At E3 this year, BioWare Executive Producer Casey Hudson narrated a roughly 30 minute demonstration of Mass Effect 3, which is due out in March 2012, to groups of journalists and retailers. While I will go on at length about the demo let me just say that I was floored by the presentation. The theater looked like the shuttle interior from the previous game, they were running the game on a 72″ TV, and the audience was made up of people that loved the series as much as I do. Proper previewing environment, check.
The demo showed three portions of the game: combat (which looks a lot tighter this time around), revamped talent trees, and the new weapon upgrade systems. The first portion of the demo I believe took place during the middle of the game. Shepard was attempting to take down a Reaper base by marking a target allowing the Normandy to do a bombing run. The first thing I really noticed about this section of the game was the sense of scale. It was like the opening of God of War 3 big and this was just the beginning as the fully rendered Normandy screamed by dropping its payload on the target. After a brief firefight with several Cerberus operatives, Shepard enters into an on rails vehicle sequence manning a mounted turret as the crew runs from an active Reaper walker that makes an Imperial AT-AT look like a kids’ toy. There was another moment to that sequence that left a huge mark, but I’m saving it for the end as I consider it a mild spoiler.
Before the walker sequence could be resolved, the demo switched to another point where Shepard was teamed up with Garrus and Liara. First, Garrus is looking a lot better than he was in ME2 and I don’t just mean visually. He appears to be mostly healed from the injuries sustained during his recruitment mission; he’s a tough bastard, that’s for sure. In this mission, the squad was tasked with escorting a diplomat through various security checkpoints as Cerberus operatives attempted to stop the player. In this sequence they displayed some of the new movement mechanics which will allow the player to proceed with a stealth approach that didn’t really exist in the first two games. All of the stealth paid off when Shepard pulled off an Ezio style assassination by dragging an enemy over a waist high barrier and dispatching him with his new omniblade. That’s right, OMNIBLADE. The omnitool now has an energy blade style weapon that allows for some decidedly brutal melee kills. Shortly after that, Cerberus dropped off an Atlas power suit, a new enemy and vehicle type which the player is able to hijack once the operator is killed. The demo ended before the fight started but it looked to be a more formidable enemy than the old heavy mechs from ME2.
It was during the second sequence that we got a look at the new character progression and weapon customization systems. Weapons can be upgraded using Weapon Benches which appear to be placed throughout levels; I’m sure there will also be at least one on the Normandy. They didn’t go into too much detail but you appear to be able to swap out different components on the guns to change the characteristics of the weapons both technically as well as visually. They demoed the feature with the Mattock Heavy Rifle which ME2 fans will remember from one of the DLC packs. They swapped out the stock barrel for a longer one which would increase the weapon’s range, and sure enough the graphic for the weapon changed to reflect the new barrel. Teaming this feature with the specialty ammo from ME2 looks like a very nice middle ground between ME2’s simplicity and ME1’s overly complex weapon customization system. For those of you that are wondering where you get these upgrades they will be available for purchase at in game stores and some will drop from enemy characters.
Character Progression this time around has also seen an update. At first, the talent trees look like the simpler trees from ME2 but when a power is selected it opens up to show two different evolution paths. They didn’t go too deeply into the progression but there is a lot more depth this time around.
I must say that the update that I was most excited about was the updated galaxy map. Visually, it’s pretty much the exact same as it was in ME2 but each planet has multiple landing sites this time around so we won’t be restricted to one single mission hub per planet like we were in the previous game. Each landing site appears to be home to a single mission but that is based on a quick glimpse of the updated map and is subject to change between now and release.
There is one last sequence that I’ll talk about before I venture into spoiler territory and it was from very early in the game. The final sequence was set on Earth and took place very close to the beginning of the game, possibly right after that trial they hinted at the last time they talked about the game’s opening. The Reapers are attacking Earth in force and are engaged in a large scale attack of what I’m guessing was San Francisco. The scale of this portion of the demo was absolutely massive. Bigger than God of War 3 big. The sequence followed Shepard as he teamed up with Admiral Anderson to evac onto the Normandy. Of course things don’t go as planned and the two have to make their way through several waves of Husks as well as a new unit called the Cannibal which appeared to be repurposed Batarians, which makes a lot of sense given the events of The Arrival DLC pack. One of the first things that Casey Hudson said to us at the demo was that every decision from the previous games will count for something in this game and the Cannibals really drove that point home for me.
If you don’t like spoilers go ahead and skip to the bottom where I’ll wrap things up.
SPOILERS (Highlight text within blockquote to SPOIL EVERYTHING)
Welcome, brave souls, to the spoiler section. First off, Legion is back. I heard “Shepard Commander” and freaked out when I saw that Legion not only was still with the crew but he had brought a Geth transport that you ride in during the above mentioned turret sequence. So yeah, it looks like the Geth have joined Shepard’s alliance and I could not be happier.
During the second sequence, my personal favorite companion character, the amazing Mordin Solus, made an appearance as he helped Shepard keep the Diplomat safe. The Diplomat’s mission was to help set up a Krogan/Turian aliiance, the crazy thing being it was a Krogan female which we have not previously seen in the series. You also get to team back up with the Salarian Special Tasks Group which is probably my favorite fictional special ops outfit. I love Salarians.
Tali showed up on the Normandy during the galaxy map sequence which warmed my heart because she’s one of my favorite characters in the series.
At the end of the Earth sequence there is a great conversation between Shepard and Anderson at the end of which Anderson throws Shepard his dog tags with the line “Consider yourself reinstated.” Fuck yeah.
The last spoiler I can think of is that apparently Cerberus, as a whole, has been indoctrinated by the Reapers which I was kind of expecting. Shepard clues the squad into this during the second sequence and it just made me feel justified about my theories behind the Illusive Man’s motivations throughout ME2.
After the demo was over, I cried a little. There, I said it and I’m man enough to admit it. This game is beautiful and polished and it looks like we’re going to get the epic conclusion to the series that was hinted at at the end of ME2. The game is due out in March 2012 and I don’t think it can get here fast enough.