When the dust has settled from all of the controversy, all the high expectations and well-vocalized disappointment, what we're left with in Mass Effect 3 is still an astounding accomplishment. For whatever hopes they didn't deliver on, BioWare still provided a powerful, haunting closure to a universe we spent half a decade becoming acquainted with.
In a medium where narrative threads commonly go unresolved, BioWare should be commended for concluding most of the major sub-plots that were introduced in earlier games in the series. The creator-versus-creation conflict between the quarians and the geth comes to a head. The future of the beleaguered krogan race is decided. The schemes of the mysterious Illusive Man come to their inevitable conclusion. And all of it is affected in myriad small ways by the decisions you've made in the past two games — by which party members you've allowed to live or die; by who you have befriended and who you have pissed off; by the direction you've set the galaxy toward from the beginning, for better or worse.
No matter how much of a diplomat you've been, most of these situations are going to require some good old-fashioned alien shooting to reach a resolution. That's another area where Mass Effect 3 excels. If the first Mass Effect was a little too much of an RPG with weak shooting and the sequel was too much of a shooter with oversimplified RPG elements, the third game strikes a near-perfect balance. The cover-based shooting feels better than ever and is aided by a wide variety of enemies, forcing you to change up your tactics frequently. On the RPG side, Mass Effect 3 features a deep weapon modification system and a branching upgrade path that forces players to make tough choices while leveling.
As the final chapter in a trilogy that millions of people sunk hundreds of hours into, Mass Effect 3 was bound to break some hearts
Perhaps the greatest surprise in Mass Effect 3 was its co-op multiplayer mode. When we first heard about a multiplayer addition to BioWare's traditional epic single-player style, it was hard not to react with eye-rolling and assumptions of the worst. But the strong core gameplay of Mass Effect 3 lent itself perfectly to tense wave-based combat with friends. Add in an addictive weapon/class collection system inspired by collectible card games, and the co-op mode successfully turned Mass Effect 3 into a game that a dedicated community continued returning to throughout the year.
Mass Effect 3 broke some hearts. There's no denying that. As the final chapter in a trilogy that millions of people sunk hundreds of hours into, it was bound to happen. But when we step back from its divisive ending and view the game as a whole, it's an impressive feat. With its mix of a complex, player-choice-driven narrative and tight third-person shooting, Mass Effect 3 forms the final piece of a trilogy that is the perfect microcosm of what this console generation has been all about.