Mass Effect 3's combat kicks things up a notch or twelve, as well, a change that's not always entirely welcome. The new enemies are daunting (and at times terrifying), but while you could get through Mass Effect 2 with minimal attention to cross-disciplinary styles, Mass Effect 3 seems to really, really want you to coordinate your attacks with your squadmates. Perhaps that's because it's easier to do so now that you can use voice commands to control your team (assuming you have a Kinect), but the combat can be frustratingly difficult at times. Your squadmates can be shockingly stupid sometimes, apparently forgetting that they're supposed to be backing you up in a fight. During one particularly brutal encounter, I discovered that my two companions had never followed me into the room and instead were crouching behind some furniture in the hallway. The game's cover mechanic is equally hit and miss, at times letting you roll from point to point with split-second accuracy, and at other times leaving you wide open to assault as you try in vain to take cover behind a wall. The voice controls work fairly well - though there were times that the Kinect seemed to misunderstand me - but it felt odd to be barking orders at my companions one minute, then listening to Jennifer Hale chat them up back on the Normandy. Using the Kinect is fun from a gameplay perspective, but it doesn't mesh well with the story elements.
Both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 had resource gathering, but neither effort was particularly successful. Most of the drudgery of that task has been removed from Mass Effect 3, and the result is actually rather addictive. Upon entering a system, you'll scan the area to see if you can find anything valuable, but instead of having to scan the entire planet, you can just zero in on the hotspot. Some material just floats around in space, so it may take you several scans to find everything in a particular system, but each scan helps Reapers target your location. Spend too much time looking, and you'll have to outrun enemy ships. The resources you collect aren't just rocks and minerals this time around, either, and you can immediately see the effect that finding them has on your campaign. You won't feel obligated to track them all down - you'll feel motivated to.
Mass Effect 3's pacing and story are so well done that it's exceptionally jarring when a technical issue breaks the flow. Aside from the combat problems already mentioned, characters will vanish during cutscenes, leaving you talking to empty air (and having the air reply). Shepard herself will occasionally jump back and forth during her updates to Alliance HQ, as the game assembles the dialog based on the various possible outcomes. None of the issues are enough to diminish the overall enjoyment of playing Mass Effect 3, but they can certainly jerk you out of the moment.
Everything you've done in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 has led up to this moment, a weight that Mass Effect 3 bears with grace and pride. Everything you do feels important - every side quest, every scan, every conversation, every shot fired feels like it impacts your likelihood of success in a very real and tangible way. You never lose the sense that you're fighting for the survival of all life, everywhere, but it also never feels overwrought or excessively dramatic.
Bottom Line: Mass Effect 3 is the ending the series and its fans deserve.
Recommendation: You - and Shepard - need to see this through to the end. Together.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
We were unable to review the multiplayer portion of the game prior to publication.