After playing the Mass Effect 3 demo, I can tell you that it will be one hell of a ride. Ever since playing the first Mass Effect on Xbox 360 and finding out that, what seemed to be a minor choice at the time, actually resulted in the permanent death of a team member (yes, this person is still dead in Mass Effect 2 and 3), I’ve been hooked. Not only the persistence in story, but a beautiful, futuristic world that Edmonton-based BioWare Studio has created makes me eager to come back and finish what I started. Here are 10 reasons why Mass Effect 3 is the must-play game of 2012:
1. Your choices make a difference
In Mass Effect 3, decisions carry over from previous games in the trilogy. But not just the life-or-death decisions. Your name and character appearance (male or female Commander Shepard), which you can customize in the first game, also is carried over. They even give you some experience right away for importing your game. Mass Effect 1 & 2 have even bigger decisions towards the end (I won’t spoil it), that have a huge effect on your story and roster in subsequent games. Did you form a romance along the way (who hasn’t)? They’ll remember that in the next game. There’s even a Mass Effect 3 iPad game called “Infiltrator” that will carry over items and information that you earn to the full game. So even while waiting for the bus you can be giving Shepard an edge.
2. Improved combat + Omni Sword
Mass Effect 1 was no slouch in the action department, but there was lots of room for improvement. While the second game tightened up the controls and gunplay, Mass Effect 3 takes a huge step forward. In fact, at times I could have sworn I was controlling Marcus Fenix in Gears of War. Shepard can now dive in all directions, turn tightly while running, and has an awesome “heavy melee” attack that can gore opponents with a Halo-style “Omni Sword”. He can also climb ladders, paving the way for exciting, multi-level action sequences. While the flow of action may not be as quick as Gears of War, the level of control definitely is up there. For example, instead of just holding down a chainsaw button and approaching enemies, you must aim first then do a heavy attack, otherwise risk becoming vulnerable and swinging the sword at thin air. Also, positioning teammates and using biotic powers is necessary for success, making it a more strategic affair than pure action games.
3. Voice acting is top-notch
If you’ve played the first 2 games, you can see where I’m coming from. In addition to having an almost endless supply of dialog, many of Shepard’s lines are delivered so well they would be at right home in a big-budget movie. I only speak for the male Shepard (Mark Meer), but the voice acting never disappoints. The supporting cast is no slouch as well, with each character giving you reason to love (or hate) them throughout your journey. BioWare spared no expense, bringing in well-known actors such as Seth Green (“Joker”), Keith David (“Anderson”), Martin Sheen (“The Illusive Man”), as well as Marina Sertis (“Benezia”) and Michael Dorn (“Uvenk”). This all-star roster, along with great performances from other main characters, keeps you engrossed in the story from start to finish.
4. Rich visuals and immersive atmosphere
Of course, all the voice acting in the world is no good without a rich environment to go with it. The artists and designers of Mass Effect hit it right on the mark. The first time I stepped foot in the Citadel Presidium in the first game, I was literally blown away. Other locations are more interactive but no less immersive, such as exploring the Normandy in Mass Effect 2, or visiting bustling bars on key homeworlds (where you can bust a move or sit next to alien “exotic dancers”). Mass Effect 3 looks even more expansive – the demo starts off with a fleet of Reapers reaping destruction (see what I did there?) on the Earth metropolises in full view of Shepard, who is forced to traverse along narrow beams outside a destroyed highrise. The graphics look sharper and grittier than ever – bullets appear to move faster and hit with increased velocity. Other setpiece battles rival even those from Gears of War 3, such as the Reaper vs Thresher Maw (see video above). Of course, there’s a limit to how much you can pack into each game as you don’t want huge, barren areas: BioWare has taken the smart route, allowing you just enough freedom to explore while keeping environments full of things to see and do.
5. Choose your friends, choose your experience
With each new mission you’ll be required to choose two teammates to accompany you. For the duration of the mission, they will have their own things to say, reactions to your decisions. The beauty is that by simply by changing your teammates, you can change your experience. And as everything uses the in-game engine, teammates, outfits and equipment are all consistent so not only can you decide with which characters you want with you in key scenes, you can even choose how to look as you save the world. On a related note, between missions is where you can really spice things up. If a certain character catches your eye, you can always do a little chatting back at home base. Who knows, it might turn into something more. Need more paragon or renegade (conversation points required for advanced negotiations)? Just have a chat with any of the NPCs, and err on the side of being either conservative / nice or blunt / mean. In Mass Effect 2 you could also keep an eye out for time-sensitive “trigger” moments to make even bolder conversation moves, which will likely make a comeback. This freedom of choice is a highlight of Mass Effect, and leads to a strong sense of camaraderie (or even romance) when all is said and done. And not to worry, if the demo is any indication, the whole gang (those still alive, that is) is back in Mass Effect 3 for you to pick up where you left off.
