BioWare is taking their time to make improvements to every element of Mass Effect 3 and this is a big part of the reason the game was pushed back to 2012. Yesterday we spoke about how the RPG elements have a far greater impact on gameplay and today we’ll talk about how players will be able to experience more meaningful relationships with Commander Shepard’s team.

In both Mass Effect 1 & 2, Shepard is able to recruit a large number of characters to utilize during missions and fill out the empty spaces of the Normandy. The problem however, is that for the entire game, most characters do nothing and in terms of story, they aren’t given that much screentime. Mass Effect 3 aims to bring back all of the (surviving) characters of the series but will limit the amount of playable ones.

The next issue Xbox 360 World magazine features yet another multi-page Mass Effect 3 preview with quotes from producer Casey Hudson who explains that having a dozen team members is too many. So, the next game will feature, “a smaller squad with deeper relationships and more interesting interplay.”

This is good news and bad news. The good news is that is that the deeper relationships are needed and welcome. The characters, the relationships and the choices that affect all of it define what’s special about Mass Effect. In Mass Effect 2, there simply wasn’t enough done with the characters and after a few conversations and their one mission each, their script would end and they’d begin repeating the same thing with nothing new to say for the half of the game. In a lengthy single player title like Mass Effect, that gets boring real quick.

The bad news is that by taking away the amount of playable/recruitable characters, players are seeing another example of options being taken away. If Mass Effect 3 continues the playstyle of its predecessors in only letting you pick two characters to join you on missions, then yes, it’s unnecessary to have a pile of characters if some will never be used. However, the final act of Mass Effect 2 offered a way to make use of all of the characters, by allowing Shepard to control a larger team, or better yet, break the bigger team into subteams to perform different tasks simultaneously but letting the player control each.

BioWare has already shown they aren’t shy of the idea of letting the player control other characters in addition to Shepard, as we saw with the Joker level in ME2 and we hope that gameplay element is expanded in the trilogy’s conclusion. We’d love to see more of the character┬áintimately┬áinvolved with the story and gameplay, especially if this is the final (and far more epic) chapter of Shepard’s story.

All of the surviving characters of the first two games will return in Mass Effect 3 in some fashion, even the bounty hunter Zaeed Massani. Crazy powerful Jack and her biotic abilities will also return, although her character is much more calm after the events of Mass Effect 2. Derek Watts, an art director on Mass Effect 3 explains how she will be different in the next game.

“Maybe she’s softened up a bit. You can only stay punk rock for so long, you know. Even Johnny Rotten eventually goes, ‘I’ve got to do something different.’ She’d get tired of walking around completely naked and she’d probably grow her hair out, but she’s still Jack and still kinda punk – shaved at the sides with a pony tail at the back.”

We don’t yet know who’s playable in Mass Effect 3 but we assume Garrus will be back. A recent screenshot revealed Kaidan and Liara armed and ready alongside Shepard. Perhaps even though Shepard’s team will be “smaller” it will rotate characters and give you more overall? That’d be a neat way of reflecting back on those who helped you through the story so far.

Which characters do you want on your team most? If you’re a fan, you must check out our gallery of Mass Effect character art.

Mass Effect 3 releases early 2012 on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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Source: Xbox 360 World (via CVG)