Mass Effect has always sold itself on consequence, but so far most of what we've seen has been vague. Somebody important gives you a slap on the wrist and a hint that it might come back to bite you in the future. Well now, we've been to the future. As it turns out, it's made entirely of teeth.
The consequences of your actions will sometimes be more subtle than you might have hoped for, but that doesn't make the outcomes any easier. In contrast to the false threat of Mass Effect 2's suicide mission, the potential for failure here feels real. If the Reapers succeed, everyone dies. Morality gets messy when things feel this desperate, making it increasingly difficult to try do the right thing. Don't expect the outcomes to go easy on your conscience, either - Mass Effect 3 will happily crush your soul. It'll break your heart, but you'll love it.
This genuine sense of dread changes the context between missions. You're not wasting time trying to seduce someone blue; you're spending precious time with people you might not get to see ever again. Excellent scripting and clever in-jokes will still be enough to raise a smile, but it's this ominous undertone that always shines through. This is the end of Shepard's story, and thankfully Bioware has done it justice.
We need to talk
Dialogue has always been Mass Effect's strength, and Bioware has managed to raise the bar even further. Great camera angles and dynamic character movement make each conversation feel much more natural, while adding a sense of cinema that keeps things dynamic. We played through the entire game without subtitles, and never felt the urge to skip a single line. For wildly impatient chumps like us, that's an astounding achievement all in itself.
The stylish new direction isn't just restricted to chit-chat, either. Impressive set-pieces add variety to the game, with a couple of tense missions that even riff on EA's Dead Space. Mainly though, these cinematic touches give the universe you're in a tangible sense of scale - something that's previously only been hinted at with fuzzy and distant CGI landscapes.
Gigantic space battles rage across the stars above you, whilst Reapers slice cities apart in the background. From the radioactive dust and ruins of Tuchanka to the horrifying view you'll see from the mission upon Palavan's moon, every inch of Mass Effect 3 is gorgeous. It's a beauty you'll pay for with longer load times, but we genuinely think that it's worth the wait.
If you felt that the second game was too dumbed-down, the new RPG aspects should be well received. Armour stat bonuses are back once more, and every skill in the game branches off at higher levels, letting you customise your team even further. Mining is gone but you can still explore the galaxy, scanning planets and asteroids to discover new secrets. Most of the optional mini-quests feel light, but those who value quantity will find at least 35 hours of stuff to do.
All of the boxes seem to have been ticked, but the main improvement can be seen in the combat. The variation and quantity of the guns is astounding, offering up something new to try at just the right pace to keep things fruity without overwhelming you with excess loot. The emphasis on perfecting your loadout ensures there's no incentive to stick with what you know: whether it's a spike-launching shotgun or a pistol that fires proximity mines, the variety keeps you on your toes while the damage they cause keeps you smiling.