Mass Effect 3 is out this year. This is ridiculously exciting. The first game was just a great RPG in an exciting sci-fi universe, with an unusually strong protagonist. It wasn't until the Mass Effect 2 that it started to feel like this decade's Star Wars. Carrying our own Commander Shepard from one game to the next, including the consequences of their decisions, turned it into a unique gaming epic. And it's going to wrap up terrifyingly soon.
But BioWare are still experimenting with how their game should work, in everything from the structure of the plot to the genre itself. Both Mass Effects have problems, ones they could solve with Mass Effect 3. So as we did with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim , we've put together a list of the fifteen things we'd like to see to make Mass Effect 3 the Empire Strikes Back of the series instead of its Revenge of the Sith.
1. A little faith
Previously, on Mass Effect:
"Guys, I saw Saren kill a guy!"
"We don't believe you."
"Here's a recording."
"OK, we believe you. Find him!"
"Found him. His ship is a Reaper."
"We don't believe you."
"His Reaper ship is killing you now."
"OK, we believe you. Save us!"
"Done. Oh look, another Reaper!"
"We don't believe you."
"OK, well I found the Reaper, defeated it, saved the world and sent you proof."
"OK, we believe you."
What not to do next, on Mass Effect:
"Uh oh, three-hundred and forty-one Reapers are hovering nineteen feet above the surface of the Earth in plain view of over a billion people!"
"We don't believe you."
The first time anyone in a position of power doubts my warnings in Mass Effect 3, I'm out. Earth can burn, I'm doing this for the rest of the game.
2. More varied combat
Mass Effect 2 did a good job of making the player classes feel very different, and most have an interesting central mechanic for combat to revolve around. But within that, the hundreds of individual fights could become painfully familiar. Pretty much every fight took place in the same kind of room full of crates and low walls - which popped up from the ground if they weren't already there - against the same procession of enemy types. I'd love to see some more interesting threats that require us to change our tactics, and some bosses with more interesting concepts than "A guy with a lot of hitpoints".
3. Free run of the galaxy
Pretty much all we know about Mass Effect 3 is that it'll be about defending Earth from the Reapers. I'm hoping that doesn't mean we're actually on Earth for much of the game - the core thrill of the series for me is zooming around the galaxy lecturing people and punching things. The trailer seems to support that, at least: it's a soldier on Earth, hoping Shepard's up in space saving them.
4. Broader choice of weapons
Streamline if you must, but let us shop for weapons. We need to see their stats, pick the one that suits our style and tweak it with mods of our choice. Mass Effect 2 only featured a handful of different guns, and the few new ones you found appeared to be outright better. They usually were, but it was hard to ever know because the game wouldn't give you any hard facts about their power.
Unlocking enhancements for them was a fiddly and illogical process, requiring you to have found a certain damage upgrade from a certain shop before you can give your weapon the larger clip mod you just found. ME1 forced tough decisions about which weapon to fit your best ammo mod to, in ME2 you just acquired everything you could. ME3 doesn't need to follow the first game's system, which was a little flabby, but it needs those tough decisions.
5. More convincing romances
The love interests in ME2 are like the Dr Evil henchman who caves if you ask him anything three times. There doesn't seem to be any connection, attraction or reason for you to hook up, they just capitulate because the player executed the necessary number of flirts. Let us chase someone, make someone chase us, and let our potential relationships be based on something. Even if it means fewer candidates for Awkwardly Animated Sexy Time.
And please don't close off all those options to players of the wrong gender. Great as it is, Mass Effect is not such a literary masterwork that it would completely ruin a delicately crafted character to check the bisexual flag. And we know that's all it takes, because modders have already done it .
6. No coolant clips
Scouring the battleground for these after every fight was not fun. Switching weapons just to reload them before picking up another clip was not quick, or fun. And continually running out of ammo for your favourite weapon made no sense in the context of these supposedly universal coolant clips. If you must have ammo, just restock it after every fight. And for God's sake call it ammo, you're not fooling anyone with the nonsensical coolant concept.
7. A mix of the personal and epic
ME2's actual story only happens in a few brief bursts, and the rest of the game is just team-building exercises. It's mostly good stuff, but it can feel like enforced time-wasting when there's a world to save. It's pretty obvious you're not actually going to need ten companions in-game to complete it, but you have to appease them simply because that's the game - once you're done, there's not much plot left to play.
Conversely, the quest to track down Saren in the first game felt vast in scope. There just wasn't a whole lot of squad development along the way. I'd love to see Mass Effect 3 combine the two: a substantial mission to track a truly loathesome villain across the galaxy, with optional squad development missions like Mass Effect 2's loyalty quests. The main plot should introduce us to characters who already have good reason to join us, and spend its time developing a larger story rather than forcing us to do favours for them if we don't want to.
8. A less fiddly cover system
Neither of the current Mass Effect games nailed this. Both glue you awkwardly in a position where you can shoot enemies that walk past you, and ME2 seems to think 'hide behind something' is similar enough to 'vault over it into enemy fire' to assign them the same key.
Sprinting and vaulting over things are both a high energy, speed-oriented modes of movement - make that one button. Crouching and hiding behind cover is a cautious, protection-oriented action. Make that a different button.
I don't mind fewer controls, but putting sprint, jump, crouch, take cover, and use all on one button is simplifying to the point of complication.
