So the Mass Effect 3 demo is finally out and I must say that it hasn’t met my expectations…it has completely obliterated them! Mind you, I am currently in the process of finishing up my 3rd ME2 playthrough, with a 4th still to come before the full game ships. The singleplayer was just utterly amazing and the multiplayer was well-balanced and not overdone. Let’s take an in-depth look at Bioware’s tease for the upcoming title.
Prior to starting, you’ll notice that the Cerberus Network that was present in the ME2 (Mass Effect 2) menus, has now been updated to the Alliance network. Your first task, is choosing your experience. ME3 allows you to play through 3 different ways:
Action - In this mode, the game focuses on combat and all conversations are played as cutscenes, with minimum dialog options available. *Note: there is an option in the pause menu called Conversation Mode, that allows you to have all conversations play automatically with computer chosen responses.
Role Playing - This is the traditional way to play Mass Effect, with an even balance between dialog and combat.
Story - The combat is very minimal and the game is primarily story driven. It’s literally an interactive movie.
I decided to go with Role Playing, as that is how I’ve gotten used to playing ME. I think once I get the full game, I’ll probably try the other modes. You then are given the ability to customize your character’s look as well as the class with which you wish to play (Adept, Sentinel, Engineer, Soldier, Infiltrator, Vanguard). Once that is complete, you then get your backstory options of where you’re from and what kind of person you’re known for, i.e. hero, ruthless, etc. Then you get a choice of which squad mates have perished; either Kaiden or Ashley (event that took place in ME1) or a third option that states multiple squad mates have died (events from ME2). The character I chose had a rough childhood, growing up on the streets that became a war hero. My class was a Sentinel, which is a combination of biotic and tech abilities and specializes in the Assault Rifle, Shotgun, Heavy Pistol and SMG.
The demo starts off in classic ME1 fashion, with a short synopsis of what has happened so far throughout ME1 & ME2. You see a shot of Earth as you hear a voiceover of Admiral Hackett talking to Captain Anderson about something big on its way. I’m pretty sure everyone has a good idea of what it is. You start off on Earth facing the Alliance Admiralty Board for actions that took place on ME2′s DLC, Arrival. Your knowledge of the Reapers has kept you out of too much trouble. You also get your first glimpse of the games’ newest character, James Vega. Right off the bat, you can see that the visuals are almost a highly polished version from ME2. They look great to say the least.
While walking with Anderson, you run into your old squad mate, Ashley Williams. Her look has been updated from the first 2 games and I must say that it is definitely an improvement. As you face the Board trying to figure out about the Reaper situation, reports start flooding in that Earth is under attack. At this point, my adrenaline has been building and I’m begging to take on the Reapers. Then in the loudest silence possible, you hear a rumble…it’s happening. A Reaper touches down in the middle of the city and starts wreaking havoc. Cue Commander Shepard.
The first thing you’ll notice is the scale is much larger than before. It takes a lot for you not to sit there, look around and take in the scenery. There’s Reapers attacking and you’ve got a job to do. And if you do just stand there for a while, the Reaper in front of you does eventually get dangerously close. You’ll also take note that there isn’t any music playing; all you hear is the destruction happening around you. I think that was a genius move, as it immerses you even further. The scary part is that if you go into the pause menu, you can still hear the carnage, even people screaming.
Starting off, you’ll realize that a lot of the gameplay mechanics have been tweaked and changed. Running for instance, feel s more fluid than it was in ME2. There is a new dodge/roll feature that gives the movement a more Gears of War feel. I believe the addition of this was for the better, as this installment will have more action than the previous 2 games combined. You also now have the ability to jump gaps by either pressing the “A” button on short gaps or holding the “A” button down for a running start on larger gaps and climb ladders. Two things that I didn’t like though, were the Action Icon and Hint options that were automatically turned on. To me, it feels like these clutter the screen and take away from the game. Luckily, you are able to turn these off in the pause menu.
The first set of enemies you face are Husks, which you can finish off fairly easy with the pistol that Anderson gives you. The aiming system works the same from the previous games, with no noticeable changes. The heat sink clips are back from ME2 as well. Also keep in mind because it is the beginning of the game, everything has a pop-up hint tutorial. Your next task pits you against a few more Husks, but this time you’re out of ammo. Remember that awesome melee attack from the trailer? Now you get to try it out. A standard melee attack is done by just tapping the “B” button, but if you hold it down, you do a strong attack which is a spike that comes out of your Omni Tool.
The next set of combat comes after a Reaper takes out a Dreadnaught class ship, which looks amazing when they blow up. You go up against a new enemy type called a Cannibal. The look just like the husks, with the only differences being that they’re bigger and can carry/fire weapons. On this portion, you also get to try out your abilities. Using the biotic ability “Throw,” as well as most other biotic and tech abilities, felt a lot different than in previous games. Before, the animation of the actual biotic Throw was a lot slower. Now, it’s a lot faster and it curves more. This means that you can angle shots better and hit targets that are hidden behind objects.
After running around a bit, your objective is to find a radio and message the Normandy for extraction. In the process of searching for the radio, you come across the classic M8 Avenger Assault Rifle. Once you activate the radio, you have to defend your position against a few small waves of Cannibals that are crashing down from the sky above. Just at the point where you’ve practically run out of ammo, the Normandy comes in to pick you up. And this isn’t the Cerberus Normandy; it looks like it received a new paint job and is sporting the Alliance colors and symbol. It sent shivers up my spine seeing the old girl.
