Review: Mass Effect 3: Special Edition (Wii U)
Released early last year, BioWare’s space opera finale Mass Effect 3 comes to the Nintendo Wii U thanks to Australian developer Straight Right.
Mass Effect 3 marks the end of one of gamings most memorable, most divisive trilogies, bringing an end to Commander Shepard’s struggle against the Reapers.
On Nintendo Wii U, released as Mass Effect 3: Special Edition, the game takes on the role of a sole entity, and in many ways can easily be considered the most definitive version. Read on to find out why!
Mass Effect 3 is the culmination of Commander Shepard’s story. From humble beginnings on Eden Prime, racing head-on into a suicide mission, to finally facing down the Reaper horde, the Mass Effect story is one that spans over half a decade (our time).
What makes the entire experience all the better is the ability for players to take their very own Commander Shepard from start to finish of this epic tale. Each is wholly unique to that player, and while the decisions in appearance and in-game choices may trend across players, not one game is entirely alike.
Mass Effect 3: Special Edition for Nintendo Wii U sadly doesn’t allow its players this same experience. Instead, it relies on a 20 minute interactive comic that summarises the events of the first two games in the series. By and large it’s a reasonable blow by blow account, though certainly lacks the same punch if you were to experience it all yourself. The only measurable use it serves is to allow the player to make key decisions that are crucial to how Mass Effect 3 plays out.
The beginning of the game sees the Reaper invasion launch in full force. Reapers are unthinkably powerful sentient machines that lie beyond the known galaxy, who every 50,000 years come forth to destroy all intelligent life. Once players escape from Earth – ground zero for the galactic invasion – they set out on a mission to unite the races of the galaxy under the one banner in hopes of overcoming extinction by way of the Reapers.
Mass Effect 3: Special Edition‘s story is deeply layered, as well as being overly dark and tragic. It’s layered in the sense that it builds atop previous plot-threads woven throughout previous games, essentially hitting the head here. New story arcs are of course brought up, and concluded, here as well, though emotionally aren’t perhaps as powerful as ones earlier story arcs.
For new players, which those playing Mass Effect 3: Special Edition would be a large percent of, what came before probably means almost nothing. You likely won’t know much about the strained history between humans and Turians, or the origins of the Geth and Quarian conflict, or have any emotional involvement regarding the Genophage. By all accounts the in-game codex does a conservative job of filling the backstory, and talking to characters and allies does well enough to flesh it out further, but at the end of the day new players might feel like they’ve missed out on almost too much.
Then again, the story of Mass Effect 3: Special Edition can also be seen as singular. A galactic communities war against a powerful and seemingly unstoppable force. The core game is designed to be enjoyable on its own, though is enriched further by having experienced what came before. Personally I’ve been with the series from the start, though having to create a Shepard that by all accounts wasn’t mine did allow me to emotionally stand back and see the game from a more fresh perspective.
During the course of the story you’ll be taken all around the galaxy, mending fences and helping forge alliances. Whereas the main narrative itself is enjoyable thanks to its intense and at times, dark and haunting nature, it’s not without some crucial issues. The almost shoe-horned in manner of ripping down Shepard’s emotional state is overly forced and quite distracting from the overall issues. Each of these ‘key’ scenes creates a lull in between what could be considered a fairly well-paced story.
While on the topic of distraction, “optional” side-quests are generally nothing more than fetching missions that see you run around from point A to point B with very little incentive. Mass Effect 3 is painted in the colours of a role-playing game, although sadly there’s very little past some character customisation and a much more streamlined, though superior in regards to previous games, abilities tree that can be upgraded by spending experience points. Sure it might all go towards your ‘Galactic Readiness’, but there are numerous ways to increase it to a desirable level.
I’ve already discussed at great lengths the games story, and how the core experience has been constructed by original developers BioWare, though nothing regarding Straight Right’s work for the Wii U port. What makes the Wii U version of Mass Effect 3 different? What does it do better, or worse? While the game is essentially the same core experience all-round, the most obvious difference is how players experience gameplay.
Over the course of three games, Mass Effect‘s cover based shooting gameplay has been tweaked and refined almost to the point where it could be considered perfect. Aside from its duck & gun mechanics, players can also use special powers (called biotics) and tech abilities that can be triggered by bringing up an on-screen power-wheel or choosing a handful to be hot-keyed to controller buttons.
Mass Effect 3: Special Edition does away with needing to rely on this cumbersome set-up – though is used during multiplayer and off-TV play – and instead allows players to hotkey various abilities to the GamePad’s touchscreen. While it may not sound like it’s setting the world ablaze with innovation, it actually makes gameplay run and feel a lot smoother, streamlined and certainly more enjoyable. Combos and strategic use of abilities can be used on the fly without needing to constantly pause the often intense gameplay.
Further, the touchscreen also plays host to a constantly visible 2D birds eye map of your surrounding area – including doors and enemy locations. Again, it sounds overly simple yet helps to make gameplay feel better, not to mention bringing another layer of strategy. The GamePad itself also feels much more comfortable and by far a better fit than your standard joypad. Obviously this is attributed to the controller’s design more than anything, though considering you can easily sink a lot of time into Mass Effect 3: Special Edition it’s a point worth mentioning.
Visually Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is on par with its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts, albeit shining a little brighter. Animations look smoother, the game pops with just a little more punch and it flows a lot better. Texture pop-ins and strange character behaviour such as models disappearing during cutscenes aren’t as commonplace as before, although various key points such as a particular scene during an evacuation mission roughly midway through sees Garrus (if you take him along) vanish altogether during a cutscene.
It should be pointed out that issues such as these lie more with the games code than the hardware itself. Anyone who has played Mass Effect 3 on any other platform would be able to point out the main graphical hiccups. Considering that during my playthrough I encountered less bugs and ‘WTF‘ moments where the engine/code flips out on Wii U than on Xbox 360, is paramount to Straight Right’s obvious care in bringing the game over to the new hardware.
I heavily recommend the games multiplayer mode – which is nothing short of fun. Players are able to earn points by defeating waves of enemies in horde like matches either on their own, or with online buddies, which then can be used to unlock new characters, weapons and equipment. The core gameplay that’s been tweaked and refined fits the multiplayer experience almost perfectly, and despite lacking in some of the more robust DLC packs, the Wii U version certainly runs a lot better than on other consoles.
Straight out of the box Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is loaded with additional content, including various multiplayer and weapon packs, the controversial day one DLC ‘From Ashes’ and the extended end BioWare sliced together in response to fans aggressive backlash to the games original ending. Majority of the content included is otherwise free for other versions of the game, though ‘From Ashes’ needs to be bought unless you pre-ordered it last year.
One major downside to Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is, at time of writing anyway, no downloadable content support. This means buying this game on Wii U limits your capacity to experience further content in the way of the two story-driven pieces of DLC ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Omega’ – both adding in somewhere between 5 to 10 hours of additional gameplay. While not a deterring factor in of itself, potential buyers into the Wii U version should weigh this option up, especially if you own another gaming console.
At the end of the day Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is a wholly bombastic experience on Wii U. While it’s slightly a downer that players can’t import a character from previous games, which in some minor ways tweaks the different ways to experience the narrative, it all but makes up for in delivering some intense, well designed gameplay that uses the Wii U GamePad in an incredibly clever way.
Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is easily one of the best games available right now for Nintendo Wii U.