BioWare, makers of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series, will be releasing Mass Effect this winter as the first of a trilogy. BioWare wants to establish a brand-new science fiction intellectual property set on a grand scale. I had the opportunity to speak with the lead programmer and have him take us through a good bit of actual game footage.
The main center of the universe is a city called The Citadel; the main hero bases out of this city as the only human Specter – a very select group that is charged with defending the universe against threats as it sees fit. This character is fully customizable in both skills and actions, even to the point that the character's background can be changed before beginning gameplay which will, in turn, affect the storyline. Additionally, Commander Shepherd also has two companions that can be chosen from a larger pool; these will also affect the storyline.
One of the biggest selling points of Mass Effect was its usage of conversation branches. Similar in style, but bigger in scope, to the recent The Bard's Tale game, each conversation branch will represent a different scale of emotion, from threatening to pleading. The conversation is designed to be completely fluid, so much so that it's much more natural than the stilted dialog seen in many RPGs.
Humans are new to the galactic stage in Mass Effect, and aliens are still trying to decide the exact measure of man. As one of the most unusual representatives of humanity, Shepherd's actions will be closely monitored, and aliens will adjust their reactions based on current and previous decisions. Mass Effect (an Xbox 360 exclusive) is designed to take full advantage of high definition video in expressing emotions, not only of humans but of aliens.
The combat system is unusual in that it combines an FPS style with tactical RPG elements. BioWare is being careful to make sure that it won't be completely twitch based, and that strategy will be involved. As a point, players can actually pause combat at any point to evaluate the situation. While paused, the player can also order their comrades into different positions (ie, flank the enemy) and direct attacks that will be carried out when the game is unpaused. Also note: grenades are thrown frisbee style.
BioWare hopes to have additional downloadable content, though details were not available. Given the amount of customization (every weapon and armor can be modded) and level of exploration (think Star Control 2), Mass Effect should contain a fair amount of gameplay. While still in the early stages, Mass Effect looks like a title to keep your eye on.