Hands On: Mass Effect 3
Since its launch in 2007, the Mass Effect series has pulled in RPG and squad shooter fans alike, to create one of the biggest and best franchises around, and I feel in love with it from the get-go. It was rare for me to enjoy a game as much as I did with both the original and Mass Effect 2, engrossing me in its story and characters in such tremendous fashion. When Mass Effect 2 was released, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the decisions made by BioWare to remove a small portion of RPG elements such as skills and weapon upgrades. However, for the most part, I was very happy with what they had produced and I was once again absorbed by the wonderful plotline. Now though, it’s time for Sheppard’s final bow.
Having got some hands on time with the threequel, the session started off with the Normandy Commander talking to returning character Mordin as an assault is carried out on the Salarian homeworld, Sur’Kesh, by the now hostile Cerberus terrorist group. After this brief conversation, I was instantly thrown into the familiar combat of the series and, with help of some newly created weapons, it felt like a breath of fresh air to what was becoming a stale combat system. Melee combat has also been improved with Sheppard now performing a chain of hits when ‘B’ was tapped, and using his omni-tool to create a blade when the button was held down.
I took this opportunity to test of the game’s new SWAT manoeuvres that are meant to help you evade gunfire and find new cover. With the tap of the ‘A’ button, I could force Sheppard to roll in the four main directions to avoid enemies and roll from cover to cover. It felt very similar to Gears of War’s cover system and was therefore fluid and easy to use in the heat of battle.
“[There is] a degree of tactics that past Mass Effect titles haven’t had and it requires players to think fast and act faster or face the Game Over screen.”
Following victory in my first encounter with Cerberus, I delightfully came across another improved feature from the first title that was left out of Mass Effect 2, customisable weaponry. Workbenches are stationed throughout missions (and, I assume, on the Normandy too) and allow you to quickly adapt your guns how you see fit. As in Mass Effect 1, you can equip your weapons with two modifications in total which improve your gun’s stats such as damage, clip size and stability. These changes also alter the weapon’s appearance with attachments now showing and other add-ons causing minor alterations such as colour.
After spending a few minutes on the workbench (there wasn’t much to do really, I just liked looking at my guns), I moved into the sights of a new enemy type, a shield wielding Cerberus agent. With his friends following behind, it forced me to think more tactically as it required a more strategic approach than I usually attempt. While I could have used brute strength to force the shield away from the enemy, I opted for the high ground while my team mates laid down some suppressive fire. I could then kill the group with ease from above and shields no longer became a problem. While it appears that simply adding a shield to an enemy isn’t anything major, it certainly does add a degree of tactics that past Mass Effect titles haven’t had and it requires players to think fast and act faster or face the Game Over screen.
I then moved onto an expanse where I could see the graphical improvements BioWare have made. The vista I gazed upon, ignoring that it was on fire, was as striking as the first time your set your eyes upon on the Citadel’s night-time landscape. It’s not the most obvious advancement made but with cleaner, more polished textures, it certainly is a welcome one.
“If BioWare can build everything they set out to do to the quality of what is seen in the demo, then fans of the series should have no doubts about it being the best yet.”
Along with the exclusion of weapon enhancements, BioWare also decided to lower the amount of skills Sheppard could progress in and, personally, it left me wishing they hadn’t. Fortunately, after having initially gone from twelve skills to six skills, BioWare has now upped the skill count to eight and has added further enhancements to it. In previous titles, upgrading a skill will only have one route to go down before a choice of specialisation at the end but this has changed in Mass Effect 3. BioWare has decided that after three upgrades to the skills, it splits into two streams and both will offer different advancements. It may be small, but it requires the player to think more about their choices.
Once I had decided on what paths to take in my skills, I came to one the new mini-boss battles against a manned mech with powerful homing rockets and machine gun alike – The Atlus. Tactics and brute force were best applied to this battle with squad placements and powers taking precedence over any weapons. The new mini-boss also introduces another new addition to the franchise, dynamic damage. In order to deal optimum damage, I was required to shoot at the glass cockpit which ultimately led to the pilot’s death. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to deal any damage if you don’t hit the cockpit, it just means you run the risk of dying due to a longer battle.
Mass Effect 3 looks to improve upon its predecessor in almost every way by adding my enemy types, deeper tactical gameplay, more RPG aspects and tightening up the combat. If BioWare can build everything they set out to do to the quality of what is seen in the demo, then fans of the series should have no doubts about it being the best yet.
Mass Effect 3 is due out March 6 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.