Mass Effect 3's combat was used to convey narrative themes and emotions throughout the game's story, BioWare senior designer Dave Feltham said during a recent GDC Panel.
"Emotional Journey: BioWare's Methods to Bring Narrative into Levels" covered the emotional hallmarks of the series' final entry, including visual manipulation and character connections. While creating the game, designers discovered they could tailor every aspect of Mass Effect 3 to their narrative advantage.
"We know each section of our story and what emotions and things have to be done in those sections," Feltham said. "We utilize some things that were part of Mass Effect and Mass Effect levels and actually brought those in to help support the narrative, the first one being combat. What we found is that we can actually use the combat to express the themes in the narrative."
According to Feltham, when a fight is very easy, it gives the players confidence. Similarly, the type of enemies involved can also help convey a message. In Feltham's example, heavy mechs and turrets makes players feel as though they're "trying to be kept out."
"This actually helps convey the idea that this is a place of force working against you," Feltham said.
Mass Effect 3's designer wanted to push characters toward several reactions, but overall their goal was to make the player feel something.
"We wanted to put the player through emotional turmoil," Feltham said. "At the end, we wanted them to say, 'my god, what did I just go through? That was a gut punch.'"