If there’s one thing that fans of both action-heavy futuristic shooters and extensive role-playing games can agree on, it’s that a hero or heroin is only as great as the armor they protect themselves with. Mass Effect 3‘s Shepard is no exception, but now an image of the alternate costumes offered with the collector’s edition of the game show that the Commander’s squad will also be sporting some updated looks. Aside from some truly epic outfits, the image also gives us the first look at new team member James Vega, as well as a few hints that every soldier may be a bit more deadly the third time around.

The importance of a video game character’s design can’t be understated, as from Halo to Dead Space, the second skin an adventurer relies on can become as recognizable as their name.

From the latest look at the newly-updated characters of Mass Effect 3, it seems that BioWare is finally giving Shepard’s team armor worthy of their mission.

There’s no denying that the newest Alliance soldier to the group, James Vega will be playing the role of tank, with armor that would make Master Chief himself think twice about a fistfight. To this point the only evidence we’ve had of Vega was his voice over Shepard’s radio in gameplay footage, and given its dude-bro nature in both voice and tone, his final appearance isn’t too shocking.

If one thing jumps out about the alternate costumes, it’s how BioWare has managed to show each character as a more battle-hardened version of themselves, but still unmistakably the same characters we’ve come to love. We know that Jack has received a major redesign, all built around the years and growth that she has experienced since we last saw her.

Whether it’s Ashley’s tough as nails armor juxtaposed with an undeniably softer feminine side (hopefully that body-hugging armor is still effective), or Liara’s now-trademark look of willingness to sacrifice herself for a cause, it’s obvious that the developers have done their best to elevate the Normandy’s occupants to the same level as their fearless leader.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so take a look for yourself:

These costumes are part of the extra content provided to those who dish out the extra dollars for the Mass Effect 3 N7 Collector’s Edition, and while the offer is hard to resist, we still don’t know just how much we’ll get the chance to see them. The game’s developers have hinted at temporary squad members in the past, and implied that Mass Effect 3 will be using a different system for building a team.

After the vastly-improved character model of Ashley Williams stunned us all in the E3 gameplay demo of ME3, we’re hoping to see her stick around longer than she did in Mass Effect 2. That is, unless your Shepard has some explaining to do.

But it’s Kaidan Alenko who represents the largest enigma out of the bunch, brandishing armor far heavier and battle-scarred than he was capable of donning in the first game. Hopefully the scale of the disaster awaiting humanity means that every soldier is now more potent in combat, as Kaidan can be seen relying only on his biotic attacks as opposed to trivial firearms. The same sentiment is echoed in Liara’s outfit, far more reminiscent of the extremely powerful Asari Justicar Samara than Dr. T’soni’s lab coats.

What are your thoughts on the changes being made to Shepard’s teammates? Do you think they’re purely cosmetic, or a sign of each character being given a better chance to hold their own against the game’s protagonist? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Mass Effect 3 will be released for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on March 6, 2012.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for all things Mass Effect.

Source: zwame (via The Daily BLAM)