Mass Effect 3

Five Biggest Questions for Mass Effect 3

With the release of Mass Effect 3 just a short week away, darkzero thinks it’s appropriate to mention the five biggest question marks facing BioWare and its hopefully masterful follow-up to Mass Effect 2. Note – this article contains quite a few spoilers for both Mass Effect 1 and 2; if you want to preserve the integrity of your experience playing them, I suggest you stop reading.

Now. Please. Don’t hate yourself.

One last thought – I’ve placed *spoiler alert* tags in the areas where key plot details from the games are revealed. Otherwise, happy reading to those of you who are excited as I am to conclude what has been an incredible ride.

Here are my five biggest questions for Mass Effect 3:

Are there enough RPG elements that will impact how I modify my character and change my gameplay style?

I recently played through ME2 again to prepare myself for the final chapter of what might be the greatest sci-fi trilogy (yes, I would argue against Star Wars) of all time. When I first played through it, I didn’t really pay attention to the missing RPG elements that had been sacrificed from the first title; I knew they were missing, but my mind dismissed some of the lacking character options as a necessary sacrifice to produce an action-orientated adventure. Two years later, I realize that the sacrifice was only my way of justifying an incredible adventure that was devoid of the necessary customization to make the character truly mine. For example, when I played through Skyrim (and then a 2nd and 3rd time), I made it a point to wildly vary my game skills so as to affect my experience.  Same goes for my journeys through nearly any of the Final Fantasy’s from VII onward. I was able to justify multiple trips through the same game because of the RPG elements – the story didn’t change, but what might have been a title only played through once turned into a massively enjoyable experience again and again.

That wasn’t the case in ME2 – I played it through for the story, again to change decisions that impacted the story, and now I await the conclusion of the trilogy. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still on my personal list of favorite games. But this statement from ME3 producer Michael Gamble (from an interview to Computer and Gaming Magazine) gives me reason to hope that the new title will actually encourage customization as a necessary aspect of the experience: “We just want to tell the best story within the context of an amazing shooter . . . I think in ME3 we’ve actually brought back a lot of the customization elements that were missing in ME2: Weapons, armor, powers, each power now has nine possible ways of evolution . . . [w]e brought back all that customization. Like any transition between games, we want to polish everything. I wouldn’t say one genre is winning out over another.” Could this be the Mass Effect where I have just as much fun customizing Shepard as I do experiencing the story? Taking the earlier quote into consideration, all early signs point to yes.

Does the Prothean civilization actually make an appearance? More specifically, do we get to see Protheans in action against the Reapers?

Without spoiling too much, ME3’s leaked DLC to X-box live last week revealed *spoiler alert* that we actually will have the opportunity to recruit a Prothean into our crew. I’ve tried to avoid all gameplay related news about the final game (I’ll be reviewing it for darkzero), so this little tidbit of information made me decidedly angry when it crossed my eyes. Yes, I know that the crew member is optional, given that he exists as a downloadable, additional content. But just knowing that he is playable ruined one surprise for me. However, I quickly moved past my anger into excitement when I realized that one Prothean could mean the existence of more Protheans, much like Sovereign’s existence in the first game foreshadows the massive invasion of Reapers in Mass Effect 3. How incredible would the game become if we were treated to a visually decadent tale of Protheans and Reapers dueling for the fate of space?

Undoubtedly, Shepard and his crew are at the heart of Mass Effect, and the reason we care so deeply about that universe. But what if the crew of the Normandy was relegated to the viewing gallery while an age-old battle resumed in front of our eyes? How many other games have given you so much freedom, yet created such a captivating story that you willingly sacrifice freedom to watch two god-like races struggle against one another for life itself? I’m sure there’s not many, but I hope Mass Effect 3 joins that short list.

Does BioWare, despite all promises, truly intend to wrap up all decisions from earlier games?

This is perhaps the area where BioWare has had its most difficulty. Decisions from the first ME games resonate with me as perhaps the best illustration of BioWare’s creative genius, and I can only hope that minor decisions like which stores I endorsed on the Citadel, how kind I was to Conrad Verner before he decided to act like Keanu Reeves, and how many discussions I had with Calyn, the Elcor ambassador, about how incompetent the Volus are as a race will come into play in the final chapter. I know that major decisions *spoiler alert* like choosing to help scientists reverse the Krogan genophage and saving the Rachni will affect my experience, but it’s the minor moments where the game’s polish will truly shine.

