|This article is about the combat mechanics of Mass Effect 3. For other uses, see Combat (disambiguation).|
Single-player Combat in Mass Effect 3 involves a squad consisting of the player character and usually two non-player character ("NPC") allies weapons in tandem with biotic, tech, and other abilities to defeat enemies and complete missions, enabling the player and allies to improve in power and advance the story. Mass Effect 3 maintains most of the general gameplay systems and mechanics established in the previous game, but with increased dynamism and a faster pace overall. Mass Effect 3 is also the first game in the Mass Effect series to introduce a multiplayer game mode.
The player is quicker and more agile than in Mass Effect 2, and there is less emphasis on sticking to cover at all costs. Indeed, with the return of grenades that many enemies can now use as well as the player, leaving cover is often a necessity; luckily, there are some acrobatic ways to navigate cover and terrain. Cover can even be used to ambush attackers, pulling them in and finishing them with melee attacks far more vicious than in any previous game.
The player and allies are still protected in battle by health and recharging shields and can wear armor for additional protection. Various types of other equipment can be found or purchased, including upgrades and research that can be used to modify weapons, armor, or player attributes directly. There is a vastly expanded variety of new weapons to choose from and even fewer restrictions on who can use them; this is fortunate, as enemies in Mass Effect 3 also come in an array of dangerous forms, some possessing unearthly toughness and truly deadly abilities, requiring players to have a good grasp of their adversaries' strengths and weaknesses to survive.
Finally, along with bigger guns and stronger punches, the ability system in Mass Effect 3 also has greater variety, most notably with the newly introduced technique of combining two different powers in sequence to produce devastating combo explosions.
Legendary Edition: Some of the gameplay mechanics in Mass Effect 3 work differently in Mass Effect Legendary Edition. On gameplay-oriented pages, Legendary Edition changes are usually marked with an orange notation.
Mass Effect 3 Controls
Controls are mostly retained from Mass Effect 2 regardless of platform, but with some significant improvements in behavior.
- Fatigue is now removed; the player can sprint indefinitely as long as the button for sprinting is held.
- Run speed is significantly faster compared to in Mass Effect 2, and unlike in the previous game Shepard can change directions and make fairly tight turns by strafing, though there is a minimum turning radius.
- General player acceleration is noticeably faster than in the previous game (sprinting or otherwise), giving play a much less sluggish feel.
- On PC, sprinting is still the SPACEBAR key, and is now shared with a wide variety of context-sensitive cues (see below).
2. Combat rolls
- Shepard can now perform a variety of acrobatic actions by tapping the shared action button (also SPACEBAR on PC) while holding a directional button, depending on context. "Combat rolls" are effective at avoiding enemy attacks of all types when timed properly.
- If on open ground, combat rolls can be performed in any direction desired, on PC by tapping SPACEBAR while moving in said direction, or quickly release-tapping spacebar if dive-rolling forward while sprinting in that direction is the intention. Note that the ease of doing this has a tendency to cause unintentional combat rolls even among experienced players.
- See also: #Cover and Damage Reduction
- Getting into cover can be done in three different ways: moving into it and tapping the shared action button, combat-rolling to dive into it, or by sprinting into it. Sprinting has a general tendency to "stick" the player to nearby cover, intentionally or otherwise.
- Shepard can dart from one piece of cover to nearby but separate pieces of cover, also known as a "swat turn."
- A variation allowing turns around the edges and corners of the same piece of cover while remaining crouched is now possible. On PC, a MIDDLE CLICK must be performed if on the edge of an L-shaped cover feature (i.e. a corner).
- Shepard can vault or slide over low obstacles or cover, on the PC by double-tapping SPACEBAR; or, if already in the act of running, quickly releasing and hitting the sprint key again for a smooth slide over terrain with almost no loss of momentum.
- Shepard can now jump over most shorter gaps automatically by performing a "running jump" (holding SPACEBAR on PC). This can only be performed while moving forward.
- Shepard can traverse ladders simply by moving onto them, automatically climbing up or quickly sliding down to whichever elevation a ladder's end point is (stopping on a ladder is not possible). Note that many humanoid enemy types are also capable of traversing ladders. It's possible to avoid sliding down a shorter ladder by orienting perpendicular to it and then strafing or combat dodging across the top of the ladder sideways, which saves a little time by immediately dropping off the ledge rather than pausing to mount the ladder.
Enemy combat "rolls": Many enemy types, mostly of the bipedal or humanoid variety (e.g. Marauders and most Cerberus/geth basic infantry), are also able to perform combat rolls or analogous evasion moves that enable them to dodge weapon fire and most powers that fire a tracking projectile. There are several techniques to nullify these evasions, one being to stun or "stagger" enemies in some way to forestall the moves.
Hold the RB (on Xbox 360), Shift (by default on PC), R2 (PS3), or R (Wii U) to bring up the power wheel. This pauses the game, and allows you to access all the available powers that you and your teammates have at their disposal. Powers capable of usage are orange, powers in cooldown are greyed out, with a visual aid to show how close they are to cooling down, and powers currently ineffective are red with a down arrow on them. From the power wheel you can choose to use up to three powers (one per teammate, and one for you), and when you exit the power wheel, you and your teammates will use the selected powers.
