In a couple of weeks, Mass Effect 3 will be hitting store shelves. There is a good amount of pressure riding on the third entry because it is a follow up to one of the greatest games of this generation. Mass Effect 2 wowed audiences with its complex narrative and deep fiction. While there might be those who do not care for the franchise, you still have to respect the technical accomplishments that BioWare (the developer) has made with the series. Mass Effect 2 is not perfect, the mining sequences are tedious and felt mechanical compared to the seamless narrative; and the combat, while enjoyable, is not the best part of the game. My love for Mass Effect comes from the deep character development and how my companions react to the choices I’ve made in the game. The fiction is engrossing as well, not since the Elder Scrolls games have I cared about the history of the universe or the background of each race. I have filled my head with so much Mass Effect mythos that I am almost ashamed of how much time I have invested in it; but hey, I have my hobbies.
Over the past week the Mass Effect 3 demo was released on the Playstation Network and I was finally able to get my hands on it. I was timid at first, so many things I heard about Mass Effect 3 were making me nervous (i.e. multiplayer, the script leaking). Not that I am against a multiplayer component but I was afraid that BioWare would lose track of what makes the Mass Effect experience so wonderful. All of these fears are not based on anything factual, so I was able to separate myself from my worries and trust in the team to do a smash-up job. Not that I can fully analyze a product before its release, but after playing the demo, I believe that BioWare still knows what is important to their audience.
The Mass Effect 3 demo starts with Sheppard (male or female) back on earth. Sheppard is awaiting his trial after his actions in Mass Effect 2 and has been stripped of his rank. Things go badly as the Reapers appear and begin wreaking havoc on earth. The council is mostly killed in the attack and you (the player) have to get Sheppard off the planet, alive. You fight through Husks and other Reaper-enemies as you make your way to the lift zone. That is the first part of the demo. The second part drops you into a mission later in the game where you are required to save a female Krogan. Wrex (yes, he is back) and Garrus team up with you to get the female to safety as a Cerberus team tries to stop/kill you. That is all I will say about that because I don’t want to ruin anything for you.
The demo featured many of the same elements that were in Mass Effect 2 in terms of gameplay and interface. The dialogue wheel is still there and you make Paragon and Renegade choices just the past entries. Leveling up is mostly the same but some new powers have been added to create more choices during combat. The demo felt very similar to its predecessor in many ways (even the pause screen is unchanged) but there have been some wonderful improvements.
Sheppard can roll now, yep. Double tap the RUN button (X or A) and push in the direction you want to roll. This allows for the player to get out of some of the hairier situations without having to hold your breath. A new melee option has been added in which you hold the MELEE button and Sheppard’s arm becomes digital blade from the Omi-Tool. This is an improvement over smacking an enemy with your fist, but you are hardly that close to really need it in combat. The shooting mechanics have been overhauled and the firing feels less inconsistent and more accurate. The guns also sound better and have an added “oomph” when pulling the trigger. Speaking of sound design, the score and the FX sound ten times better than in 2. While the music has always been a favorite aspect of mine in the series, the soundtrack in the demo felt fuller and more pronounced. The graphics have been filled out as well. The areas in the demo look familiar in construction but a level of detail has been added that gives the locations more volume. Med Kits look thick and the weapons look heavy, the demo added a sense of weight to the world that felt absent in the other titles. Alas, the film grain is gone but it is surpassed by bigger backdrops and richer environments, but that’s alright, I guess. One other added feature would be a choice you make in the beginning; you can choose to play through the story in three different modes 1.) Action mode: which is combat focused and you don’t choose the dialogue options, 2.) RPG Mode: which is the normal Mass Effect experience, and 3.) Story Mode: which will have minimal combat and manual dialogue replies. I can’t say that I would experiment much with the Action or Story mode, but it helps to be accessible to those who are not well versed in Mass Effect.
I walked away from the demo feeling extremely satisfied with what BioWare has in store for the full game. Of course, I can’t make assumptions on a game from just a demo but it seems that everything is in the right place and the added features are not something that ruins the gameplay. I suggest that everyone gives this demo a shot, it throws the player into the universe like an uncontrollable train but it helps you pick up the gameplay at an easy pace. I can’t wait to save Earth.