It is no secret that I love Bioware in general and Mass Effect in particular. Going into this year’s E3, I didn’t think there was anything they could show me that would make me anticipate Mass Effect 3 any more than I already did. After sitting in on a media/retail only 30 minute demo I have to say that I was embarrassingly wrong. I was always going to buy Mass Effect 3 on day one but I really had no idea how fucking epic it would be. And it is fucking epic.
First and foremost, the scope of this thing is insane. You aren’t just fighting little mechs or foot soldiers here. Well you are, but you are doing that while taking on enemies the size of buildings. Some of the attacking Reapers are just massive as hell and are wreaking havoc on everything all around you. You really get the sense that you are just one small aspect of a much larger battle raging around you. Shepard is very important to the war effort but now when you are doing what you are doing a ton of stuff is going on all around you. I don’t feel like I can overstate just how huge the action is and how massive the chaos is all around you.
One of the reasons for all the chaos is that you aren’t just fighting Reapers here. In addition to them you also have enemies taken over by the Reapers and brought into the fold. Sure you could get technical and say they are Reapers too but if you focus up for a minute you will understand that this means that just about any race that has been or could potentially be an enemy in the past is now augmented with Reaper tech and are that much more dangerous. You are also going up against Cerberus and while this was not explained in the demo, dialogue suggests that they two have been brought into the Reaper fold. There is nothing worse than a bunch of highly skilled, well funded completely devout racists with the augmented power of an ancient alien menace.
With the increased menace and the stakes only so high as being for the entire universe, Shepard is going to need some beefed up skills and abilities. Bioware has you covered. There was no word on how leveling will restart but I assume that Shepard won’t be brought back to life again. However it is handled, leveling offers a much deeper level of customization than ever before. Now when you are spending points to improve an ability you can choose from several branching skill paths that will not just effect the skill in question but will bleed through to all of your abilities. This allows you to tweak your abilities to your specific playstyle and to emphasize your particular skill set. It also means that you could play a soldier build of Shepard several times and have a different experience. This REALLY beefs up the replay value which is sort of amazing given that the first two games had more replay value than five games put together.
The inventory is equally improved with an emphasis placed on upgrading and customizing weapons. You can alter the weapons with several different pieces from magazines to barrels and each enhancement changes the look of the weapon and allows you to customize the weapon’s functionality to again best suit your play style. With all the offered upgrades and enhancements, it will be very difficult for detractors to claim that Mass Effect has moved away from being an RPG.
Speaking of the detractors, this move back to more traditional RPG elements have not come at the expense of the combat. We still have the tight third-person shooter action we had last time with improved targeting and performance. In addition to that, an Omni-blade has been added for up close melee combat. The blade looks not unlike the plasma sword from Halo and seems to be roughly as devastating. A roll move has gone far to help Shepard’s movement which allows for a workable flanking system which should open up battles quite a bit and give the player even more options.
It isn’t just Shepard alone though. Bioware has added a much stronger command system for your companions. Cribbed a bit from Dragon Age, this system allows you to dial in orders and behaviors for your companions that let you execute strikes with surgical precision without bogging the action down like an RTS. The system they showed seemed smooth and looked enough like programming weapon swaps or skill activations that it should be no big deal even in the heat of combat.
All of this was wrapped up in on the fly cutscenes that did not take away from the flow of the action but rather augmented the intensity of what was going on. In one sequence shown Shepard tries to save a little boy from a city under attack. The boy doesn’t go and the repercussions of that are heartbreaking. I found it amazing that a fairly obvious and played out plot device still managed to have hard hitting emotional resonance but there it is. The voice acting is superb as ever and you can’t help but feel caught up in the emotions of it all. Given that this is the last in the trilogy, anything can happen so the tension is high. This looks like it may be the most intense RPG of all time.
After the demo I realized that we aren’t looking at a release for Mass Effect 3 until March of 2012. This was devastating news for me as after seeing this game in action, and running on a 360, I want it right now. That being said, Skyrim is coming out on 11-11-11 and it is probably for the best this doesn’t come out for months after that. I really don’t want to find myself single. So the wait will be painful but it will be worth it.