With so many countless variables in Mass Effect 3, one person’s game will play out very differently from another’s. What is certain is that the game, so far, is one of the most involving, rich and diverse titles in the Xbox 360’s history. In this (spoiler free) first part of our review, we will look at the game up to the events on the Citadel, the political capital of the galaxy, around half way through the game.
The first thing to note is that importing a save is vital to the complete experience of Mass Effect 3. The story so far adds to every event which unfolds in the game, so if you haven’t seen the ancient Prothean beacon on Ilos, pondered the Krogan’s mass fertility disease the Genophage with Mordin or punched a reporter in the face, then you won’t be as invested in the galaxy as Shepard is.
Even so far there have been over a dozen occasions when characters who you have previously met, or decisions you have previously made, directly affect the outcome of plot points, from relatively minor side-missions to the main story arc.
The line between Paragon and Renegade has never been more blurred as Shepard must do whatever it takes to gather as many ‘War Assets’ as possible to take down the Reaper threat.
You’ll see many characters from Mass Effect 2 return as well, who have varying levels of integration with the story, since you have to bear in mind they could be completely absent from the game for some players if they did not survive 2’s Suicide Mission.
Many were disappointed with the Citadel in 2, and those criticisms have been met head on in part 3, with six areas of varying size to be explored, and selling more than just fish and space hamsters.
The most common difference you will notice between Shep and his shipmates is that they are far more dynamic. Far from static characters, you will find squadmates both all over the good ship Normandy and across areas like the Citadel, which makes them far more convincing as independent characters rather than just vaults of information which have to be teased open by talking to them at just the right time.
Another difference is the dialogue in general. There are far more ‘passive’ conversations, which don’t leap into a face-to-face conversation wheel, but just play out between characters. Often there will be conversations or arguments going on between NPCs and Shep can decide to back one side or another, but even when you can’t get involved you will see conversations progress as you re-visit areas, with characters offering new dialogue and giving you a glimpse into their personal struggles with the war. It’s details like this which really fill out the world and make it authentic, or as authentic an end to the universe as you can imagine.
Mini-games like hacking, bypassing and planet-scanning are gone, streamlining the experience, but instead you will find a more dynamic edge to the galaxy map. With the Reapers spread across the galaxy, zipping around isn’t as care free as it might have been. Some systems are being attacked by the Reapers as you visit them, meaning there is a chance you will run into one by passing through. What makes this more likely is the Normandy scanning the system for War Assets, since the sonar-esque signal reveals its location and draws the Reapers in. A bar indicates their alert level and when it fills you will hear the tell-tale Inception-horn of their arrival, often it’s a close call just to get away.
While you can read our initial impressions of combat in our previous post about the demo, which was representative of the finished product, there are a few more aspects to combat which are worth noting. The most pesky thing to come across is the deployable turrets put down by Cerberus Engineers. These shielded death-doers can cut down your character in a matter of seconds if you find yourself caught out of cover. The easiest way to avoid these confrontations is to beat down the Engineers before they deploy them, but this is far from easy.
While combat in the main game is more epic than before, and the accompanying cut scenes really show how BioWare have opened out the world so it’s more than just a collection of corridors, the real hard-as-nails nature of the enemies is revealed in the multiplayer mode.
A new addition for Mass Effect 3, the mode contributes to the single player campaign by boosting ‘Galactic Readiness’. AS you kick ass and take names in multi player, the galaxy’s armies gain confidence for the final confrontation. While not essential, even a few multiplayer games can make a real difference to the effectiveness of your war assets.
Expect more on Mass Effect 3 in the next week or so as we polish of the single player campaign and give a verdict on the reportedly controversial ending, as well as the oft-mentioned From Ashes DLC. In the meantime read our interview with Commander Shepard’s male voice actor Mark Meer both early in development and deep in the middle of it.
James Michael Parry