Mass Effect 3 Hands-On Preview -- BioWare Saves the Toughest Fight for LastBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 22, 2011
Here at GamesCom, EA’s stands are right at the back of the public hall. It’s like Mecca, with gamers drawn towards the shrines of FIFA 12, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Battlefield 3. Right at the back of this EA cathedral is Mass Effect 3, and as expected, it is attracting hundreds of gamers who are queuing up to spend mere minutes with the sci-fi action-RPG. Overlooking his worshipers is a German Commander Shepard in full N7 armor holding an assault rifle close to his chest as if he were guarding the stand from a possible Reaper siege, only taking pause from his noble duty to occasionally pose for photos.
The buzz around Mass Effect 3 here in Cologne is immense, with the European gamers here more than aware that the sequel to the X-Play Game of the Year is a mere six months away. I bet they watched the X-Play E3 segment where Adam and Morgan spoke with the game’s executive producer Casey Hudson and wanted to get their hands on the gameplay demo that was playing in the background, and here in the convention center that’s exactly what they – and yours truly – are able to do.
The demo features a mission in which the good commander must rescue a Krogan female who appears to have not succumbed to her lizard-like race’s bio-engineered curse of infertility, this of course making her of vast importance. The mission requires negotiating a series of heavily guarded checkpoints in what appears to be the balconies of a resort area, complete with lush greenery and even a peaceful waterfall to walk past before being shot at some by alien baddies.
Before I get into how it was to play, it’s worth noting that from what I saw here in Cologne, albeit an unfinished build, the visual discrepancy between the console and PC versions has widened even further since Mass Effect 2. The high-end PC version I saw someone else play had such smoothness in its frame rate and texturing, and it was leagues apart from the Xbox 360 version I myself played.
Still, there’s a long way to go until release and maybe that discrepancy will be less noticeable when the game hits, so let’s focus on the play. For the demo, I hook up with the Sentinel class, this giving me unique access to a mixture of biotic and tech powers. A quick scan of my powers shows that BioWare is still keeping quiet about what that class’s new exclusive power for Mass Effect 3 will be. In a demonstration earlier, I saw what we believe to be the Soldier class’s exclusive power, namely frag grenades. They sound fairly basic on their own, but it’s in combination with other powers that they get interesting, like using the tech power Overload to disable an enemy’ shields then tossing in the grenade to get the job done.
Even with the difficulty dialed down to Casual and despite what the developers are saying about run-and-gun play being a valid option, it’s clear that the smartest strategy in Mass Effect 3 will be to use cover whenever possible. I do, though, agree with BioWare about Shepard feeling more mobile with things like the commando roll and in particular the inclusion of directional arrows for indicating cover-to-cover switches. The first Mass Effect felt like an RPG pretending to be a shooter, the sequel got much closer to the real thing, and Mass Effect 3 is taking even more steps to validate the action side of its action-RPG experience.
The other focus is definitely on combining powers across yourself and your squad-mates, and it’s the Cerberus guardians with their bulky armor and body-sized shields that hammer this point home. Just trying to shoot these guys down or use a heavy-hitting Omni-blade melee attack isn’t going to get the job done at all, which is a shame because the Sentinel’s dual-wielding blade kill is pretty cool if a bit too showy. So I’m forced to look towards powers that can unsettle them, powers like Liara’s Singularity attack which creates a localized gravity field. This sends the guardians floating into the air, but even doing this doesn’t make it easy to shoot them down because their huge shields are still floating around in front of them. If I throw in my Sentinel’s Warp power, though, its mass effect field makes the gravity field explode and that does get the job done.
These kinds of combinations were present in Mass Effect 2, but against heavily protected enemies like the guardians, they’re more than useful, they’re almost necessary. Remember, I’m playing this on the heavily dialed down Casual difficulty and still struggling to take down these dudes who are fairly heavy in numbers in this mission, so imagine what it’s like on Normal difficulty. Also, as BioWare has been quick to point out, it’s not just that there will be some enemies like the guardians who will be tough to take down, but it’s also that all enemies will be smarter than those in ME2. They’ll use cover more effectively and will even try to flank you if you stall, although this mission is a little too narrow for them to successfully pull that off against me – at least on Casual.
The mission is fairly successful, at least up until just before the end, when a huge piloted mech called an Atlus suddenly lands from the sky onto the balcony in front of me and my squad. Garrus for some reason decides to try getting up close and personal with the lumbering beast, this not ending well as it slams a thick steel fist right into my alien friend’s head and knocks him out cold. I think about healing him but decide that maybe it would be best to rely on Liara’s biotic powers rather than risk a hit-and-run heal. Liara’s lift grenades don’t seem to hurt the big guy, maybe because he’s too big, but her Singularity power is more effective. I try aiming for the pilot in the knowledge that if I take him out first then I can pilot the mech myself, but my accuracy isn’t with me today. We succeed, but the fun of getting to ride the mech around will have to wait for another day.
Apart from showing off this demo mission and the E3 demo in which Shepard barely made his escape from the invasion on Earth, BioWare has been having a lot of Q& A sessions here in Cologne and a few interesting tidbits of news have come out of them. For example, we can expect more Dragon Age-like banter between characters, which is definitely a good introduction, as is the move to make the experience system more like Mass Effect’s. Regarding the XP, it wasn’t confirmed exactly what that means, but it’s safe to assume that means not just getting XP for completing questions and mini-games. Maybe the most interesting tidbit--and spoilers for Mass Effect 2 ahoy--was the reveal that the Canadian developer is thinking about what to do with Mass Effect 2 imports of saves in which our hero died at the end of the game. How that would play out is anyone’s guess, but I think we’ve had enough zombies to satisfy one generation of gaming, don’t you?