E3 2011: Mass Effect 3

By Andrew Yoon, Jun 10, 2011 1:15pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: Earning "Game of the Year" accolades was, apparently, not enough for the Mass Effect 2 team. Mass Effect 3 builds upon the foundation of the last game with improved cover and combat mechanics, larger scale battles, and more thorough character customization. A new lighting system and larger environments makes the finale of the intergalactic trilogy seem that much more ambitious and impactful.

THE DEMO: The demo showcased various action vignettes, running off an Xbox 360 system. In the first, Shepard and crew are being chased by a towering geth thing, and Shepard tries frantically to command a turret in an attempt to destroy it. An air raid gets called in, stalling the behemoth, but it continues its rampage. Mass Effect 3 is an action game at its heart, and BioWare intends on being competitive in the genre.

The improvements made to the game's standard run-and-gun formula showcase this. Moving from cover to cover has been completely overhauled, giving Shepard the ability to move through the environment much more nimbly. He'll be able to roll to dodge oncoming fire and when he gets close, he'll be able to use a laser sword in contextual finishing animations. The final part of the demo takes place on Earth, and reminds us how dire Shepard's final adventure will be.

DETAILS: BioWare tells us that they're trying to improve both the action and RPG elements of Mass Effect 3. However, very little was demonstrated on how the RPG aspect would be deepened. We caught a brief glimpse at an enhanced weapons station for Shepard and crew to choose their loadouts. In addition to choosing weapons, it appears you can also customize individual components of each of your weapons. Unlike in the original Mass Effect, the experience is far more visual. You'll see a full 3D representation of your weapon laid out on the table, and you can see which components get swapped in.

Improved character customization was also promised, and hinted at. In the Squad subsection of the Pause menu, you'll once again be able to assign points to various attributes. However, ME3 features a new twist: once you select an ability, you can choose between multiple effects, branching the abilities of your character. ME1 allowed some branching as well, but there are seemingly more options this time around.

While BioWare is promising deeper RPG mechanics, the purpose of the E3 demo was clearly to showcase the enhanced combat. Now that he's able to run, move from cover to cover, and roll with relative ease, Commander Shepard could easily join Delta Squad from Gears of War. New enemies, like one that carries a physical shield, encourage players to move around the environment to flank and gain the upper hand. The ready availability of grenades only further cements Mass Effect 3's transition into a full shooter.

Purists may be wary of the action-heavy direction of the franchise, but it's potentially the end of all living things in the universe! The visuals do a great job of reflecting the stakes at hand. The environments are a lot bigger than before, letting you see vistas that stretch far into the distance. Perhaps this is necessary to accommodate for the size of some of the enemies in the game, some which tower many stories high.

Not only are the environments bigger, they're a lot prettier. BioWare promised tweaks to the engine while working on the PS3 port of Mass Effect 2, and the results of their efforts is immediately evident in Mass Effect 3. One of the most striking elements of the game is the new lighting system. It is a very bright game, with super-saturated visuals reminiscent of the recent Star Trek reboot. The effect is quite jarring, making for a quite dramatic look for the franchise's last act.

The environments are a lot more destructive, as well. The final part of the demo took place on Earth and suffice it to say, the situation did not look good for humanity. As Shepard attempts to escape the planet, his path gets destroyed by a Geth laser. To make his way past the debris, we saw one of Shepard's new abilities in the game: he can jump, likely automatically (a la Zelda). We saw some mild platforming as he attempted to flag down the Normandy.

From what I've seen so far, Mass Effect 3 looks to be an exciting, fitting end for the franchise. I'm especially looking forward to seeing the ramifications of my decisions from the first two games. Even in the demo, I saw how some rather major arcs might end. (Don't worry, I won't spoil anything for you.) Seeing so many familiar faces return for the final act, with many fighting alongside Shepard, has me looking forward to Mass Effect 3's release on March 6, next year.

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