For all the improvements to combat, nothing compares to the excellence pervading Mass Effect 3′s dialogue. If any of you were wary of Mac Walter’s leadership, you need to get over it right now, because this is some of the best game writing you’ll ever experience. Hell, this script puts most movies to shame. It’s not just the wit or the depth of the universe they’ve woven into this story, but the level of detail in each conversation. This is the culmination of all your choices from previous games. Crew mates will speak up when they encounter a familiar face, reminding you of that time they helped you deal with this person on Noveria. They’ll talk about seemingly minute things, but then you realize that even you didn’t remember that you’d brought Garrus along to take down Benezia… and here he is, talking to you about it.

It’s like watching an information highway split into hundreds of interwoven webs, linking choices with words and tying moments together in exchanges so organic and unexpected that you’re left gaping at how impossibly astute your squad is. Then there are the romances, which obviously vary greatly depending on who you chose. I happened to establish a relationship with Kaiden in Mass Effect, but promptly ran to Garrus after Kaidan’s fit on Horizon. In ME3, I really had to do damage control and endured one of the most painful, awkward break-up conversations ever. One of my biggest complaints about ME2 relationships was the lack of depth. They were brief, as if merely the first sparks of a romance (at least in Garrus’ case). But that changed in the third. Oh man, did it change.

Rather than wait for that one “night before the end of the world” moment, BioWare whipped up multiple SCENES of tenderness, love, concern and special dialogue additions reserved for players romancing that specific NPC. Wrap it all up with a gorgeous soundtrack, and you’ve got a masterpiece. I could go on and on about the wonderful subtleties and care that went into fleshing out these relationships, but you need to experience them for yourselves. Just know that the culmination of my romance ended with me experiencing a sensation akin to having my heart pulled on by a giant, burning fist.

Speaking of burning fists, remember back in the day when everyone decided that the cool thing to do was gripe and moan about scanning planets for minerals? That’s really funny, because that mechanic is back and it’s worse. Not “boring” worse, but a vengeful backlash from BioWare worse. Sure, scanning planets is way more exciting now… but that’s because at any given moment, your scan will attract a horde of Reapers to your system. You won’t have much time. You’ll just hear the terrible blare of their killing horn, and then you’ll be screaming at your sublight engine to go faster until you face plant into a mass relay. If they catch you, it’s over. For future reference, if BioWare introduces a gameplay mechanic that is neither scary nor awful, don’t complain about it. They’ll just give it a giant laser and sick it on you in the sequel.

The pivotal decisions that have come to define this series will seem awfully different in this game. Before, options seemed pretty black and white. There were obvious renegade and paragon options. Consequences seemed distant, or manageable. Or, as in the case of the rachni queen, the weight of your actions seemed like they wouldn’t come into play until much later. Gone are the pure, easy decisions. Every dilemma you face will have a dire consequence and it will seem at times as though there is no correct answer; no matter what you do, someone will suffer.

This will test your morals, as the path ahead is not so clear. All of your choices across all games will follow you and, in some cases, punish you. Oh, will they ever. Your choices themselves have a slightly different composition, as Reputation points are now the backbone of your Renegade and Paragon scores. You’ll be tasked with numerous non-combat quests that require negotiation, and some will reward you with neither alignment. When you do make a Paragon/Renegade choice, the Reputation then shifts in either direction.

Another newcomer to the Mass Effect equation is the introduction of multiplayer, a feature that turned plenty of fans’ stomachs and confused many more. The multiplayer affects the Galaxy At War portion of the single player campaign, which is a means for you to keep track of your galactic readiness and war assets (resources you’ll need for your final showdown). Whatever hang ups you have about this addition and its affect on your overall success in the game need to be put away, as this was not an after thought.

