If you like Mass Effect for its blockbuster bits—the explosions, the futuristic set pieces involving giant alien machines, the narrow escapes—this trailer is for you. It represents the Mass Effect 3 moments that might draw in the people who don't play role-playing games.
During my 30 minute long demonstration of Mass Effect 3 at E3 2011, I saw some of the quieter moments. I saw all of the above too: Shepard stabbing Cerberus soldiers with his holographic Omniblade melee weapon; Shepard facing an Atlas, the giant bipedal mech that will surely make some action sequences more exciting because you can control it; Shepard battling hordes of Reapers as they invade Earth.
I also saw some of the less trailer-suited moments. On Earth, I saw Shepard running through an embattled futuristic city being decimated by those colossal Reaper dropships. Amidst the chaos, Shepard spotted a young boy hiding in an air duct from Reapers. He tried to help, sympathetic but blank-faced as Mass Effect's characters can sometimes be.
"Let me help you.../Get out of there!" were Shepard's dialogue options, but regardless of the choice it was a touching moment that couldn't be resolved with a gun fight. The outcome of that interaction was about as emotionally engaging and/or heartbreaking as a Mass Effect story beat gets, so I won't spoil what becomes of Shepard and the boy.
Before that, I saw plenty of the third-person shooting that makes Mass Effect 3 feel even more combat and action-heavy than the last game. The demo started with Shepard fighting Reapers, engaging in an on-rails turret sequence, battling a massive robotic beast. Shepard calls in an orbital strike on the metal monstrosity that chases him in a nail-biting escape sequence. Explosions and violence abound.
I saw a more personal combat moment, with Shepard alternating between run-and-gun combat and cover-based stealth attacks. This was conflict on a smaller scale, with BioWare's Casey Hudson promising that a player's approach to that third-person combat can be tailored to their tastes.
Hudson showed us morsels of story, with Shepard caught between two warring factions on a rescue mission. He issued commands to squad mates Garrus and Liara, briefly showed us new Power uses and a new hand grenade—that's in the trailer too!—that Hudson says expands the combat experience and the role-playing aspects of this Mass Effect.
And we saw a customization Bench at which we could upgrade and modify Shepard's weapons through the game. Those mods will be collected and swapped in to suit a player's particular style, adding new layers to how every player's Shepard fights.
Still, it was the big set pieces that were memorable, perhaps the more enticing parts of Mass Effect 3 that will bring new fans to the series this late in the game. We wrapped with the most exciting one, with Commander Shepard on Earth, attempting to escape Earth while Reapers rained down upon the planet's surface, toppling buildings and laying waste to humanity.
Admiral Anderson and Shepard ran for the Normandy, aiding evacuees and battling the Reaper Cannibals you'll see, eyes a-glowing, in the trailer above. Shepard and Anderson sprint to their escape, sliding over cover, narrowly avoiding Reaper fire. Shepard makes it to the Normandy, his crew waiting for his arrival. Anderson, however, stays behind, sending Shepard to rally forces from "every species" to bring every fleet to defeat the Reaper invasion, just after reinstating his command.
Then we fade to black as Shepard looks out upon the city and its people, weighty choices ahead of him.
It was a captivating moment, a cliffhanger of a presentation, more exciting for me than sci-fi rock music and explosive storytelling of an 80 second trailer. Fortunately, it appears Mass Effect 3 has both of what draws us into its universe.
We'll revisit it next year, when Mass Effect 3 comes to the PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360 on March 6, 2012.