Mass Effect 3 Preview

15 Feb 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2012-03-06
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Action
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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If there's a big game release set to turn heads this March, it's Mass Effect 3. Not only does it represent the latest in BioWare's well-regarded sci-fi shooter-RPG series, but it's also the capstone on the series' three-part story. Though leaks left and right regarding the game's plot and features have made their rounds throughout the Internet, the actual gameplay footage that players and press have had access to doesn't reveal all that much save for a few key scenes, the Reaper invasion of Earth chief among them. With the release of the game's demo, we managed to get some hands-on time and are here to deliver some impressions on how the game's shaping up.

Mass Action

Immediately upon starting Mass Effect 3 (the demo seems to include the very beginning of the game), the story picks up more or less where Mass Effect 2 left off. Commander Shepard is spending his (or her) time relaxing after stopping the Collectors in Mass Effect 2, but it doesn't take long before the alarm comes in: the Reapers have returned, and they aren't just stopping by, they've brought a full-scale invasion to Earth. The game's opening sequence is full of action and intensity, with explosions left and right, massive Collector ships descending to wreak destruction, and transformed Reaper drones, including Husks and the brand-new Cannibals (big, ugly things that act as foot soldiers) all tearing up the cityscape.

The demo's second mission, meanwhile, involves Shepard and friends traveling to the Salarian homeworld in order to pick up a fertile Krogan female as part of a peace bargain. Things, predictably, turn pear-shaped when Cerberus soldiers arrive to secure the female for themselves. What proceeds is a corridor-crawling fight highly reminiscent of Mass Effect 2's sequences, although perhaps not as long or monotonous, as each encounter brings a new enemy to fight or a new tactic to take advantage of. The end, of course, concludes with a big boss fight against a towering mech suit. This sequence is cut in the middle, presumably for time or space constraints, so it doesn't quite represent the full portion of the game.

It's very clear from this demo, and from much of what we've seen of the game elsewhere, that Mass Effect 3 is being marketed as an action game first and a role-playing game second. While that was true of Mass Effect 2 as well, there are few dialogue options or choices to make during the demo, and the focus on forward momentum and moving through one set-piece to the next serves to reinforce that Mass Effect 3, at least on the surface, is more interested in paying tribute to Gears of War than Knights of the Old Republic.

Of course, we can't draw any definite conclusions about how Mass Effect 3 will turn out in practice - Dragon Age II's demo also had a heavier focus on action than the final product - but at the very least, Mass Effect 3 is looking to be by far the most accessible in the series to date, if its dialogue-choice-free "Action Mode", shaky-cam cinematics, and emphasis on bigger and louder explosions is anything to go by.

Combat, Refined

While it's impossible to judge Mass Effect 3's overall focus, it's certainly possible to examine the ways the game has changed mechanically. For fans of Mass Effect 2, the good news is, all for the better. The game's combat, which follows the same cover-shooting model, is a good deal more intense and interesting than Mass Effect 2's, while still feeling familiar. All the same features are there, from the pause-and-play functionality for ordering your squad members, to the breadth of powers to unleash on enemies, to ammo types and armor types, but it's been expanded in some key ways.

BioWare elected to build upon a good thing with Mass Effect 3's gunplay. Things are a touch faster-paced, aiming weapons feels tighter and more responsive (probably due to less spread when firing), and there are more options for moving around the environment, including rolling, diving and vaulting over ledges. The game's enemies are also much more aggressive, willing to rush you in melee, circle around behind you, use suppressive fire to pin you down, or grenades to flush you out. In one situation, enemy engineers dropped down turrets during the firefight, making enemy prioritization an important factor. Again, many of these things are standard in cover-based shooters, but Mass Effect 3 spotlights just how far behind the curve the previous game really was in the action department.