With the recent release of Mass Effect 3, it’s finally time to see out Commander Shepard’s story arc, starting from the first hostile contact with the Geth on Eden Prime, all the way to saving the universe from the Reapers in the new game. That’s assuming Bioware and EA don’t backpedal on their claims that ME3 marks the end of the trilogy, of course. Interestingly, it’s not just the story that has progressed through the series, but also the way that the game plays.
The original Mass Effect, released back in 2007, had quite a few elements carried over from Bioware’s older sci-fi yarn, the highly acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The Paragon/Renegade morality system was clearly reminiscent of the Light side/Dark side dichotomy from Star Wars, the two-member companion party was another similar fixture and finally, you could pretty much replace Biotic powers with Jedi Force powers without affecting the game design at all.
While we’re on the subject of borrowing, I found it hilarious that the hacking minigame was a straight lift of the Atari 2600 classic, Frogger. Might as well have gone with Pacman, methinks.
However, combat had quite a different flavour in each game. Knights was based around a system derived from 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, and structured into separate rounds where characters would all carry out their actions simultaneously. Mass Effect, on the other hand, stuck to a real-time system, where the player could pause the action at any time, issue orders and queue actions from the pause screen and then resume action. Mass Effect 2 simplified that even further by transforming the game into a cover-based shooter in the style of Gears of War. They even scrapped the obsessive-compulsive item gathering from the first game, only letting you collect schematics and research them after the mission was over. Many hardcore fans cried foul at this streamlining, but I’ve got to admit that Mass Effect felt a bit like it was uncomfortably trying to straddle two genres, while ME2 is more honest about what it’s trying to be — a light, tactical third-person shooter with loads of conversation choices that affect the story. Ok, their minigames weren’t much better, it has to be said.
I can’t imagine that the formula would be much changed for ME3. The big addition seems to be the new multiplayer mode, a co-operative wave-based survival match, which, along with story sidequests, contribute to a good ‘galactic readiness’ rating in the overall game. Galactic readiness apparently affects the ending of the story, so unless you want to inspire tributes in the vein of ‘Shepard’s Last Stand’, it’s advisable to take some time outside the main story to improve your odds.
Outside of that, the big talking points seem to be the inclusion of the launchday downloadable content, ‘From Ashes’, that players will have to pay an extra fee to access, and also, uproar from some fronts that the male Shepard character now has a potential gay romantic interest. Judging by some of the online rants regarding the latter, you’d think it was a sign of an impending apocalypse. Though if it is, they picked the right year to release it. So go on, have your fill of guns, biotics and conversation — quickly, in case the Mayans were right.