Preview: Mass Effect 3

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Brooks Clarke. Editor-in-Chief
I admit, when the original Mass Effect was first released with the promise of carrying over all of your decisions in one expansive trilogy, I was just as skeptical as I was excited. Five years and two critically acclaimed games later, we’re on the eve of the epic conclusion to Bioware’s massive space adventure, and I’m (more than happily) eating my words of skepticism.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Mass Effect 3 is going to sell like gangbusters. And, unless Director Casey Hudson decides to make some serious last-minute changes, the overall experience will likely remain intact. Of course, for any game, particularly a franchise like Mass Effect with such a fervent fan base, the Devil is in the details.
In Mass Effect’s case, the combat has always been the one area Bioware couldn’t quite nail down. With ME3, however, the Edmonton, Alberta-based developer is taking more cues from big-name contemporaries, like Gears of War, without sacrificing their RPG roots.
ME3’s all too brief demo, which was released via Xbox Live and Playstation Network on Valentine’s Day, takes you through a chunk of the Reaper invasion of Earth, and then skips ahead to an extended battle with the human-supremest group, Cerberus on Sur’Kesh, the Salarian homeworld.
It’s clear that, even in an unfinished build, the combat is far and away the smoothest it’s ever been. The fluidity of aiming and moving from cover to cover is spot on, though sprinting feels a tad too swimmy. Heavy bass and kick give ME3’s firearms an extremely satisfying report, and combining biotic and tech powers with squad-mates never gets old.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Esung4vdTCI]

From the outset, the demo has you choose from three specific gameplay presets. Though not entirely surprising, given the direction the franchise has taken, “Combat” automates character and dialogue decisions, allowing action-minded gamers to get straight into the trenches. “Role-Playing” offers a more traditional Mass Effect experience, balancing combat, strategy and narrative, while “Story” allows gamers to focus on dialogue and characterization, rather than shooting.
For old-school Bioware fans, you’ll be happy to know that skill trees have been expanded back to ME1 sizes, though each ability now has a branching path to choose from. “Throw,” for instance, has options to either increase the power’s force or impact radius, with the highest level allowing you to have two projectiles at once or an accelerated recharge speed.
One thing to note is that the frame rate during cutscenes and dialogue was noticeably choppy. Though this is likely due to the demo being an incomplete build, the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 had a similar problem.
Mass Effect 3 is set to release for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on March 6.