Fight For the Lost: why the Mass Effect trilogy is going out with a bang
- Mass Effect 3
It's a universal truth that if something begins, it will have an end (except horror franchises and Big Brother, of course), and Bioware's epic sci-fi trilogy is, sadly, no exception. On March 6th (or 9th for those of us in the good ol' EU), Mass Effect 3 will land with an almighty bang - and draw to a close one of the most celebrated and talked-about videogame sagas of the last decade.
Since first taking the helm of the Normandy SR-1, Systems Alliance Commander Shepard has come face-to-face with a sentient, genocidal spacecraft called Sovereign, battled against the renegade SPECTRE Saren, punched reporters, sexed up various human or non-human colleagues, endorsed half a dozen galactic emporiums, blown up a handful of giant worms, been killed and subsequently resurrected, switched sides from decorated soldier to incidental terrorist and made enemies and allies of all shapes, sizes, races and creeds - and now, having survived countless firefights, an actual meeting with Death and a do-or-die suicide mission, Shepard's titanic struggle to save the galaxy is about to reach its end.
Having Commander Shepard's story finally conclude might be an upset for the fans, but for developers Bioware it’s incredibly useful – and something of a relief at the same time, as executive producer Casey Hudson told GameInformer: “…we have the ability to build the endings out in a way that we don’t have to worry about eventually tying them back together somewhere. At this point we’re taking into account so many decisions that you’ve made as a player… that it’s not even like the traditional game endings where you can say how many endings there are, or whether you got ending A, B or C.”
Liara and Tali return as squad members in Mass Effect 3. Awkward inter-species love triangles abound...
A major reason for the diversity and unpredictability of Mass Effect 3’s storyline is that not only will we be faced with heaps of decision throughout, but the game will be required to calculate over 1,000 variables based on choices made in previous instalments before you even start playing. The only real constant is that Mass Effect 3 will begin with Shepard up the proverbial creek with narry a paddle in sight. Players who downloaded the Arrival DLC will be immediately aware of why, but those who haven’t should take heed of the SPOILER warning before reading the rest of this paragraph… While helping Dr. Amanda Kenson destroy a Mass Relay in order to delay the Reaper’s assault, Shepard inadvertently caused the deaths of 300,000 batarians. It’s a course of action that sees Shepard on trial as Mass Effect 3 opens, right before the Reapers show up to ruin everyone’s day.
Luckily, Shepard won’t be facing the Reaper threat alone. Every surviving character from the first two games will return, and we say “surviving” because there will be players loading up save files with fallen comrades. Those characters who died during the events of 1 & 2 will not return, and those that do may not be coming back as team members – particularly Miranda Lawson, who may not even be on Shepard’s side if you didn’t earn her loyalty in Mass Effect 2. Oh, well, at least new guy James Vega is voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr. – that’s got to be worth a swoon or two, right?
Relationships will carry over, too. If, like us, your Shepard was a big ol’ galactic gigolo / hussie and didn’t shy away from the odd office dalliance, the characters you chose to diddle will involve you in a love triangle that won’t be resolved until the conclusion of the game. If, however, you played it boring (sorry, faithful), the bond will be stronger between Shepard and the romantic interest. Depending on who you chose to save in Mass Effect 1, either Ashley Williams or Kaiden Alenko will return as crew members, along with Garrus Vakarian, Tali’Zorah and Liara T’Soni. Urdnot Wrex will appear if you decided not to perforate his skull, but whether or not he’ll be crew depends on his current position as clan-leader on Krogan homeworld Tuchanka.
The combat in Mass Effect 3 is that much slicker and more refined, with enemies that work together to bring you down
With Earth itself under attack and in grave danger, romantic trysts should be the last thing on Shepard’s mind, but there’s very little restraint placed on the player because there’s no clean-cut route through the storyline. As Casey Hudson explains: “It’s unclear to Shepard and the player what you have to do to win the war against the Reapers. Part of what you’re trying to do is explore the story and the galaxy, so that you can understand what you need to do.” Narrative flexibility is Bioware’s strong suit, and Mass Effect 3’s story looks like it’ll present even more freedom to move around inside the framework of the overall plot than we’ve seen before.
