Sacrifice. It’s Mass Effect 3’s major theme, and rightly so. After all, the reapers were coming–it was only a matter of time. And now, those sentient space vessels are here, and with them, a galaxy’s worth of destruction. Mass Effect 3 brings the sound and the fury, but these aren’t meaningless shows of laser fire and alien devastation. The series has earned its right to showcase such destruction by drawing us close to its characters and teaching us of its universe.Mass Effect was about time and place; you discovered the Milky Way’s landmarks and races, guided by memorable characters like Tali and Garrus, who served as representatives of their cultures. Mass Effect 2 was about people; you learned more about old friends and made new ones, and drew each of them close to your heart. Mass Effect 3 fearlessly manipulates those personal bonds, forcing you to make difficult choices and consider the greater good–even when the greater good isn’t always clear. The game is structured less like Mass Effect 2 and more like Dragon Age II: three dramatic acts, each concluding with major events that might leave you in tears, or at very least, shivering from the emotional impact.
Mass Effect 3 is focused more on plot than the previous installments were, and at first, you might miss Mass Effect 2’s more obvious personal touch. You meet some new characters, but you develop few new meaningful relationships. A couple of notable exceptions aside, your party members are familiar faces, and as Commander Shepard, you aren’t traveling the galaxy seeking individual crew members, but rather the assistance of entire races. Some of the plot devices seem a bit transparent; what are the chances that Shepard would just happen to find an old acquaintance on almost every random planet? But once the plot is in motion, the human element returns, and poignantly so. Mass Effect 3 frequently reminds us that the loss of a single shining soul often takes on more meaning than a planetwide massacre. (After all, what carried more emotional weight in Star Wars: Obi-Wan’s death or Alderaan’s destruction?)