While there’s no denying the fact that Mass Effect’s shooting combat has seen some serious sophistication from the first game’s attempts at tactical gunplay, it’s the saga’s story and emphasis on player choice that has been applauded the most. At this year’s E3 show, BioWare gave an extended look at a few combat sequences taken from actual gameplay of Mass Effect 3. We knew that the developers were getting better and better at delivering a strong shooter mechanic, but from mobility to weapon customization, the changes the team has made could get Mass Effect 3 recognized as much for its combat as its narrative.

We’ve already given a broad look at Mass Effect 3’s E3 gameplay demo, but the tweaks made to several elements of combat, not to mention the extensive upgrade system that’s been applied to the game’s weapons demands closer inspection.

The first section of gameplay took place in the structures featured in the previously released screenshots, taking on Cerberus operatives exclusively.

The opponents certainly didn’t put up much of a fight for all the rogue terrorist group’s talk, but with so many changes being made to the combat of ME3, the difficulty was no doubt dialled down to show them all off.

If any of you were hoping that the near-infinite ammunition system of the first game would be returning to replace the heat-cartridge mechanic implemented with Mass Effect 2, we’ve got some bad news. BioWare seems committed to the system going forward, although the newly-redesigned sounds of the guns themselves may help to soften the blow.

Assault rifles and handguns have been staples of most player classes since the beginning of time, but Shepard is now also able to wield his Omniblade, a holographic knife extending from his omni tool that gives a whole new level of intensity to melee attacks. Mass Effect’s Director Casey Hudson was on hand to explain that Shepard’s new weapon wasn’t just designed to replace a rather mundane melee attack, but that the level of action it brings fits perfectly with Mass Effect 3’s faster-paced combat.

By closing in on an enemy, Shepard was able to launch into a finishing attack that downed his Cerberus opponent in one strike. While the over-the-shoulder camera view seems to have been pulled even tighter in to Shepard giving a serious Gears of War feel, triggering the Omniblade attack caused the camera to zoom in even tighter and pull around the player’s shoulder to give the best possible view of the strike blow. All in all, it’s an added artistic flourish that definitely pays off.

The attack seemed to be a stock animation, and not context sensitive, aside from one attack performed by grabbing an enemy from cover and finishing them on the ground, so clearly Shepard has only received training with the weapon in one very specified field. Still, the attack is pretty satisfying to watch, so it doesn’t necessarily pose a risk of getting stale.

Mass Effect 3 Combat Details E3 2011

Realistic frag grenades — explosives that are tossed, not sent hovering toward an enemy — have also been added to the player’s arsenal for the first time in the series, and are capable of being thrown to re-direct off of hard surfaces. Aside from those two changes, the actual gunplay in the demo was still the same as Mass Effect 2, so don’t worry about having new fundamentals to master.

What will need to be mastered is the new cover system, and while these systems may have become somewhat of a minefield in modern video game design, the new mechanics will grant players far more options in the midst of combat. The standard slam-to-cover system of the first two Mass Effect titles was largely used for stacking on doors and gaining a break from an enemy push, not to navigate, flank, or advance against enemies in the manner that BioWare may have intended. Some of you may have used the system as an integral part of your arsenal, but Shepard has never been a Marcus Fenix.

Until now. Mass Effect 3 won’t have players merely diving behind objects to avoid enemy fire, but using structures within a level to gain them a distinct advantage against opponents. Hudson explained that the brand new cover mechanic will not only grant players more freedom to jump to and from cover, but to sneak up and ambush enemies as well.

Continue to Page 2 for more details on Mass Effect 3’s new cover system!

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