more of an effect on the battlefield. Your own movement has been improved, allowing you to more directly control your ins and outs on the battlefield. Now you can actually move around corners in cover, over while in cover, run across the battlefield ducked down, and into cover behind, say, a downed tank. Even the gunplay has been tweaked to make for a better experience. Guns can now be customized with different mods, making them lighter, faster, more accurate, able to hold more ammo, etc. It genuinely feels like Mass Effect 3 is how the series wanted to be from Day 1 but needed time to refine itself. It really can’t be said how well the gameplay works in Mass Effect 3.
Specifically taking about the changes made in Mass Effect 3: LE, there’s one big one. Gone is the Galactic Readiness Percentage. In short, throughout Mass Effect 3, you are collecting armies and resources to gather together for your final, all out war with the Reapers. In the original Mass Effect 3, this was tied to two systems: Galactic Readiness and Galactic Readiness Percentage. The higher the percentage, the more successful you’d be. So, if you went into the final battle, but your readiness percentage was 50%, then you’d only have 50% success with your resources. The biggest challenge originally was that increasing this percentage was tied into the multiplayer mode. Basically, the only way to increase that percentage and increase your chances for success at the finale was to play hours of the multiplayer mode (and I do mean literally hours. Typically to get it to 100% would take between 3-5 hours). Even worse, the percentage would go down for every real world hour. Thankfully, in Mass Effect 3: LE, they took this feature out. Now all you have to do is simply get those armies or resources. That’s it, no worrying about if the percentage was high enough. This is a huge welcome change and, honestly, makes the whole experience better. Instead of being annoyed that I reached the ending and now needed to spend hours in multiplayer to get the best possible ending, now I get to enjoy the whole story from start to finish. Although I wouldn’t be mad if BioWare added the multiplayer back into the Legendary Edition as its own separate thing.
The one glaring issue in Mass Effect 3: LE that I thought BioWare would have addressed has to do with side missions. The original release of Mass Effect 3 had lots of side missions you could undertake. These would range from small “go get this object” missions to larger, more direct consequence side missions. Mass Effect 3 never tells you one tiny but incredibly important detail: These side missions are timed and failure to get to them is “failure.” These failures range from losing previous resources to, in one example, losing an entire school of biotic children, their teachers (one of them being a former squadmate/love interest) and having them indoctrinated and turned against you by Cerberus. Small, right? The issue is that the game never directly tells you that there’s a “timer.” Like in Mass Effect 2, you’re told about a side mission and told to get to it as soon as you can, but unlike Mass Effect 2, you literally only have a small window of time to get to them. I assumed BioWare would fix this in Mass Effect 3: LE because it’s a common complaint people had with with the game. Unfortunately, they didn’t fix it, which can be frustrating for new players who don’t know this exists. Longtime series fans learned this lesson the hard way nine years ago and now know how all that works. Just if you’re new to the series, look up a guide about this. It will go a long ways to helping you have the most successful playthrough.
The only other relatively minor issue I have with Mass Effect 3: LE has to do with the minimal updates done to the game for its Legendary Edition. The game always looked good, even on PS3, 360 and Wii U, and the game once again looks really nice. Environments and character details are nice and clean, the game runs great, and the fixes to the Galactic Readiness make for the best version of Mass Effect 3: LE. That said, Mass Effect 3: LE feels like it got the least amount of improvements over the other two games in the collection. Where Mass Effect got a complete upgrade, and Mass Effect 2 saw massive improvements in quality and resolution, Mass Effect 3 feels the same. So much so that I booted up the original Mass Effect 3 on 360 (via backwards compatibility on my Xbox Series X) and even Mass Effect 3 on Wii U. The game looks slightly better in the Legendary Edition, but nothing immediately jumps out at you. In fact, you’d probably have to do a frame-by-frame analysis to notice many differences. While not a massive negative as the game still looks and plays great, it does feel like a bit of a letdown, almost like BioWare got through the previous two games and got to Mass Effect 3 and said, “Yeah, it’s fine.”
Overall, Mass Effect 3: LE is the absolute definitive version of Mass Effect 3 and must be replayed. The well crafted story, characters, and refinements to gameplay truly let Mass Effect 3 conclude an emotional story on a high point. Yes, the controversial ending is still in there, and the game still has its side mission flaws. However, Mass Effect 3 is a game you must experience and brings a great, emotional conclusion to an epic journey.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC. Playable on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S via backwards compatibility
Release Date: 14th May 2021