Chances are, if you're reading this, that you already have a strong sense of who your Commander Shepard is and what they've been through. If not, well, you're missing out on one of the standout game narratives of the last five years. What are you waiting for? You've got a few months. Come back when you have a deeply-held opinion about the nature of Shepard's chromosomes.
According to executive producer Casey Hudson, ME3's Shepard is a combination of the person you've made and the underlying themes that have been there since the opening moments of the first game. “There is a common experience among all versions of Commander Shepard. In particular, Shepard is really just an average human, swept up in exceptional circumstances. We're trying some new methods to get people inside Shepard's head, making them feel more of the internal struggle Shepard has been facing.”
At the heart of that struggle are the Reapers, the malevolent machinegods that have finally arrived after two whole games of set-up. The race to fight back is Mass Effect 2's companiongathering structure blown out to galactic proportions. As you progress, you'll assemble a force of capital ships, special forces squads and vast armies, each of which constitutes a War Asset.
“As Commander Shepard you fight to build an enormous alliance and secure war assets across the galaxy,” Hudson explains. “But how effective all of that is in the final fight is dependent on how well the overall war effort is going. If your allies are killed, they won't be ready to join you in the final battle. But if they are well in control, they will be ready to bring their full potential to the fight.”
That's where cooperative multiplayer comes in. Separately from Shepard's story, you and your friends can take charge of teams of operatives fighting the battles around the galaxy that the Normandy can't. Performance here improves that readiness factor, making your war assets count for more in the singleplayer.
These high-level mechanics are supported by a retooled combat and upgrade system. Weapon mods that give you the freedom to customise guns to your taste are a major focus – Hudson shares his favourites: “I enjoy the mods that allow you to increase the capacity and rate of fire on sniper rifles, so you can target an enemy at range and still fire off quick shots before reloading. Using a scope on a pistol is a fun way to extend the effectiveness of an otherwise basic weapon.”
We know the broad shape of Shepard's final outing, but not what it contains. Mass Effect's use of transferred savegames makes it one of the longest coherent stories in gaming, and it'll be good to come to its final chapter unspoilt.