The Heads Up Display, or HUD, shows all the vital information needed during combat. The HUD shows the targeting reticule, which gun you are using, how much ammunition you have left (in the clip and in reserve), and your quickslots. It also shows which teammates are in your present squad while indicating their status (by means of colors), and the status of Shepard's shields and health. Moreover, when Shepard uses a power, a small pair of faint-red semicircles will begin moving from the left and right toward the center of the screen (see the HUD screenshot). When these semicircles meet at the center, Shepard's powers have cooled down, indicating that the player can use a power again.
If an enemy is within a certain range and in Shepard's present field of vision, a special indicator will appear in the HUD telling you the type of enemy and indicating the status of its health and any protections it may have.
- Main article: Powers (Mass Effect 3)
- Main article: Power Combos
- Main article: Grenades
- Main article: Weapons
Every class now has access to all weapons, although restricted by weight (see below). They can be upgraded up to the X (10) series. The first five upgrades are available in the Normandy Shuttle Bay on a character's first ME3 playthrough. The last five upgrades must be acquired by using the Import ME3 Character option when creating a New Game. This will carry all weapons, upgrade levels, and mod levels over, and allow you to purchase two additional upgrade levels in the Normandy. Picking up the weapon once more during the second playthrough will automatically upgrade the weapon by three levels. Spectre Office-only and DLC-only weapons will have all ten levels available for purchase on the Normandy (Legendary Edition: or at the Spectre Office at the Embassies).
Shepard can equip all five weapon types at once if desired. Squad Members are restricted to two weapon types (for example, Garrus can equip Sniper Rifles and Assault Rifles, Liara SMGs and Pistols). Multiplayer characters can equip any weapon type, but only up to two at a time. As in the previous game, clinging to cover grants an accuracy bonus to almost all weapons, especially sniper rifles, and firing sniper rifles "from the hip" (not scoped) severely penalizes not only their accuracy but damage as well.
Weapons can be customized further in a manner similar to Mass Effect, although more streamlined using Weapon Mods. Each weapon has two slots for mods, with every weapon type having a different variety of mods that can be equipped once acquired. Each mod can be upgraded in a similar fashion to the weapons themselves and used in as many weapons as desired. Some mods exclude each other.
Common types of mods include scopes (higher accuracy), barrel extensions (higher damage), ammo capacity upgrades (either a larger magazine or more total ammo depending on the weapon type), melee combat enhancements and piercing mods (allowing shots to penetrate cover). Other mods are only available for some weapon types, such as the Concentration Mod for Sniper Rifles.
Unlike in Mass Effect 2, players cannot carry Heavy Weapons in single-player. However, they can be found in some places to help out with difficult fights. If the player switches weapons, the heavy weapon is automatically dropped and cannot be carried far from where it was found, especially not between missions. In a few situations, special weapons that could be considered heavy weapons are available and Shepard will automatically equip them for those segments.
In Multiplayer, the only heavy weapon available is the Cobra Missile Launcher, of which every character carries a limited supply of into each mission (up to six). Because of these limitations, heavy weapons cannot be modded and are unaffected by ammo powers.
Weapons Heat and Thermal Clips
Mass Effect 3 uses the same system as Mass Effect 2, where weapons fire a certain number of shots and then the current Thermal Clip must be ejected and a new one inserted. If you do not have any Thermal Clips for a specific weapon, then you cannot fire that weapon. Unlike in Mass Effect 2, there are more ways to increase reserve clip capacity and even increase the amount of rounds that a weapon can shoot before a replacement clip is needed through weapon mods. There are also ways of increasing reserve ammunition through Rank Evolutions in any ammo type, provided your character class has access to it. If you run out of spare clips, a loud beeping can be heard indicating the weapon has overheated, and cannot fire due to lack of thermal clips.
Like in Mass Effect 2, clips can be replenished by picking them up from downed enemies that use weapons that take clips, and in multiplayer, by visiting ammo boxes scattered around the map.
A few weapons use a heat system more like the Mass Effect system, recharging their "ammo" when they aren't being fired. However, they have no reserve clips and if depleted entirely, they have to be "reloaded" via lengthy cooling animation before they can fire again.
Unlike previous games in the series, any class can carry any weapon in Mass Effect 3 and use it with full effectiveness. Instead of limiting what kinds of weapons each class can carry, the game assigns a weight to each weapon, and imposes a weight capacity on the player. Each class can carry up to their weight capacity without penalty, with Soldiers possessing the highest capacity, and Adepts and Engineers the lowest.
Exceeding the weight capacity of the character will incur a penalty to powers' recharge speeds. Staying below the character's weight capacity provides a bonus to powers' recharge speeds of up to 200%, while vastly exceeding it may result in a penalty of up to -200%. The penalty is proportional to how far the player's weight capacity has been exceeded. Carrying below capacity greatly helps all power-reliant character builds, such as combo-chaining Engineers/Adepts and charge-spamming Vanguards.
