The demo for Mass Effect 3 has finally been released! A few of us had the chance to sit down and play through it a few times and get a feel for what is to come in March. Please keep in mind, these impressions are based solely on the limited content we were given access to during the demo, and may not be representative of the final product. The staff has tested this game on the PC and Playstation 3.
Concept and Execution:
Mass Effect 3 is similar to Mass Effect 2 in all the right ways. The few differences were mostly customization tweaks and attempts to further streamline gameplay. One of the most noticeable additions is the ability to choose between three different modes of play: action, role-play, or story. Action mode abandons the customization of characters and dialogue options of the series, focusing exclusively on intense combat. Story mode puts the emphasis on dialogue and customization, lowering the combat difficulty in the process.
The story in Mass Effect 3 is drastically different than its predecessors. Rather than following a very specific goal of “travel to this location, recruit these specific people, and defeat the reapers,” Commander Shepard’s duty is to unite as much of the galaxy as possible. Different species will be able to be recruited to the war effort against the reapers, depending on Shepard’s actions and decisions. This will allow for some extraordinary differences in the ongoing story and ending between players. In the demo, we are given a brief introduction to the story across two different scenes. The beginning of the demo showcases the beautiful introduction cinematic and the invasion of the reapers. We were able to see the return of dialogue options and the fast-paced combat system. Combat is similar to Mass Effect 2, and we saw no major flaws in the system. The second scene was set somewhere in the middle of the main storyline, with two returning crew members, Liara and Garrus. Shephard has agreed to help Wrex – a familiar face to those who had played the first Mass Effect – save a female Krogan for the sake of repopulating the Krogan world. We wondered how this situation may have panned out if a save file from the original Mass Effect game left Wrex dead. While we were unable to test the possible outcomes, we are certainly excited to see just how different these stories may be based on the decisions made in Mass Effect 1 and 2.
BioWare has improved the depth of Mass Effect 2‘s power selection system, by allowing players to specialize in different abilities and play in their desired style. In Mass Effect 2, when a player fully leveled an ability, they had the option to select one of two versions of the last rank. Mass Effect 3 lets players choose their abilities much earlier on, letting everyone focus on their specific style of play sooner rather than later.
We were a little disappointed with the breadth of ability choices given to single players, a changed that was made in Mass Effect 2 and has carried over to Mass Effect 3. While the streamlined trees may be easier to manage and therefor more widely appealing (like the inventory management changes between ME1 and 2), the lack of choice was noted.
The game runs the smoothest on a high-quality PC, of course, but the gameplay and visuals on the console were still very enjoyable. The default keybinds for PC players have been changed slightly, but it did not take long to become familiarized with the new system. As usual, players always have the ability to setup custom keybinds for their preferences.
Mass Effect 3‘s character creation system almost perfectly mirrors that of Mass Effect 2‘s. While it was disappointing to see the absence of additional customization options to further tweak Shepard’s appearance, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the character creation system.
One of the biggest improvements in Mass Effect 3 is the nearly seamless transition between cinematic cutscenes, dialogue, and action. For those of us returning to the series, the graphics are improved but maintain the same gritty and weathered look as past installments. It’s not as pretty or as polished as some of the high-end games out right now, and for a newcomer to the series, this can be troubling. One of our staff members noted that the characters sometimes look a bit off. Whether they are pasty pale or appear to have spent too much time in a tanning bed, they always tend to lean toward the extremes. The skin texture was sometimes weird to the point of distraction, and some NPCs looked as though they were in desperate need of Proactiv; but it did not bother those of us who have already played the Mass Effect series. It simply looks like a Mass Effect game, set in a universe that we love for its pasty people. The atmosphere overall is fantastic, with real gravity to the scenes. The sound is especially well-done, and the musical score is as good as ever. We were very impressed with the sounds from various ships that make an appearance in the first mission.
We replayed the demo several times, and it wasn’t a chore. Experimenting with the variety of difficulty settings really gave a feel for how challenging Mass Effect 3 will be. In a normal difficulty setting, a player can stand without hiding behind cover while fighting a boss and still manage to survive. In the aptly-named insanity setting, intelligent use of cover and command of your squad is necessary for survival. Grenades are death sentences, even with maximum health and fully-charged shields. Playing with each character class also proved to be exciting, and when given a considerable amount of squad points within thirty minutes, toying around with all of the possibilities will help you determine how you want to play come launch date.