Yesterday the first artwork for Mass Effect 3 graced the cover of a magazine in teasing of a lengthy and in-depth preview of the game that releases this month. It featured the game's protagonist, Commander Shepard, standing heroically in front of an earth facing imminent destruction.
What's inside the 12-page of that Game Informer exclusive has begun to trickle online and now we have details about several aspects of the games. Let's talk about the weapons of Mass Effect 3 and how they compare to the first two games in the series.
[Update: Read our report on Mass Effect 3 Story and Character hints]
Mass Effect 1 featured a wide array of weapons that could be picked up, modded and exchanged between team members. As you leveled up and explored, you were often rewarded with plenty of loot - it worked like most RPGs and MMORPGs in that regard.
In terms of the uniqueness of Mass Effect weapons vs. other shooters, the original game featured no ammo system. Instead, courtesy of "mass driver" technology, a weapon had limitless ammo but was susceptible to overheating. Here's the official explanation of Mass Effect weapon tech:
All weapons in Mass Effect fire metal projectiles using mass accelerator technology. Element zero cores reduce the weight of the projectile, allowing relatively tiny projectiles to be fired at extremely high speeds. The bullet, once fired, shatters or flattens when it strikes the target, increasing the force imparted, rather than punching a hole straight through.
Weapons in the Mass Effect universe have effectively infinite ammunition. The ammo is broken off from a solid block of metal near the rear of the gun and is deposited directly into the barrel. Since the bullets fired are tiny, this block is dense enough to allow for an effectively infinite amount of projectiles to be detached. Each weapon determines the necessary weight needed for the block to reach the target and slices the blocks off as a result.
So all of those words translate to unlimited ammo with overheating. Moving on to Mass Effect 2, BioWare attempted to limit weapons in a way by adding heat sink system where weapons could only fire so many shots before a heat sink (a lame attempt at an ammo cartridge hybrid system) would need to be replaced. Heat sinks were all the same, used in all weapons (sans Heavy weapons) and were meant to be interchangeable. Except they weren't.
The unnecessary ammo system not only didn't make sense with the game's mythos, but was broken in that if you used up heat sinks for one weapon, you couldn't take them from another... even though you have more and they're all the same.
The other big change with weapons in Mass Effect 2 is how it barely had any. The sequel took away most of its RPG elements, customization and inventory system and made a streamlined/dumbed-down game mechanic where there were only a few weapons. Characters instead had one or more powers they can attribute to their ammo (Inferno, Cryo, etc.). What this resulted in was a lot of players sticking to one gun and one power for most of the game. A soldier could use inferno ammo on a fast-shooting rifle and get away with that for the entirety of the game. I know I did. For fans of the deeper RPG elements, details and customization like myself, it was tough seeing it all removed for the second game. Instead of improving upon a finicky inventory system, BioWare just dropped it.
The last big change from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 was that in the first game, every character could use every weapon type, some just weren't as good using certain ones. In the sequel, character classes were restricted from picking up and using most weapons, with the exception of the soldier class who could pick up every type.
So, what does that mean for Mass Effect 3's weapons and weapon gameplay? It seems BioWare is partially balancing the systems from the two games. From the NeoGaf forums, a user posted a summary of points from the Mass Effect 3 Game Informer preview and part of it touched on the the new system:
"Weapons are ME2 style, with a set list, but mods make a return, not in the ME1 style, but allowing you to swap out different parts such as barrels, scopes, and so on, which effect both the weapon's combat performance and its appearance.
All classes can wield all weapons unhindered now, but will have limited slots to carry them. Only the Soldier can carry all weapons at once. Probably means Adept, Engineer, and Sentinel will be limited to two, and Vanguard and Infiltrator will have three."
The weapon slots system sounds like a great improvement, especially if the game lets you grow those teammates' skills for specific weapon types. The ability to upgrade weapons is also a welcome addition/return, so long as it's a fleshed-out gameplay feature and not just one of each type of mod. The range of scopes and load-outs seems tailor-made for a multiplayer experience, which is odd considering the fact that Mass Effect 3 won't have one.
It does sound like Mass Effect 3 won't have an inventory system though, since the "set list" indicates a limited amount of weapons. I think looting/rewards are mostly removed from the franchise, unfortunately.
There's no word yet on armor, upgrades or if you can alter armor for your team members, but once we found out more, we'll let you know.
If you're a fan of the series, read up on the new upcoming Mass Effect novel and anime feature film.
Mass Effect 3 releases this Fall (rumor: November 8th) on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.