"[Cerberus] is indoctrinated. They are capable of anything."
Any Mass Effect fan that heard those words is bound to freak out, and that was just one little line in a sea of new information at E3 2011. The three demos revealed a few more familiar faces you will see in ME3 as well as how the combat has changed and improved from the last game.
All classes can now carry any weapon type, but only the Soldier can carry one of each category of weapon at once. And of course there is the omniblade – the beautiful omniblade. No more awkward punches when a husk shuffles too close. Now Shepard’s omnitool becomes a lethal weapon. This weapon, which looks similar to the plasma sword from Halo, allows for more satisfying melee combat and can be used during stealth takedowns. Stab someone around a corner or over cover, or see the class-unique strong attacks that will really show off this new melee weapon.
The RPG elements that many felt were discarded in ME2 have made their return. There will be work stations placed throughout the game, where Shepard can place a weapon and add any new attachments they have found or bought throughout the game. This gives the player more of a chance to customize each weapon to their personal fighting style. The sheer amount of customization we saw, from weapon elements that will change rate of fire to damage to more stealthy styles was astounding; and this was just from one workbench in one small portion of the game.
In addition to weapons, the abilities your character possesses are much more customizable in ME3 than in ME2. You will start with a "powered-up" Shepard, especially when importing your character from Mass Effect 2, though the exact details of that have not yet been revealed. Long-time fans will recognize most of the abilities, but they will be able to use them and upgrade them in ways they never have before. Passive abilities, like Combat Mastery has several different subcategories under it, like Damage, Recharge Speed, Influence & Duration, Headshots, Weapon Mastery, Influence & Damage, Influence & Dilation. In other words, you won't just add a point to "Operative." Instead, you'll get to choose exactly where that point gets spent, and what boost it gives your Shepard.
Another important upgrade made in ME3 gameplay wise, is how Shepard moves. The cover system is back, but now you can do so much more than just crouch and vault. Shepard can jump, climb, move seamlessly from cover to cover, and even take over enemy heavy mechs, like the Cerberus Atlas shown in the demo. In the demo, the Soldier, one of the more clunky classes of ME2, moved with practically the grace of a ballerina. Light blue arrows direct the player in the cover system, letting you decide whether you want to roll around a pillar or jump over a cargo box. If you consider yourself a stealth player, these smoother controls should really help with your style of gameplay.
Although you have all these upgrades to your abilities, weapons, and movements, the game will certainly not be a cakewalk. Enemies in Mass Effect 3 have been upgraded as well. For example, enemy tactics that you typically find in a FPS, like ranged enemies pinning you down while a shielded enemy slowly crawls in to attack you, will be seen in this game. Because of this, squad tactics are more important than ever. You can use your squad members to pull the shield from one enemy while you take on the ranged opponent. For Xbox users, this is where the Kinect voice controls in ME3 will come in handy. For the unintiated, on the Xbox 360, you’ll be able to simply tell your squadmates what you’d like them to do. “Liara, move up.” “Garrus, concussive shot.” By giving those verbal commands through the Kinect microphone, you’ll see your squadmates carry out the orders while you concentrate on fighting your own battle.
Speaking of squad members, from the demos it would seem that players should not expect every NPC they team up with to be on the Normandy for the game’s entirety. During the closed-door demo, Shepard and Anderson are trying to escape Earth in what seems is the start of the Reaper invasion. Once they reach the Normandy, however, Anderson proclaims that he is staying behind to help others escape (but not before throwing Shepard her dog tags and saying she should consider herself reinstated in the Alliance Military). Both Legion and Mordin made cameos as well. Mordin was helping Shepard retrieve a fertile Krogan female and Legion was seen driving a vehicle while Shepard attacked a chasing Reaper. Casey Hudson, the executive producer of the franchise, has said in the past that almost all major characters will make an appearance. It would seem that these cameos and temporary squad mates is how BioWare is going to make that happen.
But let’s get back to Cerberus being indoctrinated, shall we? When it was announced that no matter what Shepard decided at the end of ME2 Cerberus would be coming after them, many fans, particularly if they had a Renegade playthrough, wondered what happened between the two games to cause this. Although we only have this one line, “They are indoctrinated” to speculate about right now, fans of the Mass Effect comics and novels might have been guessing that Cerberus, or rather the Illusive Man, has been indoctrinated since the First Contact War. Mass Effect: Evolution from Dark Horse comics in particular explored the origin of the Illusive Man and revealed that those aren’t crazy contacts from the future that he is wearing - his glowing blue eyes are a result of touching a Reaper Artifact. ME fans know just from the games that coming in contact with Reaper technology usually results in indoctrination. When Jack Harper endured a physical change and created the identity of the Illusive Man after touching the artifact, was he already indoctrinated? That’s just one of the questions that one-off line certainly pushes fans to ask (and will almost certainly be answered in Mass Effect 3).
Casey Hudson began the demo by saying, “This really is the main event. This is full scale galactic war.” He also claimed, with full certainty, that “this is the best game in the series.” From just the small upgrades to graphics, combat, abilities, and the care they have taken with the details of this massive story, ME should feel assured that this statement is true. Mass Effect 3 isn’t just a sequel, or the end of a story. It’s the culmination of all that has come before it, and with that kind of pedigree, it should be very good indeed.
I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my most anticipated game of 2012.Mass Effect 3 is due in stores for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on March 6, 2012.