Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3: Differences and Similarities

Leveling Up

In addition to the ability to alter weapons, BioWare has baked in a more choice-heavy level-up system than was seen in the last game. Instead of one or two significant specialization choices as players hit the top tiers of their abilities, as in Mass Effect 2, now each new upgrade of a players’ abilities will come with a binary choice. As you upgrade Biotic Warp, for example, you’ll be choosing between a duration upgrade and a damage upgrade. Later, the choice will be even more significant, changing the way the ability is deployed and allowing players to include much deeper customization of their characters.

More Active Combat

Combat remains largely unchanged between ME2 and ME3, as seen in the demo. The core of the experience is the same, but the moving parts have definitely gotten a little attention for the latest installment. Namely, players will find it a little easier to move around, change position and avoid fire. Shepard is now equipped with a roll move that can be executed just about any time for a quick burst of lateral speed, and a SWAT turn that lets players move between cover positions. Getting in and out of cover felt more or less the same — that is, kind of unnatural — but the additional moves should help some players stay alive a little better in their next outing.

All Story or All Combat

BioWare is giving players a choice at the outset of Mass Effect 3 about what kind of experience they wish to have. That choice is boiled down to three options: A story-heavy experience that de-emphasizes combat; an RPG-style experience that balances the two; or a combat-heavy experience that de-emphasizes story. Each caters to a different kind of player, and the first and last options cause the game to play out in significantly different ways.

  • The Story-only mode can be considered pretty easy. With the emphasis on the presentation, players will find most of the RPG stuff they’d normally have to worry about streamed out of Mass Effect 3. Characters are leveled up automatically, and while we didn’t get to mess with it, we’d assume that weapons and armor would be parceled out on a “best available” basis. Combat, too is much easier: Players still get to do the shooting, but enemies go down pretty fast and without much contention.
  • The RPG-style mode is the classic Mass Effect experience. Players get all the story choices, all the weapon and character customization, and all the difficult combat. It’s the balanced experience most gamers will expect, and as such, the most arduous and time-consuming.
  • The action-heavy mode pushes down story, effectively turning each of Mass Effect 3′s dialog choices into a cutscene and streaming out extraneous information players would otherwise have access to through dialog trees. Just how this will work in terms of players’ Paragon/Renegade choices isn’t clear; after choosing the action option in the demo, players just have all choices streamed out, but still receive “Paragon” and “Renegade” points as if they made choices. One wonders if BioWare will include a choice at the outset of the game, allowing players to opt either for a straight Paragon or a straight Renegade story. Either way, the action mode pushes players straight into the game, ignoring the character customization menu at the beginning of the game and putting heavy emphasis on the game elements rather than the story elements.

Lots of Unanswered Questions

Of course, there’s a lot about Mass Effect 3 we still don’t know, even just two weeks out from the game’s release. Changes to the squad system, changes to space travel and planetary exploration, changes to the side-quest system: none of it has been illuminated yet. We know that BioWare intends to integrate all the choices players made in the earlier two games, but just how those choices will influence Mass Effect 3, we don’t know. And we don’t know the logistics of the cooperative multiplayer and Galaxy at War system yet.

So based on everything we’ve seen so far, this is just about everything we know to prepare the Mass Effect 2 aficionado for ME3. With just a couple weeks between us and the final appearance of Commander Shepard, now would probably be a pretty good time to replay the earlier games in the series if you’re a little rusty.

Follow Hornshaw and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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5 Comments on Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3: Differences and Similarities


On February 22, 2012 at 7:39 am

Are you serious?

Play ME2 after playing ME3 and see how much better and more fluid ME3 is. It’s like the leap from ME1 to ME2.


On February 22, 2012 at 8:40 am

I dont know, Im a Mass Effect fan but ME3 seems like it is leaning on the action side a whole lot more than the RPG side. The series is far from where it started in ME1. Don’t get me wrong, alot of great changes have been made to the series since the first one, but bioware seems to want to focus more on the combat and less on the exploration, kinda like what they did with dragon age 1 to dragon age 2. The combat in ME3 is good, based off the demo, but its not as good as other 3rd person shooters such as uncharted or gears of war. Thats why I don’t understand why there focusing alot of attention on the combat instead of the rpg elements bioware is known to be good for. But, I can’t judge it yet until I play the full game. I just hope its a long, deep experience instead of just an action oriented game that is over relatively fast.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 22, 2012 at 9:40 am


Combat has been greatly cleaned up, but the underlying mechanics are still the same BioWare rebuilt for ME2. I played the two back-to-back immediately before writing this article.


On February 22, 2012 at 11:13 am

I knew it to be honest… there’s a pattern there:

ME was a heavy RPG with shooter elements, ME2 was a heavy shooter with RPG elements, and ME3 tries to balance both based on feedback.

Dragon Age was a heavy RPG with some action elements, DA2 was heavy on action elements with some RPG, DA3……

trial and error is Biowares latest method I guess.


On February 23, 2012 at 4:14 am

I hope that it has breath taking opening scene like ME2. ( Shepherd walk pass the ship that roof is wide open, scrap float pass, and everything went quiet just only shepherd breathing).