Upgrading weapons also reduces the weapon's weight slightly, and it can be modified further with weapon mods—Ultralight Materials modifications decrease a weapon's weight, while some other mods increase a weapon's weight but have greater effects than standard mods.
In multiplayer, different classes have different default weights, and maximum weight capacities. Some classes also benefit more or less from their respective skill trees. For example, Alliance Training and Asari Justicar grant 10 weight capacity from rank 1 of said trees and 20 on rank 4 evolutions, whereas Turian Veteran grants 15 weight capacity with the first rank and 25 from the rank 4 evolution. Many classes also have a rank 6 evolution in their passive that decreases the weight of one, some, or all types of weapons by a certain amount. These weights have a significant impact on power recharge speeds.
While each character in multiplayer can equip two weapons, power-focused characters might prefer only having one (though it is possible to retain 200% and still equip a weapon or even two with Ultralight Materials mods).
In single-player, weight does not affect the power cooldown times of squadmates.
Melee combat in Mass Effect 3 is a more prominent gameplay element than in the previous two installments. As in Mass Effect 2, pressing a specific button will trigger a melee attack that strikes a nearby enemy with whatever weapon is to hand. Beyond just doing damage, melee hits are able to briefly stagger many infantry enemies, interrupting whatever they were doing. The standard attack can be chained together with subsequent presses of the melee button to perform a melee combo (see next section). Different weapon classes produce different melee attack animations.
"Reload cancelling," a trick where a well-timed melee attack can be used to cut short the long reload animations of certain weapons, returns from Mass Effect 2, though this can be executed in other ways besides using a melee, e.g. pressing the Action button. Also like in Mass Effect 2, melee attacks with pistols and SMGs provide the highest attack speed for regular melee attacks. A change from Mass Effect 2 is that all squadmates can perform melee attacks, though some are more effective in melee than others. Most standard enemy types in Mass Effect 3 are also now capable of performing melee attacks of their own, which on higher difficulties can cause major damage and stagger the player or squadmates.
Mass Effect 3 introduces a new form of melee, called "heavy melee". The attack is accessible by holding down the melee button. Heavy melee is significantly more powerful than a standard melee attack, and the animation shown varies depending on the player's class. During the melee animation, the player benefits from brief but significant resistance to damage, as well as immunity to certain staggering effects such as from some enemy melee hits.
If close enough to an enemy while having them in your crosshairs, you will effectively lock on to the target upon pressing the melee button, making the attack always connect even if the opponent moves (provided it doesn't move out of range entirely). Also, as mentioned above, melee combos can be entered by repeatedly tapping the melee button; however, if a particularly clean rhythm is maintained throughout, (i.e., a tap as soon as you start swinging each time) the third and final blow in the combo will be a heavy melee attack. Legendary Edition: Melee combos are bugged and do not work.
The base, unmodified damage of a regular melee attack is 150 for all six single-player classes and is not affected by the player's current level or by the type of protection hit. Heavy melee attacks vary in raw damage across player classes and depending on the protection type hit, and the heavy melees of some classes possess secondary effects, e.g. the Adept's heavy melee is significantly less damaging than the Soldier's, but it causes a powerful knockback against most unprotected foes (see below for full class-specific details).
Some classes can increase their melee damage by investing in various powers available to them, and all the single-player classes can select rank evolutions of the Fitness power that increase the damage of subsequent melee hits, weapon damage or power uses for a limited time after a heavy melee kill is achieved. As in Mass Effect 2, the player's melee damage and heavy melee damage can also be enhanced by equipping certain armor sets or pieces. In addition, many weapon types can now be modded to further enhance melee damage when the modified weapon is selected. Finally, the rank 6 Tech Vulnerability evolution of the Sabotage power increases the damage of tech-based heavy melee attacks; see the Player Notes section of the Sabotage page for details.
Single-player Damage Optimization
The following list details how each of the six classes can be customized to maximize melee damage in single-player mode:
Equipment Required: all single-player classes optimize melee damage with Ariake Technologies Armor (except head), Death Mask, Shotgun Blade Attachment V, Pistol Melee Stunner V, Assault Rifle Omni-Blade V (requires Mass Effect 3: Leviathan or Legendary Edition), or ideally the Shotgun Omni-Blade attachment (requires Mass Effect 3: Omega DLC or Legendary Edition).
- Heavy melee: produces an omni-blade from their omni-tool to stab enemies. Deals 600 unmodified damage, but 25% less damage to armor.
- Powers Required: Adrenaline Rush (Rank 5), Fortification (Rank 1, 3 and 4) and Fitness (Rank 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
- Maximum Damage Bonus: 462.5% (555% with Shotgun Omni-Blade)
- Heavy melee: produces a "forked" omni-blade with an electrical combat effect. Enemies staggered by the attack are disabled slightly longer than by the heavy melees of classes that have no disabling effect such as the Soldier's. Deals 600 unmodified damage, but 25% less damage to armor.
- Powers Required: Tactical Cloak (Rank 1, 4 and 5), Fortification (Rank 1, 3 and 4) and Fitness (Rank 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
- Maximum Damage Bonus: 575% (690% with Shotgun Omni-Blade)
- Heavy melee: produces dual omni-blades on both hands in an inward-to-outward swiping motion. Deals 600 unmodified damage, but 25% less damage to armor.
