Mass Effect 3 Preview: The Epic Saga Continues

For our latest preview of Mass Effect 3, we look at the importance of player choice, and if the final installment in the trilogy can raise the bar on one of the most epic opening sequences in modern gaming.

Of all the opening sequences in gaming over the past decade, the intro to Mass Effect 2 is easily one of the most epic. From the first moment when you discover that the original Normandy and its crew is facing certain doom in the form of an unknown assailant it kicks you in the face and doesnÂ’t let up until long after you witness the haunting vision of Commander Shepard drifting helplessly through space.

This opening sequence naturally had the most impact on gamers who had played through the first game in the trilogy and imported their saved game files, but was still an equally epic experience (and introduction to the series) even for those who hadnÂ’t. Either way itÂ’s a tough act to follow but thatÂ’s exactly what BioWare is attempting to do with the third installment of the epic saga of Commander Shepard and the crew of the Normandy in Mass Effect 3.

Outside of the overarching storyline of the Reapers – an element that’s oftentimes easy to lose sight of while fully immersed in the more immediate concerns that the ME series throws at you – players can count on having a radically different experience in ME3 depending on the decisions you’ve made in the first two games.

Mass Effect 3 - Combat Mass Effect 3 - Combat 2

Certain decisions you made in the first game that may not have directly factored into the second in obvious ways finally come into play, such as how you chose to handle the situations involving the Rachni Queen and Wrex. And, as weÂ’ve seen in the preview videos so far, crew members from the first game (Ashley or Kaidan depending on who survived assault on Vermire) that only had brief cameos in the second will rejoin Shepard.

The size and scope of how far reaching these earlier decisions will prove to be when Mass Effect 3 is released next year isnÂ’t fully known as of yet, but itÂ’s no wonder that an entire subculture of saved game hosting and trading sites has emerged in the meantime.

During one of E3Â’s infamous evening festivities last month, I was fortunate enough to spend some time talking to BioWare Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Ray Muzyka about this and other social impacts the trilogy has made on gamers so far. Realizing that not only do players want to be able to track the high level of decision making but share those experience with other players has given BioWare some keen insights as to how important that will likely be for BioWareÂ’s other epic sci-fi saga in the making, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I alluded to the fact that the current BioWare social network is a natural platform for that type of thing (and one that would make a much safer repository for saved game file trading) and while Dr. Muzyka took note of my suggestions only time will tell if that system will be used to its full potential for the release of ME3.

Mass Effect 3 Combat 3 Mass Effect 3 Combat 4

Combat Upgrades in ME3

Much like the second installment of the trilogy, combat has also undergone another upgrade. Still keeping the tactical flow from the previous games, the shooter gameplay will thankfully make it less of a necessity to constantly rely on the cover mechanic. In fact, one of the biggest crowd pleasers during the gameplay demo last month during E3 was ShepardÂ’s liberal use of the new omni-blade in close combat.

With a more viable form of melee combat maneuvers finally in the mix, stealth will also be an option depending on which class you choose to play. Hopefully this means some of the badass stealth attacks that Kasumi Goto (a crew member introduced in the ME2 addon pack Kasumi – Stolen Memory) uses will become available for Shepard as well.

Players will be able to hijack and pilot some of the mechs found in ME3 - how much does that rock?

Another interesting new twist to combat is the inclusion of heavy combat mechs that Shepard will be able to hijack. That is, assuming you’re able to take out the enemy unit piloting one without blowing the thing up in the process. It’s hard to say how frequently we’ll be given the opportunity – it may be only seeded in a few individual missions, or mechs may be seen extensively throughout the game – but considering the immense scale of the Reapers we can only assume that Shepard will be given the firepower to match when needed. And with any luck, that will also save us from having Reaper encounters devlove into frustratingly annoying God of War style combat scenarios like the unfortunately anti-climactic final boss in ME2

As we march closer to the March 2012 release date, Ten Ton Hammer will be keeping close tabs on the development of Mass Effect 3. Along the way many of us will no doubt be stockpiling different save options to import, but we'd love to hear what kind of Shepard you'll be brining to the party as well, so be sure to let us know in the comments!

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