Other new additions to the series are galaxy exploration and weapon modifications. Though you have been able to explore other solar systems in previous games, the new method is a little simpler—you fly around the systems on a map and use radar to search for war assets and equipment. If you set off the radar too many times, the Reapers will detect you and begin hunting you down.
Weapon modifications were also available in earlier games, but their effects are more visible in ME3. Many of your side quests and decisions impact the Galactic Readiness Level in the game, a percentage that shows how prepared your galaxy is to face the Reapers. Improving this percentage affects how successful you are in completing the game.
ME3 is the best-looking of the three games in this series. We're playing the game on the Microsoft Xbox 360 and have installed it to the hard drive; so far, the graphics are impressive. In larger games like this, some glitches are expected, but we haven’t noticed anything particularly distracting or game-breaking. The game-play experience is solid. Gunplay feels tight and polished, and the "action roll" (a dive-and-roll move) is a welcome addition to Shepard’s repertoire. Melee combat has also been improved and feels more rewarding.
The inclusion of online multiplayer mode is a first for Mass Effect, and the combat feels fluid. You can choose to play as a character from a variety of races and classes and can level up your characters, as you can in the main game. And once your multiplayer character reaches a certain level, you can send him into the battle in the main game, to increase your Galactic Readiness Level.
There is a loose tie-in game to Mass Effect 3 being released for Apple iOS devices called Mass Effect: Infiltrator. This adjunct game is definitely not required, but if you play it, you can impact the Galactic Readiness Level in the main game that way as well. Also planned is a companion app called Mass Effect DataPad, which will let you keep up-to-date with game info and receive texts from in-game characters.
Mass Effect 3 is available for the Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and PC platforms, for $60. In the PlayStation 3 version, the entire game fits on one disc, whereas the 360 version requires two; but if you own the Kinect for Xbox 360, you can use it to issue voice commands to your squad.
Already one downloadable mission, From Ashes, is available for the game ($10). It includes a new character for your squad. Expect more DLC (downloadable content, in gamer-speak) to become available for the game as time goes on. You can also purchase Mass Effect action figures that come with codes for in game items. The game is playable without these items, but if you want everything that's available for ME3, it will cost you.
Bottom line: The game is a fun immersive experience. We highly recommend that you play the first two games in the series first, but they are not required to appreciate Mass Effect 3.