Welcome To Earth

The Mass Effect series is on its way to becoming an epic trilogy, perhaps the most cohesive trilogy in games if it achieves what it set out to do. BioWare first introduced the sci fi saga in 2007, with a promise of a story that would span three games, each a self-contained episode of a much larger overarching tale. Moreover, they promised a personalized experience that recognized the player’s decisions along the way and shaped the world and events around those decisions, right up to the conclusion. It was an ambitious idea, a plan that could be easily disrupted by changes in an unpredictable industry. With the sequel making a great start to the year last January, it seemed like they have begun to deliver on that promise, and we’ll know for sure once the final installment arrives early next year.

Mass Effect 3 was announced at last year’s Spike VGAs, along with a teaser trailer that set the tone for what is to come. Check out said trailer below. While the release date stated at the time was “Holiday 2011”, the game has since been delayed and will be out “in the first three months of 2012”1. In the meantime, the game is set to have a grand unveiling at E3 this week, with a live demo likely to be shown during EA’s conference2.

The images in the trailer will be familiar to anyone who has completed the first two games. An alliance soldier witnesses the destruction happening around him in what is barely recognisable as the Earth city of London, England. The Reapers have arrived and are wreaking havoc on the galaxy, starting with Earth. Meanwhile, Commander Shepard watches from orbit, end trailer with the throbbing bass of the original theme. ME2 ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger, and it looks like the third game is picking up right where it left off. Without going too deep into spoiler territory, Shepard’s mission in this last chapter is to unite the various races in the galaxy to help defeat the Reaper threat. How successful you are in rallying each army to your cause will determine the outcome of the war, with a granularity that will produce “degrees of success” as opposed to just one good ending and a bad ending.

You’re basically building towards greater and greater degrees of success, in terms of how you’re able to fight the Reapers … If you just rip straight down the critical path and try and finish the game as soon as you can, and do very little optional or side stuff … it’ll be a lot more brutal and minimal relative to if you do a lot of stuff. If you really build a lot of stuff and bring people to your side and rally the entire galaxy around you, and you come into the end game with that, then you’ll get an amazing, very definitive ending.

- Casey Hudson, Project Director3

Of course, the decisions you made in the previous two games will be at play here as well. How you dealt with Rachni Queen in ME1, for instance, will determine if they even exist in the third game for you to ally with, and either way there will be a certain opportunity open to you that was not available otherwise.

Fans will no doubt be eager to know which characters will be returning, and moreover which will be selectable as squadmates. So far only a few have been confirmed as playable, and there are hints that some will only be selectable for certain sequences4. The tactical combat is reportedly much better, though personally I already found ME2’s improved combat mechanics to be a huge turning point in the series and made for some tight shooting. Given how closely BioWare listened to its fanbase in improving ME2 over ME1, I am sure that they will further refine the game systems to arrive at an even better design in ME3. The production of the ME2 DLC during the interim will certainly have been a valuable process for the studio, as is evident in their varying content and quality5. The early screenshots shown here indicate a visual style pretty much identical to ME2’s - a desaturated colour palette and gritty textures. I’m sure with how well optimized ME2 was, ME3 will be able to deliver some spectacular scenes. One minor note I feel worth recalling is that film composer Clint Mansell, who produced a minimal and memorable score for indie sci fi flick Moon, has been signed to do the soundtrack, taking over the duties of Jack Wall. It will be interesting to see what his take on the established aural style will be.

More information is due come E3. There are rumours of more Mass Effect-related announcements; suggesting some Kinect functionality in ME3 as well as some kind of MMO in the works. Whatever gets revealed, I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

  1. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150170133576645.300911.85811091644 []
  2. http://www.spike.com/press/2011/05/24/spike-tv-to-air-exclusive-broadcast-of-eas-2011-e3-showcase-event/ []
  3. http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/05/17/bioware-on-how-your-choices-determine-mass-effect-3s-ending/ []
  4. http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/05/13/tali-returns-as-a-full-time-squadmate-in-mass-effect-3-wrex-probably-doesnt/ []
  5. http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/05/16/bioware-used-dlc-to-experiment-with-mass-effect-3-ideas/ []