Features & News

Hands On: Mass Effect 3

September 26, 2011, Author: Ray Willmott

You want it. I want it. The entire world wants it. Unfortunately, we still have to wait another six months for it. The conclusion of Commander Shepard’s story is one of the most anticipated in video game history. Fortunately, Bioware rarely disappoint; yet with the sheer excellence that was Mass Effect 2, one has to wonder if, this time, they’ve set the bar too high.

I got to sample the final instalment of Shepard’s adventures at this year’s Eurogamer Expo, and I can certainly tell you one thing. The future, is quite different..

Cerberus are the enemy. That’s the first major detail I learned from the demo. Shepard and his crew have been ambushed by sentinels and centurions, and are in a race against time to protect Mordin, who is about to get flame-grilled and deep-fried by the materializing threat. It was my duty to protect him.

From the get-go, I can tell that Mass Effect 3 is going to be a much more interactive and action-packed cinematic experience. Small subtle details have been added, such as cinematic hotspots. If something important is happening on the screen at any one time, by holding in Y, you will instantly focus on that event.

In the demo, the scenery surrounding my character was completely devastated. It’s clear that Shepard is in the middle of a war and the fight of his life, so who better to enlist than those who have supported him in the past. Previous series favourites that made an appearance in this demo included Mordin, Garrus, Liara and Wrex.

However, this demo wasn’t designed to give major story points, but to demonstrate the important combat changes Bioware have made to their showcase title. This brings me to a point that may upset or excite Mass Effect fans, but will almost certainly divide them. Mass Effect’s combat has now taken more from the Gears of War experience than ever before. In fact, its damn near carbon-copied it.

Big Ben's last chime...

For starters, Shepard can now roll around the map to evade enemy fire, or dive into cover. Personally, I became very comfortable very quickly using this method of manoeuvring due to my experience with the COGs. On a technical level, it does work well within Mass Effect, although it doesn’t feel quite as fluid as Gears of War. In fact, it feels a little stunted due to Shepard’s lengthy pause after each roll. On the whole though, I think this is a good addition to the series.

Also, Roadie-running is no longer hindered by a stamina bar. Shepard can just keep running as if he’s just drunk seven cans of Monster on the head. Again, this suits me much better than Mass Effect 2′s efforts, and, to my way of thinking, is a positive improvement for the series.

The cover system has also been revamped, and it is much easier for Shepard to go from one point of cover to another. If pressed up against one side of a wall, with a quick button press and a flick of the analog, Shepard can alternate his position very quickly and responsively. Yet again, another important improvement.

Aiming and firing also seems like it has been brushed up as Auto-aim now appears in-game. Every time you zoom in with LT and there is an enemy on the screen, Shepard immediately faces that direction, pointing his pistol in their face. This certainly makes battle a much easier endeavour. Shepard also has his own close-range melee attack, stabbing enemies with a knife-like weapon on his forearm.

Another first for the series are workbenches. On these benches, you can change your weapon load-out at any time, allowing you to alternate your strategy if things are getting a bit hairy. However, you can also upgrade your weaponry, giving your assault rifle higher burst damage, or less recoil, or increasing the clip size of your pistol, amidst other things. This time in Mass Effect, it’s not just your characters that improve in ability.

Fire when ready!

Of course, it wouldn’t be Mass Effect without power-ups. Familiar favourites like Unity and Warp act the same as before, and remain just as important now as they were in previous instalments. Nothing seems to have been omitted, so don’t worry.

It’s not just your capabilities in combat that are improved, however. The enemies are also more tenacious than ever. Just because Shepard’s in cover, doesn’t mean he’s safe. Just like in Gears 3, enemies will come right up to your location, and attempt to knock you back, leaving you exposed and vulnerable. There are also enemies called Guardians who are covered entirely by a massive riot-like shield. Much like Maulers in Gears of War, you will need to find a small, slightly exposed weak-spot and unload on them.

Oh, and did I mention that some enemies can now teleport.

As you can tell, Mass Effect 3 will have a stronger combat focus than its predecessors, and to support that, Bioware have implemented significant alterations to the game’s combat formula.

Of course, Mass Effect was primarily designed as a role-playing game experience, and while I didn’t get to sample much of that in my hands-on, I’ve still reached a simple conclusion. If Bioware can deliver an epic story like they’ve been known to, and really bring this trilogy to the close we’re all hoping for, there’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t, and shouldn’t surpass Mass Effect 2. While I appreciate many aren’t fond of the Gears of War formula of combat, for me, this feels well suited and appropriate in the Mass Effect world, and it is a vast improvement on anything we’ve seen in the series so far.

It also sets me thinking. If there is going to be a multi-player element to the game (as has been rumoured several gazillion times), then this would definitely be the place for Bioware to start.

Just thinking out loud…