Delayed but not stopped by the efforts of Commander Shepard and his team in the previous “Mass Effect” games, a race of vastly intelligent, nearly unstoppable machines called the Reapers are bent on exterminating all advanced life in the galaxy in “Mass Effect 3.”
They’ve completed their grisly harvest before, many times. And they’ll do it again unless Shepard can forge a unified front from the galaxy’s squabbling races and find a way to stop them.
“Mass Effect 3” presents an unflinchingly bleak scenario — the Reapers are legion, they are powerful, and they are everywhere. Earth falls in the opening moments. Another race’s homeworld is seen burning from one of its moons. You encounter armies formed of familiar species captured and twisted into abominations by the Reapers’ technology. Any victory against them seems like it must be brutally Pyrrhic at best.
Gaining support elsewhere is a tall order— even those races not directly under siege are naturally looking to defend their own territory. It’ll take a lot of convincing and some difficult choices to rally a force to Shepard’s cause. And because you can import your version of Shepard from the previous games, choices you made in the first two games can have significant influence on the ones presented to you in this game, with consequences ranging from the sacrifice of old friends or the enmity— or extinction—of entire species, all for the cause of defeating the Reapers.
But Shepard is not just contending with robotic space monsters. Cerberus, the pro-human terrorist group that brought Shepard back from death in “Mass Effect 2,” is now at odds with the commander again, and its troops and walking tanks are frequently encountered — and just how deep its connections and conspiracies go is revealed. And the geth, a newer race of sentient machines, some of which have fought in support of the Reapers before, are active again as well.
You may choose from one of six classes for Shepard, each with its own unique set of powers and abilities with varying emphases on combat, technical and biotic (space magic) prowess. When fighting is imminent you can take along two squad members from your roster of allies to compliment Shepard’s skills.
The selection of squad mates is pared down from “Mass Effect 2’s” dozen or so, but the ones available offer a good cross-section of specialties. The shoot-from- cover combat is similar to that in “Mass Effect 2,” but with a greater degree of variety in the enemies you face.
There’s also an online mode, where you and up to three other players can team up to take on waves of Cerberus, Reaper or geth troops. Performing well earns you credits that can be used to buy randomized packs containing new weapons and single-use items, as well as more soldier classes to use online. Online play also bolsters your effectiveness in the fight against the Reapers in the single-player game.