Mass Effect 3 is easily one of the most anticipated games this year, and considering it’s only February, that’s saying something. Luckily it’s only a few short weeks away and anyone with an internet connection can grab a little piece of the game with the recently released demo. I’ve played through it multiple times and I’m here to share my impressions. Obviously thar’ be spoilers ahead for the first 30 minutes or so of the game and an entire level later in the game as well as general details from the first two games. Not earth shaking stuff mind you, but if you want to remain unaware of any of the game’s plot you might want to cover your eyes.
The Mass Effect 3 demo opens with the standard character creation from the last couple of games. You’ll pick a background profile, gender, appearance, class, and even what characters might have survived the last couple of games. Of course in the final experience most fans will have a Mass Effect 2 game save ready to go so you’ll load all your decisions from that, however it’s a nice touch for people who’ve never experienced the game before. Another advantage of having the quick character creator at the beginning is a chance to try out some different classes without having to replay several games worth of data.
The one new addition to the opening process is the ability to pick one of three playstyles. In a attempt to attract all types of gamers to Mass Effect they’ve added three modes to choose from in addition to difficulty. Action will highlight the firefights while automatically choosing responses for you during conversations and playing the entire thing as a cinematic cut scene. Story is for those among us who want to get all the RPG story goodness with a very light casual battle difficulty and smaller fights. RPG Mode is the mode that is our standard Mass Effect flavor with selectable responses and a normal difficulty, this is the mode that I choose.
The first thing you’ll notice, even at the creation screen, is that Mass Effect 3′s graphics are fantastic. I just replayed both Mass Effect 1 as well as 2 and can confirm that the game is prettier. There are sharper lines to the characters and everything just looks more defined. After deciding just who your Shepard is you’ll be dropped into his or her shoes, which just happen to be planted in a military base on Earth. Following the events of Mass Effect 2 the Earth is preparing itself for an attack from the Reapers, a race of sentient, half-organic space ships. So what you might ask? Well just one of those ships took the combined mass of a human fleet as well as the defenses of the Citadel to destroy. Just imagine how much trouble we would be in if all of them attacked. Those are exactly the conditions your faced with during the opening moments, as the attack takes place a lot sooner then expected. After a brief cutscene with a few instances that you can choose responses you and Admiral Anderson are sent off to try and get help.
A basic tutorial shows off Mass Effect 3′s new and improved mobility. Now you can sprint, jump small gaps, climb ladders and roll in battle. Cover is a little more intuitive as is jumping over said cover. If you hit a cover spot in full run you’ll automatically slide over it. All of these are welcome additions that make your Shepard feel less stiff and give the action a little more flavor. Of course it isn’t long until you’ll run into a new enemy type that seem like beefed up husks. You’ll make short work of them, but while you do you might notice that the sound effects for the weapons are changed a bit and, in my opinion, much better.
If your a biotic you’ll also notice that the graphical effects on your warp is more prominent and makes it look appropriately more dangerous. Making your way to the extraction you’ll also get to see the new heavy melee in effect, which is a unique melee move individual to all the classes. In the case of the adept I used he’ll use a powerful biotic palm strike to throw enemies away from him. The move didn’t seem extremely useful to me, as Adept is a long range class, but I could see it being valuable to someone like a Vanguard.
There isn’t much story here, it’s more of a showcase of the new abilities in Mass Effect, however during your desperate escape you’ll run into a child that is scared and hiding in the vents. You can encourage the child or yell at him with the requisite Paragon and Renegade choices, but either way he’ll leave you. As you escape from Earth to go and get help from the Council you’ll see dropships coming in to rescue civilians. You’ll see the boy get on the ship as it lifts off and breathe a sigh of relief…moments before it’s blown from the sky. Even though I’d heard about this before it was still impactful due to the way the music swells with a somber tone and the emotion on Shepard’s face. Children aren’t often killed in video games and it also makes you even more resolute to complete your mission.
At this point your launched into another mission somewhere later in the game. Once starting the mission you’ll be level 13 and you can get a taste of leveling your abilities as well as getting to play with the more powerful stuff a bit. Leveling abilities has also evolved in the third iteration. Instead of the previous splitting of abilities into one of two abilities with different effects, after three points in the ability you’ll be able to choose between two choices at each additional point placed in the skill. For instance you’ll choose to make your warp ability more powerful or make it have a shorter downtime. The next time you level you don’t have to continue down that path though you can switch and make the next level increase the area of impact or maybe give your power combining explosion a boost. I can see this making just about every character unique as you can further customize each and every ability.
The mission itself revolves around rescuing a female Krogan from a scientific facility. There isn’t a great amount of detail you get as to the who/where/why of this and actually I’m grateful for that as it means I get to experience it for myself when the game comes out with more context. I feel Bioware choose the mission as it gives you a smattering of familiar faces such as Wrex, Liara, Garrus and even Moradin; pretty much the fan favorites of the other games. As you make your way through the area your main baddies will be Cerberus, the human biased entity you worked for in the last game. It’s unclear why they want the female Krogan, but as you fight them you’ll see a few new tricks.
Cerberus engineers will now have the ability, as will engineer player characters, to build turrets on the battlefield. If your character has high enough AI hacking she or he will be able to hack enemy turrets and take control of them turning them on your Cerberus opponents. It’s another welcome addition to strategy on the battlefield and sure to make engineers just a bit more popular. While bypassing doors on this level you might notice the mini game has been completely removed, instead you’re just treated to a small animation of your omni tool hacking the door. I don’t miss the mini game but it addresses my one nagging concern with the demo.
The entire experience seemed focused on battle and making battle more accessible and visceral. While I’m all for a robust combat system I was a little worried with my time during the demo. I understand that it’s a specific cross section of the game to hopefully gain new players, but I only saw a handful of arbitrary choices to make during dialog and nothing expanding on lore. I’m not too worried though as I assume that Bioware knows who butters their bread and that the deepness in dialog trees will be there during the game, it’s just not something you’ll see during your time with the demo. Honestly this was almost expected, as the demo has a little bit of time to make a big impression and it’s aimed squarely at the few people who may not usually dig RPG’s.
That being said I can’t be more excited to get my hands on the final product and bring over my choices to the game. Truly that is where the Mass Effect series shine, making the entire experience uniquely yours. Obviously the demo can’t show that, but after my hands on with the demo I can assure you that the final product is likely to fulfill expectations as long as story hasn’t taken a backseat to combat.
Of course you can try it out for yourself now and even Xbox Silver users don’t have an excuse not to download the trial. EA knows this game will be huge and is hoping to nab some more purchases by including Xbox Gold for a limited duration to anyone who downloads the demo. For those with internet that haven’t paid Microsoft for their service are likely to be happy about the offer.
As an aside to the fellow Kingdoms of Amalur players out there by playing the game you’ll unlock the Omni Daggers for your KoA game save. I wasn’t sure I had unlocked it myself as, unlike the Kingdoms of Amalur demo, there is no notice telling you that you’ve unlocked anything. The demo simply ends with a release date on display for the game. I went into my KoA game shortly after and confirmed that, yes indeed, my Omni daggers are in the special deliveries box though if your further then a couple hours in they will be useless.
Play the demo and get ready to take back Earth come March 6th in the US, March 8 for our friends in Australia, March 9th for Europe and March 15th for Japan.