I have a confession to make. Even though I'm the hardest of hardcore science fiction fans, I never really ‘got' the Mass Effect craze. I wrote it off for a number of reasons, without ever even bothering to play it. So, when the ‘opportunity' presented itself to take the plunge into Bioware's most famous series (in the form of a request from my editor to review ME3), I was less than enthusiastic about taking it on.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Mass Effect series (of which I've played all the games now) has taken the crown for my favorite series of all time. Better than Bethesda's Elder Scrolls games and Fallout 3, better even than Bioware's older Baldur's Gate titles (the games that got me into gaming, for cryin' out loud!). I've never cared more about a story and seeing it to conclusion than I am about the Mass Effect series.

While this review is specifically geared toward Mass Effect 3, I think any gamer will be doing themselves a disservice if they attempt the game without having played the prior two installments. For myself, I downloaded the demo of ME3 when I was initially assigned the review, as it hadn't released yet. I was so impressed by the gameplay and storytelling present in a 30 minute demo that I immediately bought the first two games of the series and began playing through them. I wasn't able to complete them in time for the release of ME3 on March 7th, but that wasn't for lack of trying on my part. I put 13 hours into the first game and 27 into the second. I'm currently 6 hours into the third, and can't wait to complete the story.

As a player of Mass Effect 3, you take on the role of Commander Shepard, a disgraced Marine who is called back for one final mission after the planet Earth is attacked (as you'd been warning about in previous installments of the series, which in turn caused your marginalization). Your task is to save the galaxy from the Reapers, a race of sentient machines who periodically wipe out all life in the Milky Way. You must assemble a team and amass support for a joint opposition force among alien races in the galaxy prior to the final invasion.

Much of the appeal of the series was Bioware's decision to make the player's actions in prior installments of the game relevant throughout the series. A choice that you made in the original Mass Effect can (and will) come back to influence how characters and alien races behave and react to you in the second and third games. For those folks who have played all three games in the series, much of the enjoyment is derived from being able to import your character into the new game from the final save of your previous game, along with all your traits (physical characteristics, behavioral proclivities, and personal history). If you've customized your character physically from the stock male or female avatars (yes, you can play as a FemShep if you want), those faces are imported, as well. This really helps maintain continuity of story and brings a level of attachment to a character that I'd not experienced before.

The gameplay, from a mechanical standpoint, isn't anything revolutionary. It's a 3rd person action shooter with RPG elements. Cmdr. Shepard has two members of his crew with him/her at all times, and each team member (including Shepard) has special abilities (or "Talents", as the game refers to them). These talents can fall into three broad categories: Combat (for weapons), Tech (for abilities a fantasy RPG would associate with a Rogue/Thief character), and Biotics (usually associated with Magic users). Each class (which is chosen during character creation) allows for a certain tree of development, with talents becoming available as a character progresses, but certain talents will always be locked to a character based on that chosen class. Very standard RPG fare.