Combat has been refined, with a more precise, varied cover-mechanic featuring the ability to combat roll and climb ladders to reach vantage points. Shepard can now target specific body parts on an enemy, blowing off limbs of armour plating to weaken or incapacitate, and class-specific takedowns will add an element of up-close-and-personal brutality that better reflects Shepard’s to-the-job attitude. An example we’ve seen is the omni-blade takedown employed by the soldier class, a lethal stealth or combat kill that looks brutal and efficient – like the rest of Shepard’s repertoire. News that the Mako and Hammerhead vehicles will return has been met with mixed reactions, but if they’ve undergone a similar level of refinement they should at least provide a welcome distraction from the over-the-shoulder combat.
Having listened to fan feedback, Bioware have reintroduced more RPG elements such as an improved levelling system with more skills and customisation, and weapons that can be modified with upgrades like extended mags, scopes and barrels. While the gameplay itself seems much more shooter-oriented, the increased emphasis on RPG-style character development finally hits the sweet spot between Mass Effect 1 and 2, presenting an incredibly balanced hybrid of role-playing and action.
Combat becomes more brutal and immediate thanks to an improved melee element in Mass Effect 3
Players with Kinect capabilities will be able to issue squad commands verbally during intense firefights, which we can only imagine will be frantic fun during some of the tougher encounters – and most encounters will be tougher, thanks to highly improved enemy AI that will see them work together in cohesive teams to take you down, increasing the challenge and, by extension, the feeling of reward. The option to speak lines of dialogue instead of selecting them via the returning wheel also sounds fairly interesting, though we’d rather just listen to Jennifer Hale’s honeyed tones if we're honest.
An interesting development is the creation of three separate campaign modes: Story mode will feature more control over dialogue choices coupled with less (and simpler) combat; Action Mode will almost be the exact opposite, with automatic replies and more intense action; while RPG mode will present the best of both worlds and is, essentially, how Mass Effect 3 is intended to be played. The idea behind the different modes is obvious, as neither Mass Effect 1 or 2 were able to please all the people all the time, and Bioware want to present the universe to as many players as possible and cater for all possible styles. It’s perhaps commendable, even though most players will be coming into Mass Effect 3 knowing exactly what to expect.
But alongside all the tweaks and improvements, the biggest change to Mass Effect 3 is the inclusion of multiplayer. Originally met with the usual knee-jerk fanboy disgust, the “Galaxy at War” mode has slowly been revealed as far more than just an attempt to cash in on the online market. The multiplayer component will be entirely separate from the campaign, featuring missions tailored to four-man co-op, including escort missions and destroying enemy compounds.
The new multiplayer element breaks new ground for the franchise, but how will it stand up next to the genre leaders?
None of the characters from the main game will feature, and instead players will create a custom character from the standard classes and six selectable races (human, asari, drell, turian, krogan and salarian). Levelling up and customisable skill trees will help players to tailor the experience, while completing the co-op missions will "help towards the perfect campaign ending, but will not be necessary to finish the game"). The multiplayer demo launches online on Valentine’s Day, so we can all see just how well the refined combat mechanics and the overall universe fits into a multiplayer-centric context – and have a loads of fun batting husks around with our biotic powers like a sadistic game of tennis (note: we don’t know if this is possible, but we damn well hope so).
With more at stake than ever before in the series, the allies and enemies you’ve made throughout the first two titles will have a major impact on the overall storyline, and the promise that no two games will be the same has never seemed more likely to be substantiated than in Mass Effect 3. Whether you play as renegade or paragon, as soldier or engineer, male or female, one thing remains constant – Mass Effect 3 will be the epic conclusion to the trilogy that we’ve all been waiting for. Here’s to going out with a bang.
Mass Effect 3 is developed by Bioware and published by EA. It will be released in the UK on March 9th.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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