Mass Effect 3 Wish List

by Matt Miller on Feb 25, 2010 at 05:55 AM

Mass Effect 2 kept a fantastic storyline moving forward and introduced a bevy of entertaining new features. As much as we love BioWare’s sequel, we still have some suggestion for things we want to see improved in the third installment. After playing through the latest entry in the sci-fi space opera, we’ve compiled a list of our top desires for part three.

Meaningful Exploration
Both Mass Effect 1 and 2 included extensive exploration components, presenting a full galaxy of planets and star systems that held huge appeal to gamers. Unfortunately, neither game has delivered fully on the promise. The first game included landing and exploration aboard the Mako, but there was rarely anything of great interest on the surface of the many planets. Mass Effect 2 swept away the planetside exploration, but replaced it with orbital mining – the most boring and frustrating aspect of the game.

We’d love to see an expansion of exploration elements in Mass Effect 3, capitalizing on the anomalies that showed up in Mass Effect 2. These occasional short missions were a delightful side trek from the main storyline. We’d enjoy seeing more of them, with more variety in what players can do on each planet. Neither the Mako concept or the mining feature needs to be totally removed; it’s the repetition of those features – and the frequency of totally empty or uninteresting planets – that hurts the experience. Combine the previous planetary exploration elements, add a few more varieties, and players will adore this element of gameplay.

Perhaps some planets require a diplomatic conversation with one of its political leaders. In orbit above another planet, players could be attacked by opposing ships, and a rudimentary ship battle system could be implemented (which would also showcase the Normandy’s coolness). Some planets might have ancient alien ruins to explore. Without a doubt, including a wealth of interesting content on so many planets would be extremely time-intensive for BioWare, but the reward to players could pay dividends.

Enhanced Relationships
The Mass Effect franchise has helped to set the bar for meaningful character interaction and relationships, but there is still room to grow.

Shepard has been able to develop some amazing conversations, friendships, and romances with his or her fellow party members, but it’s easy to feel like those relationships occur in a vacuum. It’s rare that we get a sense of how the different characters interact with each other.

Mass Effect 2 included a few short scenes that fleshed out the antagonism or working relationships between your crew members, but it’s a feature we’d like to see much more of. How does Jack get along with Grunt? Does Garrus have a friendship with Tali after all they’ve been through together? Providing these cues would go a long way to making the party feel more like a genuine group, rather than a number of individuals (living alone in their own isolated sections of the ship) who all happen to have a connection to your main character. Additional cinematic scenes can deliver on this goal, but simple overheard conversations between the characters during a mission would help as well – something BioWare’s other recent RPG, Dragon Age: Origins – handled very well. In the same way, there’s no reason why main party members couldn’t move between areas of the ship to converse with each other. Few things would make the Normandy sections come alive more than if you could walk in on two characters in the midst of an intense argument or intimate conversation.

BioWare has also explored the challenging arena of romance between Shepard and any number of his or her teammates. In Mass Effect 3, we’d like to see increased follow-through on the romances from the previous games. Few elements of Mass Effect 2’s story were more jarring and deflating than Liara’s curt dismissal of Shepard, especially for players who had spent time in the first game developing the romantic angle of that relationship. We’d love to see Mass Effect 3 allow for continuing relationships with any of the many romance options from the first and second games. More than that, some variety in how those romances play out would be a welcome shift. Han Solo and Leia didn’t suddenly have a romantic connection in the final moments of Return of the Jedi. Yet Shepard seems incapable of following through on his or her romances until the final act of the first two Mass Effect games. For the romantic connection to feel real and tangible, it needs to be explored throughout the storyline, not just in the seconds before the final mission.

A Break From Formula
There are few gamers out there who would take issue with the immersive and engaging storylines of BioWare games like Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic, but it’s hard not to feel like the developer’s RPGs are tied a little too tightly to a formulaic structure.

The static intro sequence branches into several far-flung locations. You choose which of these locations to visit first. At each, you further solidify your power base and gather party members, then tackle a final static mission.

Mass Effect 2’s loyalty missions and multiple central story missions were a step in the right direction. However, Mass Effect 3 should offer a less stratified structure to keep players on their toes. Perhaps one character requires a designated loyalty mission, but another becomes loyal only through certain conversation options. The option to control a different character during that short sequence in Mass Effect 2 was a blast – more brief interludes with other playable characters could be a lot of fun. Even the option to play as one of the bad guys on a certain mission could be fascinating. Keeping the player on their toes with a broad variety of mission types increases the excitement of the unfolding story; you never know what is around the bend. We’d even enjoy entire mission lines that were dictated by earlier choices – take the Renegade option and you’d work with one organization for a sequence of missions, or take the Paragon option to travel down a completely different path.

If Mass Effect 3 could offer these sorts of genuine surprises in its narrative structure and story development, we’d love it even more than we do the earlier incarnations.

Strategic Combat
Combat in the Mass Effect franchise is fun, but can be simplistic. In Mass Effect 2, Shepard has a handful of weapons and ammo types to use in conjunction with limited control over AI companions. More meaningful strategic options would make the combat encounters more intense and satisfying, instead of just letting him or her bust into every room with guns blazing.

Mass Effect 3 should include a deeper leadership dynamic; Shepard’s choices about how his or her troops are deployed should allow for increased nuance in combat. More character abilities, increased party command options (like charges or flanking maneuvers), and a deeper reliance on support abilities from fellow party members would help to make combat more exciting, particularly on those challenging high-difficulty game replays.

In addition, the choice of party members for a given mission should carry more weight. The final mission of Mass Effect 2 offered a great model for this dynamic – choosing certain characters for certain tasks had a measurable impact on how the mission turned out. Seeing this level of depth throughout Mass Effect 3’s missions would be a revelation. Choosing which characters come along on a mission should be an important decision – some areas might only be accessible if you have that powerful biotic along. Perhaps a computer can only be hacked by your tech expert. A distant enemy sniper can only be eliminated if you’ve brought along a distance shooter of your own.

A Dynamic Character
We love how many choices govern the look and abilities of Shepard at the beginning of each Mass Effect game, but it’d be exciting to see more of these elements included throughout the game experience.

Players feel increasingly connected to a character who visually exhibits the results of their choices. The facial scars in Mass Effect 2 help to illustrate this approach. It’d be intriguing to see other choices made by Shepard have an equal effect on his or her appearance and personality. Armor damage from a particular explosion, tattoos acquired in a ritual alien ceremony, or haunted and tired eyes after a particularly trying mission – these elements could help to reinforce the consequences of big in-game decisions.

Similar sentiments could improve the character skill progression in Mass Effect 3. By the end of the second game, most players had nearly maxed out their main character’s skill options, and even those of many of the fellow party members. By adding more skills, and branching trees that demand you choose between different character abilities, players could feel increased ownership of their own character – your version of Shepard could have a dramatically different set of abilities from that of your friend, even if you were both playing as the Soldier class.

The Big Conclusion
Mass Effect 3 should complete the story of Commander Shepard and the Reaper threat. After two great games teasing the threat of the extra-galactic giant machine ships, it’s time for Shepard and friends to draw a line in the sand and save the galaxy. We’re hopeful that in the process we get to see some new parts of the galaxy, and perhaps make first contact with a new alien species not yet on the radar of the Citadel Council. We want to see the return of the main party members from both games, whether they are playable or not, and know what ends up happening to all of them. And, at the end of the day, we want Shepard to make one final decision that decides the fate of the galaxy.

How about you? What features do you think would make Mass Effect 3 even better than the first two installments?