From third-person shooter to conversation-led adventure, from resource hunting minigames and role-playing skill trees to multiplayer battles, Mass Effect 3 attempts to be all games in one, and does a surprisingly good job of pulling it off. No single element truly excels, but together they create an experience that engages on multiple levels. Everything ties in to something else, creating a dizzying web of interlocking metagames that encourage you to explore every corner, undertake every mission and exhaust every conversation.
But some changes arenít as positive. Mass Effect 3 totes a far looser side quest system thatís less compelling and interesting than its predecessorsí. Itís easy to earn a bunch of side quests only by overhearing conversations in certain locations, with no real context as to what youíre supposed to do. While the main quest is heavy on story and action and certainly fulfills in its own right, Mass Effect 3ís slant on side quests feels wanting, making the 30 to 40 hours it takes to complete everything in the game just a little more arduous.
BioWare has somewhat down-scaling the RPG-centric nature of the series, but thankfully this dumbing-down is totally optional. Mass Effect 3 still very much acts the part of action-RPG, but players will be given options to lessen the role-playing if you want to jump only into the action or story. Then again, BioWare has made Mass Effect 3 deeper in some ways, too, with features like enhanced weapon customization. So not all is lost.
The series' focus on player choice is as vital as it has ever been in Mass Effect 3. The effects of choices in previous installments have an impact in extraordinary ways here, more so than in Mass Effect 2. Sometimes the nods to prior choices are subtle. A lover might fondly recall her previous entanglement with you, while still supporting your new romantic interest. At other times, the impact is far more dramatic. Entire quests, conversations, and characters shift as a result of your actions in previous games (not to mention, your decisions in this one). As a result, you might be delighted by characters other players never meet, share intimate talks with crewmates other players never interact with, and deal with decisions other players never make. And as in previous Mass Effect games, your entire attitude when choosing dialogue options (paragon or renegade) can drive you to conclusions other players could never consider.
Along with building your alliances, scientists will also be constructing something that they think can stop the Reapers. But those old space racists at Cerberus have their own ideas about how best to proceed. So along with ending centuries-old conflicts via 30 minutes of third-person shooting and a few choices on a dialogue wheel, you'll also fight your way through human enemies, along with Reaper husks or others, depending on the scenario. Much of the side content in Mass Effect 3 is combat-focused, to the point where the game's multiplayer levels appear as "N7 missions" in the campaign, and most of these have you running around a relatively small area, hitting buttons and fending off waves of enemies. Sometimes a mission will simply stop and give you the objective of "survive," which feels like an artificial way to pad some of these missions out. It's not that the combat in Mass Effect 3 is bad--it's cleaned up and feels a bit tighter than ME2's did--but it's still not substantial enough to serve as the centerpiece of the game.