Impressions on the Mass Effect 3 Demo – Get a Taste of the Sci-Fi Action!

Sci-fi shooter/RPG fans start getting excited, as the demo for Mass Effect 3 is now out!  With both single and multiplayer features, it is a wonderful preview (if not a bit of a tease) for what we can expect from the full release.  I will try keeping the spoilers to a minimum, to give you the best experience possible when you play, but I make no promises!  If you’re sticking with me then grab your weapon of choice, strap into your N7 armor, and get ready to fight for the lost!

The demo opens on our hero, Commander Shepard, who has been removed from active duty due to his actions during Mass Effect 2’s Arrival DLC.  He is visited by Lieutenant Vega, a new squad member, who informs him that the Alliance Council wishes to speak with him. Shortly after, he runs into Admiral Anderson, who explains that something big is coming from space.  Shepard knows this can mean only one thing: Reaper invasion.

The entire discussion with Anderson takes place en-route to the hearing room. It’s very clear from just the first few minutes of the single player portion that Bioware has made conversations much more cinematic.  While in other Mass Effect titles communication between characters looked fairly static, stiff, and somewhat boring, the third title has characters moving about more naturally and freely.    Characters move like actual people and interact with the environment more realistically, making them more believable and relatable.

Eventually, Shepard and Anderson make it to the Council Chambers.  After a brief conversation, the fecal matter hits the fan and a full blown Reaper assault is unleashed upon Earth.  Needing to get to the SR-2 Normandy fast, they head out a broken window and make their way through the destroyed city.  Here, players finally take full control of Shepard as they fight their way through the Reaper’s Husks, finally coming to a place suitable for holding out against the enemy.  Players will need to fight off countless enemies until the Normandy arrives, taking them into space to seek outside help.

Fast forward and Shepard has reunited with old friends: Wrex, Liara, Mordin, and Garrus.  They have been tasked with saving a fertile female Krogan from Salarian captivity.  However, things turn ugly when Cerberus (now working with the Reapers for an unknown reason) shows up to crash the party.  After helping Mordin move the female through various check points for transport, players will come to the demo’s final fight against a giant Atlas mech-suit.  This boss battle will be a challenge, but good use of cover and powers will see the player victorious, thus ending the single player portion of the demo.

For the most part, combat hasn’t changed much from ME2, with only small additions here and there to augment gameplay.  The first thing I noticed (since I was looking for it) was the ability to re-map your class-specific power.  Instead of it being permanently stuck to a single button, it can be swapped out for a better skill.  This is sure to make players who use multiple abilities happy.

Also added to ME3 are physical abilities.  Dependant upon Shepard’s class, he will have various new melee attacks.  Short combos can now be preformed with multiple key presses, and a power attack may be done by holding down a button.  These can range from single blade stabs, multi-blade slashes, and even a powerful biotic blast.  Players can also do combat rolls to avoid fire and dive into cover, making the game play even more like an outright shooter.

Do not fear though, as ME3 still features various RPG elements.  The talent tree now acts more like a combo between the first and second games.  As powers reach certain levels, players may decide how they evolve that skill.  Take the biotic Throw ability, for example.  Once it’s powerful enough, the player can choose to either give it a higher impact force, better recharge times, or more advanced things like throwing two blasts at once!

To add to the improved talent tree is weapon customization.  In previous titles, a player’s weapon of choice was limited to what class they picked.  That idea has been thrown out the window.  Now, players can use any weapon but are limited in how much weight they can carry, with certain classes able to carry more than others.  Each weapon can also be equipped with various interchangeable upgrades, such as sights, improved barrels, and extra ammo packs.  Overall, it’s very clear that Bioware is serious about bringing the Mass Effect series back to its RPG roots without sacrificing intense shooter gameplay.

Whoever said that Kinect would never have a place in core gaming will be eating their words come March, as ME3 makes brilliant use of the motion controller’s voice features.  The sensor has various uses, from issuing tactical orders to squad mates to simply saying the power you wish to use.  Players may even select their conversation choices by reading them out loud.  This makes for one of the most immersive game experiences I’ve ever played, and I cannot wait to see more on full release!

So far, the demo has shown us that ME3 is shaping up to be an amazing and awe-inspiring adventure.  There is a slight cause for concern, however, and that is the visuals.  Where animation is spot-on, textures still have a long way to go.  Many still appear pixilated, looking fairly unfinished.  This mainly appears in clothing or armor, and while it’s free of popping, it still seems to need a degree of polish.  Fingers, claws, and paws crossed that these can receive some extra care before release.

On to the topic of much debate: multiplayer.  Many fans of the Mass Effect series have responded negatively to Bioware’s choice to slap this game mode in, claiming it as a cash-grab or stating it will take away from the main story.  After playing the demo, I personally believe this is not the case.  Not only did the single player portion show that ME3 is looking to deliver a bigger and better experience, but the multiplayer is an absolute riot to play, with only small issues.

Upon first starting up, players will be asked to create a character.  Each of the six classes from the main game can be selected for multiplayer, with four different races  and various skills per class.  This is where some issues will come into play.  While each class in single player has access to all of their abilities, multiplayer classes/races are limited to only three skills.  The amount of power customization is going to be a big issue for players on launch date, especially to those who rely on their abilities more than guns.

Once you pick a class, it’s time to color your armor, give yourself a name, and pick your weapons.  Players may pick two different guns, which can be augmented the same way they can be in single player.  When you find yourself ready, it’s time to jump in!

So, how does it play? Simple answer: much like single player.  All the controls and mechanics you use as Shepard are available in multiplayer, in a setting similar to that of Gears of War’s Horde Mode.  Players will be tasked with fighting off wave after wave of enemies until defeating the last foe and standing victorious.  Secondary objectives will also appear during specific waves, such as hacking computer drives for important info or killing certain high-value targets.  This mode is an amazing amount of fun, and if players just give it a chance, I’m sure it will add hours upon hours of extended gameplay to ME3.

Well, there you have it.  With only some texture issues to dishearten you, the Mass Effect 3 demo is sure to get your hearts pounding in excitement.  The final chapter in Shepard’s saga looks to be the best one yet, with more RPG mechanics, improved gameplay, and a storyline to pull at our heartstrings.  The demo is available now on all systems, and Mass Effect 3 launches on March 6 in North America and on March 9 in Euroope.  Sit tight for a full review around release…if I can pull myself away from it!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play it some more.  Cerberus and the Reapers won’t shoot themselves!

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February 14, 2012 - 8:30 am