Mass Effect 3: Getting a handle on what’s new, and what you need to know

Mass Effect 3, what you need to know

Mass Effect 3 was released this week (check out our review) and, given the popularity of the series, chances are pretty high that you’re playing it, or soon will be. The changes in moving from ME2 to ME3 are much more subtle than the evolution was from the first game to the second one, but they have a pretty dramatic impact on how you approach your play.

Aside from the purely functional tweaks that Ryan covered in his review (see the link above), there are some wholesale changes made to various game systems. Learning how all the new things work is very much a “pick it up as you play” process, with little in the way of tutorials or explanations forced on the player. While that certainly makes for a more seamless gameplay experience, we thought it might be helpful to break some of this down for you in a handy little guide. This handy little guide.

Functional Differences

This is probably the most minor change of them all, and also the most easily overlooked. Console gamers can press the Back/Select button — on an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controller, respectively — at any non-combat moment to trigger a quicksave. It’s not a feature you typically see in console games, and ME3 is actually pretty good on its own about autosaves. That said, the addition of a dedicated quicksave button is absolutely a welcome one that console folks should definitely be sure to take advantage of.

There’s also a quirk that Xbox 360 players specifically ought to keep in mind. Mass Effect 3 is a two-disc game on Microsoft’s console. If you don’t install either disc or just install one of them, you will frequently be asked to swap discs when moving between certain locations. If you install both discs, that disc-swap requirement goes away mostly (you mjay need to change discs at the end based on the choices you have made). You’ll still need to have one of the two discs in the drive of course, but you won’t have to keep changing them.

Welcome Back

A lot of people are probably coming into ME3 after having beaten at least the second game, if not both of them. Those people will be importing the Commander Shepard they built up previously. ME3 adds a few cool quirks that weren’t in evidence when you imported an old character into ME2.

mass effect 3 getting a handle on whats new and what you need to know me3

For starters, the load screen features a small window where you can see a list of the major decisions that your Shepard made over the course of either one or both games. I won’t give any examples here due to spoilers, but you probably have an idea what this means if you played through those games. The decisions you’ve made have a profound impact on some of the key story points in ME3.

In addition, imported characters start out at whatever level you left off at when your endgame save was created, and any squadmates you pick up in ME3 will be similarly leveled, and you will have dozens of skill points. You’ll still have to assign your points (or auto-assign them, if you so choose), but it’s a big help to start with that added ability boost rather than having to claw your way up from nothing again. Those who don’t import are stuck with a level one character.

Streamlined Sidequesting

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the Citadel is once again one of the key social hubs in Mass Effect 3. You’ll get plenty of secondary missions assigned to you aboard the Normandy, both from your commanding officers and your shipmates, but you’ll also get a bunch of basic fetch-based sidequests on the Citadel. Most of these are very simple “I need Object X that is hidden away somewhere in Location Y.”

To cut down on the amount of time you spend dipping in and out of dialogue sequences, BioWare streamlined the way you receive these sidequests. Simply walk around the Citadel and you’ll overhear people talking about all sorts of things. Pause long enough near one of these speakers and your quest log will automatically be updated with the task. You’ll have to return to that person and interact with him or her to hand the quest in, but even that amounts to an in-game, non-cutscene dialogue exchange. Press the button, watch a few lines of dialogue pop up on the screen as you continue to move around freely, then check out the sweet rewards you get.

mass effect 3 getting a handle on whats new and what you need to know

The tradeoff to this is that you’ll want to keep an eye on your journal. The sidequest pop-up alerts are clear enough, but ME3 is a very large and very busy game. It’s easy to overlook these. However, since most of these fetch quests deal with ME3‘s new solar system scanning mechanic (the replacement for ME2‘s mining), you’ll often find quest items before you even receive the sidequest in question if you’re diligent about such things.

Spinning the Gears of War

Gathering War Assets is a huge part of ME3 as you prepare to repel the Reaper invasion of Earth. Some of these assets come naturally as you complete story-related missions and secondary N7 missions. Others you’ll need to actively go out and find by scanning the various solar systems you visit.

There’s a catch though: most of the systems you visit are under Reaper control. You can see it right on the galaxy map; the sector’s circle is colored red and a large Reaper icon sits in the middle of it. To perform a scan, you press the left trigger on your controller while you’re flying around inside a solar system. If you happen to be in Reaper-controlled space and scan too frequently — say more than three or four times, if that — it will bring enemy forces in to pursue you. If they converge on the Normandy before you can escape the system, either via Mass Relay or flying outside the solar system’s borders, it’s game over.

