Returning characters will also receive some extra development, says BioWare.
BioWare's Casey Hudson says that Mass Effect 3 will see the return of plenty of familiar faces, but the number of characters that the player will be able to take into the field with him or her will be much smaller than in Mass Effect 2.
The player had the choice of between eleven and thirteen different team mates in Mass Effect 2, depending on whether he or she had access to the Cerberus Network, and whether they bought the Kasumi - Stolen Memory DLC. Hudson said that BioWare now felt like this was a little bit too much, and was trimming that number down. He didn't say exactly how big the squad pool would be, however, just that the focus would be on deeper and more interesting interactions.
Despite the smaller squad, you won't have to worry about missing your favorite former squad mate, as Hudson said that every main character from the previous games would make an appearance in ME3, provided they survive the previous games. These characters might not be exactly as players remember them though, as they will have grown and changed in the time between games.
Art director Derek Watts used the example of Jack, who he said had matured and softened a little since Mass Effect 2. "You can only stay punk rock for so long, you know," he said. "Even Johnny Rotten eventually goes, 'I've got to do something different.' She'd get tired of walking around completely naked and she'd probably grow her hair out, but she's still Jack and still kinda punk - shaved at the sides with a pony tail at the back." Watts also pre-empted fears that characters would get really radical makeovers, saying that it was the same people redesigning the characters as had designed them in the first place.
This seems to be another example of BioWare refining existing features for Mass Effect 3 rather than adding new ones. The studio has already said that it is tweaking the combat and streamlining the role-playing elements to focus on the ones that were really important, and now it's paring down the squad to make it more interesting. Depending on your point of view, this is either a dumbing down or a distillation of what Mass Effect is all about, but considering how good the last two games have been, the latter seems a lot more likely.
Mass Effect 3 is scheduled for release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 early next year.