9. No Cerberus
After making them out to be al-space-Qaeda in Mass Effect 1, Mass Effect 2 forced us to work for them simply by the lack of a dialogue option not to. The first game establishes Shepard as the kind of person who has no trouble countermanding orders from her own superiors and cutting off the galactic council mid-conversation. Stepping down from that to not having the guts to say no to the organisation who - in my case - once killed my entire squad is just absurd.
The idea of co-operating with a terrorist organisation with both sympathetic and villainous elements could have been interesting, but only if it's an option . If you force us to do it, with the laughable implication that they're the only place in the galaxy we could possibly obtain a space ship with which to investigate the Collector attacks, it's just frustrating. Have I completely forgotten I'm an officer in the Alliance Navy? Why can't I even attempt to make contact with them?
With Mass Effect 3 focusing on the defense of Earth, I'm hoping the Alliance will be the dominant player. Someone whose orders it actually makes sense to follow.
10. A closer knit squad
Mass Effect had 6 potential squad mates, Mass Effect 2 has 12. That included some great characters, but it meant they had virtually nothing to say about your adventures outside of their own loyalty missions. They didn't feel like family, just employees.
Keeping the number down would help BioWare focus on letting them interact with each other and giving them more dialogue when you have them with you. And if they truly have a stake in the plot, there's no reason someone in a Kelly Chambers type role can't make suggestions about who'll be an interesting companion on a given mission - "Wrex has a personal connection to the phage, Commander, he might appreciate coming along." Apart from anything, it'd give us something other than combat effectiveness to consider in choosing our squadmates, which currently tends to see us taking the same two people everywhere.
11. Better class abilities
The Vanguard class has Charge, a spectacular biotic stampede that slams your opponents flying through windows or off rooftops. The Infiltrator can turn himself completely invisible, and come out of nowhere with a sudden smack to a key enemy's head or a fatal sniper shot. The Adept can create a black hole at will, sucking people out of cover and flinging them around the room.
The Engineer can make orbs of light irritate people slightly. The Soldier can give his weapons extra damage. I feel like BioWare may have run out of imagination halfway through class design.
Give Engineers something devious - hacking AI opponents is a step in the right direction, but comes too late to define the class and the Infiltrator gets it too. And give Soldiers something brutal - if the Vanguard's bodily slamming herself into enemies, the pure combat class has to be able to one-up that. Ammo types doesn't really cut it.
12. Old friends
I have to admit I can't imagine how Mass Effect is going to deal with returning characters. Wrex, Kaiden and Ashley were left as side characters in ME2 presumably because they could die in the first game - no sense putting in the huge amount of voice work to make them a team member if they might not even be alive to recruit.
But to its credit, Mass Effect 2 lets everyone die. That means there aren't many people left from either game who BioWare can be sure will live to see Mass Effect 3 - in fact, here's a chart.
|Tali||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Garrus||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Wrex||Can die in Mass Effect 1|
|Kaiden||Can die in Mass Effect 1|
|Ashley||Can die in Mass Effect 1|
|Mordin||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Thane||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Miranda||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Jacob||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Samara||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Morinth||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Jack||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Grunt||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Legion||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Zaeed||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
|Kasumi||Can die in Mass Effect 2|
Anyone stand out? Yep, Liara is the only squadmate who's guaranteed to survive both games. If BioWare don't want to waste voice acting budget on people the player might not have access to, their only option is one of the least interesting characters in the series. (Don't tell her I said that, though, technically we're still dating.)
BioWare should just bite the bullet and do the work of adding returning squad members even if they might not be alive in everyone's game. And I think the top of that list has to be Wrex. We love the toad-faced psycho so much that him just saying "Shepard." has become one of the series' most quoted lines. Grunt's directionless teenage angst in Mass Effect 2 didn't scratch the lovable Krogan itch, we need Wrex back. He's only dead if you shot him yourself in Mass Effect 1, and if you did that, you can't be too upset about not getting him back in ME3.
ME2's characters are trickier - Mordin is clearly the best, but he's also a tragic-death magnet: he's the character most likely to die even if you did his loyalty mission. He's the only character I never get tired of listening to, though, so he's my second pick for a returning squad mate.
Garrus and Tali are the obvious fan favourites to keep, and I'm fine with the rest not being recruitable so long as they show up in some role. Thane is the most interesting, but he's terminally ill. That has to come into play, or it risks feeling like a cheap sympathy ploy.
13. An Elcor team mate
[EARNEST] These lumbering aliens are the most likeable and interesting guys in Mass Effect's galaxy. [ENTHUSIASTIC] The fact that they can't emulate inflections in human language and have to prefix every statement with the intended tone is an endlessly entertaining twist, just different enough from HK-47's declaratives in Knights of the Old Republic not to retread the same jokes. [HOPEFUL] Having one as a permanent member of your team would be great both for comic relief, and as a starting point to discover more about their race. [REFLECTIVE] And their elephantine shape would just be fun to see loping about the Normandy.
14. Female Shepard on the box
Unless you want to have lips thicker than your wrists and talk like a sportscaster, you play as a female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. It's not just aesthetic. Jennifer Hale's voice gives Shepard a different character: battle hardened, world weary and hard edged. And honestly, there's a desperate shortage of female sci-fi characters who can be decisive and aggressive without lapsing into some ridiculous Bitch Archetype.
I realise BioWare will never do this - for some reason 80% of gamers want to look like a vacant Calvin Klein model with a buzzcut, so he's the posterboy. But it's always worth asking for more than you realistically expect to get.
Speaking of which...
15. Tali's face
Search your feelings, you know it to be true .