SPOILER FREE! Set in a future where humanity shares the galaxies with a multitude of other species, the Mass Effect games have been renowned for meaningful storytelling, deep immersion and engaging gameplay. As the final instalment in a much loved science fiction series, Mass Effect 3 has naturally been the subject of intense speculation. It could even be argued that the level of hype surrounding the game has done more damage than good.
Keen to separate fact from fiction, I recently played through the first hour of the game and spoke to BioWare’s Robyn Théberge, Associate Project Manager for Mass Effect 3. I asked her about working to high expectations, the much debated introduction of multiplayer modes and how fan feedback affected the project.
Théberge was honoured by the effort the team has poured into the project, citing it as easily her proudest achievement to date. And proud she should be. The first hour of the game contained enough explosions and flash to make it solely as a war film, but underneath its sparkly exterior was a game that made a concerted effort to pull at heartstrings and send a message. War is not pretty. War is about experiencing loss and pain and fighting for what you believe in.
During my time with the game, characterisation remained the primary conduit through which Mass Effect drew the player into its story. This would not have been possible without the well directed voice acting and expressive character movement that the franchise’s vocal and dedicated fan base have come to expect. The fans have been so vocal, in fact, that they have been credited with determining the rendition of the default female version of protagonist Commander Shepard.
On this subject, Théberge was enthusiastic. “We’re really involved with our fans. Our forums especially are a really good place where we hear what people are encountering through the demo. A good example of something that we adapted in Mass Effect 3 based on fan feedback is the iconic appearance for female Shepard. I think that would probably be the best example of something we’ve done recently based on fan feedback.”
Also unprecedented was the introduction of multiplayer to the series, which prompted a mixed reaction from gamers. Some criticised the move, fearing that it would detract from the quality of the solo gameplay whilst others welcomed the opportunity to join cooperative missions. Whatever the outcome, Théberge was confident in BioWare’s decision to include the feature. “It’s something that we’ve always been interested in taking a crack at. You definitely want the engine to be able to support it. I think Unreal 3 made it a really good time for us to get into it. Specifically for Mass Effect 3, it’s all out galactic war so introducing multiplayer at this point in the franchise really helps to encompass the scale that this game really has.”
The game certainly felt all-encompassing. Although the combat was largely the same, Shepard had gained new abilities to combat fresh enemies. The in-game menu had also undergone some slight changes. Overall the control system (on console) served its purpose in allowing the player to experience the heat of combat. Also of note was Shepard’s inability to regenerate bars of lost health, although this could possibly change with difficulty tweaks.
Did Théberge feel a mounting pressure during the development of the game to deliver something that would meet the continually rising expectations? “I think that the development team puts a lot of pressure on themselves as fans to deliver for their own play throughs. I also think that we don’t get the opportunity enough to see what our fans think and see their reactions.”
Despite the high level of hype leading to the launch of Mass Effect 3, I remain hopeful that the game will serve as a satisfying end to the trilogy. Théberge indicated that she felt the same; “We put a lot of blood sweat and tears into this project that seeing how it’s being received by [everyone] is definitely worth it. It pays off.”
Finally, a question which could not be resisted. Who was Robyn’s favourite Mass Effect character? “Oh, that’s a tough one!” she laughed before continuing, “I’d have to say Liara. I think she is, especially for my Shepard, a really good grounding force. She helps to put things into perspective and I love going and visiting her on the Normandy in her office and just chatting with her.”
Mass Effect 3 will hit Australian shores on Thursday 8 March and will be available on PC, 360 and PS3.