E3 2011: Mass Effect 3 Preview – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It… Or Is It!? There’s something about video game stars in 2011 that is rather odd. I’m not sure about Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio and Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, but as I get older, the less active I get, the less agile I am and the less bothered about saving the world as we know it I become. I used to be able to chase down a jackal whilst hopping on one leg and fighting for world peace on my iPhone. Now I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Shepard though has suddenly become an agile son of a goat, being able to transition from cover like never before – in Mass Effect that is – and roll and jump like there’s no tomorrow. And if he doesn’t save Earth from the Reapers, that may very well be the case. The multi-faceted E3 demo literally had something for all Mass Effect fans: better Shepard initiated cutscenes; better third-person shooter combat; and more RPG for your cash. If you weren’t a fan of Dragon Age II’s sequel progression – or even Mass Effect 2’s – then surely Mass Effect 3’s will resonate with you more: it really does have something for everyone. One of the three sections that was shown to the press under Casey Hudson, Mass Effect’s Executive Producer’s tutelage, was the one that many will have seen at the EA press conference, in which Shepard takes part in the destruction of a designated Reaper base. The scene is a short one, but the main thing to take from it is the on-rails sequence at the end, not only for its epic scale, but for its cinematography and drama. It’s a scene that we won’t dawdle on in all honesty. The second sequence of events that we went eyes-on with was a much longer sequence than what was shown in the Microsoft press conference, where Garrus, Liara and Shepard are attempting to save a Krogan Queen who is stranded on a beautiful looking planet with jagged rock formations, flowing waterfalls and slanted sci-fi looking structures. It’s here that we get a glimpse at the new Shepard and the expanded RPG elements in action. Aside from those though, which we’ll get onto in a moment, it was refreshing to see Shepard levying all the assistance on the Normandy and its crew, rather than just the squad on the ground. Something, if you ask me, the other Mass Effect titles sorely missed. So while on the ground, Shepard had assistance not only from Liara and Garrus, but Mordin – the ship’s doctor – Legion and Joker himself, adding another element of immersion to the gameplay. So, in terms of combat then, not only does Shepard have his Omniblade to perform some brutal close-combat-melee kills, but he can also jump gaps, switch cover, jump roll sideways, roll around cover, drag an enemy over the waist high cover and climb ladders, meaning that the old man Shepard is feeling a little more agile in his advanced years. It's a good job that these elements are all present and correct too, as it looks like players will have to use their squad more strategically this time with the enemy AI seeming faster, smarter and the game even throwing a few curve balls at you, like Cerberus operatives encased behind a thick plate metal shield. Flank away, good sirs! The big buzz words for fans disappointed by the streamlined Mass Effect 2 sequel will be the expanded RPG elements, of which we saw a couple in action. The first of which is weapon modifications, something that fans of the original may remember, with each weapon getting a couple of slots – watch out for the cool as hell looking M96 Matlock – which can improve the weapon’s stability, mag size and so on. The main one for us though was the extended character stats, with us getting a glimpse of 8 on-screen – and we’re sure there were more – which if we recall correctly is a hell of a lot more than Mass Effect 2. Furthermore though, which will no doubt please fans, each one can be broken down and improved upon even further as it branches off – Combat Mastery for instance allowed you to invest points in damage, recharge speed and many, many more. The final section of the demo took us to the Earth’s surface, where Shepard and Andersen are left to fight their way off the planet amidst the Reaper invasion. It’s another sequence that highlights the epic scale of the battles in the third title of the series, as buildings are ripped down around Shepard, explosions surround the duo and the world crumbles around them. With Normandy bombing run assistance, new enemies called Cannibals flooding the pair and more, the sequence is given some emotional carry when Shepard offers to help a young boy out of a vent with a paragon response. The impact of this isn’t felt until after Shepard and Andersen fight off waves of Cannibals while radioing for assistance and the pair are exchanging goodbyes. Just a quick warning… this next bit might be a bit of a spoiler, so jump ahead to the last paragraph if you don’t want to read it. Anyway, after seeing all is right with the small boy who is loaded on to a cruiser, Shepard takes off in the Normandy only to see the cruiser get plucked out the skies by the invading Reapers and with heavy eyes, a powerful score and a steely determination starting to emerge, the scene ends and the Normandy powers into the skies. If there are a few things that I took from the Mass Effect 3 preview at this year’s E3 it’s this: the RPG elements have been fleshed out once again; there is more emotional tension and drama than ever before; the combat and character movement has had some serious enhancements; and the game’s delivery is much more epic in scale. It’s a demo soaked in nostalgia as well, with a huge chunk of Shepard’s old crew back together again and missions feeling more like a team effort than a tiny-squad effort. All in all it’s shaping up to be a bloody good sequel if you ask us and it was easily the most heart-wrenching demo that we saw at the show, meaning that for us, it was a no-brainer for Game of the Show. A show where so many strong titles were in full force. Mass Effect 3 is scheduled for a March 6th and March 9th 2012 release in North America and Europe respectively.