by Andrew Hallam
previewed on X360
A Good Man Goes To War
Unless you are some strange Ritalin-popping, sugar-addicted 12 year old whose game library starts and ends with the Call of Duty and Halo titles, you should have at least heard of the Mass Effect series. Brought to life by the daddy of modern western RPGs, Bioware, the series is an action RPG space opera trilogy. If for some reason you have yet to play what is considered by many to be the ultimate sci-fi RPG of recent years, there really is no easy way to explain the story without doing it a great injustice. The long and short of it is that you play as Commander [Insert First Name Here] Shepard, a Human Spec-ops soldier turned galactic secret policeman who has set out to stop a rogue agent. Unfortunately this sets in motion a galaxy-wide extinction event that turns into a galactic war between the wealth of species that inhabit the Milky Way and ancient, giant vengeful machine gods that have been killing everyone in the galaxy for billions of years before humanity ever took its first steps on to Earth’s muddy shores. Whew. Told you I couldn’t do the story any justice.
Well, Mass Effect 3 is the series’ Return of the Jedi, just hopefully with a bit better direction and without the annoying space teddy bears. You will see Shepard return from the so called ‘suicide mission’ of the 2nd game and back to humanity’s roots on Earth where the Reapers, the giant machine gods I mentioned, are set to invade everyone in the galaxy’s day. Why they choose to start the party on Earth is anyone’s guess, but it is safe to say that things get real pretty quickly.
The Odds Were A Million To One, But Still They Come...
Judging by what we have seen at Gamescom, it is safe to say that Mass Effect 3 is set to be the giant series ender that we were promised. In the pivotal moment in the story where the Reapers begin their invasion of Earth it was plain to see that Bioware is pulling out all the stops for this installment. We see Shepard looking out over a ruined cityscape as the Reapers land all around the city. Dropships and attack fighters swoop overhead, crashing into buildings and trying in vain to take down the massive behemoths. There’s definitely a certain ‘War of the Worlds’ feel to it all, not only in visuals, but sound as well. The Reapers emit eerie low pitched wails as they decimate the surrounding environment with heat rays and all manner of alien tech. I would call it a step in the right direction (for the Reapers, not humanity).
While story is an integral part of the Mass Effect universe, where would we gamers be without gameplay? Returning in the 3rd installment we will see Mass Effect 2’s ammo system, an updated cover mechanic which bares a striking resemblance to the classic Gears of War style with combat rolls and SWAT turns. As well as a weapon mod system similar to that of the first game rather than the set weapons of the 2nd game. What was generally nice to see, and a real boost to Mass Effect 3’s appeal, was the updated leveling system. Instead of the 1st game’s intricate and sometimes confusing array of options or Mass Effect 2’s slightly lacking amount of optional upgrades, the new system offers 9 different skill trees you can explore to level your Shepard into a veteran fighting machine. Each of these 9 trees will have a variety of different paths to choose from so that each of your powers will be different to the next person’s. Overall it seems like a much more user-friendly experience for those who just want to run and gun, but intricate enough that hardcore RPG fans won’t be left wanting if they want to explore all the options.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall
The Mass Effect series has all been boiling down to this: an epic war against a so-called unstoppable enemy. But those who have been with the series from the start know that it’s all about gaining friends and allies across the galaxy. Those new to the series can effectively just jump into Mass Effect 3 like they could with the 2nd installment, with a short summary of the other games as well as the key choices that were made along the way, such as who survived a certain mission or if you chose to save the citadel council or not. However, those who have saves from the first two games can transfer their latest Mass Effect 2 save to the new game and effectively play a seamless adventure through the series. Along the way, Shepard has gathered allies from across the galaxy and now that war is upon them, it’s time to collect on his debts to bring the full force of all sentient life in the galaxy to bear against the Reaper threat.
Mass Effect 3 has (spoiler alert, though you’ll probably find this out from reading the back of the box) Shepard eventually leave a war-torn Earth in order to unite the aliens of the Galaxy in one epic war to end the Reapers once and for all, but it won’t be easy. The Reapers have allies too, species or factions that they’ve ‘indoctrinated’ (brain washed and sometimes zombified) who are willing to lay down their lives for the machine gods. We’ll see Shepard fight his way across the galaxy, visiting each of the main race’s homeworlds, and uncovering the answers to the many questions left at the end of Mass Effect 2.
A Shepard Tends To His Flock...
There is no doubt that Bioware is pulling out all the stops for the trilogy’s grand finale, but with the mixed feelings RPG fans had about the company’s last game, Dragon Age II, there’s still a faint chance that fans may be disappointed with the game. However, Bioware seems to have learned from its mistakes in making Dragon Age II an oversimplified, too much Action and not enough RPG game. As the final installment in Shepard’s trilogy, Mass Effect 3 should be the Earth-shattering deep RPG experience that loyal fans dearly want it to be rather than just another mindless ‘tactical’ shooter. Judging by the short time I had with the game, it seems to me that Bioware might just have the right blend of Action and RPG this time round.