- Powers Required: Tech Armor (Rank 5), Fortification (Rank 1, 3 and 4) and Fitness (Rank 1, 3, 4 and 6).
- Maximum Damage Bonus: 343.75% (412.5% with Shotgun Omni-Blade)
- Heavy melee: a biotic punch that deals only 500 base damage, but it executes faster than other classes' equivalent save the Adept's. In addition, the Vanguard has a unique sprinting heavy melee attack, available in single-player only, that slams the ground accompanied by a brief time dilation. The standing attack affects one enemy, potentially knocking it down if unprotected; the sprinting ground punch deals damage in a small area that can knock down multiple unprotected enemies, but it does not penetrate cover. Both attacks deal 25% less damage to armor.
- Powers Required: Fortification (Rank 1, 3 and 4) and Fitness (Rank 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
- Maximum Damage Bonus: 381.25% (457.5% with Shotgun Omni-Blade).
- Heavy melee: blasts a wave of biotic energy forward with a palm strike. This attack deals only 250 damage baseline to enemy health, but gains a +50% damage boost against all forms of protection (shields, barriers, and armor) and is delivered relatively quickly, much like the Vanguard's. In addition, this attack damages in a small area, and can knock back multiple unprotected infantry enemies. One target, but no more than one, receives a significantly more forceful knockback and can be sent flying great distances if unprotected. The force of this knockback appears to increase in power from melee damage modifiers.
- Powers Required: Fortification (Rank 1, 3 and 4) and Fitness (Rank 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
- Maximum Damage Bonus: 400% (480% with Shotgun Omni-Blade) to their melee damage.
- Heavy melee: charges the omni-tool with an incendiary effect in a sweeping backfist attack. The incendiary effect does no additional damage but can ignite and panic certain organic enemies, even shielded ones; however, it is incapable of priming or detonating any power combos. Deals 600 unmodified damage but 25% less damage to armor.
- Powers Required: Fortification (Rank 1, 3 and 4) and Fitness (Rank 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
- Maximum Damage Bonus: 400% (480% with Shotgun Omni-Blade).
Mass Effect 3 also introduces a new form of melee called the "Grab" which involves pulling an enemy over from another side of cover and then stabbing, biotically punching, or physically punching them. While this attack is instantly fatal regardless of difficulty, health, shields, or barriers, it requires specific criteria: There must be an enemy close enough to the cover, the cover object must be low and not too wide, and the player must be crouching on the other side. NPC squadmates cannot perform grab kills.
Opportunities to grab are indicated when a fist symbol appears while crouching next to cover, and the attack can be triggered by tapping the melee button. Most enemies will move away or jump the cover fairly quickly when this opportunity occurs, unless they are unaware of the player. A grab can start but fail before the animation can complete if an enemy moves out of range or otherwise becomes an invalid target; in that situation the player can sometimes stand up and perform a regular melee or heavy melee animation in the direction of the intended target.
During the grab animation sequence, the player is briefly invulnerable to damage; incoming fire, detonating grenades, etc. will not damage the player and the player's shields/barriers may even begin to recharge during the short lull in any damage the player may be experiencing.
Keep in mind that this tactic does not work against every enemy. Enemies with armor bars cannot be grabbed (including Geth Pyros as of Patch 4 and armored enemies new to the game with Mass Effect 3: Retaliation). Minor enemies like Swarmers, Seeker Swarms, Seeker Plagues, Combat Drones, Turrets, and Geth Turrets are likewise excluded. Finally, Phantoms cannot be grabbed.
Enemies that are frozen in the correct place for a grab by Stasis cannot be grabbed. No fist symbol will appear until the stasis effect wears off.
Several powerful enemy types are able to perform unique, animated attacks against players and NPC squad members in melee range. These attacks are similar to the grabs performed by the player, though there is no terrain or cover requirement to them. Sync kills are also referred to as "instant kills", "finishing moves", and sometimes "executions", though they are distinct from the execution moves that many enemy types, even basic ones, can perform against downed players in multiplayer. Like player-executed grabs, "sync kills" are almost guaranteed to instantly kill their target if the attack completes, disregarding almost any type of damage resistance or protection including the shield and health gates. Enemies that can sync kill the player thus reach a higher level of threat than most others and must be respected at close range.
The following enemies can perform sync kills on all difficulty levels except for Narrative in single-player: Banshees, Brutes, Atlas mechs, Phantoms, Scions, and Praetorians. Enemies are more likely to perform sync kills on higher difficulties.
Avoiding sync kills generally means staying out of melee range; most sync kills can only be initiated after the enemy attempts to perform a regular melee attack (this attack does not need to complete). As the kill animation also requires both parties to be at the same level of elevation, standing above or below (not beside) an enemy on inclined terrain works reasonably well for protection. Well-timed combat rolls or dodge moves are also effective.
The victim of a sync kill can survive in one of the following ways:
- The enemy performing the attack is killed before the fatal portion.
