Super Effective: Hands-on with Mass Effect 3 at PAX

By Nathan Grayson
2 September 2011 07:12 GMT

At PAX 2011, Nathan Grayson clasped eager hands with Mass Effect 3 and then had to be dragged away – despite detecting more than a nod to that other third-person space marine epic.

Mass Effect 3

The conclusion to the surprise smash-hit shooter RPG scifi hybrid trilogy, the first more vanilla action offering From veteran RPG developer BioWare.

Officially the end of Commander Shepard’s story, as the galaxy faces invasion by a jaw-droppingly powerful force of sentient machines.

Brings the fight to Earth for the first time.

Features a terribad ending in which the bad guys win along with happier options like increased romance sub-plots and the return of favourite characters.

Carries over save data from both previous instalments where possible.

Expected on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in March, 2012.

Hey Commander Shepard, something’s different. Did you get a haircut? OK, OK, fair point: you’ve previously appeared on the cover of Bald Space Marine Monthly. Well then, have you lost weight? Contracted some sort of space-faring, universe-devouring tape worm? No? Then what is- Hwah? You say you’re Marcus Fenix? Oh boy, this is awkward.

Don’t get me wrong: BroShep hasn’t suddenly taken to taping various lumberjacking tools to his arsenal. He’s not bench-pressing Reapers with the sheer might of his Citadel-sized biceps, either. In the demo I played at PAX, though, there was no doubting it: shooting felt incredibly meaty, melee attacks packed a heavier punch, and random objects had a nasty habit of exploding. Someone’s been cribbing notes from Cliff Bleszinski’s golden child.

This isn’t a bad thing – nor, surprisingly, does it detract from Mass Effect 3’s tactical and RPG aspects. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the first kicker of many: My demo didn’t open with an epic, skull-shattering shootout or Shepard swan diving into atmospheric re-entry just to show everybody that he won’t take shit from planets anymore.

After a brief dialog exchange with Mordin involving the rescue of a female Krogan, I was immediately given roughly a billion stat points to toy around with. Sorry, entire Krogan race, you’ll have to wait. I’ve got menus to obsessively pore over.

The new skill system’s not overwhelmingly complex or anything, but if you tossed your thinking cap in the furnace after Mass Effect 2’s almost sleep-inducing straightforwardness, you might want to fish out its ashes. There are more skills to choose from, and many of them now branch multiple times.

For instance, I taught my Sentinel Shepard overload, which – after some initial upgrades to recharge time and damage – let me pick between chain damage and extra damage. After that, there were still two more branching tiers. The hope, then, is that you’ll be able to create radically different versions of the same attack.

Smart ally placement and careful flanking, which then – at least, for me – devolved into all-out chaos. All told, it was pretty damn intense.

Once in battle, it was initially alien-blasting business as usual. Then I found the roll button. Despite the fact that my love affair with constant mashing made Shepard look like he’d had his DNA spliced with that of a washing machine, rolling definitely proved useful. Enemies wielding shotguns and giant riot shields were far more easily dispatched when I realized I could rinse cycle my way around their intermittent swarms of bullets.

That same early encounter also encouraged smart ally placement and careful flanking, which then – at least, for me – devolved into all-out chaos as the shielded baddies broke my first line of defense. All told, it was pretty damn intense. Also, I think I managed to roll an explosion at someone. Don’t ask me how.

Once I ventured outside, a big Y button prompt appeared on screen, essentially aping Gears of War’s cinematic camera wholesale. A ship flew overhead, and the camera dutifully trotted along behind it until I released it from the Y button’s oppressive mind control. Similarly Gears-y was the actual act of filling enemies with hot lead. It simply felt more like what I’d imagine – given that I’ve never actually murdered someone all the way; just a little – spraying someone with a refreshing mist of bullets would be. The sights, the sounds, the visible reactions from enemies – it all felt utterly satisfying.

Level design also proved far more varied, moving from cramped corridors to an open outdoor area to a multi-floored indoor area with some nice verticality. Granted, that verticality also led to a pretty awful – though undeniably hilarious – run-in with less-intelligent-than-the-average-space-bear enemy AI

Watch on YouTube

Gamescom 2011 gameplay footage.

I climbed to the top of a staircase, you see, and found that a massive chunk of the guard rail was missing. “Hooray!” I thought. “A vantage point!” Well, these enemies came prepared. As soon as I opened fire, they fired up their jetpacks. One after the other after the other after other after… well, you can probably see where I’m going with this.

As soon as a baddie landed on my little perch, BOOM: I’d have Garrus pop off a concussive shot. Thanks to improved physics, the enemy’s fatal faceplant was gleefully satisfying. But then his baddie buddy did the exact same thing. BOOM: Another concussive shot. And so on and so on. I imagine roving thrill-seekers journey to that body mountain to this very day. They must scale it. It’s in their blood. It has become their white whale.

Really, though, that’s nitpicking, and what I played – though hardly revolutionary – seemed like a tighter, more polished take on Mass Effect 2. I’d have liked more hands-on time, as this build apparently featured a big boss battle at its end. Unfortunately, I – along with a number of other pissed off press types – was herded away from the demo area before the big jerk reared its presumably ugly head

I suppose, though, that’s a compliment in its own odd way. PR had to drag all of us away from those demo kiosks kicking and screaming. I think maybe that means we liked it a little or something. Maybe possibly perhaps.

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