Mass Effect 3, the epic conclusion to BioWare’s space RPG-shooter, is supposed to tie up all the story threads of the first two titles, raise the stakes beyond what we’ve seen before and do it while improving the combat and retaining the polish of the last installment. That’s a tall order.
We’ve been working on this series for eight years,” said executive producer Casey Hudson. “Everything that we’ve done has really led up to this.”
Here’s what we know: the Reapers are launching an attack on Earth, and Shepard’s the only hope for gathering the support from other races needed to take them down. (Is it just us, or does this feel like the plot to Dragon Age: Origins?) He’s on Earth facing charges for… something, but the assault lets him reassume command of the Normandy and take off rallying the troops. We see the returns of Liara, Ashley (or Kaidan, we assume, depending on your choices), Mordin and, at least for a time, the help of grizzled veteran Anderson.
With a release date in March of next year, there’s a lot we don’t know. We have seen a few different gameplay segments, though, and much of it looks familiar. Shepard has access to melee attacks now, which is nice. We guess. There are turret segments, and… do people like turret segments? It seems like BioWare’s using them as a way to have more cinematic camera angles and orchestrated on-rails sequences. This series, though, has been all about choice, so on-rails segments are just a bit out-of-place. On the upside, though, character progression seems to have a bit more choice. Each point of a skill has branching options, so you can upgrade a skill’s damage more or focus on blast radius. It’s still highly-regulated, but shaping a slightly different Shepard could be nice.
For those with a Kinect, the voice command functionality is interesting. With it, you can choose conversation options by saying them, order squadmates around and possibly other things. We could get tired of telling our teammates to go forward or use powers, but since it’s totally optional, that just doesn’t worry us. We’re glad they’re trying something. There seems to be a bit more focus on tactical movement in this one, with enemies holding directional shields and the high-damage melee attack requiring some careful approaches. We hope the voice control will prove useful.
Of course, Mass Effect is all about the experience of hours and hours of playing it, so we look forward to covering it in full next year. For now, sure, it looks good. It just doesn’t look appreciably better than Mass Effect 2. That game was our 2010 Game of the Year, though, so getting another is a great thing in its own right.