6. RPG Elements
The Mass Effect series has always had strong ties to the RPG genre. You can customize the skills of both Shepard and your teammates, putting points into various combat or biotic skills based on class or race. Mass Effect 2 introduced mineral mining, which allowed you to trade in raw materials to upgrade your arsenal or ship (you must find / buy the blueprints for the upgrades first). Mass Effect 3 adds another layer to the skill tree in that each skill branches into two, and from rank 4-6, you’ll need to choose one or the other. This makes for increased customization, and discretion is required on where to allocate your points (gained from leveling in combat). Needless to say, with so many weapons and skills to spread across different classes, the replay value is increased, either through repeating missions (choosing different teammates) or games (choosing a different class and different key decisions for Shepard).
7. Lots of side quests
No RPG would be complete without lots of side quests, and Mass Effect does not disappoint. In every location that you visit, there will be characters needing help with everything from a minor domestic dispute, to work problems, to major military operations. And Shepard is either up to the task or can just walk on by. There are also planets to explore, new items and upgrades to find, minerals to harvest, and important missions for crewmates that ensure their loyalty. I’m sure that ME3 will continue on in this regard. For example, in one of the demo sequences, you have to help Urdnot Wrex (from previous games) rescue Krogan females from an attacking force. “If we pull this off I’ll make you an honorary Krogan”, he exclaims. If that isn’t a sign of future loyalty, I don’t know what is. With the third installment claiming to be the biggest yet, expect many more side missions and things to do to keep you busy between missions.
8. Rich Multiplayer
For the first time in the Mass Effect series, you can enter a 4-player co-op multiplayer mode that includes a Horde mode similar to the Gears of War or Halo series. In Horde Mode, the rule is that as long as at least one teammate survives, your team will move on to the next round. This was more fun than I expected. The action is the same as single player, just in an arena-style setting. To start off, you are given a basic set of weapons and a skill point (which I put into a soldier class as adrenaline). As you play and win, you will earn XP to gain levels (and skill points to distribute), and credits that can be used to buy crates containing additional weapons and items, giving you reason to return and keep playing. You can also revive downed teammates, although it takes a few seconds. Our team lasted to Wave 10, just one shy of the bronze medal. I was pleasantly surprised at how fleshed out the multiplayer mode was, and will be playing more for sure. Overall, the experience definitely makes me look forward to all the different classes and modes available in the full game.
9. Smarter, stronger enemies
Although the cover system remains and the ability to dive and roll were added, enemies in ME3 are smarter and more aggressive; meaning that if you’re not shooting at them, they will likely be improving their position or trying to flank you. Snipers, enemies holding riot shields and huge armored mechs are just some of the baddies that await you. The first two games had a wide diversity of enemies, and from the looks of it this will be surpassed again. As a testament to the skill levels of the enemies, I played through the demo on “normal” difficulty and died more than a few times. Even more than what I’d expect playing ME2 even on “veteran”. So the enemies have no doubt been upgraded. A change in the health system also contributes to the increased difficulty. Shepard once again has separate bars for health and shields as in ME1, and although your shields recharge fully, your health will only recharge partially (split into 5 bars and will only recharge one bar). So if you’re down to a single health bar, you’re especially vulnerable. Overall, while being able to dive does offset smarter enemies and the non-recharging health, it’s definitely a more challenging game.
10. Kinect support
One of the big new features for ME3 is the Kinect support. I tried this in the demo, and it definitely adds to the immersion. Instead of pausing the game by bringing up the selection wheel (where you choose biotic powers or weapons), you can now just say out commands. For example, just say “shotgun” or “assault rifle”, and Shepard will pull out the corresponding weapon. If you say “Liara – Warp”, your teammate will use her powers, while not breaking up the action. It’s not perfect, however, as when I said “Adrenaline Rush” it seemed to be hit or miss when activating my own powers. However, where Kinect really shines is outside of battle – I was 100% accurate when choosing conversation paths by just saying my choice. And although no means a requirement or faster than using the gamepad, it did feel more natural, and I’ll probably use it generously in the full game.
BioWare has set Mass Effect 3 up to be one of the most epic and explosive ends to a trilogy ever, with choices that matter, unsurpassed voice acting, and action that rivals dedicated shooters. Commander Shepard once again has his back to the wall, and it’s up to you to save humanity (and the rest of the universe in the process). The characters are memorable, graphics are sharper than ever – and if earlier games are any indication, you’ll be able to choose how it all goes down in the end. Add to that Kinect voice integration and a strong multiplayer mode, and this is the game to watch (and play) in 2012. Have you played the first 2 Mass Effect games, and what do you look forward to most in the last installment of the trilogy?