Thankfully the doubters have been proven wrong, as with Mass Effect 3 Bioware has not only cleared the bar, but they raised it several notches before doing so.
The game is not without its problems. There are numerous visual glitches, importing character appearance from Mass Effect 2 saves doesn't work, one of the quest lines in the 0-day DLC crashes the game (though can be completed with a bit of well timed button mashing), and like all Bioware titles, the first hour is rough and just a little slow.
There has also been a great deal of backlash at the game's endings. Having seen all three endings myself, I don't understand this backlash, though I do know that many others feel let down. Obviously a review is not the best place to discuss the endings of a game, so I won't. All I will say is that the backlash relates only to one aspect of the endings, and overall, you won't be disappointed with their scale or impact.
The game play in Mass Effect 3 takes a solid step forward from previous instalments, with a lot more movement introduced to combat, and much more effective AI, both for your squad members and the enemies. The movement and cover system takes quite a while to get used to, but is ultimately quite fluid and enjoyable.
While the game is still most certainly an RPG, for better or worse a lot of the 'fat' has been trimmed. Mini-games are non-existent (though there are a few minor environmental puzzles), scanning has been greatly simplified, and most side quests are acquired automatically by overhearing conversations. Much like Mass Effect 2, exploration of the Citadel (the focal point of activities) is quite limited, but a few quests allow you to step outside these restrictions and see the Citadel in amazing detail.
Visually the game is breathtaking. It may lack some of the polish delivered by the modern super-engines used in games like Rage and Battle Field 3, but the cut scenes are framed expertly, and the scenery is simply amazing. Character animation is a little stiff, and facial animation often leaves a lot to be desired, but overall the graphics come together to really add to the story telling experience.
While the graphics could have been better, the same cannot be said about the sound track. It is hard to imagine how the audio could have been improved. The voice acting was of the highest quality, and the sound effects were atmospherically perfect. As always the musical score delivered that extra emotional kick to every scene, and this game is all about emotion.
It is hard to discuss how amazing the writing in Mass Effect 3 is, as to do so in any detail would be to ruin the readers' experience. But there are moments in this game where you will feel desperation, sorrow, regret, and on rare occasions relief and joy (which is appreciated even more in the grim setting of war). While the Mass Effect series has always delivered a choice system that felt meaningful, Mass Effect 3 takes it to the next level. You will agonise over your choices, and on occasion you will want desperately to take the decisions you have made back.
I am not afraid to admit that there was at least one scene in Mass Effect 3 that caused me to shed a tear or two. It was one of the most emotional experiences I have had invoked by a story in any medium. Reading a book, or watching a television series, you develop an attachment to the characters. Playing Mass Effect, you develop a relationship with the characters.
If you are a fan of science fiction, RPGs, or even just a fan of a good story, then you will love the Mass Effect trilogy. Whether you will love Mass Effect 3 on its own is another story. Bioware claims that this latest instalment is as accessible to new players as it is to diehard fans, but I have my doubts. I feel the story is just too complex, and that new player's lack of connection with the game's characters will be highly detrimental.
While it has been claimed Mass Effect 3 has a solid 30 hours of game play in the main story, I found the true figure to be closer to 15 to 20 hours. But given the superb quality, it is still a bargain at AU$80.
If you played and enjoyed the first two instalments, you must play this latest instalment. Even if you do end up disappointed with the ending, you will not regret playing the game. If you haven't played the earlier games then you should consider doing so, but even if you don't, I think Mass Effect 3 offers enough that you can't go wrong giving it a shot.