This is it: the final part of the trilogy of the superb Mass Effect series. Everything that was built up in the previous two entries comes down to this. No one believed war hero Commander Shepard's warnings, but now the entire galaxy is at war.
First and foremost, BioWare must be commended for delivering such an engaging experience that truly encapsulates the feeling of a near apocalypse through war. From the first moments to the last, the desperation and importance felt through entire species coming together - fighting for one another; dying for one another - as everything around them falls apart is an emotional experience that is not often seen at this level in video games.
Touching down on foreign soil and opening the shuttle doors to reveal entire planets getting decimated is an extraordinary feeling, coupled with the burden that civilisation rests solely on Shepard's shoulders. There is the constant sense of foreboding that this is the impossible mission - that it is a lost cause - but every single time Shepard jumps into the heat of battle there is that desire to achieve that impossible. The sensation of war and urgency even echoes through Shepard's voice in his shouting of orders; something not so often heard in the past two games. This portrayal of the world's, nay, galaxy's end in such incredible form is some achievement, and credit should be due to the creators in accomplishing this.
As the pieces of the Mass Effect story begin to unravel and ultimately come together in this game, the drive to take down the antagonists grows into a strong one. It's a rare occasion that players are made to feel such an overwhelming hatred for the foes of any game, but here it rings especially true. Neither does it so often occur that a player becomes so deeply invested into a game's story that the closer they get to its final hours their hands begin to shake, their heartbeat quickens in pace and all manner of emotions course the body. For players that have played the Mass Effect series through from the first game, this is exactly what will happen as they work their way through the plot of Mass Effect 3.
Quite whether the same can be said for those who have never played a Mass Effect game before, though, is a different matter. There will be people unaware of exactly what this series is all about and wondering if they can happily jump straight into the third part of the trilogy on Wii U. Let's try to clear things up.
Mass Effect is classed as an action role-playing game with third-person shooter missions, set in an alternate far distant future in which space travel exists and all manner of alien species live and work together on a vast number of planets and colonies across the galaxy. A familiar theme is used for each game, whereby the main base of operations is human soldier Commander Shepard's spaceship, the Normandy. Using the galaxy map in the ship, players have a number of priority and optional missions that can be selected from different planets, and in Mass Effect 3, the main goal is to complete as many missions as possible in order to bolster the war assets that will ultimately make the final assault to save the galaxy. Mass Effect has always been a very dialogue-heavy series, with much of the role-playing aspects coming in the form of the player actually choosing the multiple dialogue options Shepard speaks, and ultimately affecting the course of the story.
One of the most appealing aspects of this series is being able to carry over a personalised Commander Shepard and all of the decisions made by the player in previous Mass Effect games. With the bizarre decision to port only the final part of the trilogy to Wii U, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is a problem for Wii U-only owners looking to get into the franchise. As with Mass Effect 2 on PlayStation 3, Dark Horse Comics produced an interactive narrated comic to recap the events of the first two titles and allow the player to make a few important story-related decisions; however, these comics are in absolutely no way a replacement for the previous games. Those curious about whether they can get away with simply diving straight into ME3: Special Edition should seriously disregard those thoughts. By all means, this is a fantastic addition to the Wii U's library, but skipping playing Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 would be doing a great injustice to the series, and in no way will players be getting the true Mass Effect experience. This series is designed to be played from beginning to end. No comic can make up for that.
The returning characters surrounding Shepard in Mass Effect 3 actually don't get as great a deal of growth as compared to previous games. In ME2 for example, every squad mate had a loyalty mission which expanded on their past and refined their relationship with Shepard. This doesn't really happen in ME3, so anyone that missed out on the previous games would be hard-pressed to feel any such emotion towards them when met in this game. It is probably assumed that much of the emotional attachments to the plentiful and diverse range of characters have already been made by players through the previous two games, and as such, more of a focus is turned towards the current war. It is unfortunate that there perhaps isn't quite as much character-bonding in the game, and indeed more so that the new faces don't get much development, either.
