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A first look at the concluding instalment to BioWare's epic, space opera RPG...
In what was possibly the busiest booth across the entire E3 showfloor, with scores of people waiting in queues over five hours long, BioWare Executive Producer Casey Hudson talked us through the Mass Effect 3 demo. There is good cause for such anticipation, as this is the concluding chapter in BioWare's mammoth space trilogy and the sequel to EA's most critically acclaimed game of all time.
Mass Effect 3 is what the past two games have been building up to, and the unprecedented save import feature from Mass Effect 2 returns, meaning players can transfer over their own versions of Shepard to continue where they left off - on the brink of galactic destruction. Given that over a thousand individual decisions made in the prequels carrying over to this title, this tale is truly tailored to the player.
With the galactic community suffering from a whole host of geopolitical problems, compounded exponentially by a universal attack upon civilisation by the returning Reapers, Commander Shepard is tasked with uniting all the remaining fragments of sentient life in the galaxy in order to combat this ultimate threat. Once again, this will see Shepard using the Mass Relay devices to span the cosmos, dissipating old grudges, making allegiances, liberating societies, performing favours through diplomacy and military might, and of course recruiting a personal party of hardened followers and advanced equipment (or 'asset acquisition', as Hudson puts it). Some of the faces Shepard will encounter will be fresh ones; others will be familiar creatures from the journey chronicled in the first two Mass Effect games. A sneak section of the demo strongly implied that we will get to see the likes of Legion, Mordin, Wrex and Garrus again, as well as a never-before-seen female Krogan.
Other hints we picked up on were a possibly playable desperate defence of Earth itself, as a smouldering London was shown under attack from a fleet of Reapers in a setting more epic than anything seen before in a Mass Effect game, or pretty much anything else either. We also saw a troubled and typically honourable Captain Anderson doing everything in his power to save a crippled planet from destruction, as well as the return of the Cerberus-funded, inter-stellar stealth ship, the Normandy.
In a monumental scene that involves Shepard calling in air strikes against a gargantuan Reaper attack, we were able to see that BioWare has dedicated a great deal of care into sculpting the impressively huge environments in which the action is set. The world looks stunning, and the character facial animation is even more realistic than before.
Shepard is now equipped with a context-sensitive melee attack, which employs an arm mounted omni-blade to kill enemies in a single lethal swipe. The gunplay is now larger in scope as well, with the Y axis more commonly used than before as enemies approach from a variety of heights and levels. Guns are individually customisable using mounted work benches, possibly in a similar fashion to how lightsabers were when all this began, back in Knights of the Old Republic. Other novelties include explosive grenades, new bullet types, a wider range of biotic powers, enhanced AI behaviours like flanking, stealth mechanics, both enemy and player-controllable mechs called Atlases and more complex squad commands.
The demo concluded with a monumentally epic battle for the survival of a human-colonised planet, and a touching scene between Captain Anderson and Shepard was made even more emotional with the saddening plea of a small child looking to escape the furious and desperate situation, all backed by a ridiculously loud and melancholic score.
Mass Effect 3 was one of the best games we saw at E3, and the team at EA BioWare are really pushing to make sure it's the fittingly climatic finale to this much-loved series that the fans expect. On the evidence of the E3 demo, and with the plethora of talent we know BioWare have in their portfolio, Mass Effect 3 will surely be one of the biggest and best games ever when it finally hit shelves early next year. Consider us duly hyped.