Is Mass Effect 3 worth the effort for new players?

EB and I have discussed the Mass Effect series on several occasions. To say he’s not a big fan would be putting it lightly. I’m personally pretty enamored with the series as a whole though. I find the stories to be engaging, the gameplay fun, and the overall story are is interesting. I gave my overall impression of the game in this review I did for the Gaming.StackExchange blog, so you might want to check in over there if you’re not a newcomer to the series.

It occurs to me that ME3, moreso than previous entries, is aimed at trying to draw new players into the series. There’s a new co-op multiplayer mode, a new “action oriented” optional single player experience, and the entirety of the campaign seems streamlined to allow a more casual player to get into the groove.

However, it occurs to me that for someone who hasn’t been interested in the series from the beginning might be asking themselves – is it worth jumping into this series now? It’s my opinion that the answer is an emphatic no.

If you’ve not played the first two games in the series, you might be tempted to start with ME1 and play straight through to the end of the series. While ME1 and ME2 are both classic games, and they really were ahead of their time in terms of both game and story, I think we’ve all collectively blocked some of the “filler” elements that made aspects of each game a chore. For instance, remember the Mako sequences in ME1? Or, perhaps, the mineral scanning sequences in ME2? Both have real limited enjoyment value, but they add hours to the experience, and getting the best ending out of both of the first two games (and therefore being in the best position to understand the third) is going to require a significant investment in time, including these gameplay elements. I could easily see someone like EB saying “screw this” about 20 hours into the first game and giving up… mainly because that’s what he did.

On the other hand, with all the “newbie friendly” aspects of ME3, you might be tempted to jump in feet first into this game. However, this game starts very much in medias res – you can opt to go read one-page summaries of important plot elements from the in-game Codex, but it’s just not the same as having been there for the major events of the previous games. The story is so tightly coupled with your past decisions (up until the ending, where many people believe the story falls apart) that not having made those decisions lessens the impact of the story to a great degree. The game’s also got it’s fair share of “stuff you do for the sake of getting a better ending.” Rushing around the galaxy, evading reapers in the Normandy while you scan for artifacts and such is a shallow game mechanic that adds a good 5 hours or so to the game’s running time without providing much in the way of actual gameplay.

If you haven’t had the patience for Mass Effect up to this point, I’m afraid that for better or worse, you’re unlikely to want to make the time for it now. It’s an excellent series, but if it’s failed to draw you in in the past, this new entry just doesn’t do enough to draw new players in. Add in a dense, complex backstory and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.