- The enemy is hit by an attack forceful enough to dislodge it before the fatal portion (e.g. a Biotic Explosion). Not every attack that visibly staggers an enemy will work.
- The enemy performing the attack takes severe damage in a short period, stunning it and interrupting the animation before the fatal moment.
- In multiplayer, the player can utilize the temporary invulnerability granted by an Ops Pack to survive certain faster sync kill animations.
- The temporary invulnerability provided by the Shield Boost power can save allied team members if used with proper timing.
- If the victim of a sync kill is downed by damage from other sources before the lethal part of the attack, they can be revived as normal afterwards.
The Geth Juggernaut Soldier multiplayer class is immune to sync kills.
In multiplayer, sync-killed players can't return to combat until the end of a wave. A player caught in a sync kill animation when the timer hits zero on the final wave will not extract successfully, even if they survive and are standing in the landing zone. During single-player combat, sync-killed NPC squadmates can't be revived by the player at their bodies but only through using medi-gel via the First Aid power.
Health, Armor, Shields, and Barriers
- See also: Medi-gel
Unlike in Mass Effect 2 where Shepard's health bar was a continuous meter, Shepard's health bar in Mass Effect 3 is split into 5 segments. Rather than being able to fully regenerate your entire health bar, only the health of one partially depleted segment can be regenerated automatically if damaged; activating the First Aid power will use medi-gel to replenish further segments.
There is a Health Gate effect which prevents you from being killed by a single powerful shot if not down to your last health segment yet (see below). Both health and shields can be increased through the Fitness power and various upgrades and armor pieces. Note that NPC squad members have health but don't have the the "segments" Shepard does, and as in Mass Effect 2 they will regenerate both health and shields after not taking damage for a certain period. Unlike with Unity in Mass Effect 2, First Aid does not use the shared cooldown of other powers and can be "spammed" in emergencies, though it never restores shields to the player or living squadmates.
Represented by a red bar, health is the most basic status indicator of lower-tiered enemies (higher troops such as Ravagers and Atlases possess armor in place of health), as well as Shepard and the squad. Several enemy types, such as Cannibals and Assault Troopers, only possess health and no other inherent defences.
Most enemies cannot regenerate health. Cannibals can, however, after gaining armor plating from Marauders or by consuming other fallen enemies. Their regeneration can be easily halted by several ammunition types and powers, e.g. Incendiary Ammo, Warp, and Cryo Blast.
Visibility of an enemy's health bar means the enemy is more vulnerable to the effects of powers like Throw, Pull and Shockwave, which will otherwise be of little use against defences. Exposed health also allows an enemy to be frozen (as opposed to simply "chilled") by powers like Cryo Blast and Cryo Ammo, or stunned/panicked by powers such as Overload and Incinerate (although note that several enemies are immune to panicking). Certain ammo powers such as Warp Ammo and Armor-Piercing Ammo produce a weapon-damage bonus against health.
Note that the effects of powers on health can differ depending on whether the enemy is organic or synthetic. For example, Energy Drain will replenish shields when used against synthetic health, but not organic, though it will stun both enemies.
- Main article: Armor
- See also: Armor Customization (Mass Effect 3), Equipment Guide (Mass Effect 3)#Armor, Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer/Character Customization/Equipment, Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer/Character Customization/Gear
Represented by a yellow bar, armor is a common form of protection used by enemies. It replaces the health bar on most heavier enemies, making them immune to being fully affected by control-type powers such as Pull or Stasis.
- Narrative/Casual/Normal/Bronze: -15 damage
- Hardcore/Silver: -30 damage
- Insanity/Gold and Platinum: -50 damage
As such, armor is best countered by weapons that fire single powerful rounds as opposed to numerous weak ones, especially on higher difficulties. Therefore, against any armored opponent, it is advisable that selected individuals have either a powerful Heavy Pistol or Sniper Rifle. Although Shotguns can do lots of damage per blast, each blast typically consists of 8 (weaker) pellets, and each pellet will suffer armor's damage reduction; thus for the typical shotgun (including the M-300 Claymore), even a direct hit on an armored target will lose up to 400 damage on the highest difficulties. Heavy Pistols, which are typically semi-automatic and fire large bullets, may be less effective at taking down armor than sniper rifles but more effective at it than most Shotguns, Assault Rifles, and Submachine Guns (for example, an unmodified M-8 Avenger assault rifle—which deals up to 48 damage per shot—will be reduced to the minimum damage on the highest difficulties).
Equipping your weapons with either High-Velocity, Shredder, or Piercing Weapon Mods mitigates the damage reduction provided by armor, thus effectively increasing the damage of every bullet. These mods help shotguns and rapid firing weapons deal with armored targets. Note that "projectile" weapons are a general exception to the foregoing, since they ignore armor's damage reduction completely (e.g., the Graal Spike Thrower, the Scorpion, and the Acolyte).