The next part of the demo puts you a bit further in the story. You’re in a shuttle on the Salarian homeworld of Sur’Kesh with Liara, Garrus and the returning badass, Wrex. The salarians have a female Krogan that can possibly help stop a war between the Krogans and the Turians. In ensuring her safety, Shepard can also garner support from both the Krogans and Turians to help defeat the Reapers. The monkey wrench that’s thrown into this, is that Cerberus is trying to kill the female Krogan. There’s no explanation as to why, but I’m sure that will be addressed in the full game. Wrex is anxious to get the female back and jumps off the shuttle before they’re cleared to land. After Shepard averts having another war on his hands, Wrex stays with the shuttle while Garrus and Liara go with you to get the Krogan. Starting off, your old squad mate Mordin Solus, is assisting the female Krogan. Your job is to ensure that the Krogan makes it to the shuttle.
The first thing you notice is that you have points available to spend on your characters’ powers. Everything looks the same from ME1 & ME2 for adding points to whichever skill tree you choose. The new edition, is that upon selecting a particular power to upgrade, another tree opens up. Now you have more of a choice on how you want your powers to evolve. No longer is it just leveling a power up 3 times and the 4th being either a stronger effect or larger radius effect as the amount of times you can level up a power has been increased to 6. Take the Overload power for example: the first 3 level ups affect recharge speed and damage, the 4th affects either radius or damage, the 5th is recharge speed or additional Neural Shock and the 6th being additional damage to shields/barriers or higher damage with larger radius. Obviously, you still have the option of auto-leveling, but where’s the fun in that?
Now that you’ve leveled up, you can start your mission. You now have an expanded arsenal with the M96 Mattock Assault Rifle, M22 Eviscerator Shotgun, M9 Tempest SMG and M3 Predator Pistol. You start by activating the checkpoint which starts to send the elevator up to the shuttle. Enter Cerberus…those bastards. Here is your first chance to utilize your squad mates and their abilities, as well as your own. Switching between both your squad and your own abilities are seamless, just like in the previous 2 games. The initial enemies that you face are Assault Soldiers and Centurions; difference being that the latter has shields.
Another new feature/weapon to notice, is that there are now grenades available for use depending on class. My Sentinel character has Lift Grenades which upon detonation, acts like the Biotic Lift ability, throwing enemies into the air. I also do know that the Soldier class has Frag Grenades, but I’m not too sure about the others. Something else that caught my attention, was when I picked up a weapon mod for my pistol called High Caliber Barrel. It seems that the weapon mod upgrades have returned from ME1, but might be a lot easier to manage this time around.
As you fight your way through the building, you come across your old buddy, Major Kirrahe. He led the Salarian Special Forces team on Virmire when you faced off against Saren for the first time. The next new enemy that you go up against are Combat Engineers. These guys remind me of the Engineers from Team Fortress 2, going around setting up turrets, which adds a new element to the game. From here, you can tell that the AI has stepped up its game, as your enemies ensure that they stay behind the turrets, using it for cover fire while they try to kill you.
After clearing this area, you continue your journey upwards. You now come across yet another new enemy called Guardians. These guys run around with a future version of the riot shield. They are a little harder to take out, but luckily the shield they carry has an eye-hole slit that you can shoot through. Along the way, there are also armor upgrades that you can find laying around sometimes. Continuing through, you face another small wave as Mordin is telling you that the elevator has gotten stuck. After taking out the soldiers and reactivating the elevator, you take on another Cerberus squad and then a third.
I then headed up to the next area, but not before picking up a Pistol Scope upgrade. I pulled out my pistol to test if the upgrade actually applies and it did; I was able to zoom in further than before. That was definitely a nice touch that Bioware added. Finally I made it to top floor and to my dismay, there was Cerberus waiting for me. After taking down more soldiers, I had to authorize the release of the pod the Krogan was in to the landing area. In the middle of the pod transfer, this behemoth of a mech lands in front of me.
It’s the Cerberus Atlas, complete with mech pilot too; they make the Heavy Mechs in ME2 look like toys. Now I have to protect the pod and take out the Atlas; time to show why Commander Shepard is the best in the galaxy. The first thing you have to do is take it’s shields down and then deal with the armor layer, much like ME2′s Heavy Mechs. Simultaneously, I use mine and Garrus’ Overload ability while emptying clip after clip. Once the shield was down, I was able to utilize Liara’s Singularity and Warp abilities. While this is going on, you have to dodge the Atlas’ RPG’s and shotgun blasts. If you get to close, it grabs you with its giant claw.
Once you’ve taken it down, there’s a few Cerberus soldiers to clean up, which should be fairly easy compared to what you just fought. This is the final set of enemies you face. Wrex then lands the shuttle and the female Krogan boards it, but not before grabbing Wrex’s shotgun and blasting away 2 enemy stragglers. At this point, you’ve completed the demo.
We had the opportunity to play the second part of the demo utilizing the Kinect. I must say that using the Kinect was a really cool change from using the ability wheel. It made beating the Cerberus Atlas a lot easier because I was spamming the hell out of the commands for Garrus and Liara. A lot of people are hating on the Kinect for that, but they don’t have to use it. The only trouble is learning the names of the characters and the name of the moves, but once you know the characters and their moves, you can just spam the hell out of it. I was saying, “Garrus, overload” over and over while saying “Liara Singularty”. It’s also easy for using secondary, which I said “grenade”. It was so much more convenient compared to opening up the menu every single time and also doesn’t break the gameplay.
All I can say, is that I can’t wait for this game to come out. I’m staking my claim now, that it will be Game of the Year for 2012. Bioware has even stated that the graphics seen in the demo aren’t the same in the finalized version. The game itself will be even more polished and have higher resolution textures. The demo was the perfect way to tease fans and build the hype for the conclusion of Shepard’s epic story. Take on the Reapers on 03/16/12, when Mass Effect 3 hits stores.