After the limited time I’ve had with Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s clear that BioWare’s masterful attention to detail has improved even in the two years since Mass Effect 2. With the promise of multiple playing styles and a mode for players who’ve never experienced Mass Effect, I’m certain that the company is putting more care than ever into how characters relate with each other, and devoting entire branches of conversation to characters that, depending on your previous interactions, may otherwise completely ignore you. I’m interested in how the fallout from Lair of the Shadow Broker will change the game, but even more so in how BioWare has tailored the game for people who think the Shadow Broker has something to do with Peter Pan. Inevitably, I will be too enraptured by the game to critique every interaction I have with a familiar character or face, but knowing that I trust BioWare to deliver on this promise makes the game’s release date seem far longer than a week.

What happens to The Illusive Man, and how does it concern me?

While there are plenty of plot explanations and story resolutions forthcoming, I expect that none will be as cathartic as finally learning the motivations, identity, and outcome of the Illusive Man. Just think about it – we’ve been waiting for over ten years to learn just one iota of information about Half Life’s G-Man. Certain friends of mine were complaining to me last week about how much we still don’t really know about G-Man’s character. Despite the man appearing exactly where you know he should, he says exactly what we don’t want to hear, and goes away before we can even compliment him for his dapper sense of style. However, ME3’s Illusive Man was heavily involved in the plot of ME2 and *spoiler alert* even became the major catalyst for that game’s potentially most consequential decision – the fate of the human Reaper in the game’s final moments.

Now, from all appearances, Cerberus and Jack Harper (his real name, which was revealed in one of the many ME universe works of fiction) will oppose you, but, honestly, we don’t know why. If you decided to save the Reaper, a chance exists that Jack might initially be on your side in ME3, but it’s unlikely. If the Illusive Man is best described as containing all the best and worst aspects of humanity within one individual, it’s inevitable that he will, at some point, oppose you and your crew. That much is a given – it’s the why and how that will be the most exciting part of ME3 for me. Yes, I want to see Shepard’s story completed. And yes, I want to see the Rachni, Krogan, and Prothean civilizations (I can hope!) in action against the Reapers. But we are best measured not against how we respond to external threats, but against ourselves and other members of our community. Shepard’s fate is entwined with that of the Illusive Man, and I couldn’t more be thrilled that at the heart of a galaxy-spanning adventure, it’s a person who I fear the most.

Will Earth be saved?

This is logical-reasoning question, involving a few steps – bear with me. Okay – Reapers have invaded Earth; reapers are massive; one reaper can kill lots of people; there are quite a few reapers on Earth. With that said, the biggest question of ME3 is this – could this be Shepard’s worst, yet most noble, hour? Reapers are capable of inflicting incredible amounts of damage regardless of what form they might take; can you imagine the chaos that an original reaper might create? We know that Mass Effect doesn’t shy away from forcing you to make consequential decisions, as the endings *spoiler alert* of ME1 and ME2 force you to put the Citadel Council and your crew’s lives on the line for a supposedly greater good. Will there be a situation in ME3 where Earth becomes the object of such a decision?

We’ve already saved or sacrificed humans, alien life forms, and entire species in the journey to this game – after watching the trailer and playing through the Xbox live demo more times than I’d like to mention, I can’t help but feel that BioWare has a final trick up its sleeve. We rarely saw a planet completely destroyed in the first two Mass Effect titles, yet I believe that BioWare won’t hesitate to reshape the game’s universe in order to convey the sense of despair and doom that always accompanies a Reaper invasion. Remember – the company has shown that it’s not afraid of destroying the world (see multiple planets in Star Wars: The Old Republic), so I believe the only question left to ask is this: are you?

Bonus question: Does Shepard find love?

Of course. And you thought I was going to seriously discuss a video game character’s love-life.

Mass Effect 3 releases March 6th on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC in the US and March 9th in the UK.