Mass Effect 3 Preview

After nearly five years of galaxy saving, it looks like we’ll finally know the final fate of Commander Shepard and Earth.  However, five months is a long time to wait to see what tweaks Bioware has in store for the closing act of one of their most wildly successful series, Mass Effect.  Luckily, we were able to find some time at NYCC to get our hands on a preview build of the game, and found ourselves walking away feeling that the finale to the trilogy will be a worthy curtain call to fans across the globe.

In typical Bioware fashion, our demo of Mass Effect 3 dropped us right into a scene drenched with atmosphere.  Almost right off the bat, our beautifully rendered Commander Shepard found himself under siege from Cerberus soldiers.  You see, apparently at some point when you were busy assembling an army to defeat the Reapers, your party was tipped off that there was a fertile female Krogan on Mordin Solis’ home planet of Sur’Kesh.  Since an army of Krogan Battlemasters would be quite helpful in any fight, it has become your task to protect the female so that she can reunite with Urdnot Wrex, possibly help cure the genophage, and make sweet, sweet battle-hardened babies.  However, Cerberus, being the pro-human rebel group they are, wasn’t going to just sit back as the Krogans grow in population and become a real threat in the galaxy.  Therefore, they have taken it upon themselves to destroy the female Krogan, something which Commander Shepard simply can’t allow to happen.

If it seems like you’ve seen some of these themes before in Mass Effect games, that’s because Bioware is attempting to tie up all of the loose ends in ME3.  This means that Wrex, Mordin, and The Genophage won’t be the only stalwarts making a return as the trilogy closes.  All characters from the series, whether dead or alive, will at least be mentioned in some form, whether it is the Ashley Williams war memorial or a cameo from Wrex furthering the Krogan race.  However, true to form, the decisions that you made in previous games will affect what you see in ME3, so don’t expect to see Kaiden hanging around if you left him to die at the end of ME1.

Once the storytelling was out of the way, we were exposed to the biggest upgrade in the series finale: a revamped leveling system.  We were given some spare leveling points to play with and found that there were many more ways to spend them than in Mass Effect 2, with the number of options closer to the original Mass Effect.  It wasn’t a straight reversion though, as each of your powers can take multiple different paths now.  For example, once you have two upgrades on your Overload power, you can decide to either have it target a second person or deal more damage.  Whichever option you select excludes the other though, so be sure to choose carefully.  The fact that the leveling system in the third game is the deepest the series has seen yet is something which will assuredly delight new and old fans alike.

Continuing on the trend of increased customization, Bioware has instituted a weapons bench to allow for a full custom arsenal.  Using various upgrades found throughout the game, you’ll be able to modify five different stats on your gun à la Call of Duty.  The change won’t alter the way you see the series, but it is a nice little touch to add depth to the gunplay.

Luckily for fans, gunplay is essentially unchanged from Mass Effect 2.  The cover mechanic is still tightly executed, and cover transitions have now been made more obvious thanks to arrows which tell you exactly where you’re moving to.  Most everything else (e.g. the power wheel, squad commands, and weapon selection) remain identical, which is a good thing because it is all still incredibly intuitive.  The excellence in the system was especially important, because almost all of the encounters pitted us against a varied set of very intelligent enemies, and forced us to make full use of our squad, powers, and weapons to survive.

The one knock on the demo, if there was one to be had, was the pacing.  Even in our short demo, the game felt like it fell into a predictable rhythm.  It seemed like the entire demo just consisted of us entering a room, being confronted with enemies, defending the Krogan containing pod, and moving on.  I’m willing to chalk most of this up to the demo being a small portion of the overall game, but it was a hair irksome.

Outside of the brief moments of storytelling, I didn’t get to see much, but given Bioware’s rich history of telling awesome stories this doesn’t seem like a concern.  Given that history of great tale-spinning, the improved leveling system, and tight combat mechanics, Mass Effect 3 looks like it will be a very worthy cap to the heralded series when it releases in March 2012.

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October 4, 2011 - 8:00 am