Mass Effect 3 marks the beginning of the end for this intergalactic action role-playing trilogy. Despite Commander Shepard's best efforts, the Reapers--an ancient race of genocidal machines--have returned and are ready to devour a divided galaxy. While visiting publisher Electronic Arts' booth during this year's E3, we got to see three different areas from the game, as well as go hands-on. We'll go ahead and skip the first area since we already covered it during the EA press conference.
The second section was where we got to go hands-on. Alongside Garrus and Liara, our mission was to help extract a fertile Krogan female from a facility on the Salarian homeworld that was under attack by Cerberus. If none of that made any sense, you might as well stop now--it's all downhill from here. With Mordin's help, we sent the Krogan ahead to another part of the facility. And the Cerberus troopers weren't far behind. At first blush combat felt pretty similar to how it was in Mass Effect 2. But as we played we uncovered more and more little changes developer BioWare is making. Most obvious were the blue contextual arrows that indicated where Shepard would move next when he reached a break in cover.
Shepard's omni-tool has also changed so that it's not just for hacking robots or stealing credits. Depending on which class you play, the device will have a new ability for you to use. As a soldier, our omni-tool came equipped with a short blade designed to relieve an enemy's guts from his body. We used this technique to great effect after sneaking up on an unsuspecting trooper, and while behind cover, we pulled him down to us and eviscerated him. Another new and deadly tool at our disposal was the grenades. Absent in ME2, the grenades are back and have been tweaked to behave more like real grenades and less like flying, explosive Frisbees.
Weapon customization is also back in Mass Effect 3, though with all this carnage we were causing we almost missed it. In order to upgrade our weapons we had to find a workbench. From there a simple screen displayed our weapons, each with two slots for upgrades. Since this was a demo, our options were limited, so we settled for sticking a laser sight on our pistol. However, other upgrades will be able to modify a weapon's statistics--such as damage or range. Character customization has been expanded as well, though we didn't get to see it firsthand. When leveling up Shepard's class skill, instead of receiving a flat bonus to certain stats, you will be able to select which areas you want to advance Shepard in.
Sadly, we had to relinquish control for the final act of the demo. This section took place near the start of the game, with Commander Shepard being forced to stand trial on Earth for his actions in the previous games. We didn't get to see any of the proceedings, however, since it was cut short by the Reaper invasion. Standing on a rooftop, Shepard and Anderson gave us a moment to drink in the scale of destruction inflicted by the Reaper ships. All around them the city burned in a scene more visually dense than anything we'd seen in a previous Mass Effect game.
The pair pulled their heads from the clouds when a couple of hulking cannibals--a new enemy type--caught their scent. These monsters looked not unlike bloated husks with particle beams graphed to their wrists. Tough and slow-moving, they preferred to fight at range while shambling around in the open. At one point Shepard and Anderson found themselves suddenly outnumbered by enemies. Thankfully, the Normandy showed up just in time to blow the cannibals to bits and pick up the grateful commander. Anderson stayed behind, stating that the forces on Earth needed a leader while Shepard rallied the fleets of the galaxy.
Overall, we had a lot of fun with Mass Effect 3 and can't wait to see more of it when it appears on Wednesday's episode of our E3 live show. Mass Effect 3 will be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on March 6, 2012.