There are changes and additions, admittedly, yet most are so small they'd be barely worth singling out if this wasn't a chapter in a continuing series. Publisher EA may be making a big hoo-hah about the introduction of fancy new melee attacks, but really the new omni-blade weapon is of limited import. We'll no doubt make great use of it when we play, but the combat isn't the primary reason we love the Mass Effect series - we're not exactly going to make preorders on the basis that Shepherd can carry a laser-knife now.
Instead, it's the characters and their continuing development that interests us most, as these are the bonds that have tied us to the series and which make us determined to stop the Reapers in their tracks. Frankly, it just wouldn't be Mass Effect unless we had a gruff but loyal Turian at our side, his scarred carapace pressed against the stock of a sniper rifle. What can we say? We love Garrus.
Thankfully, we weren't disappointed when we sat down to play; the mission we played revolved around liberating the cure to the genophage - a sterilisation disease created to limit the expansion of the warlike Krogan race.
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The task created unlikely teamwork between genophage creator Mordin Solus and Krogan leader Urdnot Wrex, the former stabilising the cure while the latter provides aerial support. Meanwhile, Shepherd fought alongside Garrus and Liara, trying to cleave a safe path to the exit through a horde of Cerberus troops who have allied themselves with the Reapers.
'Every war has traitors,' says Shepherd of his former allies as they try to hunt him down, even going so far as to airdrop new piloted mechs into the genophage facility in an effort to stop your assault. Clever use of Shepherd's improved abilities to move between cover, as well as plentiful grenades and a clip of incendiary ammo, quickly reduced the foes to scrap, however. Likewise, the new time-dilation ability, which essentially plunges the action into bullet-time for short periods, also proved useful even if it did raise worries that Mass Effect 3 is headed too strongly down the shooter path.
Bioware has been quick to allay the concerns that Mass Effect 3 is abandoning its RPG roots, claiming that Shepherd now has an extra six skills at his disposal, each of which will branch into subsets just as classes did in previous games. We didn't get a detailed look at how these skills break down, but our overall impression was that Mass Effect 3 was more defined by the new cover system, rather than elaborate statistics.
At the same time, however, that isn't necessarily bad. While we can't deny that we walked away from Mass Effect 3 a little disappointed that there wasn't anything startlingly new on show, we also have to admit that we enjoyed playing it immensely. Mass Effect 3 may continue the series' trend of sliding more towards the action end of the action-RPG genre, but it's also still a Mass Effect game.
Mass Effect 3 will be published by Electronic Arts on Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3. It will be released on 6 March, 2012.