I'm going to be honest with you right up front. I did not finish Mass Effect 3 before writing this. The game is far too massive to finish in a weekend (we got our review copy this past Friday), and honestly, I didn't want to rush the experience. The wheels of this epic trilogy started churning back in 2007 and I'll be damned if I'm going to blow off the campaign's engaging side quests and surprisingly deep multiplayer to plow towards the finish line in the name of an official "review."
With that said, however, I have played a little more than 10 hours of Mass Effect 3, so I do feel qualified to comment on the game up to this point in time. And so far, I'm quite satisfied with the experience. That's right, folks, Mass Effect 3 lives up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon it, at least in this writer's humble opinion.
As people who have dabbled in the game's recently released demo can attest, the story of Mass Effect 3 kicks off with hell on earth becoming a reality. The Reapers have begun their invasion and earth won't last long without Commander Shepard's help. It comes down to Shepard playing diplomat in order to unite the various races across the galaxy to take the fight back to the Reapers. Essentially, Shepard turns into an errand boy, doing various favors for each race in order to get their full support in the galaxy-engulfing war with the Reapers. It's a symbiotic dutch rudder, if you will.
Thankfully, the errands you're sent out to complete usually involve heavy action like blowing holes through Reaper husks and kicking those nasty Cerberus bastards in the balls. The streamlined gunplay that was introduced in Mass Effect 2 returns here in ME3. In fact, it's even more sleek than before. BioWare has done a wonderful job putting further emphasis on the game's shooter backbone. Take, for example, the game's Kinect integration (if you own a Kinect, of course). With a Kinect sensor you can shout all sorts of commands at your television to direct your squad in the heat of combat. No longer do you have to pause the action to direct Garrus to use Overload or James to use a frag grenade, for example. It's all done on the fly and it works rather well.
With that said, however, having a Kinect sensor isn't a requirement. While I chose to use it as much as possible during combat — if only to test the waters fully — there were a few instances where I fell back on the old tried and true method of pausing in the middle of a firefight to strategically plan out my squad's next move. Firefights can get frantic as hell, so unless you know the Kinect squad commands like the back of your hand, you're better off switching back and forth between voice control and the standard squad command radial wheel when things get a little too hairy.
At the point I'm at in the game's campaign, I haven't really experienced any "Oh Shit!" moments outside the opening thirty minutes. But again, I'm still in the process of rallying the troops, so to speak. There's still a whole lot of game in front of me. On top of that, the multiplayer component is expansive as shit. I fired it up yesterday when it went live for the press and my head nearly exploded. This is the first game I've played where the multiplayer experience actually felt like a part of the grand narrative tapestry that BioWare has weaved. Remember when Dead Space 2's multiplayer was supposed to have a story that tied into the campaign's narrative, yet that never fully came to fruition, instead just feeling like a ham-fisted component to add an extra bulletpoint to the back of the box. Well, Mass Effect 3's multiplayer feels nothing like that.
With BioWare's "Galaxy at War" and "Galactic Readiness" systems, multiplayer directly influences your single player experience if you log enough time into it. Sure, you can choose to completely skip multiplayer if you want the entire game to be a solo experience, but for those looking to expand their Mass Effect 3 horizons, multiplayer makes for a nice change of pace when you need a break from the adventures of Commander Shepard and his rag-tag crew.
In addition to directly influencing the galaxy's readiness to take the fight back to the Reapers in single player, multiplayer also offers a full range of unlocks, be it weapons, armors, races and abilities. When you first log into multiplayer, you are likely to get overwhelmed by the breath of options available to you. You thought all those hours logged into single player were a lot? Ha! Welcome to a whole new side of the war, one that begs you to dump just as many hours into it as you did single player. I can't stress enough how massive Mass Effect 3 is. If price was directly correlated to game length, BioWare could charge $1,000 (give or take) and most people wouldn't give a shit. This game is the definition of bang for your buck.
I feel like I've only hit the tip of the iceberg with Mass Effect 3. After all the time I've logged so far I'm still nowhere near the finish line, and I love it for that. With so much to do and see, Mass Effect 3 is the type of game that you could purchase and coast on for months, maybe even the whole year. Think Skyrim, but instead of dragons, knights and arrows to the knee, you get a sci-fi epic with the entire universe at stake. If that sounds like your cup of tea (if that doesn't, who are you?!), then it might be in your best interest to slap $60 on the counter, call your friends and family to tell them you love them, and then slip away into one hell of an epic adventure.