Armor can also be countered by a variety of powers, particularly those with armor weakening effects. Combat powers are probably the least effective with the exceptions of Adrenaline Rush and Proximity Mine. As for tech powers, although many are unremarkable against armor, among the best are Incinerate, Flamer, and Carnage, since these not only deal extra damage to armor, but can prime the target for a fire explosion (which itself deals extra damage to armor). There are also Cryo Blast and Snap Freeze, which mitigate the damage reduction enemy armor provides. Offensive biotic powers are very effective against armor, since most deal extra damage to it (exceptions include Biotic Charge), as do all biotic explosions. Warp also inherently "weakens" armor (i.e. mitigates armor's damage reduction), and has an advanced evolution to weaken it even more. As for ammo types, Incendiary Ammo, Warp Ammo, Cryo Ammo, and Armor-Piercing Ammo are all effective against armor, though in different ways. Many powers also have evolutions which can further increase the damage they do to armor.
All armor-weakening effects function by reducing the damage reduction by the stated percentage. E.g. -50% armor effectiveness would reduce the damage reduction on platinum from -50 to -25. Finally, multiple distinct sources of armor-weakening stack additively, meaning it is possible to completely negate an enemy's damage mitigation.
It's worth noting that at least in single-player, Shepard's normal melee attacks are not affected by armor damage penalties and do their full damage, though somewhat counter-intuitively, the same is not true of most heavy melee attacks which do suffer penalties. An exception is the heavy melee of the single-player Adept class, which actually deals bonus damage to armor and other protections (see above section).
Represented by a blue bar, shields are the most common form of protection, found on enemies, Shepard, and many squad members alike. Shields tend to be strongest against biotic powers (in some cases, enemies cannot be affected by biotics until their shields are removed; in some other cases, biotics deal less damage to shields).
Despite frequent wording in-game, shields are no more vulnerable to fast-firing weapons than slow-firing ones (unlike armor, which does impact weapons of varying rates of fire differently). However, some weapons do have special bonuses against shields (e.g. the M-358 Talon). A fast-firing weapon is less likely to be severely impacted by an enemy's shield gate effect though, due to less of the damage being front-loaded in a single, slow shot that can cancelled out by the gate. Above all, most shotguns are least harmed by shield gate (See Shield/Health Gate here).
The shields of Shepard and NPC squadmates both recharge noticeably faster than they did in Mass Effect 2, and the recharge rate as well as raw shield strength can be further enhanced by some of Shepard's powers, a few bonus powers, and some squadmate powers; armor sets and pieces; and intel terminal upgrades. Enemy shields will replenish themselves if the enemy equipped with them is not attacked for a period of time.
Represented by a purple bar, barriers are used by biotics as a replacement for shields. New to Mass Effect 3, shield-stripping tech powers are now very effective against barriers. Tech powers like Overload and Energy Drain, along with biotic powers Reave, Warp, and Dark Channel, can do massive damage to them. Concussive Shot can also be effective.
Like shields, despite much of the in-game text, barriers are no more vulnerable to fast-firing weapons than slow-firing ones. The slight exception to this is that fast-firing (and thus low damage per shot) weapons are less likely to be severely negatively impacted by an enemy's shield gate. Similar to the case of Shields, shotguns are usually the least impeded by Barriers' shield-gate effect.
Enemy barriers will replenish themselves if the enemy equipped with them is not attacked for a period of time.
One of the less common types of defense, armored plating is a physical barrier of material covering certain areas of select enemies such as Brutes, Praetorians, and Atlases. Scab-like armor plates also cover the bodies of Husks and Cannibals that have been upgraded by Marauders. Rather than being represented by a colored bar or any other HUD indicator, armored plating is just visible on the physical model of the enemy.
Standard weapon rounds hitting armored plating will produce a distinct metallic impact sound, but deal no damage whatsoever to the plated target. Instead, continuing to shoot the piece of plating will eventually cause it to be destroyed, exposing that part of the target. Armor plates tend to especially hamper powerful but slow-firing weapons such as many sniper rifles, the N7 Paladin pistol, or the M-99 Saber, especially when enemy heads (or equivalent weak points) are covered.
The most obvious way of dealing with an armor-plated enemy is to hit it in areas the plates don't cover. Also, all non-weapon sources of damage such as melee attacks, most powers including grenades, and power combos ignore armored plating. Furthermore, some attacks will cause at least a portion of their damage even when impacting armored plating:
- Shots from the Black Widow, M-98 Widow, Javelin, N7 Crusader, Executioner Pistol, and N7 Typhoon as their shots have penetration ability by default. If these weapons are not equipped with piercing weapon mods or enhanced by Armor-Piercing Ammo, there is no damage penalty for shooting through plating or any other obstruction.
- Weapons that fire explosive or non-traditional rounds such as the M-37 Falcon, Adas Anti-Synthetic Rifle, Scorpion, or Venom Shotgun suffer no damage penalty at all (either from plating or normal armor protection) as long as the explosions from the shots impact a part of the enemy not protected by plating. Hitting a plated area flush with an explosive projectile can sometimes result in the damage being blocked.
- Any shots fired under the effects of Armor-Piercing Ammo or Drill Rounds/Armor-Piercing Rounds (multiplayer only); Armor-Piercing Ammo-enhanced rounds will suffer a damage penalty for shooting through plating or any other obstruction.
