Mass Effect 3 – Demo Impressions
As if you hadn’t noticed, the demo for Mass Effect 3 is now available. Of course, many will probably avoid playing it in name of avoiding spoilers which might ruin their story and fair play to them; so, to ease your worries, we’ll keep our impressions spoiler-free…
The demo opens with asking you to knock up a Shepherd, but you cannot bring your save from previous Mass Effects into this game. Instead you pick everything else, and the origin. It doesn’t go so far as to ask you which decisions you made aside from who lived in your big choice from ME1. The interface for making Shepherd is largely unchanged, and a bit weird-looking up close in a sterile environment. Fortunately that changes when you’re in game. As expected, the same selection of classes are available. You can even pick for the demo whether you want Action (combat and no choice over dialogue or levelling), Story (full customisation, easy fights) or Role-Play (the standard ME experience) and it reminds you these can be changed at any time.
Anyway, that’s character creation, quick, simple. The demo covers the introductory scene and a mission from later in the game. You see a lot of exposition dealt with in a ‘walk and talk’ with Keith David, explaining what happened after last time and why you are where you are. When the action starts, you can tell the graphics have been upgraded again. The vistas are huge and fighting’s happening everywhere. Of course, the playable area is contained, but with ample obstacles and things to run up, jump, climb and drop down from, it feels less restricted than ME2’s levels. There are several “holy crap” moments with explosions and more making for a visual experience that is both gorgeous and horrific to behold.
Like Final Fantasy 13, you are technically ‘running down a corridor, killing monsters’, but it feels more visceral, more like you’re in the moment. Anything which can distract from how most computer games are “running down a corridor, killing dudes” is doing videogames right. Cutscenes pop in and out seamlessly, adding an explosion to knock you back, a glance upwards at [DELETED BY CERBERUS NETWORK] going all [DELETED BY CERBERUS NETWORK] and wow, then a heartbeat later and you’re back in the action. It feels less rigid and formal than ME1’s combats.
The second section is more difficult to explain without spoilers, but you’re treated to sidekicks both past and present. You have your two with you, and another two who are NPCs in the situation, helping out. You’re fighting more troops, darting back and forth through a level to protect a pod until a giant mech comes to ruin your day. It felt like being back in the galaxy, like playing ME2, but with more polish and much more continuity to get into. While the contents of the pod are spoilerific, it also heightens the intrigue about them. They should be dead, so how did they come to be, why and what are you doing with them? This section gives an interesting snap-shot into the new levelling system; each power now has seven upgrade nodes you can buy, the last four of which contain choices about what you want. With Assault Training, do you want to be more charismatic or better in melee? That kind of thing.
The final thing to point out is weapons, while there’s no access to grenades, which BioWare was oddly excited about, and the Omni-Tool blade thing Shepherd swishes in the trailer is absent, you still have access to any weapon regardless of who you are and they feel more useful than the ones in Mass Effect 2.
We also took Mass Effect 3’s Kinect functionality for a spin. Sitting from across the room, it was difficult to get the Kinect to pick up voice commands, so recalibration may be necessary for those few people with the room in their lounges to play with the Kinect, but when it worked it felt both pleasant and weird.
From the evidence on show in this demo, Mass Effect 3 is shaping up to be worthy of the series name. Our only concern is that in both segments there are sympathetic moments which might run counter to the character you’re playing if you are a Renegade Shep. Hopefully these will be dashed to the ground if you’re playing that way, otherwise it might seem like a bit of a John Marsden moment, where your bloodthirsty sociopath grows a heart for a second. Or maybe it’s in context of the larger narrative we’re only getting a peek at now. It’s difficult to tell with such a small bite of the game. There are many questions about what’s been seen in the demo, and getting back behind the controls feels like you’ve never been away. March 9th cannot come soon enough.
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