A bond is most definitely formed between player and Shepard throughout the series. The Commander is customisable to each player's tastes at the very beginning - from facial features to background history. This is your Shepard, and you've been through so much together, and that relationship between player and Commander has developed into something unique and personal. It would be very difficult to gain as much of a connection and relate to both Shepard and the other characters by missing out on both Mass Effect 1 & 2.
But for those that have played the series through from the start, this is what makes the final part of the trilogy so special. As the finale and eventual assault to attempt to win the war grows ever closer, those bonds that tie the player to the game and its characters become so much more apparent - so much more affecting. There really aren't many games like this that create such strong and integrating sensations between players and the characters they control.
The role-playing side of the game is bolstered through the aforementioned ability to customise Shepard and squad mates. Not only is there the option to choose between male and female versions of the Commander (the latter affectionately known as "FemShep" by fans), as well as alter their physical appearance to a decent degree of depth, but there are six fighting classes to choose from at the start of the game, each with their own pros and cons. The Soldier class can use any type of gun and has improved health, but lacks in the tech and biotics department; Engineers focus more on disabling enemy weapons and creating weaknesses, but suffer with firearms and can only equip light armour; whilst Vanguards are risky but rewarding, designed for fighting up close using strong short-range weapons and biotics. These and other classes allow the player to choose a combat style that suits them for the course of the game, and means future replays provide different experiences based on the classes chosen.
Tech and biotic abilities are special powers that can be used in battle in addition to guns, with different powers being learnt depending on which class Shepard is. Squad mates have fixed classes, and their abilities can be learnt and upgraded, allowing players to focus on certain powers and choose the allies that suit them. Weapons can even be modified, much like in Mass Effect 1, with players picking up and buying parts to clip onto guns to improve accuracy, kickback and more. There's no question that the level of customisation is a good one, and definitely something that becomes more reliable on harder difficulties.
Combat seems to have quickened in pace in general, with Shepard now able to roll, duck in and out of cover, and run continuously whilst jumping short walls. A small stealth element sometimes comes into play by catching enemies unaware, but battles often play out in a number of different ways depending on the classes and allies players choose, keeping combat fresh and satisfying. In keeping with a lot of previously single-player-only games' tradition, online multiplayer is introduced with Mass Effect 3, adding a bit more incentive to come back to the game with character customisation and levelling-up, and the ability to compete in a variety of modes. This is the only time players can play as different species in the Mass Effect series, with each one having its own unique styles and strong points. It is well worth checking out once the main story is completed.
Whilst ME3: Special Edition can be played using the traditional Wii U Pro Controller, the GamePad offers some unique features not found in other versions. As well as having a simple map interface and destination marker displayed at all times on the small screen, players can instantly plot a quick course for squad mates to travel, which can prove slightly more useful than the simple D-pad orders in other versions. Additionally, shortcut commands for powers have their ups and downs. On the one hand, it's a good bonus to activate powers with a quick tap of the touch screen, but on the other, this is done in real time, unlike the regular method where the targeting reticule is brought up to purposefully pause the game and actually select targets to hit with powers.
On a technical level, Straight Right has successfully ported Mass Effect 3 to Wii U very well, with it looking just as good as its console counterparts. The series has offered up some of the finest visuals on HD systems within the last few years, with special effects such as lighting and particle effects standing out. There are instances of still, grainy images being used for backgrounds and skies, which is, sadly, definitely noticeable in some cases. Plus, as with other games in the series, graphical glitches become apparent, with objects disappearing, bringing them to attention and sometimes spoiling the moment. Otherwise, everything else looks fantastic. This is backed up by possibly the best musical score in the series, with soundtracks that build up and create incredible atmosphere for the areas each piece is played, whilst sending shivers over the body and bringing out strong emotions in scenes.
Unfortunately, not only is the Wii U the only platform that does not have access to the full trilogy, but Mass Effect 3: Special Edition misses out on much of the additional download content that includes some entertaining missions. It is clear that, whilst it is a great port job with a couple of decent extras, the inability to link to the previous titles and more factors make it inferior to the versions of the game available on other platforms.