- Any shots fired from a weapon equipped with High-Velocity, Piercing or Shredder mods. Firing through plating or any other obstruction with these mods will result in a damage penalty.
Shield gate is a mechanic introduced in Mass Effect 3. When an enemy's shields or barriers are destroyed by a non-melee weapon hit, excess damage from the shot that passes through to health or armor is reduced by a certain percentage according to the difficulty. The reductions are as follows:
- Normal/Bronze: 50%
- Hardcore/Silver/Gold/Platinum: 75%
- Insanity: 100%
For weapons that fire multiple pellets, such as most shotguns or the M-358 Talon, the shield gate will apply to the pellet that destroyed the shields/barriers, but the rest of the pellets will cause full damage.
Shepard and player characters in multiplayer receive a slightly different version of the gate effect on both their shield/barrier and health. Instead of a reduction in the "excess" damage that would have bypassed barrier/shield, players gain a temporary immunity to any damage once their shields/barrier is depleted ("shield gate") or they hit 5% remaining health ("health gate"). This invulnerability is dependent on difficulty and lasts as follows:
- Narrative: 1.0 seconds
- Casual: .75 seconds
- Normal/Bronze: .5 seconds
- Hardcore/Silver: .25 seconds
- Insanity/Gold: .1 seconds
- Platinum: .01 seconds
There is a further "cooldown" on each of the gate effects to prevent players from being invulnerable too often (as would be otherwise possible on low difficulties with low shield regen delays thanks to powers and gear). The shield gate has a cooldown of 4 seconds and the health gate has a cooldown of 3 seconds.
As an example: a player playing multiplayer on Bronze difficulty is being attacked by a Phantom at range. The player gets hit by a shot from her palm blaster, which does more damage than the player has shields. The player is brought down to 0 shields, but shield gate kicks in and nullifies the rest of the damage. Another shot hits the player within .5 seconds, but the damage is cancelled out. The shield gate wears off after the half-second, and the player uses an Ops Pack to regenerate all of their shields. Another shot from the palm blaster hits the player, but this time the shield gate effect is on cooldown, so the player loses all of their shield and some of their health. Another shot hits the player and brings them to 5% health, at which point health gate kicks in and nullifies any further damage. After half a second, a missile hits the player—this time there are no further gate protections to the player and the player dies from the hit.
There are a few types of attacks that completely bypass all gate effects and can instantly kill the player from full health/barrier/shield:
- Any sync kill attack from powerful enemies like the Banshee or Phantom.
- Any enemy grenades.
- Explosions from Possessed Abominations.
In single-player, allied squadmates do not benefit from shield or health gate invulnerability as the player does. Weakened or fragile squadmates can be instantly downed by powerful enemy attacks such as the shots from Cerberus Nemesis snipers.
Cover and Damage Reduction
Various powers and effects (such as Fortification or Barrier) may bestow "damage reduction." All such sources of damage reduction stack additively (as opposed to multiplicatively), so for example a character girded with Fortification standing inside a Biotic Sphere would get 80% total damage reduction (40% from Fortification + 40% from Biotic Sphere). This has a ramification that each point of damage reduction actually bestows increasing returns.
However, the full effect of the damage reduction is only applied when your character is physically "attached" to some form of cover. If your character is simply running around or standing (even if standing behind an obstacle), then your actual damage reduction is ~71.2% (10/14th) of its base total value, which means that in order to achieve "complete" damage reduction requires a gross total of 140%, not 100%.
Moreover, if your character is hiding behind cover, you have an additional 90% damage reduction against attacks that come from in a cone in front of you, where "front" refers to a direction relative to the camera view, not your character's physical orientation (which may be facing towards the camera when hiding behind cover). In other words, this bonus damage reduction does not apply to shots or attacks that hit you from the side or from "behind" the camera. However, if your character leans out to do anything (such as blind-firing or using a power), then this bonus damage reduction rapidly drops to 0% over the course of .5 to 1 second. If your character "detaches" from cover, this bonus damage reduction disappears instantly. Note that in many cases you may not actually notice this bonus damage reduction since by definition of being behind cover, most attacks that come from a frontal cone will hit the cover and not you.
As in the rest of the Mass Effect trilogy, the squad in Mass Effect 3 is made up of Commander Shepard and two NPCs who the player can select at the beginning of a mission. These NPCs may become available at certain points throughout the game, or may have to be unlocked by downloading DLC. In addition, after certain plot events, certain members may become unavailable. In some missions, the squad can be reduced to two members (Shepard and one NPC) or just Shepard alone. In Mass Effect 3, there are fewer squadmates than in Mass Effect 2, and like in the original Mass Effect, most are available early on in the story.
Choosing a Squad
Generally, a player should look to pick two NPCs whose strengths balance out Shepard's class weaknesses. For example, an Adept (Biotic specialist) might choose Ashley (Combat specialist) and Tali (Tech specialist) in order to compensate for weaknesses in those areas, enabling the squad as a whole to defeat any type of enemy. However, if it is known that the player is only going to be fighting the geth, a player might choose to have both Tali (Tech specialist) and Garrus (Tech/Combat), as a Tech heavy party might be more effective against geth than a traditionally 'balanced' team.
