The Game of the Year 2012: Mass Effect 3
I think the reason that Mass Effect 3 remained my favourite game of the year is also the reason it caught some flak: it was the end of a huge story that we were all seriously invested in. For me, that gave the whole 20-hour adventure an almost electric energy, the tingly feeling that everything had been leading up to this. For some, that meant the not entirely satisfying ending felt like a slap in the face.
I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t like the actual end scene much, but it was a few minutes of nonsense among twenty hours of the best Mass Effect has ever been. That was my ending: the full scale invasion of the Reapers, the desperate street battles, the tragic deaths of old friends, the final moments of camaraderie with the ones left alive. I’d already had most of the closure I needed before the... weird bit.
The history we all have with these characters, and the attachments we’ve formed with them, gave Mass Effect 3 an unfair advantage over everything else that came out this year. But it didn’t take that for granted. Despite the praise we’d all heaped on the previous two games, BioWare worked hard to do better.
For me, the most important part of that was the story. It’s BioWare’s strength, of course, but after Mass Effect 2’s unconvincing Cerberus angle I wasn’t sure they’d close it out decisively. I needn’t have worried. The climactic nature of the Reaper invasion gives Mass Effect 3’s story drive and urgency, and the premise of racing around the galaxy to drum up allies gave you a string of critical decisions to make. It felt like being in charge again.
The RPG elements finally clicked, too: it’s the first Mass Effect game where I wanted to continue with each class I tried. As well as being powerful and distinct, they were customisable in a much more significant way: it was up to you how heavily armed your class should be, and how rapidly their powers would recharge. Heavier weapons meant slower powers, and finding your preferred balance was the first time in the series that I got really excited about character builds.
Mass Effect 2 made combat satisfying, but it still dragged after the umpteenth arena scuffle with the same enemy classes and the same low walls. Mass Effect 3’s contribution was a massive overhaul in enemy design. Every faction is completely different to fight against, and you’re fighting a lot of them. Within each army, there are intricate relationships between the enemy types that you need to disrupt before they buff, heal, or armour-plate each other. Figuring out how to combine your squad’s powers to deal with that was a shifting challenge.
But maybe the most remarkable thing about Mass Effect 3 was that we were able to have any personal investment in it at all. This is a series that had been giving us hugely consequential decisions for 40 hours already: the state of the universe and most of its key players were radically different for each of us. From its first scenes to its massive conclusion, Mass Effect 3 could make no assumptions about which of your 13 companions might be alive or dead. Under the hood, it’s a nightmarishly complex web of dependencies and replacement story branches. And yet to us, the whole thing was seamlessly consistent. Everything I’d done was reflected in the ongoing situation, everyone I’d lost was gone – and the story adapted. It’s the most impressive trick I’ve ever seen a sequel pull, and it’s a big part of what made Mass Effect 3 so special.
Read More:Mass Effect 3 review.
Runners Up: XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored.