The Mass Effect series has become a generation-defining franchise, providing players with compelling characters and storylines along with some really good third-person shooting. While the original had some rough edges, the sequel smoothed many out, and the third game came as close to possible to eliminating the rest. The franchise makes its Nintendo console debut with the third installment, which may seem incredibly odd since those without 360s or capable PCs have missed out on them, but fortunately, like with the first entry missing the PS3 when ME 2 hit it, you aren’t missing so much that you can’t enjoy the game since you get a motion comic to fill you in on major storyline info. It also helps that each one can play off the past while also working as stand-alone games. In theory, the Wii U version should be the best version available since it’s on brand-new hardware with a tablet controller that seems like something right out of an epic sci-fi universe, but it winds up falling a tad short of achieving its full success.
One of the best things about the franchise is its ability to work as both a compelling action game and a story-driven experience — something reflected in its gameplay choices. If you want fewer character choices to make, pick the action mode, which completely eliminates being able to customize your character, and by default, also takes the branching dialogue and turns it into just one continual cutscene. While that can be brought back via the pause menu, I’m still not really sure who this mode is catered towards since the dialogue still takes some time to get through and nixing the multiple-choice aspect doesn’t speed the pace up much. It also eliminates one of the best parts of the series — making Commander Sheppard either a nice guy, a complete jerk, or something in-between. Role-playing mode keeps things the same as past MEs, which provides a solid blend of action and dialogue, while narrative gives you boosts in combat and is great for folks who love the story, but simply aren’t very good at the combat side of things.
For those completely new to the series, you’ll want to go with the narrative style since the GamePad takes some getting used to as a shooting controller. Part of this is due to many years of being used to having twin sticks fairly close to each other, and so now, even with your right hand in a similar orientation as other twin-sticked pads, it feels weird to not have the sticks fairly close by. The right stick being above the buttons also seems weird and takes some getting used to. Otherwise, the Gamepad makes for a fine tool to play the game with. The slightly rubberized analog sticks make movement a bit easier than on the 360 version (unless you have some stick grips), and the shoulder/trigger button setup is incredibly comfortable and makes extended shootouts easier on the hands. It’s worth noting that the game also supports the Pro controller, which would definitely resolve the whole “sticks feel too far apart” issue, but also rid it of any touchscreen functionality.
Beyond the regular control setup, the GamePad can also be used to display the full game by holding -/Select, and it’s pretty jaw-dropping to see the game running on such a small screen. Doing this helps hide some of the lower-res textures and also eliminates the tap commands for troops and drag and drop functionality for character upgrades. Given that those features are really fun to use and help keep the pace quick for battles, it’s hard to recommend using the GamePad as the primary way to play it, but if you’ve got a group of friends over and want to play it while they’re watching football or what have you, it’s very useful. You’ll definitely want to use headphones, though, since beyond disturbing folks, the device’s speakers just don’t output sound well enough to do justice to the awesome soundtrack.
The aforementioned texture issues mainly affect things like skin — which looks kind of muddy, and details on uniforms aren’t as easy to make out as they were on the 360. Environments look as stunning as they do elsewhere, and it’s still amazing to take a break and just stare at the lush sky above you, preferably when things aren’t being hurtled towards your general direction from it. Luckily, unlike a lot of Wii U ports from present-gen systems, slowdown never became a problem, nor were any texture pop-in issues seen. I’m incredibly thankful that no changes were made to the audio since that’s one of the game’s best elements. The story really comes alive thanks to the voice acting, and the cast did an outstanding job getting across all of the drama and never allowing the grandiose plot to come off as a farce. The soundtrack also adds a lot to the experience with sweeping, epic music working to make the drama better and explosions and other sound effects adding a lot to the action.
While it’s an excellent game, it’s hard to recommend Mass Effect 3 for the Wii U unless you missed out on the series before and only have the Wii U to play it on. Even with this ‘special edition’ including the From Ashes and Extended Cut DLC to extend the campaign, knowing that not all of it will be coming to this version hurts its overall value. It’s hampered more by the upcoming ME Trilogy release coming to both the 360 and PS3 that will allow you to get all three core games (sans DLC) for the same price as this. Given that both the PS3 and 360 versions of ME 3 go for $25 tops now, it’s impossible to recommend if you own either of those systems.
Version Reviewed: Wii U