Facing Down Impossible Odds
Shepard knew they were coming, but nobody listened.
Now the aggressive and immeasurably powerful Reapers are invading Earth, and only Commander Shepard has the knowledge and the will to rally the galaxy against them. With that setup to kick it off, Mass Effect 3 aims to provide an exciting and satisfying conclusion to BioWare’s popular science fiction role-playing game trilogy. Although it has been delayed from this year’s holiday season until March 2012, Mass Effect 3 has been making its presence known at the summer trade shows, giving us a stronger idea of what the game will entail.
While Mass Effect 2 was a personal tale focusing on recruiting a highly-skilled squad for a dangerous mission, Mass Effect 3 operates on a truly galactic scale. Instead of recruiting individual team members, Shepard will be tasked with convincing entire alien races to rally against the Reapers, including previously featured races such as Krogan, Asari, Salarians, Turians, and Quarians. It’s not going to be easy to bring all these disparate groups together, and both the Reapers and the Reaper-influenced Cerberus organization will be attempting to foil Shepard’s every plan. Even Shepard’s own past can work against our hero, as choices made in both of the first two games can have either positive or negative consequences for the third.
Of course, Shepard is still a lover as well as a fighter, and Mass Effect 3 will be providing same-sex romance options for both male and female Shepards. If Shepard had a successful romance in one of the first two games, there will also be a love triangle introduced, which will be resolved by the end of the game.
Not only will the story in Mass Effect be bigger, the game’s mechanics have been expanded and blended in order to provide the best possible combination of systems from the first two games, plus new improvements to the series. Weapon customization is back, allowing players to choose between various scopes, barrels, and other modifications. Character development has been enhanced with the addition of branching skill trees, forcing players to make choices in Shepard’s career development and creating more unique individual character builds. The game’s fights themselves will be larger in scope and can feature gigantic enemies, further enhancing the notion of conflict happening on a galactic scale.
One of the major features BioWare has been discussing this summer is the combat system, which has been altered to appeal more strongly to fans of third-person shooters. The cover system has been improved, players will be able to shoot limbs and armor pieces off enemies, and moving and shooting will be a viable strategy for the first time. A revised melee system allows Shepard to effectively engage at close range, giving the Commander access to rapid and effective hand-to-hand combat moves and class-specific melee finishers. Statistical RPG elements are even less present in combat than they were in Mass Effect 2.
While this may disappoint some traditional RPG fans, it might be the best decision for a series that has always aspired towards shooter-style combat, but weighed down the action with residual elements from turn-based RPG systems. BioWare’s Ray Muzyka has stated that Mass Effect 3 nonetheless contains more role-playing elements and interesting storyline choices than ever. The RPG elements simply seem to be present in the story and character customization rather than in the midst of the moment-to-moment action in combat.
A final new feature, as detailed at E3 this summer, is Mass Effect 3’s Kinect compatibility. Rather than utilizing motion controls, ME3 will take advantage of Kinect’s voice control features, allowing the player to offer verbal commands to squad members during combat. The player can also choose dialog options by reading out a brief phrase that appears on the screen, though it will certainly be faster to simply select the dialog option with a controller. There has been no confirmation on whether voice control will be available on PC or PS3, or to Xbox 360 owners who have a headset but no Kinect unit.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing BioWare with Mass Effect 3 is the huge expectations of fans who have journeyed with Commander Shepard since 2007. Fans will be expecting something huge out of the game, and will likely also be hoping to provide Shepard with a happy ending. That ending may be difficult to attain, but the game at least appears to be setting up a suitably epic confrontation that gives our hero a bang-up sendoff. With so much riding on his or her human shoulders, Commander Shepard is going to have to go big or fail to go home because “home” has been reduced to a Reaper-infested crater.