Here are a few other gameplay considerations when choosing a squad:
- Weapons in general play a more prominent role compared to the previous two games:
- This is particularly true on higher difficulties where enemy health and toughness can outstrip the ability of powers to significantly damage them, especially many dangerous elite enemy types that can be encountered in most missions.
- Shepard's shields and those of allies recharge significantly faster enabling more popping out from cover to shoot.
- There are now many more unique weapon types than in the previous two games, Weapon Mods similar to those in the first game return, and many weapons now possess devastating properties such as cover penetration or bonus damage to certain enemy defenses. The weapon classes are also more differentiated in terms of power level, with assault rifles, sniper rifles, and shotguns generally packing more punch than the lighter SMGs and pistols.
- While Shepard can equip any combination of the five available weapon classes while squadmates are limited to two weapon types, squadmates can ignore the power recharge penalties Shepard incurs for carrying very heavy weapon loadouts, making heavily armed squadmates with rifles and shotguns a huge asset in most missions.
- As a general rule though, squadmates that can carry more powerful weapon types have slower power recharge times than more power-oriented squad members that can only carry light weapon types.
- By no means do powers play no role in Mass Effect 3. The introduction of power combos that can cause massive damage to groups of enemies makes squadmate selection very important in terms of what combos can be performed and how often. Shepard's class and bonus power also factor in. For example, a biotic-heavy squad is needed to perform biotic combos; if Shepard is a class with no biotic abilities normally but trains a biotic power as a bonus power, Shepard can then help to generate these combos. To coordinate combos most effectively, automatic squad power use should be turned off or limited to defensive powers only.
- Squadmates and Shepard all possess passive class powers that can be evolved to benefit the entire squad in various ways, such as buffing squad health or increasing power recharge speed.
Aside from purely strategic, gameplay-oriented considerations, story immersion is an equally valid way to choose a squad. Since Mass Effect 3 features more involved dialogue and interactions between squad members during missions than the previous games, it is perfectly reasonable to select squad members more for their contributions to the narrative than for their combat skills. This may put players at a disadvantage from a strictly gameplay perspective, though this can be viewed as a welcome challenge by forcing the player to adopt more creative tactics with a "non-optimal" squad. Another unique feature of Mass Effect 3 compared to the previous games in the trilogy is that actually taking certain characters on missions can influence their post-mission dialogue if spoken to on the Normandy. In rare instances, notably during the missions associated with Mass Effect 3: Citadel, overheard dialogue can vary depending on how "favored" a certain character is, i.e., how many times they have been chosen to accompany Shepard on missions.
There are five difficulty settings in Mass Effect 3's single-player mode:
This difficulty level is intended for players who are more interested in story than combat. Shepard and squadmates are stronger, weapons are easier to handle, and enemies are weaker and less aggressive. Narrative is a nonrepresentative Mass Effect 3 combat experience.
This difficulty is intended for players inexperienced with shooters. Shepard is stronger and does more damage, weapons are easier to handle, and enemies are slightly weaker and less aggressive.
This difficulty is intended for players with experience playing shooters and RPGs. This is the baseline Mass Effect 3 combat experience.
This difficulty level is intended for players looking for a challenge. Enemies are powerful and aggressive. Advanced gameplay skills required.
This difficulty level is intended for players seeking the ultimate challenge. Enemies are tenacious, react quickly, have heavily upgraded weapons, and use their powers mercilessly.
- In Narrative difficulty, enemies normally able to perform instant kill attacks ("sync kills") do not use them. Enemies are most likely to perform sync kills on higher difficulties.
- Enemies that can use grenades use them more often on higher difficulties.
- On Insanity difficulty, medi-gel is less effective when used under fire.
- Damaged enemy shields and barriers have a shorter delay before recharging and recharge to a higher proportion of their maximum strength as difficulty level increases.
- Enemy shield gates grow more effective as difficulty level increases, while player shield and health gates grow less effective.
- Enemies that take aim before firing such as Cerberus Nemesis snipers take less time to line up shots as difficulty level increases.
- Off: Powers must be manually activated and evolved in the Mission Computer's Squad screen each time Shepard or a squadmate gains a level and earns points.
- Squad Only: Powers are automatically activated and evolved for squadmates as they gain levels and earn points. Shepard's powers must be manually assigned in the Mission Computer's Squad screen.
- Squad & Player: Powers are automatically activated and evolved for Shepard and squadmates as they gain levels and earn points.
Squadmate Power Use:
- On: Squadmates will automatically use their most effective powers in combat.
- Off: Squadmates will only use defensive and ammo powers automatically. All offensive powers must be manually ordered.
- On: In-game instructions and directions are displayed.
- Off: In-game instructions and directions are not displayed.
- On: Displays indicators when an action like exiting cover is possible.
- Off: Does not display indicators when an action like exiting cover is possible.
- Going from 0% to 5% damage reduction, for example, is a simple 5% reduction in incoming damage (a theoretical 100 to 95). Going from 75% to 80% damage, however, is a whopping 20% reduction in incoming damage (a theoretical 25 to 20).