The trick with scanning is to use your scanner sparingly and smartly. There are two general kinds of objects of interest that can be picked up. The less essential points of interest are free-floating in the system and not connected with any specific planet or the like. You’ll usually get fuel, sometimes credits, when you investigate these. Planets, moons and asteroids, on the other hand, are where you’ll find actual War Assets.

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Since your scanner only scans the area around your ship, try to use it in the midst of a group of planets to maximize your chances of finding a War Asset on one of them. Also note that while you’re in orbit around a planet, any Reapers pursuing you are paused. What this means is that it’s entirely possible to fly around in circles, scanning at your leisure until you find stuff.

The Reapers will eventually catch up, but it’s easy enough to keep dipping in and out of the solar system. They’ll still be on alert when you come back, but their positions reset to the fringes of the system. In most cases, this gives you ample time to go into orbit around an object of interest, gather your War Asset and get away before they can catch you.

Managing Your Weapons And Upgrades

The inventory system in ME3 is an odd — and awesome — mixture of what you saw in the first two games. There are multiple versions of each weapon class, and you’ll find or be able to buy new ones frequently. All of the different types of weapons within each class feel distinct from one another, much like they did in ME2, only there’s a much wider variety. The idea of weapon upgrades is also back from ME1, but they’re presented in a much more intuitive way than the first game’s frequently overcrowded inventory screen.

The way it works is that any time you pick up a new upgrade, it becomes a permanent fixture in your load out inventory for all weapons of that class. Finding or buying the same upgrade type a second time automatically improves the quality of the mod. For example, if you have Assault Rifle Scope III and you find another Assault Rifle Scope during a mission, it automatically becomes Assault Rifle Scope IV for any weapon you equip it on.

Typically, the only way to swap your weapons’ loadout is on the Normandy before you set out for a mission, or at one of the rarely discovered Weapon Benches that pop up during missions. There’s a third possibility, however. Whenever you find a new gun during a mission, you’re given the option of going to your gear screen and swapping your loadout around. However, you won’t be able to change the mods up unless you’re at a work bench or at the pre-mission loadout screen.

How the multiplayer changes the single-player

There has been a fair amount of confusion over how the multiplayer actually affects the single player campaign, leading some to believe that the only way to get the “best” ending (which includes an additional scene regarldess of whether you played the paragon or renegade side of things) is to also exhaustively play the multiplayer.  That’s not necessarily true, although there is a connection between the two.  

mass effect 3 getting a handle on whats new and what you need to know me3 war assetsDuring the campaign, aboard the Normandy Shepard can access the Galactic readiness chart, a display that shows the percent to which the galaxy is ready to fight off the Reapers.  On one side of the display is a map of the galaxy broken into various quadrants, each containing a percentage–assuming you are connected online, otherwise it will just say that it cannot connect. This map is a representation of the multiplayer results. The more you play online, the higher the percentage–which begins at 50-percent. This has led people to believe that the galaxy needs to show 100-percent in all quadrants, or at least rate high enough that the map turns green to signify that the quadrant in question is holding it own. 

Next to the galactic readiness is a list of war assets, ranging from collected items to other races you have persuaded to stand with you. Here’s the rub: the multiplayer simply adds to the war asset list, and the asset list accumulates points you need to get the best possible ending. If you want the best possible ending on a single play through, you will need to make every correct choice in regards to adding to the war assets. It is possible, but it won’t be easy. Alternatively, you can play through twice using a the New Game+ option to get the extra scene much more easily.

Under the war assets is a bar that tells you the “Effective Military Strength,” and it is assigned a score value. The minimum number you need to reach for the best ending is 5,000.  The multiplayer adds to this bar, but it is just one of many things that helps fill it out. The only real correlation is that it helps to raise the bar faster, and the percentage of galactic readiness you reach online acts as a multiplier to the EMS score. Playing the multiplayer–a lot–does mean you have a better shot at the best possible finale, but there are enough war assets to reach it without ever going online.  

Raising a multiplayer character to level 20 and “promoting” them, also sends that character into the campaign as a war asset, but then again, buying fish and models in your second playthrough does too. It is simply a statistical thing though, and you do not need to play online to gain enough war assets. But it helps.

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