Mass Effect 3 first hands-on preview

As wowed as we were by the Mass Effect 3 demo at E3 last month, no hands-off demonstration can substitute for actual hands-on time with the game. That's why we were excited to hear that BioWare and EA decided to give Comic-Con attendees the very first hands-on time with Mass Effect 3. The demo was brief, but gave us a good feel for some of the major changes to the final installment in the series.

Our play session began with choosing Shepard's class (soldier, adept and sentinel were the three options available) and distributing skill points to our squad. At first glance the level-up system looks the same as Mass Effect 2's system, but we soon saw that it's much deeper than before, with branching skill trees within each stat.

When you add a point to a particular stat, a sub-menu pops up where you can further choose what direction you want that stat to take, starting at the fourth level of each stat. For example, adding a point to combat mastery might let you choose between an offensive or defensive boost on one level, and on the next level you might choose between a boost to special ammo damage or weapon power damage. And for biotic powers, would you rather have increased damage or quicker recharge times? Because each new level is an either/or choice, you can't just max everything out – you must decide how each character will take shape and what his or her specialties will be.

With class and stats out of the way, we began the mission in earnest, which was the same mission we saw in the E3 demo where Shepard must protect a female krogan that Mordin is escorting in some kind of medical pod. Liara and Garrus joined Shepard as squadmates, but disappointingly, Liara only had a little flavor dialogue during the mission, and Garrus had none at all. I asked about Garrus after the demo and I was assured that he would have plenty to say later, so not to worry – but it was still a letdown not to hear him say anything.

As waves of Cerberus agents attacked, the most obvious difference in the combat is the new cover system, which was difficult to get used to because we're so familiar with the old controls. In short, it feels very Gears of War. Hitting the A button near cover makes you take cover as usual, but when you're away from cover pressing A makes Shepard do a dodge roll in the direction you point the analog stick. The rolling animation looks bizarre at first, because we've never seen Shepard move like that before, and it looks especially weird when you roll him toward the camera to dodge backwards. It doesn't look bad, just really different compared to how Shepard moves in the previous two games.

Also like Gears, when you're behind cover, you can use the analog stick to bring up arrows on screen that allow you to jump from cover to cover by hitting A. This proved particularly useful when we had to quickly flank a couple of Cerberus agents with riot shields so we could attack them from their vulnerable sides. By the end of the demo we were still adapting to the differences in the cover system, so it's still hard to say whether the Gears-style will be an upgrade or a downgrade overall, but so far it seems to work well for navigating combat zones quickly and stealthily.

Speaking of gunplay, we also got a good look at the improved return of weapons customization. Instead of accessing weapon upgrades through Shepard's inventory, you can select up to two add-ons to any weapon at the weapons load-out locker, which was located within the level during the demo, but we assume there will also be a weapons locker on the Normandy too. Upgrades seem to work like they did in the first Mass Effect, but the interface for choosing upgrades is much easier to use. The menu here gives you a remarkably physical sense of the gun itself, as if you were really looking at a gun on a table with the upgrades laid out before you. You can see what each upgrade actually looks like on the gun and see how it affects the stats of the gun all on the same screen.

Other than the changes to the cover system and the addition of the omniblade melee weapon (which honestly, we didn't get a chance to use much here), the rest of the mission played out like a typical mission from Mass Effect 1 or 2, where we progressed through the base to find Mordin. It almost felt a little like the Archangel mission from ME2, because the hull integrity of the krogan's medical pod decreased over time, shown by a health bar at the bottom of the screen, so we had to move quickly to reach it in time.

Right as we reached Mordin and the krogan, a giant Atlas walker mech appeared out of nowhere and the demo suddenly ended, much to our dismay. We can only assume that a boss battle with said humongous mech followed, but we'll have to wait until another time to find out. Like the E3 demo, our hands-on time at Comic-Con just left us wanting to see and play more, so we hope to have more opportunities to play Mass Effect 3 before it releases in March of next year. Expect more details as soon as we see more.

Jul 23, 2011




  • Psychorabb1t - August 4, 2011 12:02 a.m.

