Gamescom 2011: Mass Effect 3 Hands-On Preview – Too RPG, Or Not Too RPG?
Written Friday, September 02, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Contrary to popular belief, Mass Effect 2 was an RPG… after all, you played a role in a game, but then again with that line of reasoning every game would be an RPG. The largely well-received sequel was still criticised by die-hard fans though – me included – for scaling back the whole character progression system in the franchise. Listening to fan feedback, BioWare has taken that criticism on board for the sequel – from a character perspective anyway – and this year at Gamescom when we went hands-on with the title, we went in search of that much-needed character progression. You know, the true RPG roots of the title.
In a demo that was largely similar to the E3 demo – read, the same – the only real difference was that we were able to get our grubby little mitts on it. In short: it was time to blitz through the menus and see how much has really changed since Mass Effect 2 hit the shelves.
Quite simply put, Mass Effect 3’s character progression system is more akin to Mass Effect 1 than it is to Mass Effect 2, especially from a talent upgrade perspective. However, that said, there definitely seems to be more depth here than both of those put together. In choosing to make the second in the series more like a third-person shooter and less like rolling a die when it came to actually shooting your array of weapons, the franchise lost a number of its upgrade areas i.e. pistols, shotguns, and so on. Mass Effect 3 still maintains that continuity, but while in Mass Effect 1 you could have around thirteen talents to upgrade (four of which were weapon based) and in Mass Effect 2 you could upgrade around six (all key talents though), in Mass Effect 3 that number falls somewhere in the middle.
With eight upgrade categories for Shepard – and five for squad members – to upgrade this time around, you could jump to conclusions and mutter, “still not enough RPG for me!” but the truth is that those categories are broken down further in terms of upgrades. Opting to be a Sentinel for the purposes of this demo, it didn’t take us long before we were in the thick of the RPG elements of upgrading Shepard into some badass superhero. Let’s take the biotic power, ‘Throw,’ as an example here… Now, before you can get into the real meat of the upgrade tree, first you’ll need to spend upgrade points not only on unlocking the power, but also on improving its recharge speed and its force. It’s here where it gets interesting though.
Unlike in other previous Mass Effects where you had a linear upgrade path for powers, in Mass Effect 3, after the initial upgrades, you can pretty much choose how you want to upgrade the power in most respects. After you’ve bought the three upgrades mentioned supra, it’s a matter of choosing whether to then improve its force, extend its effect radius, enhance its recharge speed, make it high impact (the difference between that and its force is unclear at present) or then impressively choose whether you want to make it a multi-throw push or a combo throw push. Quite what a combo throw is we’re unsure of too, as you’re left to choose between one of two of the final upgrades for the power… naturally, we opted for the multi throw. Of course, being a controlled demo we were given the necessary upgrade points to have a fiddle with this sort of thing, so we were able to max out throw in a matter of seconds, but it gave us a great insight into how the final game will work.
So, the multi-throw… is it any good? I think it’s an appropriate time to say: “Hells yes!” Unlike the normal throw – which has now forever been spoilt for me – the multi-throw produces two consecutive biotics that pack twice the punch and of course, knocks your foes back twice as far. It’s a power that can really be manipulated as well, especially with the ability to curve powers around cover and what not, something that Mass Effect 2 introduced. The best thing about all of this is that we’re only talking about the upgrade potential of one power here. Take that across the board and I’m sure you’ll agree that Mass Effect 3 in terms of character progression is more RPG-esque than anything else in the franchise. Then there’s also the weapon modification benches which allow you to increase a weapon’s power, extend the barrel and much more, but unfortunately, we didn’t get far enough into the hands-on to really test the depth of this aspect.
So, it’s a hands-on and we’ve talked about the RPG aspects, but how does it control? Well, I’d like to say better than ever and for the most part that’s true. For instance, the ability to roll, bend around cover surfaces and use the Omni-Blade for an almost too powerful melee attack, for example, are great additions, but the controls do tend to get a little finicky when you’re attempting to enter cover, with Shepard sometimes opting to roll instead. You almost have to be directly facing it for you to stick, but it’s something we hope BioWare will iron out in the coming months. After all, there’s a good six months left until release.
For us, Gamescom and our hands-on time with Mass Effect 3 was all about the RPG aspects. As gamers, we all know that when a developer says “we’ve improved the RPG elements,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that, but on first inspection, BioWare seems to be right on the money here. Now, if we can just get back those free-roaming planet sections from the original, take a deeper look at the weapon modification bench and hope to see some squad customisation, then Mass Effect 3 will certainly be far more RPG than any other title in the series thus far… and that’s nothing but a good thing.
Mass Effect 3 is scheduled for a March 6th and March 9th release in North America and Europe respectively.