The new game created by Bioware and published by Electronic Arts earns high marks for its stunning visuals but falters in its storytelling, especially in establishing a conclusion.[/media-credit]

It’s hard to argue that there is a game out there, much less a series, that offers more character and story customization than the “Mass Effect” trilogy. I remember when “Mass Effect” was released in 2007 and blew everyone away. What could be better than assuming control of a spaceship and exploring the galaxy in a universe where every decision you make affects the outcome of the game? Giving each player a unique experience and conclusion to their games is what truly makes most “Mass Effect” games worth playing. Unfortunately, this is the very area where “Mass Effect 3″ falters.

Essentially, Earth has been shot to hell by the gigantic, laser-wielding reapers. You (Commander Shepard) are tasked with rallying the might of the galaxy to fight off the ship-sized invaders in a battle that you are continuously reminded of as being “hopeless.”

The choices you make throughout your quest to repel these invaders ultimately affects what races will back you up in the final battle. I’ll admit there were some choices I had to make decisions that left me cringing, asking myself, “Oh shit … was I supposed to do that”? But, regardless of how stupid your choices were, the story will flow on in its own unique fashion – until the ending at least. I’ll get back to that topic.

The gameplay in “Mass Effect 3″ is unmatched. Bioware took everything that was great about the combat system in previous titles and gave it a facelift that would make even Cher seethe with jealousy.

Shepard can now slide in and out of cover in a smooth and flowing fashion, jumping from cover to cover while laying down fire and issuing orders to his squad – and controlling that squad has never been easier. By hitting a button, players can now effortlessly control their squad’s actions, movements and weapon choices. The multitude of weapon choices, biotic powers and upgrades makes it possible to gear up with something different every time you decide to head to a planet for some “diplomatic” mission.

There are a few neat upgrades to your ship, including a store and weapons-upgrade table, but it mainly remains the same. Thankfully, you can still hop from star system to star system with the easy-to-use galaxy map and scan for resources obsessively. One thing I found disappointing, though, is the inability to land on random planets simply to explore. The premise of “Mass Effect 3″ is literally collecting “war assets” from planets across the galaxy, making exploring a thing of the past.

Visually, this game will leave your jaw wide open. More specifically, the cut scenes for which “Mass Effect” is known look spectacular. There was a moment when I was watching a gigantic battle involving thousands of ships in space where I literally forgot I was playing a video game, and truly believed I was watching a Hollywood movie.

That being said, though the game was visually unprecedented on a large scale, there were certain issues on a smaller scale. Too often you see characters’ arms or hands merge into their own bodies or become part of their weapons during cinematics. Not a huge issue, but kind of sloppy when trying to convey a pinnacle scene in the game. It should be noted that I played the PC version of this game, and console players could very well have had a different experience.

Not only was Bioware tasked with concluding the entirety of the series, they had to do it in a way that encompassed all of the past decisions your character had made – as they have time and time again promised.

So, did they pull it off? Well, no, not at all. I don’t want to give away the ending in any way, but let me just say this: If you are indeed hoping that the ending of “Mass Effect 3″ is going to take into account all of the decisions your character made in the past, it won’t. In fact, I was shocked and dismayed to see that even after making completely different choices within the game, the ending remained 99 percent the same. What the hell, Bioware?

Don’t let my frustration with the game’s ending dissuade anyone from purchasing it. It was a great title, and anyone who has bought the last two games must go out and get it. Actually, there are rumors that Bioware is actually remaking a completely new ending to satisfy people like me as we speak; a true testament to the company’s commitment to its fans.

The game itself was more than solid, and completely disregarding its ending I would have given it near perfect marks. But for brilliant gameplay and visuals with an ending that will leave most scratching their heads, I give this game 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Andrew Lahr is a creative writing major by day, gamer by night. Email questions, comments and column ideas to [email protected]