Mass Effect 3 still has the best combat, even in the Legendary Edition

Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 (Image credit: BioWare/EA)

The Mass Effect Legendary Edition has been out long enough that I presume everyone's had the chance to get as far as the third game in the trilogy. With that understanding that I won't be spoiling anyone, I say the final game in the trilogy is the one that had the best combat — the one where the developers finally found a way to make the core gameplay loop fun, fast-paced, and explicable within the story.

The art of war

As much as I love the Mass Effect games, I've always had a nit to pick with the combat in the first two games. Namely that it's just … not fun. It's not bad, but the leveling system is confusing and inconsistent. And it doesn't make sense within the world of the game.

Mass Effect 3 Level Up

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

For example, in Mass Effect 1 you have to carry weapons from every class but, depending on your class, you can only level up in some of them, and the effects of a level up are difficult to detect. Having the ability to swap out and mod your guns was great, but it still felt odd to me that my Vanguard Shepard had to carry the exact same loadout as my Infiltrator, when she couldn't level up either assault rifles or sniper rifles.

In the second game, you have the opposite problem — you can carry only the guns appropriate for your class, but now the level-up system feels vestigial. You would level up your powers, and you'd get better guns over the course of the game, but it didn't feel like the leveling process made a huge impact on your gameplay. The movement also felt sluggish and methodical at best.

Mass Effect 3 Combat

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The combat in Mass Effect 3, however, is faster and more fluid. Shepard is much more nimble on the battlefield and more visibly adept with their weapons and powers. I'm not usually a fan of Gears of War-style cover shooting, but then again I was a Vanguard on my Insanity playthrough — I never used cover for anything less than a Colossus.

Combat is not what anyone plays a BioWare RPG (among the best RPGs) for — they are most loved for their story and characters. But still, it's what we're going to spend a good portion of the game doing. It's the means by which the game tells its beloved story. And it wasn't until Mass Effect 3 where it felt like the developers got it right.

Lean, mean, space marine

I understand the idea of weapon and skill leveling in principle. It's a holdover from the more classic RPG formula, to have more skills in a certain weapon over another. My complaint stems from the fact that it doesn't always make sense for the characters.

Every character in the games — with the possible exceptions of Tali or Kasumi — is a trained soldier or mercenary who's presumably had combat training. Shepard, in particular, is a marine who's undergone the most intense training program a human soldier can undergo. You'd think they would be very proficient with most weapons and powers at the start of the first game.

Mass Effect 3 Weapons Mods

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

But in the first game, every character starts out ungainly, both in the use of weapons and their powers. Even while playing the Legendary Edition, I noticed that my Vanguard Shepard handled her pistol in a very ungainly fashion on Eden Prime, and would frequently misfire her biotic powers — the latter particularly annoyed me because the recharge time on those is brutal. The Hero of Elysium/Sole Survivor of Akuze/Butcher of Torfan just doesn't play like an experienced soldier.

The third game changed this just by steering everything away from leveling or weapons restrictions in favor of a weight-based system. You were allowed to carry as many weapons as you pleased, but they would weigh you down so much you wouldn't be able to use your tech or biotic powers. Leveling up powers can decrease their recharge time (in addition to upgrading their damage or radius, etc.), making them more practical in combat situations. It felt more like something Shepard would consider when fine-tuning their loadout.

Mass Effect 3 Weapons

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

It was, in short, something that felt like it was made in service to the game's story and characters, not just a holdover from an old RPG mechanic. That's why the combat in the third game feels so enjoyable.

Last month, before the game launched, I lamented the loss of multiplayer in Mass Effect 3, and part of the reason was because the combat of the game is so fun. The multiplayer provided a way to enjoy the combat without having to deal with the overwhelmingly dark and brutal story. I still feel that loss playing the game now, because this game is just so fun to play and yet the story makes me so upset and stressed. Here's hoping there's some credence to the rumors that the developers are considering bringing the multiplayer back if the fan demand is big enough.

Rachel Kaser

Rachel Kaser is a Windows Central gaming contributor, who's been writing since 2013 and gaming since the age of five. She's covered everything from gaming news, reviews, and analysis -- if it exists in gaming, she knows about it. She also contributes to Future's other sites, iMore and Android Central. If you want to hear her opinions on games, pop culture, tech, and everything in between, follow her on Twitter @rachelkaser.