    I will be getting this game, oh ya!!!
  • EZIO - July 30, 2011 11:21 p.m.

    trust me this game in all its series is awesome and deserve to be played over and over thanks to the developer in bioware and EA those guys are the best and a cut above I hope they develop after Mass Effect 3 a game that is shocking as its sister and of-course thanks to Games Radar you are the best
  • SierraAlphaMike119 - July 25, 2011 11:29 p.m.

    Going to be the perfect conclusion to an epic trilogy.
  • clubsandwich - July 25, 2011 10:29 p.m.

    god I have such a love/hate relationship with this series. Honestly, I thought the Mako (though underdeveloped and a little barren) was the best part of ME1 so what do I know. I love the characters. I love the world. I detest the ps1 era level design and the ho-hum combat. I literally stopped playing both me1 and me2 (which I still haven't finished) because the combat is such a chore to me. Like it's a little fun using powers, but both Psi-ops and Second Sight did it better. It's weird to me that this is such a huge franchise when The Witcher is not (which admittedly has it's own combat issues). I guess because theres just nothing else like it.
  • overlorduk - July 25, 2011 5:43 p.m.

    This time I hope they are a bit more imaginative with the level design than the same old narrow corridors with the same crates conveniently arranged as cover letting you know there is another (very short and easy) shootout coming up. ME1 was not so bad in this regard but ME2 was.
  • JimmyDugan - July 25, 2011 4:30 p.m.

    I just hope that the controls for keyboard and mouse are as smooth for this as they were for the previous one. looking forward to more mobility for sure.
  • sternparez - July 24, 2011 9:38 p.m.

    I thought the cover system in ME2 was fine to be honest, it was quite satisfying doing the sprint then taking cover all at once.
  • cubine - July 24, 2011 8:07 p.m.

    that branching levels thing actually reminds me a little bit of cthulhu saves the world. nice.
  • batmanboy11 - July 24, 2011 6:19 p.m.

    Cool. Too bad it's not out 'til March
  • jackthemenace - July 24, 2011 5:18 p.m.

    OH THANK JESUS. So, most of the RPG elements are a LOT more like the first one? Phew. That's a massive load off my mind, the second's were abysmal. And a Cover system near-identical to gears? This game sounds better and Better. Can't wait for a playable demo over XBLA/PSN or, failing that, the actual game to come out.
  • Tispower - July 24, 2011 4:46 p.m.

    You could specialise powers in ME2, how is that different?
  • WelcomeGhosts10 - July 24, 2011 4:15 p.m.

    Seriously excited about this, glad we finally got to read a hands on with the game.
  • Yeager1122 - July 24, 2011 2:40 p.m.

    Still sounds amazing to me cannot wait for this to come out already i dont want to read previews anymore i just want to play it!
  • ReaperBR - July 24, 2011 2:31 p.m.

    Spaceship fights would be reaaaaaaaally nice don`t you think? I mean, I kinda bonded with Normandy and I really wished we could drive her into battles and stuff.
  • ElGuybrush - July 24, 2011 8:27 a.m.

    I might get this on gamefly, but the first mass effect was a system - purchase worthy title for me. Because they're streamlining it and I just don't really like it. There's plenty of cover shooters around, quit dumbing down the rpgs.
  • avantguardian - July 24, 2011 8:04 a.m.

    GAME.OF.THE.YEAR. (well, next year...)
  • HaVoK308 - July 24, 2011 5:50 a.m.

    I liked everything I read. Sounds like they are blending the upgrade features of ME1 and ME2 which is a good compromise in my opinion. The Gears of War style cover system is a plus for me since I play the Hell outa that franchise. Bioware seems to be saying and doing all the right things regarding Mass Effect 3. My confidence continues to grow...yes it does.
  • soren7550 - July 24, 2011 5:10 a.m.

    As much as I hate you guys for being able to play the ME3 demo, I just can't help but drool over the new screens and with the info I gained, both what was stated in the article and what wasn't.
  • quincytheodore - July 24, 2011 4:24 a.m.

    You'd think ME3 hands-on would get more attention, but no... people are on freebie one... Yeah, this is envy speaking, for I can't get them.
  • bron1417 - July 24, 2011 1:40 a.m.

    @Clovin yea bro i know my boy Garrus will have plenty more to say about everyone's favorite thing, calibrations. and also i do hope they fix the AI as well. it is painful to watch that happening i agree.

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