The Mass Effect series has been at the forefront of gaming ever since the original title came out in 2007. The RPG series has become so popular because of its dynamic consequences for a player’s choices and its rich universe which is full of interesting alien species and history. Mass Effect 2 upped the ante with game-to-game continuity (making a player’s Mass Effect choices have a real impact on the story of the game) and introducing even more characters, plot threads and new combat mechanics. Mass Effect 3 will be the conclusion of the sci-fi trilogy so let’s take a look at what makes it tick in this preview.
Mass Effect So Far
There is a lot of backstory in the Mass Effect universe and a lot of story that takes place during the two previous games but here is a very brief rundown on what you need to know before jumping into Mass Effect 3.
In the Mass Effect universe humanity has stepped out of our own solar system and into the galaxy at large thanks to a huge technological boost from a ruin found on Mars. Human ships can travel at speeds faster than light and can use a network of relays to instantly zip from one location to another in the galaxy, making travel to distant planets much easier.
Through this achievement, the human race discovered that we not alone in the galaxy and in fact tons of alien species exist in our little neck of the universe. Humanity joined the governing body of the Citadel and has been looking to ingratiate itself with the council for years. After a human colony is attacked by a rogue Citadel agent, the council made Commander Shepard a Spectre (an elite council agent) and sends him to find Saren.
It is discovered that Saren is working with (or really for) a Reaper by the name of Sovereign. The Reapers are a race of hyper-advanced machines that wiped out all life in the galaxy 50,000 years ago. The mass relays and the Citadel (all thought to be products of an ancient race called the Protheans) were actually created by the Reapers and serve as a way for them to return and destroy all sentient life every 50,000 years.
Shepard stops Saren and Sovereign from activating the Citadel’s mass relay and bringing the Reaper fleet back from dark space. Humanity is offered a seat on the council and Shepard vows to find a way to permanently end the Reaper threat.
In Mass Effect 2 Commander Shepard and his ship the Normandy are destroyed at the very beginning by an unknown vessel and Shepard dies in the attack. Shepard wakes up two years later to find out that a pro-human organization by the name of Cerberus brought him back to life. Apparently, a group of aliens called the Collectors have been abducting whole human colonies and Cerberus wants Shepard’s help to stop it. The Collectors were working with the Reapers, so the abductions meant that the Reapers had a new plan in place to take over the galaxy.
Shepard’s ties to Cerberus made the council weary of him and he promised to conduct his business outside of Citadel space, in the Terminus systems. Shepard assembles a team of the best of the best from different alien species to lead an assault on the Collector home world at the center of the galaxy. It is revealed that the Reapers were creating a new member of their species based off of humanity. The humans that were kidnapped were being fed into the Reaper. Shepard puts a stop to this by destroying the half-complete Reaper. Shepard is then given the choice of either destroying the Collector base or trying to use it to obtain more knowledge on the Collectors and Mass Effect 2 ends with the Reapers on their way towards Earth.
The Galactic War
Mass Effect 3 will pick up just after the Arrival DLC from Mass Effect 2 and will see Commander Shepard on trial for an action he took during that DLC’s story. The Reapers crash the party however, and the occupation of Earth begins. Shepard barely escapes and is tasked with rallying re-enforcements from the rest of the galaxy to take back Earth and stop the Reapers.
But another threat has also emerged in the form of Cerberus, Shepard’s allies in Mass Effect 2. Cerberus has decided to turn against Shepard and stop him from completing his goal begging the question- what happened? Cerberus’ true intentions are sure to come out into the light and we will see them for what they truly are.
Mass Effect 3 will take all of the choices that players made in the first two installments of the series and will change the story and ending based on player choices. Certain characters may return or not return depending on the choices that players made in the previous games and the entire galactic war will hinge on the player’s choices in this game as well.
Whereas in Mass Effect 2, players needed to convince individuals to join their cause, in Mass Effect 3 the focus will be on convincing entire species to help retake Earth and that may be made easier or harder by the choices of the player in the previous games (a possible example is if the Rachni queen was saved in Mass Effect, there is a good chance the Rachni will be allies in Mass Effect 3).
New and Old Characters
Mass Effect 3 will see the return of several popular characters from the previous Mass Effect titles and some fresh faces. BioWare put a lot of effort into developing unique characters and the company has stated that characters were not put into game for no reason. While not every character will be a possible squad member, they will play some role in the game.
Here is a comprehensive list of all of the returning characters that have been confirmed up to this point. Their appearance in Mass Effect 3 will rely on their survival of the previous two games.
