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Mass Effect: Evolution of the Game

Commander Shepard has become a beloved video game icon within the past five years; the brilliant trilogy begun with Mass Effect, which released back in November of 2007.

The original Mass Effect detailed the emergence of the first human spectre, Commander Shepard, and the realization that an age-old myth regarding sentient machines known as the “Reapers” will return to destroy all known life. Though Mass Effect was praised by many, it also received a lot of criticism. Of course, having sex with aliens was not something any of us were used to (I hope).

That certainly did not stop the good folks at BioWare from developing a much more solid game which released early 2010 – Mass Effect 2. ME2 changed many elements from its predecessor. Like Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 received its fair share of both praise and dismissal. BioWare has “evolved” Mass Effect, rather than simply building off of old mechanics. Completely retooled, Mass Effect 2 firmly pressed the boundaries of the “action RPG” genre. Now here we are in 2012, and the end of line of the award winning Mass Effect franchise is almost upon us. Following in the footsteps of both games before it, Mass Effect 3 looks to be a promising conclusion to the franchise.

As fans and critics, we have all come a long way. The game has certainly evolved, and Mass Effect 3 feels like a fully-fledged third-person shooter this time around. From its humble origin, there are many features we both love and miss.

Mass Effect introduced us to what could essentially be a staple of the modern RPG. Choosing choices based on lines of text are a thing of the past. BioWare opted for an intuitive radial dialogue menu which allows the player to choose choices based upon its morality system. Options on the right half of the menu would progress the conversation while options on the right allowed you to do some digging and uncover more of the Mass Effect lore.

If you’re more of a neutral character, your choices will appear in the center of the menu. Paragon options are at the top of the menu, while renegade options are located the bottom of the dialogue menu. Believe it or not, this radial wheel has been game changing. I dare say no game has nailed it as well as the Mass Effect series – not even Dragon Age II, also developed by BioWare.

Mass Effect is fully voiced, with that said; your character is even voiced. Options on the radial dialogue wheel are but a simple outline of what the Commander will actually speak upon selection. Full voice acting paired with the radial dialogue wheel helped Mass Effect achieve its relentless immersiveness. Being the evolutionists the developers at BioWare are, of course in Mass Effect 2 the games prominent feature would evolve.

Hence the interruption sequences feature: Players would now have a chance to greater tailor their Commander Shepard. Rather than just sitting through all the chatty cathy moments, occasionally players would get the opportunity to press the right trigger (Renegade) or the left trigger (Paragon) to influence the situation immediately in their tastes. If you do not act fast however, you will miss out. There cinematic moments will net you bonus paragon or renegade points.

If a shooter fan compared Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, he’d likely choose the latter. But, ask the same question to an RPG lover like myself, and you will get a rather mixed response. I love Mass Effect 2, do not get me wrong, but the removal of its core RPG elements in its evolu–I mean de-evolution is simply outrageous. As detailed in my review of Mass Effect 2, everything from item gathering to talents – I mean powers has been literally dumbed down. The strategic feel of upgrading abilities and the paper, rock, scissors RPG fans are used to is, gone. Damping was one of my personal favourites from Mass Effect. It was an ability that weakened the strength of biotics; very helpful when you’re running around as an Engineer.

With that said, the same classes will remain the same in Mass Effect 3 as they did in Mass Effect 2. ME2 introduced class specific abilities; I’m guessing to help give classes more of a meaning now that they removed nearly all of the most important *Cough*RPG*Cough* elements. Fortunately, these abilities are all grand enough for you to fall in love with. It was nice to see my engineer gain a nice companion with the Combat Drone power.

Of course we all remember the Mako – assuming you played through Mass Effect of course. In Mass Effect, a core gameplay feature was the ability to land on various planets in the infamous Mako; an infantry fighting vehicle, and great for exploring especially hostile planet. The Mako had terrible controls, and in Mass Effect 2 BioWare promised a solution. Unfortunately, we had to wait for the Firewalker DLC to finally get a taste of this so called promise. Although the Firewalker DLC provided better controls, the missions were rather abysmal. Rather than improving planet exploration, it was removed. Instead you would be refined to the boring linear firewalker missions or the even more notorious mineral mining you must succumb to for resources to upgrade the Normandy.

When multiplayer was announced for Mass Effect 3, many fan-boys cried afoul. I love multiplayer however, and I rejoiced in the idea. When I heard it would be separate from the single-player experience, all doubts – if any vanished. I’ve had a chance to play Mass Effect 3, and I can honestly say, that any Mass Effect fan in their right mind should enjoy what BioWare’s giving players this time round. Fighting alongside your friends could not be any more fun than doing it in the Mass Effect universe.

For its third instalment, Kinect will also be making an entrance into the series. The peripheral is still a relatively young product and I have used the functionality hands on. Kinect definitely adds to Mass Effect, but the game is more importantly solid enough without it. By utilizing Kinect, you can issue commands to your squad mates, select dialogue on the radial menu, open doors and containers by hacking, as well as switch the weapons of your squad members and that of yourself. If you take advantage of the Kinect functionality, Mass Effect 3 will be more difficult without the pause to open the radial menu. Kinect does not necessarily make ME3 a better game, but it does add a level of immersion to the experience.

Without a doubt Mass Effect has evolved over the years. For the most part Mass Effect’s evolution has worked in BioWare’s favour. Mass Effect 3 definitely feels more like a shooter than either predecessor on the market–but it also feels more like an immersive RPG, a feat Mass Effect 2 did not accomplish. Whether Mass Effect 3 will be the climax of the franchise or not is yet to be discovered. But, with a track record of beautiful evolution, I’m crossing my fingers that this year’s instalment won’t be the last time I get to experience all that this franchise has to offer.

Mass Effect 3 will release on March 6 in North America and on March 9 in Europe on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.