Mass Effect 3 Single Player Demo Impressions

The Mass Effect 3 demo was released this week and it finally gave gamers a chance to see how Mass Effect 3 plays in comparison to the previous two games. Many people have also gotten a chance to check out the multiplayer through EA’s early access program, but I have not, so I won’t be discussing it. Mass Effect 3 is the epic conclusion to Bioware’s massively popular space opera. It is one of the biggest releases of the year and by far the biggest release during the March rush this year. A lot of eyes are on the company to ensure that all of the loose ends of the first two games get tied up, as Mass Effect’s major hook has been that the decisions the player has made in the first two games will be important in this one. Mass Effect 3 is a very ambitious title. The demo takes the player through the opening of the game and then puts them in a later mission. There may be minor demo spoilers, but the demo hardly spoils much of the plot anyway. I’ll mark the spoiler section when I get to it for those not wanted to learn any demo plot details.

It’s like that song “It’s raining men”, but instead of men it’s spaceship debris

The demo allows players to choose three types of game to play from the offset: Action, Role Playing, and Story. Action removes role playing options, Story makes combat laughably easy, and Role Playing seems to not restrict the player at all. It isn’t clear if these distinctions were made for the demo, so a player can simply jump into the world, or if they will make it into the main game in someway. There isn’t much outside of action sequences in the demo, so putting an easy and normal mode would have been more than enough, and it is a little weird that Bioware bothered with these distinctions. In reality it doesn’t make much sense to have anything other than the Role Playing mode and simply having a difficulty slider, which is what I would assume would be in the main game. Ignoring the reasons behind this odd system, it works quite well, allowing people to jump right in with the Action mode, while allowing people with poor gameplay skills to enjoy the story with the Story mode. I still don’t see the point, but it isn’t poorly implemented.

Action mode: Why would you want to make choices in a Mass Effect game?

The character models are as wonky as they have ever been, but there have been some improvements to individual models such as Anderson and Kaiden/Ashley. Anderson no longer looks like he’s crawling with disease, instead he looks a lot like Tony Todd, which is a little unnerving, but is a definite improvement. Kaiden seems to have been reworked into a hunk, but is still recognizable as his boring self, while Ashley’s new hair makes her look way too much like Miranda for my tastes. The animations go between good to a little laughable, for example running looks a little weird (Especially Anderson’s model running), and climbing ladders is a little odd. However, most of the animations are fine and get the point across quite well. The graphics haven’t undergone a huge change, but the scope and presentation of the world is far grander than the corridor laden Mass Effect 2, and menu speed and loading times seem to have improved.

Captain Anderson and Tony Todd: Separated at birth.

The gameplay is almost entirely taken from Mass Effect 2, so fans of the original’s wonky combat may be a little disappointed. Instead of reworking the combat system, Mass Effect 3 has refined it, making it much faster paced. The same barrier/shield/armour system seems to exist, which should maintain the tactical pedigree of the second game, and it is likely that the difficulty slider will once again equip more enemies with these barriers; although it is unclear from the difficulty choice-less demo. Bypass minigames seem to have been removed in favour of just having Shepard raising his/her hand and figuring it out his/herself. While this can be seen as another concession to the shooter crowd, the bypass/hacking minigames were never particularly fun or interesting, especially on multiple playthroughs, so I don’t see it as much of a loss.

This was mildly entertaining… the first fifty times.

The changes to skill leveling should make RPG fans much happier. Instead of allowing players to have branching permanent upgrades for a skill only when the skill has been maxed, Mass Effect 3’s skills have branching upgrades starting at the fourth upgrade level, which allows players to heavily customize how they want their skills to behave. This can range from focusing on damage vs. recharge time, to more interesting upgrades, such as allowing turrets to fire either armour-piercing rounds or occasionally freezing enemies. It is a minor change, that should make a world of difference for replay, as it allows for a unique experience for each playthrough even if you pick the same class. Speaking of classes, they remain largely unchanged from the second game, but with a couple of skills added here and there. Six classes with multiple branching skills, allows for far more playthrough variety than either other game, and should make Mass Effect 3 by far the most replayable of the entire trilogy.

Nothing says “Space Wizard” like a glowing green circulatory system.

Grenades are back from the first game, and so far I’m generally underwhelmed with their use; however, they serve a very, very good purpose: to keep you moving. You see Mass Effect 2 often had your character hunker down behind one piece of cover and stay there until the end of the battle. Enemies now use grenades frequently and force you to move around far more than in the second game. Also back from the first game is the fact that every class seems to be able to use any weapon they want except, unlike the first game, it looks like every class will be able to use these weapons well. This is a major improvement as most classes in Mass Effect 2 had to rely way too much on handguns and SMGs. They were great weapons, but it really led to a total lack of variety in weapon choices. This should allow for a far more tactical shooter even if you aren’t a soldier and I expect weapon selection between missions will be far more important. Melee has been improved, but not in any really substantial way. It is still clunky, but it can actually pack quite a punch this time around.

It didn’t matter that you were of the Alliance military or a Council Spectre, using one of these was impossible if you were a tech genius or space wizard. 

*Spoiler  Finally, let’s look at what story elements we can glean from the demo. *Spoiler 

Killing off the kid at the end of the first part of the game was a very smart move. In most games or movies, children are entirely safe from harm, even in horror movies. By killing off the kid, Bioware is showing how high the stakes are and that the Reapers are a real, dangerous threat to humanity. It is akin to the Han Solo shooting first controversy in Star Wars. By killing the kid, Bioware sets the stage for the urgency of the entire game. The second part is mostly the same stuff you’d expect to see from Mass Effect 2 except for the beginning, which makes a welcome turn. There is real meaningful interactions between characters without Shepard. One pet peeve I had with Mass Effect 1, and to a much lesser extent 2, was that there was no real character interaction that didn’t go through Shepard. It never seemed like any character had a relationship with any other character. This was improved in Mass Effect 2 with interactions between Jack and Miranda, and a couple of other examples, but it is a very nice surprise to see characters interacting with each other without Shepard. It just makes them seem far more real.

I’ve never understood why anyone actually chooses the male Shepard.

Overall Mass Effect 3 seems to be entrenching itself deeply into the shooter category that the series put itself into after the second game. As a shooter, Mass Effect 3 stands tall with responsive and intuitive, fast-paced gameplay. However, there is still a lot to love here for the RPG enthusiast. The upgrade system is easily the best in the series, and opening up all weapons for all characters will make weapon acquisition far more important. The core of the Mass Effect has always been the story, and if the second mission is any indication, there will be a lot to love, in this regard and every other.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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