The story of Mass Effect is about more than Commander Shepard's race to save the galaxy from the threat of the Reapers. It's also about how BioWare's game has gone from an RPG with shooter elements to a third-person shooter with light RPG touches.
Mass Effect 2 told part of that tale, sweeping the stats under the carpet and letting the sheer spectacle of BioWare's dense sci-fi universe take centre stage. It also pushed the shooting to the fore, with a renewed emphasis on combat ensuring that the action did as much of the talking as Shepard and co.
The third instalment in the series completes that journey. Over the course of a triple-tiered E3 demonstration, it's hard to pic out those RPG elements through the bang and bluster of it all.
Mass Effect 3 plays, to all intents and purposes, like a straight-up third-person shooter. Good job it also plays like a well-polished third-person shooter, and that the game's combat looks strong enough to bear the weight currently being placed on it.
Shepard's now more agile and more robust, darting from cover to cover with a conviction that was previously lacking. Traversal is more fluid, its importance in combat highlighted by the small neon blue arrows that point the player towards the tactical options at hand.
Enemy AI rises to the occasion, out-flanking, using cover smartly and wising up to the fact that running headfirst into gunfire isn't the smartest tactic. Certain enemies demand the player exploits Shepard's increased agility; riot-shield sporting Guardians need to be outmanoeuvred and taken down with a shot to their back.
These improvements open up a whole new approach to Mass Effect's battles. The pitched, stilted fire fights of before are more open, with more options to be explored.
Shepard's newfound adeptness allows the scope of the stealth element to expand. This approach is complemented by the all-new Omni-Blade, a tool which delivers brutal close-range melee attacks.
The Omni-Blade heads up a focus on more involved combat. Guns are rawer, more powerful and much more aggressive, their violent recoil and noisy splutter providing an element of feedback that was absent from past Mass Effects. They've been properly fetishised too; a new granular customisation option allows new muzzles and magazines to be attached and swapped in and out of Shepard's arsenal.
There's even room for more fireworks as grenades make an appearance. Unlike the eccentric exploding hockey pucks of the first Mass Effect these frags behave in a more conventional manner, describing a curving arc when thrown by Shepard.
The grenade's return is welcome, although it's possible that another step towards traditional shooter territory means another step away from the RPG template. It's territory that's crowded and competitive, and some scenes see BioWare going toe-to-toe with the genre's best.
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