The multiplayer offering was the source of hours upon hours of joy for me. After forming a dedicated squad, I found myself staring bleary-eyed into the TV at ungodly hours of the morning, still laughing and screaming in the face of certain death while my team scrambled to save me from my ill-timed biotic charge. Pick a class, race, armor color, map, enemy, and then unleash hell upon whoever you chose to beat upon that day. You’ll have to survive ten waves (similar to Halo’s Firefight mode) of varying objectives, plus an eleventh “bonus” extraction round. Survive, and you’ll improve your galactic readiness, which is the percentage that will be deducted from your war assets come the final battle. Yes, you really need to play this mode if you don’t want to scan dozens of planets for assets, and you should be excited about it because it’s downright fun.

Despite my initial skepticism, the Kinect became a boon to me, providing invaluable combat support. The mic supports combat commands, investigative commands (like “open,” “bypass,” etc.), and dialogue choices. I rarely used investigative commands, but did take advantage of the conversation options as it seemed like as good a time as any to perfect my voice over skills. Unfortunately, the Kinect didn’t always pay attention to me, or would wait a good long while before committing to the answer it thought it heard. I was never misunderstood. It seemed that if the Kinect even remotely doubted my words, it simply didn’t make a choice. This led to repetition and awkwardness, as I realized I was merely progressing a conversation, not fully participating it.

Players repeat the raw thought, but Shepard’s the only one who gets to articulate it. Kinect, however, rides in like the cavalry when you remember it works during combat. Battles will overwhelm you as scores of adversaries flood your vision. Rather than interrupt the flow of battle by pausing to issue orders to your pinned-down strike team, just shout across the field to get them moving. Need support? “Liara, cover me,” does the trick. Is Garrus using that damn assault rifle again? “Garrus, change weapon!” Bam, problem solved. This was exactly what I wanted out of the Kinect on day one: an opportunity to improve a game rather than clutter it with unnecessary motion commands. It’s not a main stage feature, but it supports an already-solid game.

Mass Effect 3 isn’t without its faults, though they’re incredibly minor. Occasional freezing issues cropped us, as did some model errors– but that was it for me. All of my gripes about Mass Effect 2 seemed to have been addressed. Squad mates had much more dialogue and unique interactions. Recruitable characters wandered about the ship, interacting with each other and developing relationships of their own. It was fascinating to behold, as the Normandy suddenly felt full of life for the first time in years.

Now, I assume you all have a strong awareness of the internet and know well enough of what lies beyond this unforgettable journey. Some people are unhappy. That’s fine, but I respect BioWare enough not to go petition for a rewrite of this game.

Mass Effect has come to play a significant role in my life, and I suspect that some of the more outspoken fans have similar sentiments. It is inspiration, a source of hope and a parable for the human condition: choice and consequence are inescapable. There is so much in this world we can’t control, but we can rise up, face it, and fight to survive it. The decisions we make in the face of the inevitable are what define us. There is no greater challenge, and Mass Effect 3 has mastered that lesson. This journey spanned years of our lives and united masses under a banner of, what I believe, is one of the greatest fandoms since Star Wars. BioWare gave us a legacy, and with it, a responsibility to uphold the belief that games are more than “player one” and “player two.” A game can move you, enthrall you or cripple you, if you let it. It can be intelligent, challenging and unusual without pretentiousness. It can be its own reward, or haunt you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter what you choose, so long as you make a choice. Just don’t let someone else’s opinion rob you of this.

This trilogy redefined the RPG, and Mass Effect 3 is a worthy final chapter.

Here’s the Rundown:

+Combat is at its finest
+Textures/Graphics are leaps and bounds better than previous games
+Fanservice. Fanservice everywhere
+One of the most fantastic, engrossing, heart-felt stories ever told in a video game
+Kinect support not only works, but actually improves the game
+Voice acting/soundtrack blend for one unforgettable audio experience
-Occasional disc hiccup/freeze
-Spending the rest of my life in therapy

10 (TEN) represents a game that you would unequivocally recommend to all gamers. This score is reserved for games you consider to be not only the best of their genre, but to be one of the best games of the year.  A 10 does not have to be absolutey perfect — we do NOT hold games up to an impossible standard because that simply is not fair.  Ebert and Roeper did not give 1 and 9/10ths thumbs up.

Mass Effect 3 was developed by BioWare and published by EA. It was released on March 6, 2012, at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.