For many Nintendo fans, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition is not the end of trilogy--it is the first foray into BioWare's compelling sci-fi franchise. Whereas many players have spent countless hours customizing their Shepard, building alliances, and recruiting (and losing) squad mates along the way, Wii U players must jump into the Mass Effect universe unequipped with this knowledge, this personal connection.
BioWare's concession is Genesis 2, an updated version of the interactive prequel comic that shipped with the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2. This choose-your-own-adventure has the daunting task of summarizing not only the first game, but the larger second game as well. Given the sheer amount of content that needs to be covered, it's unsurprising that the comic does a poor job of summarizing the games, reducing memorable decisions into simple, broad "Yes or No" questions.
While the key decisions of the original Mass Effect are kept intact in Genesis, not enough time is spent covering the story of Mass Effect 2. The sequel tasked Shepard with recruiting a team for a "suicide mission." Your readiness for the final mission was determined by the allegiances you could secure. And unfortunately, instead of providing quick overviews of these individual loyalty missions, Genesis sums up the entire experience in one minute, asking players "do you want to help your team?" What fool would say "no?"
Oddly, Genesis doesn't offer any content featured in Mass Effect 2's DLC. That means characters like Zaeed are completely absent, and the significant decisions made in Lair of the Shadow Broker are unavailable to the player. This omission makes your eventual encounter with Liara in Mass Effect 3 much less powerful, and flat-out confusing for series newcomers. If Genesis' goal is to make you feel connected to the universe, it fails.
Genesis 2 does a poor job of summarizing the first two games
Once you get past the disappointing Genesis comic, Mass Effect 3 starts off with a bang and then hits a strong stride that ebbs and flows to allow tension to build and releases, but at an ever increasing level of intensity. The central storyline can be followed without distraction, but the side missions that are worked in naturally provide just the right pacing and all add meaningful development to the plot. Even the exploration element of the game better contributes to the core game this time out, though it still becomes tedious at times.
Mass Effect 3 also completes the evolution of the game into a sophisticated hybrid of role-playing and action. Combat lives up to top-tier third-person-shooter standards every bit as well as the character and narrative systems reflect the best of RPGs. The blend of ballistic weapons, tech skills, and magic-like biotic powers has become seamless. They are all balanced near perfectly to one another, making it a tactical pleasure developing squadmates to fulfill combat roles and then executing with them in game.
Taking advantage of the Wii U GamePad also expands upon the tactical depth of the game. Perhaps the best addition afforded by the tablet is the ability to precisely draw paths for your AI squadmates to follow. Partner AI has never been remarkable in the game, so being able to take cover and command your AI team to flank enemies is surprisingly useful. In addition, you can map abilities to the touch screen. I found myself using the GamePad far more often than I expected: drawing a path for one teammate, tapping a biotic power, and then running into a flanking position.
The GamePad augments the combat experience in a non-intrusive way. While I appreciated the added functionality, many players will be perfectly fine playing with just the Pro Controller. The tablet serves almost no function in the rest of the game--disappointing, because there are so many other opportunities where the GamePad could have enhanced the game: a better Codex and a better resource-scanning experience are just two ideas off the top of my head.
Mass Effect 3 also offers a four-player co-op multiplayer mode. The "horde mode" concept of teaming up with others to hold off waves of enemies brings out the best in the overlapping support capabilities of the different classes in the game. The extra kicker comes from the connection that factors playing co-op missions into the campaign giving it that extra addictive quality from a sense of accomplishing something every time I play a match. Do note that the Wii U version does not connect with either the Datapad or Mass Effect Infiltrator, companion apps that contributed to the "Galaxy at War" system on other platforms.
While newcomers may not have the same personal connection to their Shepard that longtime players will, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition still has a lot to offer. It melds the story progression of the first game with the improved combat engine of the second to create a game that achieves more than just the sum of those two parts. While an intimidating entry into the series, Mass Effect 3 is a solid game, one made even better with the Wii U GamePad.
This Mass Effect 3: Special Edition review was based on a retail Wii U version of the game provided by the publisher. Portions of this review are based on a retail Xbox 360 version of the game also provided by the publisher. Online functionality could not be tested on Wii U, as Nintendo Network was unavailable before publishing. For this review, online impressions are based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, and are expected to remain identical.