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The Mass Effect diaries, volume one
by Andrew Whipple III

When something as big as Mass Effect 3 hits and you finally receive your copy, the excitement surrounding the impending experience is nothing short of palpable.

It's no secret that the Mass Effect universe is something I personally reserve as one of the best fictional story-driven environments in a game. The characters, the dialogue; everything is on-key, and there is always an absolutely colossal amount of lore to wade through. It's so much that, sometimes, I feel that literally submersing myself in the information is the only way that I'll truly sate my hunger for more of BioWare's tale.

You understand by now; I was excited, but I'm more excited to share the beginnings of my journey through what I hope will be one of the better games that I'll play this generation.

ME3 begins right where the game's demo does, and while I've already played through the demo multiple times, the opening cinematic is no less inspiring. I give tremendous credit to the design behind this introduction, as it truly sets the mood and a defined tone for what the entire game will be about. Despite Shepard's warnings and the beliefs of the people, the legend of the Reapers has come to fruition, and Earth is under siege. It's too late to do anything about defence, as you witness entire columns of ships and buildings being vaporized right in front of your eyes. Seeing the Reapers move around in the backdrop gives an incredible sense of scale to the ominous, perhaps unbeatable foe that will eventually have to be confronted. Cue cinematic shots, explosions and a lot of running, and you have a solid opening that should grab any kind of gamer.

This guy has no idea Liara has Singularity. No, I'm not telling you what that is!

Soon after the demo portion ends and we get into the uncharted territory of the game, I feel right at home with the controls and the experience. Like the second game, ME3 expands on the conversations and you can definitely tell that they've amped up just about everything regarding the dialogue. I'm about seven hours in right now, and I haven't had an issue with any voice-acting or set-piece; it's all superb quality. You still have your snap-decision dialogue buttons to somewhat interrupt an ongoing conversation, and you still have the traditional renegade/paragon responses if you feel you have to go down only one path. Options are available and I'm glad they haven't shirked any of the interesting dialogue. If they did, it wouldn't really be Mass Effect, right?

The combat is something that feels familiar but altogether different this time around. By different, I don't mean bad; quite the contrary. This is, hands-down, the best combat out of all the games. How? Why? Well, I always felt that the original Mass Effect was an RPG trying to be a shooter, and that extended into ME2. ME2 was definitely better for improved shooting mechanics, but compared to what ME3 offers, it doesn't come close. I'd say that the closest way that I can describe ME3 to you, combat-wise, is that it has evolved into a shooter with RPG mechanics. Some of you might scowl at that remark but it's not a criticism in any way. The shooting feels fluid, guns have weight behind them and the sounds they emit are pleasing and very well done. Depending on your weapon, the kick is greater this time around and - this is my favourite thing - you can select any weapon at any time, without being restricted to a single weapon or weapon type only.

Playing an Adept in ME2, I found my restriction in weapons somewhat annoying. Yes, I primarily use biotics for my attacks, but I do like to change it around every once in a while, so it was a bummer that I didn't start out being able to use sniper rifles. In ME3, I can use whatever I well please, but there is a catch: weight. BioWare has implemented weight as a mechanic that you can use to your advantage in several respects. You see, the more weapons you have on you, or the heavier a weapon is, the longer your cooldowns will be. If you play as a class like a soldier, who primarily uses assortments of projectile weapons to take down your opponents, cooldowns aren't as important to you as they are to an Adept. So having more weapons gives you the options you might enjoy, but your cooldowns are going to take forever. The best part, though, is that if you hardly carry anything on you, then you receive a cooldown bonus that can go up to a maximum of +200%. Being an Adept in ME3, I can literally use my biotic powers exclusively without firing a single shot. That's awesome.

Shepard is who you want him to be. Sorta.

Back to the combat, I should mention that Shepard's health now works akin to that in Resistance. Your health is segmented, so if you lose a partial bar then it'll eventually regenerate if you stop taking damage. However, if you lose a whole bar, it won't regenerate unless you use some medi-gel. On a related note, the physics of the game have significantly improved. I have first-hand knowledge of this, because I can throw and dangle my enemies all over the battlefield, and let me tell you, it's glorious. Upon being killed, enemies crumple in more realistic ways, and you can even get headshots this time around. You could shoot the heads of things in ME2, yes, but in ME3 their heads actually come off. Cover is also not so much of a burden either; it still isn't perfect, but I definitely didn't find myself getting stuck on too much cover for no reason. Oh, and you can also sprint indefinitely now. Thank the heavens!

As far as talents go, a lot and a little has changed. It's still the same talent system from previous games, but it's more condensed and personal now. Where ME2 had you choose either single target damage or area of effect damage for maxing out an ability, ME3 gives you very unique options for reaching the end of an ability. Throw, for instance, can net you the nifty ability to throw two biotic bursts out at the same time, meaning you can throw two people instead of just one with a single shot. I could talk about the abilities forever, but just know that every ability is unique and powerful now. Also, practically every character has grenades. I guess it was about time that Mass Effect embraced them, but at least every character gets unique takes on them. We're talking lift, inferno, frag and sticky types of grenades amongst others, but it's important to remember that they're limited in quantity!

Gun customisation is back from the original game, but not in exactly the same way. You can modify each gun, but each has limits to how many mods you can throw onto them. If you find a weapon bench, you can take mods out as many times as you want and even put them in a different weapon. I haven't run into too many that I haven't had to purchase, but they are present and I'm glad they are. Also, whilst I was amongst the crowd who thought we needed more of a variety of weapons in ME2, this game embraces the first title's mentality and gives you a plethora of different guns. They usually don't come cheap, but you can even upgrade the standard guns you have to mark II, III, IV, V, etc, which definitely gives each weapon more of a feel.

You'll still have to cut through armour to shoot the driver out of the cockpit. Yes, you can actually do that.

Overall, the feel of the game has improved dramatically. I like how ME3 plays, and I'm really enjoying the way that the story is progressing right now. There's some kind of Galaxy at War mini-game that I believe the whole game will revolve around. From what I gather and have experienced, you will be recruiting people of all shapes and sizes to commit to the war effort. You don't actually have to go over and recruit someone into the military for this to work. Actually, it's a pretty casual process; for instance, you can approach a couple that are arguing and you'll be asked to support a certain person. Depending on which you choose, you'll gain reputation or even perhaps gain a war supporter. Once I know more about it I'll elaborate further, but it looks to be a pretty intensive process.

I have run into a couple of glitches, but nothing game-breaking. In a few conversational sequences, my Shepard kept looking around in a very unnatural way. I've also had a few scenes where a giant blotch of colour covers the backgrounds of the game, but only for a few seconds. Strangely enough, upon importing my game, the face of my imported character was completely wrong. I only use the default Shepard face as is, but I thought it was strange the face was the same as first one you select in the 'customise' screen.

That's the rundown of some of the core mechanics of the game, how the function and of some things that have changed. I hope you found this informative and interesting to read. Please let us know what you think in the comments and we'll have another post shortly.

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- Andrew Whipple III

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