On the other hand, the improvement in level design is remarkable. Unlike the previous game, Mass Effect 3 isn't about "take cover behind the obvious barriers, shoot the enemies that predictably emerge, and then do it again." Combat areas are more expansive and some enemies are more aggressive, so not only are you given room to move about, but you must use that space. One such enemy is the banshee, which destroys you in a single grab if you let it come too close. These shrieking horrors join charging brutes, dogging you in tandem in a memorable combat sequence and providing a challenge the previous games lacked, at least on normal difficulty.
And so you can't always trust a single cover spot to provide sanctuary--not when you have three guys in humongous robot suits blindsiding you. You sprint and tumble about, sliding into cover and using cryo ammo to freeze a creepy cannibal before smashing it with a powerful shock wave. As you level up, you eventually make choices on how to upgrade your powers. Do you increase the Pull ability's recharge speed, or do you learn to launch two Pull projectiles at once? Don't assume that Mass Effect 3's missions are all about guns and space magic, though. A pistol isn't much help when you traverse a virtual space made of neon cubes and floating platforms. Facing an old nemesis isn't a battle of guns--it's a battle of wits.
The very model of a scientist Salarian.
Nevertheless, you do a lot of shooting, and Mass Effect 3's primary customization element is in its huge supply of guns and the large number of modifications you can make to them. There are five weapon types and loads of choices within those types, each with its own pros and cons. You find weapons and mods in mission areas and can purchase them from vendors on the Citadel or from a terminal on your ship, the Normandy SR-2. You don't just need to consider your play style when choosing weapons prior to battle--you also need to consider how their weight might affect your ability to perform biotic and tech skills. The heavier your loadout, the less often you can send the bad guys flying into the air.
You may also spend credits to level up these weapons, which gives Mass Effect 3 a fine sense of progression. A dinky pistol and submachine gun lead to assault rifles upgraded with scopes and sniper rifles with damage modifiers. And if you've never found much use for certain weapons, the broader level design may have you rethinking your approach. If you were never inclined to use a sniper rifle, now you can find a good vantage point to zoom in and let loose. You may never have let an enemy get too close before, but a nice shotgun and a melee attachment can make it a snap to fend off hawkish husks that intrude on your personal space.
Every race has its secrets, the Asari included.
It's worth noting that Mass Effect 3 has added a notable feature to the series, but has lost another. The Xbox 360 version supports the Kinect peripheral, allowing you to call out commands to teammates ("Liara: Warp!"), perform your own skills ("Pull!"), interact with objects ("Open!"), or choose dialogue options. This is all absolutely functional, and sometimes even enjoyable. For instance, calling out to a team member to let loose a biotic power means you don't have to pause the game to pull up the radial menu. On the other hand, there's enough of a delay when speaking your wishes aloud that it's more efficient just to push a button. The feature lost, on all platforms, is that of hacking minigames. They were fine diversions, but Mass Effect 3 varies its pace enough that you won't likely miss them.
Mass Effect 3 isn't all talking and shooting. Outside of combat, you walk around the Citadel, picking up odd jobs and eavesdropping on diplomats and refugees. There are some wonderful moments to be had here: having a bizarre conversation with a virtual copy of yourself, checking in on an old ally in bad health, and punching an old nemesis square in the face. Refugees mourn for the lost and missing, gazing at a collection of photographs that serves as an ad hoc memorial. Again, it's the subtleties that pull you in. A crewmate gets a tattoo to celebrate his newfound ambitions, you ponder the meaning of a human-on-AI romance, and you grab a drink in a busy nightclub. It's a pity that the entertaining lesser races--the Hanar and the Elcor in particular--are in such short supply. Mass Effect 3 isn't big on comedic interludes.
Is this gun not getting the job done? No matter--there are dozens of others to choose from.
The side missions you pick up at the Citadel aren't all that inspired. In some cases, you wander around searching for objects to interact with. In others, you head to the Normandy and take to the galactic map. The way you zoom about the galaxy is much as it was in the last installment, though the details differ. No longer do you scan planets looking for resources. Instead, you scan solar regions to identify planets of interest. From here, you scan the planet itself, drop a probe onto its surface, and collect the artifact or object in question. This busywork is complicated by reapers, who appear in these solar systems after a few seconds and swarm and destroy you if you don't make a swift escape. This game of cat and mouse is more annoyance than entertainment, getting in the way when you wish you could just get the job done.
Galactic exploration is important if you want to tackle the reapers with the might of the galaxy behind you. The more side missions you conquer, the more fulfilling the finale becomes, though there is another way to prepare: playing Mass Effect 3's online multiplayer. The more you play, the greater the galaxy's state of readiness. There's only one mode, the standard "defeat progressively stronger waves of enemies" mode, and it's functional, even fun. Tossing grenades and incinerating ravagers as a unified group is a blast, especially when an objective draws you to a central point to defend an area or focus on a specific enemy. The cooperative play isn't particularly special, however; out of context, the action is fine but lacks the heft of , or 's speedy tempo. Spots of lag can also hinder the experience, however, as can the possibility of having a few enemies get stuck in some unknown place and forcing you to restart the match.
Don't look at me in that tone of voice.
The multiplayer's overall structure is more interesting than the action. You choose from one of six classes and level them separately, and earn credits as you play. You use these credits to unlock packs that contain a number of random items--special ammo, a weapon mod, an on-the-spot ammo refill, and so on. (You can also spend real money on them if you are so inclined.) Because so many of these items are expendable, and because the flow of rewards is slow but steady, you might be drawn to stick with Mass Effect 3's multiplayer even after you've reaped its single-player benefit.
Mass Effect 3 has its flaws, but they're of minimal consequence in a game this enthralling. By filling the Milky Way with vibrant, singular characters, the series has given you a reason to care about its fate. Ostensibly, Mass Effect 3 is about saving the galaxy, but a galaxy is just a thing--an idea, an abstract, a meaningless collection of plutinos, planets, and pulsars. But the game is actually about saving people. And there's a big difference there. Watching cities burn from orbit tugs at your heartstrings; watching a beloved companion die cuts to the bone. Whether you possess a storied history with the series or come with a clean slate, Mass Effect 3 expertly entangles you in its universe and inspires you to care about its future.