You don’t have to look too far online to see how much pressure is riding on BioWare to deliver a satisfying conclusion to its Commander Shepard story arc in the Mass Effect universe. Entire websites muse over individual desired narrative outcomes with pages dedicated to predictive fan fiction. Forums hold hundreds of pages of regularly updated wish lists for features and alterations that are debated and ranked as to their generally accepted validity. And even critics have applied the Cracked.com formula to headlines, citing ‘X things that Mass Effect 3 needs’. You may have spied a similarly themed article by our very own commander, David Hollingworth, on the Atomic website.
There’s never really been a series like Mass Effect that links together different yet seemingly personalised narratives from game to game to game. A lot of big promises have been made about what to expect from Mass Effect 3, but most of what’s been divulged to date revolves around improved combat and the divisive decision to include multiplayer. But that’s not what the core game is really about. At its core, Mass Effect is a sprawling sci- fi opera with heart, a compelling narrative, interconnected storyline and strong, believable characters. We cut open Mass Effect 3 and take a look at its heart to confirm that it still has the required strength and character of Phar Lap to get the Commander Shepard narrative across the line one more time.
Here be Reapers
The Reapers have landed and Earth will fall. This is the underlying certainty that will drive you forward as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 3. We got hands-on with the first hour and a half of Mass Effect 3 and relished the opportunity to play the all-important single-player component for longer than a spin around the block. Not wanting to waste any precious time, we selected the default male Shepard appearance, flicked the difficulty to hard and chose Vanguard class, as it had been singled out as one of the classes that had been improved upon.
The intro introduced some new and familiar characters along with what was at stake, but Mass Effect 3 wasted little time in cinematic exposition before thrusting us straight into the thick of it. A towering war machine explosively disrupted the anti-Reaper planning session, forcing Shepard and Admiral David Anderson to hightail it out of there. Ammo was sparse and enemies were plenty in this opening level, which acted as a refamiliarisation of all the essentials and offered some resounding examples of what you were fighting for and why time was of the essence.
After being reinstated as Commander by Anderson, the Admiral opted to stay on Earth to lead humanity’s seemingly hopeless fight against the Reapers. No pressure, but it will be up to you to amass an army to combat the fast-spreading Reaper threat. Our first and only stop post-Earth in the demo was Mars. The supposedly friendly colony on the red planet was overrun with bastardly Cerberus troops, hell bent on stopping our fight towards essential data held in the mainframe.
Weapon benches allowed us to latch collected upgrades onto our arsenal, where we pimped out our shotgun (of course) and boosted the power of the already-head-removing sniper rifle. The powers were as deadly as ever and—considering that creative director Preston Watamanuik cryptically promised that almost every power can combo with at least one other—worked even better in conjunction with squad mates. We had deadly Ashley and newcomer James Vega watching our backs, who held their own and were skilled at providing effective support, even when we mixed up our combat play style.
The demo concluded with a chase sequence that ended with Vega ramming a ship into a fleeing vessel, poor Ashley being brutally incapacitated and a slow-motion gunning down of the enemy operative as she sought to tear our throats out. Sufficiently impressed with what we had played and craving a whole lot more, we moved on to the BioWare kitchen to pick the brains of the chefs behind the product.