Thoughts On New Mass Effect 3 Details(SPOILERS!)

Big Mass Effect 3 news people. We already posted yesterday on the confirmed information about the romance options in Mass Effect 3. We singled that aspect out because BioWare has confirmed a pretty major changes, but that was only the a small part of the treasure trove of details now leaking from the Xbox World article about the highly anticipated and totally not delayed third installment. Now that you’ve had a chance to come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to pursue a new Romance subplot, let’s deal with your grief by dissecting what else we can expect.

There’s a lot to it, so we’ve helpfully broken down the facts, and added our own base speculation.

* Commander Shepherd is downsizing.

In Mass Effect, Commander Shepherd gathered together a squad of 6 playable characters; Garrus, Talia, Liara, Ashley, Kaiden and Wrex. For Mass effect 2, BioWare doubled that total to 12, including two available via DLC. If you expected that ME3 would continue in that direction, prepare to be surprised by the news that you’ll commander an unspecified smaller team in the battle to defeat the collectors:

“Twelve was a big number in Mass Effect 2 – almost too big”, said Casey Hudson. “We’re focused on a smaller squad with deeper relationships and more interesting interplay in Mass Effect 3. We’re not going to have twelve again but we are going to do more with the characters on your squad including Liara, and Kaidan or Ashley.”

Our first instinct is to call boo on this. More characters added a lot of incidental charm to Mass Effect 2. As in Mass Effect, different dialogue options opened up depending on who you brought with you. That made for a lot of subtle differences in how a game played out. However, those differences tended to be superficial. Focusing on a smaller team would indeed let them get deeper into previously established relationships without sacrificing any time for the one or two new characters we’re sure to see. And they’ll need it because…

* Every single squad member will make an appearance in Mass Effect 3.

And we’re bringing everyone back – every main character is in Mass Effect 3 somewhere.

For the record, these character would be: Either Kaiden or Ashley (depending on which one you sacrificed in Mass Effect), Liara, Tali, Garrus, Wrex, Jacob, Miranda, Mordin, Samara, Grunt, Jack, Kasumi, Thane, Zaeed and Legion. It could possibly include (SPOILER, highlight to read)
Morinth, Samara’s daughter (if you betrayed Samara during her loyalty mission.)

Already confirmed for your Squad are either Ashley or Kaiden, Liara, and Garrus, which makes it look like your ME3 squad is going to be heavy with Mass Effect 1. Something to bear in mind: one possible Mass Effect 2 ending has you and your entire squad dying during the suicide mission. Obviously Commander Shepherd is back regardless of the ending you chose. But we’re assuming that the smaller squad size is meant to make certain that the Mass Effect 3 squad emphasizes people who couldn’t be eliminated during Mass Effect 2, and whatever new characters are brought in, as a way for BioWare to cheat a bit on game-start variables.

Speaking of cheating, one ass-pull BioWare will not be forgiven for is the inability to import a Mass Effect 2 game in which Commander Shepherd died. That outcome had rich promise for Mass Effect 2, and while we understand why they didn’t feel like doing yet another resurrection scene, why bother allowing the story to end like that at all if it doesn’t have potential repercussions? Consider me thoroughly burned and feeling like my time was wasted creating a save file where everyone died just to see what would happen in Mass Effect 3. Begh.

Even so, the verification that Jack is back makes us happy:

“She’s matured,” admits Art Director Derek Watts, “maybe she’s softened up a bit. You can only stay punk rock for so long, you know. Even Johnny Rotten eventually goes, ‘I’ve got to do something different’. She’d get tired of walking around completely naked and she’d probably grow her hair out, but she’s still Jack and still kinda punk – shaved at the sides with a ponytail at the back”

And speaking of cheating…

* Cerberus is out to kill you no matter how you ended Mass Effect 2

“You were begrudgingly working for Cerberus in ME2,” said Hudson, “but they’ve gone a bit further and Shepard has returned to the Alliance so Cerberus troops are a major threat.”

It seems that as weak as The Arrival DLC was, it is the definitive end to Shepherd and Cerberus. All I have to say about this is that the reason Cerberus wants to kill Shepherd better be something other than plot-dictated outrage. The good news is that they’ll be able to fight Shepherd equally, doing everything he can and more. This promises a more challenging enemy than they side quest mini bosses from Mass Effect.

* The scope is vast.

Based on plot details already leaked that indicate the need to rally the Galaxy, it’s a given we’ll see a lot more of the Mass Effect galaxy. Confirmed locations include the Turian, Krogan and Quarian homeworlds, and Mars. But it’s confirmation of a long denied wish that has us going squeeee:

“The Seatle/Vancouver megacity on the west coast of North America is a truly gigantic space which Shepard will visit before and after the Reapers take it apart,” said level artist Don Arceta. “If you Google Map Vancouver, the layout is pretty much the exact same as our map. Geographically, it’s very true to the real world

Yes, that’s right, Earth, finally, we get to go to Earth. Other confirmed Earth locales include New York City and London. The Mass Effect codex makes earth sound like a big sh*thole, and we’re hoping the game delivers with suitably dismal inequality and overcrowding.

We’re also going to see much bigger level-locations. One battle has you fighting against an actual Reaper which implies much larger levels than we’ve seen previously. These levels will be more varied and unpredictable:

“I think Lair of the Shadow Broker is a good look at how we design levels now” says Hudson … “It’s all about sudden shifts in the action. There’s a section on Earth where you’re running a narrow walkway and there’s a war going on all around you and a ship is in the distance. Suddenly its nuclear core blows up and its suchs a shockwave that it knocks you off the walkway and you end up sliding down the glass face of a knocked over high-rise and then you kind of roll and catch yourself and all that happens in a moment of game play. You have control throughout and that’s when you’ll realize anything could happen at any time”

Rad. But we’re most excited about Asari and Krogan husks. Because come on, that’s going to be awesome.

* RPGness will be restored. Kind of.

“We’ve taken a lot of feedback from the Mass Effect community,” says Hudson. “more than anything, people want us to deepen the RPG aspect of the experience. Now, that isn’t necessarily something traditional; about stats and loot; we see it as being more about exploration and making a good character-driven story with intelligent decision-making in how you progress.”

“I think specifically we wanted to do more with the sense of progression. We had that sense in ME2, but only in a few areas regarding your armour choices, your weapon choices and the things you find. That activity chain was too simple and it didn’t allow you to make choices that could customize your experience. You could choose different weapons and stuff like that but you couldn’t invest in the weapons like you can in ME3. You can see how modifications change different attributes, and start making choices about your value and which ones you would rather sell and which ones you think are rare. That whole activity chain was a button we weren’t really pushing in ME2 and something we’re trying to hit throughout ME3″

This is a vague statement, but a hopeful one. Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic game but one of the few mistakes BioWare made was the removal of random assignments, giving the game a much more linear feel despite the fact that it contained much more content. A return of slightly more meandering RPG style sidequests would do a lot to make the experience feel more organic, personal and unique.

We’ll be getting a LOT of hands on time with Mass Effect 3 at E3, and will dutifully report everything we see. Until then, it’s time for me to resume my ME2 game.

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