Jeff “Joker” Moreau
Tali’ Zorah vas Normandy
The Illusive Man
Along with these returning characters will be a few new faces to the Mass Effect game series including Alliance Solider James Vega (voiced by Freddy Prinze Jr), news reporter Diana Allers (voiced by and modeled after Jessica Chobot) and Kai Leng (from the Mass Effect novels).
Many players will want to know who will be in their main squad so here is a list of all of the confirmed squad member characters for Mass Effect 3.
Tali’ Zorah vas Normandy
Mass Effect was more about the RPG elements and less about the shooter elements and Mass Effect 2 reversed that formula. While many people liked Mass Effect 2 more, BioWare is trying to cater to both audiences by making an immersive RPG experience and a good shooter experience. Shooter fans can auto level up and RPG fans will get their fill of customization.
New RPG elements that have been confirmed for the game include work benches where weapons and armor can be customized and upgraded and powers and abilities that branch off into different specializations. These elements can be bypassed by auto leveling for players that prefer the third-person shooter element of the Mass Effect series.
On top of a new focus on RPG elements, there is also a large focus on melee combat and a new weapon was made with that in mind. The omni-blade is (you guessed it) a blade that extends from Shepard’s omni-tool and can be used to shred through enemies.
There will be six classes in the single player story mode including Adept, Solider, Engineer, Sentinel, Infiltrator and Vanguard. All of these classes will feature different skills and even unique melee abilities. You can check out a video that showcases some of these new combat skills below.
Enemy AI has also been ramped up to allow for more challenging combat scenarios. Enemies will flank players, deploy smoke screens and just make each engagement harder than before. Both powers and challenge have been turned up so the result should be something awesome.
Mass Effect 3 will be the first game in the series to include an online multiplayer element and it will be a four player co-operative mode. The multiplayer will allow gamers to join a group of soldiers from different races and fight small skirmishes throughout the galaxy against Reaper forces.
Shepard will be commanding the group as a whole but will not be in the actual engagements, so players will get to see a little bit of the rest of the galaxy-wide war. Objectives for these missions seem to revolve around eliminating enemy forces or capturing enemy positions.
The multiplayer will have a leveling system just like the game and the player’s choice of race and class will determine what skills they have available to them for the multiplayer session. Here is a full breakdown of the classes and races with their powers that were shown off in the multiplayer trailer that can be viewed below.
Soldier Human: Adrenaline Rush, Concussive Shot and Frag Grenade
Engineer Quarian: Incinerate, Cryo Blast and Sentry Turret
Vanguard Drell: Biotic Charge, Pull and Cluster Grenade
Sentinel Turian: Warp, Overload and Tech Armor
Vanguard Asari: Biotic Charge, Stasis and Lift Grenade
Infiltrator Salarian: Energy Drain, Tactical Cloak and Proximity Mine
Soldier Krogan: Carnage, Fortification and Inferno Grenade
As you can see, both the race and the class seem to make a difference in the loadout. Players will be able to create as many characters as they want to and each character will have his/her own XP tree. The multiplayer is not needed to complete the single player game or to get the best possible ending however; completing multiplayer missions will up a player’s Galactic Readiness Scale. This readiness scale will change the outcome of the final battle with the Reapers and make alternate endings possible.
All new copies of Mass Effect 3 will come with an online pass that will be required to play the multiplayer element of the game. Multiplayer DLC will be released after launch and will include more characters and alien races.
Mass Effect 3 on the Xbox 360 will be compatible with the Kinect sensor and can be used to input voice commands into the game. Players will be able to tell their squad mates to switch weapons or use a power by simply shouting out the order.
While the Kinect functionality may help the game in some ways (for squad mates it will prevent the player from having to pause the game and use the wheel) but the fact that voice commands could have been done via a headset has caused many gamers to resent the use of the Kinect in Mass Effect 3. The Kinect will not be required to play the game.
Mass Effect 3 is one of the most anticipated games of 2012 and for good reason. The Mass Effect series has provided gamers with high quality story content, gameplay and dynamic game-to-game continuity before and it looks like that won’t change one bit for Mass Effect 3.
The conclusion of Commander Shepard’s story arc and the galactic war with the Reapers should provide some fantastic drama for the story and some great action for the gameplay. Mass Effect 3 will be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC (via Origin) on March 6th in North America and March 9th in Europe. For gamers who just can’t wait that long, a Valentine’s Day treat is in store as the game demo will be released on February 14th.