It’s really no surprise to see that BioWare will be raising the bar in nearly every way with the massive conclusion to their space opera trilogy, Mass Effect 3. With the massive improvements made to the combat and shooting since the series’s first installment, we had guessed that the third game would be taking the combat into even more sophisticated territory, but a recent interview with the game’s developers has revealed just how much of a challenge Shepard will be facing. It seems that Mass Effect 3 will be packing some serious surprises for long-time fans.
After our Mass Effect 3 E3 preview it was clear just how much time the team had spent adding depth and mobility to Shepard’s arsenal, allowing the player to dive and roll across a battlefield instead of simply sprint.
Anyone familiar with intense shooters like Gears of War could see just how simplified the combat of Mass Effect 2 really was, and thankfully it seems that the developers have realized that compelling and engaging combat is just as important for a satisfying experience as a great story.
From the gameplay demo shown at E3, executive producer Casey Hudson emphasized that players would now need to use the environment to gain the upper hand on their enemies. But in an interview with Xbox World 360 Gameplay Designer Christina Norman explained that what may be seen as merely more movement options is actually a fundamental shift in gameplay.
As Norman sees it, the ability to navigate an area and use obstacles in combat is the development team’s answer to the at-times far too straightforward shooting corridors of the first and second games. Numerous times in either game, the player would stumble into a clearly-defined combat arena, and remain behind cover until stationary enemies were dealt with. This time around, enemies will be making their way through the environment towards the player, so keeping mobile isn’t just an option.
Enemies being given the ability to push the pace of combat is a major change in itself, and the team’s ultimate goal is to throw enemies at Shepard that are quick-thinking, reactive to real-time events, and capable of dishing out the same kinds of punishment as the game’s protagonist.
With this new explanation of enemy artificial intelligence, the use of Kinect for Mass Effect 3 squad commands suddenly makes a lot more sense. While companion characters in the past could at times amount to little more than NPCs capable of occasional special attacks, a smart and mobile enemy could turn your squad’s performance into the difference between life and death.
Many people took shots at the changes brought to Mass Effect 2‘s gameplay, and we had our own concerns about over-simplifying an RPG. But we’ll be the first to say that the combat AI of the first game’s enemies showed serious room for improvement. BioWare even seems to be bringing the role-playing and shooter elements closer than ever before, letting stats play a significant role in combat.
In Norman’s eyes, the newest changes for ME3 are the culmination of all the lessons learned in the past, and look to offer the deepest combat experiences yet:
“With Mass Effect 2 we had this ‘let’s come up with cool enemies’ approach, and we made each enemy as an individual. Now we look at enemies as a force, with units within the force, and each of them has a role. You end up with this really cool chessboard thing, where you have a knight and a bishop, they’ll work together in one way but if you have a knight and a rook, they’ll work together in a different way. It’s giving our level designers and combat designers a lot more opportunities, not with heavy scripting, but just by combining these pieces that work together in new and interesting ways.”
Still, the developers would be wise to remember that a large group of their fanbase is likely just fine with the simplified combat, since it’s the epic space adventure that they’re most interested in. With Mass Effect 3 launching on all platforms simultaneously, the last thing the developers want is to scare off part of their audience with overwhelming enemies.
Norman claims that while the action will be far more intense than in the past, increasing the difficulty doesn’t just make the enemies harder to kill, but increases the potency of their methods. In a series already known for its replayability, the work being put into differentiating the levels of difficulty could tempt even more players into a second run:
“And in Mass Effect 3 it’s not just that the game is harder on Insanity, it’s that this creature actually behaves differently on higher difficulty levels. On those harder difficulty levels we can make the enemies exhibit specific behaviours more often, or even give them new behaviours that we think will work for a harder difficulty level, but which won’t work for an easier one.”
We’ve already heard about the use of enemy weak points in ME3 to add some depth to combat, and the chance to take on opponents that are harder to defeat for reasons other than a larger health bar. In the interview Norman went even farther, hinting that players may also be able to use the environments themselves to take on more difficult foes. Whether that amounts to little more than exploding gas tanks or something far more innovative remains to be seen.
It’s been apparent for some time that Mass Effect 3 is truly what the development team has been building towards, both in terms of story and gameplay mechanics, but these new details promise a deeper shooter than even we’d been expecting. Hardcore fans may have been split over the choice to focus more on the combat for ME2, but if the final game delivers much richer enemy behaviors, how will that be received?
We look forward to seeing just how much the combat has been improved throughout the entire game, but we can’t be alone in having our doubts. Do you think that Norman’s claims about the ‘chessboard’ nature of the game’s skirmishes is an accurate one, or will the results fall somewhat short? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
Mass Effect 3 will be making its move onto the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on March 6, 2012.
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