While the previous two Mass Effect games have offered an admirable mix of storytelling and shooter action, that isn't to say that there aren't plenty of ways to improve the formula for Mass Effect 3. Nothing is more frustrating than calculated and repeated combat, and that's why the developers at BioWare are building the game around a concept of unpredictability. Whether it's combat or traversal, players won't have quite as clear a path to take with Mass Effect 3.
The science fiction franchise has distinguished itself not through pulse-pounding combat or even 'dudebro' banter - like so many other franchises we could name - but through far more unlikely channels. It's the expansive story and emphasis on player choice that has endeared Commander Shepard and his squad to gamers everywhere, but the team behind the game only see that as a challenge.
We've already seen how Shepard will be more physical in combat, and the unique class attacks for ME3, but it seems those aren't all the way the action aspects of the game are being overhauled. In a recent interview with GameInformer, Executive Producer Casey Hudson gave an explanation of how the different plot of Mass Effect 3 will fundamentally change the missions, and how the developers are using the opportunity to keep players guessing:
"[O]nce you’re inside the actual gameplay, we wanted to be able to break up the idea of coming into an area and knowing that it’s an area made for combat or an area made for talking or whatever. Part of the idea of that was to give Shepard more things he can do to explore the environment. You’re going to climb up ladders and fall down things and leap across gaps. Shepard reacts to all kinds of things in the environment that makes these little mini-cutscenes that you’re still in control of. Once we added all those tools to the toolbox, we challenged the designers to figure out ways to make the missions and the story unpredictable.
"One of the things we wanted to address, for example, was in Mass Effect 2 often you would see where you’re going down at the end of the hallway and know, that’s settled, that’s where I’m going. In Mass Effect 3, we constantly try to change your perception of what you need to do. You’ll be at point A, and you’ll look over at point B and think that’s where you have to go, but halfway there something changes — there’s a redirect, or people come in from a different direction, or you fall through to a lower level."
It's easy enough to know the kind of experience BioWare is going after, with Uncharted and Gears of War crafting environmental effects into an art form. From what was shown of the Mass Effect 3 E3 demo the free-wheeling and less rigid progression within the Earth levels was evident, so clearly it won't just be used for a stunning opening.
It apparently won't just be the combat and mission objectives that will change on the fly though, since the shift in story will also be felt within the overall game design. If you haven't already heard, Mass Effect 3 is all about war, and Shepard's task of winning it is a more complicated venture than the squad recruiting of Mass Effect 2.
When the first details dropped about Shepard's task of recruiting the galaxy's races and various military forces to defend Earth, skeptics immediately assumed that the straightforward gathering and loyalty missions of ME2 would simply be carried out on a larger scale. Hudson claims that isn't the case, and gathering allies is just a single aspect of how Shepard will have to win the war:
"No, it’s different, because it’s unclear to Shepard and the player what you have to do to win the war against the Reapers. Part of what you’re trying to do is to explore the story and the galaxy and the experience so that you can understand what has to be done. Some missions start to shed light on what you need to do. As things progress in the high-level storyline, we’re constantly trying to do redirects. You think you win the war by doing one thing, and then you realize it’s something else.
"You want to conquer territories so that you have lots of assets at your disposal. That’s part of what you’re doing as Commander Shepard is the war to obtain all these assets. Some of those come through in the high-level story — large campaigns that involve entire civilizations. What you do in those missions to resolve those storylines will give you some really big assets, like the Quarian fleet, massive armies, and stuff like that."
"It’s kind of a more sophisticated version of the loyalty system in Mass Effect 2, where instead of figuring out if each character you have is loyal, now you’re still building something, but you’re building something as big as an entire fleet of spacecraft or something as small as an individual you talk to on the Citadel and convince to join your army."
It's nice to see that the monumental success of Mass Effect hasn't made the developers complacent. While hardcore RPG fans might see influences from third-person action titles and space marine shooters as the final nail in the coffin, it's difficult to claim that the results don't look promising. If the impressive visuals and refined combat are paired with the same emotional storytelling and a bit more depth, Mass Effect 3 could be a game for everybody.
What do you think of the decision to redesign the shooting galleries and combat stages of Mass Effect 2? Do any missions from the first two games or its DLC stick out as particularly better than the rest?
Mass Effect 3 will be released on March 6, for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
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