It’s been interesting to watch Canadian RPG powerhouse, BioWare, struggle to strike the perfect balance between action games and role-playing games, beginning with their take on the Star Wars universe, Knights of the Old Republic, way back in 2003. Since then we’ve seen them ping-pong between completely streamlined (Jade Empire) to something closer to their classically complex games (Kotor, the first Mass Effect). And while Mass Effect 2 was a largely successful attempt to hit that ethereal sweet-spot between action-heavy shooters and stat-crunching RPGs, some fans felt it still leaned too far toward the streamlined side of the equation. They haven’t quite found the balance, but Mass Effect 3 looks like their best shot yet at a bull’s eye.
Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter in BioWare’s epic space opera. Parts one and two were both breathtaking joyrides from one end of the galaxy to the other as we followed the trials and tribulation of humanity’s one true champion, Commander Shepard. Along the way, we uncovered a plot by unknowable machine intelligences known as Reapers to systematically harvest all advanced civilization in the galaxy every 50,000 years. That threat is the backbone of the Mass Effect franchise and has helped produce some of the most memorable heroes and villains gaming has ever seen. The term “Star Wars of gaming” is often tossed around to describe a videogame franchise with same kind of hype, pop culture penetration, spin offs, toys, and books as George Lucas’ creation, and while none have quite reached those heights, the Mass Effect franchise is definitely in the running. As the release date for Mass Effect 3 approaches, hype builds, and gamers clamor for any tidbits of information that exist and hungrily devour them.
We may still have a few weeks to wait (depending on when you read this), but to help hold you over, I’ve collected every little bit of information I could find on the features that have been revealed. Here’s what we know so far:
- Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter in the Story of the Reaper invasion. The war will end one way or another.
- However, Executive Producer, Casey Hudson has stated that Mass Effect 3 will not be the end of the franchise.
- The game begins with the Reaper invasion of Earth.
- Mass Effect 3 will have a clearer villain than ME2.
- The plot won’t follow the same kind of “put together a squad” pattern that ME2 did.
- For the first time ever, FemSheps get their own individually crafted face rather than one generated by the character creator. She’s a redhead and, if I can engage my lizard brain for a second, she’s hot. Probably not as hot as ManShep, but he’s an underwear model in real life.
- Choices from ME1 and ME2 will carry over. Some ME choices that had no consequences in ME2 will in ME3.
- There are 3 new gameplay “modes” that aren’t quite difficulty levels but greatly affect certain aspects of the game, including difficulty (ME3 still maintains separate difficulty levels, however).
- “Story” mode takes the focus off combat by ramping down the enemy difficulty while leaving the story choices and customization aspects intact. You can still die, but it’s very hard.
- “Action” mode is the polar opposite of story mode. In action mode, the story choices and customization options are dialed way back leaving combat as the focus.
- “RPG” mode is the mode for those that want a traditional RPG experience: the combat, story choices, and customization exist in their full glory. This is the “mode” Mass Effect 1 and 2 would have occupied had such modes existed before.
- Squad mates that died during ME1 or ME2 are gone forever. Depending on who died, there will be quests you’ll never see.
- You can import your ME2 saves (and ME1 saves that you imported to ME2), but don’t worry about being locked into that Shepard’s appearance and class. You can change them.
- Grenades are back in the form most of us are familiar with from other games, and they won’t need to be detonated remotely.
- Biotic classes will get biotic grenades. Vanguards get lift grenades, for example.
- Any class of Shepard can carry any weapon, but different classes have different weight-carrying abilities and that affects their potential weapon load out.
- You can increase weight-carrying abilities when you level up.
- There are several brand-new abilities, while several old ones from ME1 return, albeit slightly altered. Many ME2 powers remain unchanged.
- Shepard can now roll between cover points and other moves that have been staples of cover shooters for years
- Thankfully returning from ME1: Shepard will have the ability to loot weapons from fallen foes.
- And customization of those weapons has been greatly expanded thanks to a new workbench that allows the player to change a weapon’s look and functionality via attachments.
- Multiplayer will be included for the first time ever in the form of co-op
- Co-op is for four players and each will be able to pick from one of several well known ME universe races, with each race inhabiting a class specific to that race.
- Co-op feeds back into the main game via “Galactic Readiness” that tracks your ability to fight the Reapers.
- You’ll be able to achieve the “best” ending without playing co-op, but co-op will make it easier.
- We’ll finally get to see the turian, salarian, asari, and quarian home worlds along with revisits to Tuchanka, the krogan home world, Illium, the hub of the asari economy, Earth and Mars (finally), ME1 location Noveria, and the Citadel, which will be larger than in ME2
- ME3 will have 57 powers, 60 levels, and 128 points. That’s far more than ME2 and more in line with ME1.
- Classes will have class-specific melee attacks
- There will be “mutually exclusive” quests and missions.
- Sometimes when you enter a system, you’ll be attacked by a Reaper. Winning a mini-game will defeat said Reaper.
- Returning characters (unless they were previously dead) include Ashley, Kaiden, Liara, Wrex, Tali, Joker, Conrad Verner, Captain Kirrahe, Udina and Anderson, The Illusive Man, Jacob and Miranda, Grunt, Kelly Chambers, Legion, Mordin, Zaeed, and Thane.
- New characters include James Vega (an alliance soldier and new teammate), Kai Leng (from Retribution), and Diana Allers (reporter, voiced by G4 nymph Jessica Chobot)
- For the first time in the series we’ll see a human child and a krogan female.
- The Illusive Man will be back and apparently Shepard’s enemy no matter your choice at the end of ME2.
If that list hasn’t convinced you that Mass Effect is shaping up to be something special, then nothing will. BioWare has been at the top of the “story-based” RPG heap for almost a decade now, and there’s nothing I’ve seen in previews or in the demo to indicate Mass Effect 3 won’t be more of the same and exactly what fans have been clamoring for. It really is looking like a perfect balance between brand-new features, improvements on what needed to be improved and the reintroduction, in some way, shape, or form, of the deeper RPG aspects that fans of the genre are used to. March 6th can’t get here fast enough.
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