It is safe to say that these are good days over at the BioWare offices in Edmonton.
The founders of the company are set to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Sciences Hall of Fame, and have managed to get owners of a different console excited with the simple re-release of a year-old game. PlayStation 3 fans are looking forward to the release of Mass Effect 2 on their system, but the larger gaming world is looking even further, to the launch of the trilogy’s final chapter, Mass Effect 3.
Details have been revealed and hinted at since Mass Effect 2 was released over a year ago, so for those fans who haven’t kept glued to the internet for each and every update, we’ve gathered them here for your viewing pleasure. Hints and developers quotes are helpful, but viewing the franchise as a whole gives a fairly good idea of where the story is headed.
Those who have yet to finish the first two games be warned, there be spoilers ahead. In a game as large and open to player impact as Mass Effect, it’s unlikely that the experiences of two players will be identical, but stop reading if you don’t want the big story points ruined.
So without further ado, here are the facts, the rumors, and our hopes for what BioWare has in store for fans of science fiction and dialogue trees when Mass Effect 3 lands next November.
After discovering that all intelligent life in the galaxy was about to be eradicated by an artificial lifeform known only as The Reapers in Mass Effect, super-soldier Commander Shepard went on to sabotage their plan and rise through the ranks to become one of the biggest representatives of the human race. While the harbinger of the Reapers, a ship-sized being called Sovereign had been destroyed, his awakening of the massive Reaper horde on the edge of space was not stopped. The final moments of Mass Effect were not really climactic – more of a warning with Shepard stating that the real fight would continue now that the Reapers were making their way towards civilization.
Since Mass Effect 2 did little to advance this particular plot, fans couldn’t have been blamed for feeling somewhat cheated (if they wanted a lot of plot-progression). Aside from endorsing a vast array of Citadel boutiques, Mass Effect 2 was essentially the personal story of Shepard looking out for human settlers whilst assembling a super-team from a variety of species. The VGA announcement trailer for Mass Effect 3 put off any notions that BioWare had forgotten about Shepard’s foreboding warning at the end of ME, depicting Earth under full assault from the Reapers.
The narration reveals death tolls in the millions, and the game was leaked on EA’s site with a description of what Shepard would have to do to stop the slaughter:
“Earth is burning. Striking from beyond known space, a race of terrifying machines have begun their destruction of the human race. As Commander Shepard, an Alliance Marine, your only hope for saving mankind is to rally the civilizations of the galaxy and launch one final mission to take back the Earth.”
The story is simple enough, but what does that mean in terms of actual missions? Those who played through the various recruitment and loyalty missions in Mass Effect 2 definitely noticed the departure from the classic RPG story of the first game. Where Mass Effect instituted the standard “prove yourself, prove yourself, and save the world” plot that has been used since role playing games thrived on paper and pens, ME2 changed things up with a more cinematic recruitment story.
So at first glance, skeptics may see ME3 as the developers sticking to the second game’s formula, swapping out individual team members with alien councils and calling it a day. Not that it would result in anything less than a fantastically entertaining experience, but fans have come to expect bigger and better things with each installment.
The promising detail here is just what might be included in “rallying civilizations.” If bringing allies together means venturing to several alien worlds, experiencing unique architecture and societies, then helping them with their own problems so they are able to assist Earth, then you have a game that sounds like it’s taken the best parts of both titles and combined them.
For many players, the environments of the first game are one of the most memorable aspects. The images from the PS3 introduction comic are enough to take players right back to the locations being depicted.From the Geth-inhabited snow-scapes of Noveria, to the Geth-inhabited skyways of Feros, the developers showed off their artistic abilities to create fully-realized, fully-functioning environments.
For fans of the Mass Effect novels, traveling into the Migrant Fleet in Mass Effect 2 was a dream come true. Getting to walk into the massive armada that the Quarian race calls home was a step into another culture, and Mass Effect 3 could offer even more. While the Quarians live on ships, and the Krogans live in a tribal system amidst the ruins of their once-great civilization, players have yet to see the homeworld of the human-like society of the Turians.
One scene in ME2 hinted at the unique military and social interactions of the proud species, showing that there is plenty of potential for Shepard to run into characters just as strong and ruthless as himself – or herself:
Shepard’s Turian crew member Garrus was one of the few considered important enough to be carried over to the second game, and getting a chance to see the honor-based society that claims military superiority over all other races, including humans, could break into whole new territories of awesomeness. It’s strange to think that the game has steered clear from the Turian homeworld, since the feline race was the first extraterrestrial being mankind came into contact with.
There is no mistaking the fact that the Turians could offer the greatest challenge in terms of combat, having both weapons and battle tactics far more advanced than Shepard. Combine a far-more-challenging enemy with a planet that has yet to be seen or even mentioned, and it might just be the most compelling chapter in this story so far.
The clash of egos and weaponry of the two species led to the First Contact War, in which former crew member Ashley Williams’ grandfather became the only human general ever to surrender to an alien race. The history between the two societies is a constant source of tension and conflict in the Mass Effect novels and the rarely-skimmed in-game codex, so don’t be surprised if it becomes a major setting in ME3.
If Ashley rejoins the game – which would follow the trend established with the latest DLC – then we may have another Wrex-esque stand-off. Although, family tension may not be the only reason that Ashley may have a bone to pick.
The fact that Shepard has to gather allies to fight the Reapers on Earth implies a few things. First, that the game may employ the same ticking cl0ck mechanic as ME2 to decide human casualties. In ME2, the longer the player took to take on the Collectors the more of the Normandy’s crew would be lost.
If the same mechanic is used to decide how many millions of casualties the Earth suffers, or if players can gamble on recruiting only certain allies in the interest of time, then BioWare once again opens up the floodgates for replay-ability and variable endings. Since the team is reportedly bringing 1,000 variables forward, Mass Effect 3 will hopefully be the most player-shaped title to date.
Mass Effect 3 director Casey Hudson stated how the third installment of the series would have a much lighter tone, and putting Shepard into situations with former lovers, condescending alien races, and more opportunities to explore the relationships between the team members assembled in ME2 would certainly do that. The Normandy’s pilot, Joker, got more entertaining as his character was fleshed out. The exchanges between he and the ship’s new AI were genuinely funny – so fans can expect the team to continue to build on these types of interactions.
One fact that has been overlooked is that, in the announcement trailer, a sniper seen perched in Big Ben takes aim at an unknown enemy attacking a woman and child. The one question that no one seems to be asking is: what kind of enemy could it be? The Reapers are the size of dreadnaughts, and the enemy being killed is certainly not a Collector – the henchmen of the Reapers.
The series so far has seen human beings being mutilated and brainwashed into Husks and Thorian Creepers, so perhaps the attacking Reapers have a way of turning Earthlings into beings that will attack their own kind. If that’s the case, then ME3 could manage to be lighter in tone for a majority of the game, while still carrying some heavy plot points.