All the marbles
The most impressive aspect of BioWare's Mass Effect 3 is its scale. Sure, the previous two games had you trotting around the galaxy putting together a ragtag band of misfits to join you on a suicidal mission to save the universe, but it was never very cohesive.
Up until this point in the trilogy, players spent most of their time visiting different planets to complete loyalty missions or settle disputes. On each occasion a skirmish would kick off one way or another and you'd end up having to shoot your way out. However, Mass Effect 3, coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, ups the ante by pitting Commander Shepard and his crew against the Reapers, a highly advanced machine race of starships with the desire and power to wipe out anything and everything, and their next target is Earth.
Essentially, then, Mass Effect 3 elevates the battle to save the universe from a series of playground slap ups to an all-out war in which the winner takes all and the loser is wiped from existence. The stakes have never been higher.
In one mission, Shepard is tasked with taking the fight to the enemy by attacking a Reaper base. He (or she - let's not forget FemShep) does this by marking his target with a laser and calling in the Normandy, his trusty ship, to drop a destructive payload. Naturally things don't go as planned and our hero finds himself face-to-face with a Reaper ship and dozens of enemy troops.
While this might sound like the kind of situation video game heroes deal with on a day-to-day basis, it's important to note that until now, battles against the Reapers have only taken place in cinematic cut-scenes, where the player has no control over the characters. This time round, players have to directly engage their colossal enemies and bring them down once and for all.
On top of that, grunt enemy forces have also been bolstered to give Shepard extra trouble. Regular infantry have been turned into freakish hybrids by an enigmatic and technologically advanced race known as the Collectors, a significant foe players faced in Mass Effect 2. Now they've worked their evil magic to mash together other alien races such as the Batarian, Asari and Krogan to form freakish chimera-like creatures. They're ugly, formidable foes who possess the combined characteristics and powers of each of their parts.
Hop, skip and a jump
To offer Shepard a fighting chance, Mass Effect 2's combat mechanics have been given a significant overhaul. Gone is the clunky cover-to-cover gameplay, which has been replaced with a far more fluid system that makes battles fast and furious. Shepard is now a sprightly vessel of destruction capable of vaulting over cover, gliding round corners, using guns and grenades in combination, and getting up close to enemies to deliver devastating melee attacks using his new Omniblade, Mass Effect's version of a lightsaber. Thanks to the new tricks, Mass Effect 3 feels like a distinct third-person game and far less like yet another run-of-the-mill Gears of War clone.
All talkInitially it may seem like Mass Effect 3 is geared towards action junkies, but saving the galaxy doesn't always have to centre on how quickly you pull the trigger. BioWare has once again provided plenty of opportunities for players to engage with a diverse and interesting range of characters and delve deep into series lore, crafting three distinct experiences to satisfy all types of gamers.
Story mode keeps combat to a minimum and places more of a focus on making important moral decisions that impact story progression, with players spending more time exchanging words than bullets. Action mode does the opposite by dialling down the chit chat and decision making in favour of shooting and action set-pieces. But most will likely choose to play the role-playing mode, which offers the traditional mixture of both story and action.
With an exciting conclusion to the trilogy in sight, and the series' most accessible, well-rounded gameplay yet, BioWare has aimed for the stars with Mass Effect 3, and all the signs currently point to it being a stellar success.