Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Demo Impressions

Valentine's Day 2012, a day of love, romance... and intense, biotic combat? That's right, V-Day 2012 meant one thing to Mass Effect fans: the demo for the series finale is live.

I had a chance to tinker with the demo and was pretty satisfied overall. A majority of my playtime went toward the single player demo, but I've been able to get my feet wet with the multiplayer mode.

Single Player Demo

The single player demo takes you through two missions: the introductory mission on Earth and a retrieval mission on the Salarian homeworld.Across these two levels, you get to experience the game's revised mobility mechanics. You can slide over crates, climb up ladders and drop off of ledges, just to name a few things. There are also a few new practical additions, such as dodge rolls and melee grabs around cover. I will admit, there were a couple of times where I felt like I was playing Gears of War with all the dodge rolling about.

Combat feels quite a bit heavier this time around, as weapons have a heavier feel and the auto-aim functions aren't doing as much of the heavy lifting as in Mass Effect 2. At least for single shot weapons like heavy pistols and the Mattock assault rifle, you need to place your shots pretty carefully. The new heavy melee attacks are pretty seamlessly implemented and are quite useful for eliminating (or at least staggering) the unfortunate sod in your path. The new gameplay elements (and the increased difficulty) lend to the "This is War" atmosphere that the Bioware team set out to create.

In order to avoid dropping any major demo/main game spoilers, I won't go into too much detail about the plot elements found in the demo. There are plenty of great Mass Effect moments, some humorous and some dramatic. You'll see some familiar faces that will bring a smile to yours. However, there's also one particular part that hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks. This type of story-telling finesse is what makes the game a true Mass Effect title, even with the vast array of changes the series has seen over the years.

Multiplayer Demo

Single player is all well and good, but the part that longtime fans are skeptically looking at is the new co-op multiplayer. It's a polarizing topic - people either love or hate the idea of adding multiplayer to their beloved series.

Based on my experience with the multiplayer, I love it. You are able to choose one of the main Mass Effect classes (and in the full-version, you can choose your race). Each class/race combination has a different combination of abilities and powers that you can level up. In addition, you can customize your loadout, attach weapon mods, and buy unique items to help you in-mission, including health packs, ammo boxes, and rocket launchers.

When you get into the fray, you quickly learn that Bioware definitely means for you to cooperate. Your primary goal is to survive for all ten waves, occasionally chasing down and completing objectives within a time limit. Enemies are merciless even on the lowest difficulties, and their AI works together surprisingly well to draw you out of cover and into their sights. For example, riot shield and melee enemies may try to herd you out of your cover and into an open area. In order to get through the final waves, you'll need to draw on your team's diverse range of abilities, such as having Infiltrators conduct hit-and-run attacks with their tactical cloak and Vanguards force baddies out of cover. As I've explained, Special Forces is hard work - but pulling together and beating "impossible odds" ends up being extremely fun!

Are you ready for war?

I walk away from the Mass Effect 3 demo very satisfied, despite some of the changes made to the Mass Effect formula. Combat mechanics feel closer to Gears of War than they do to Mass Effect 1, but it all plays very well. Bioware has done a phenomenal job updating and maintaining the series so they're not just releasing a re-shelled clone of the previous title (Call of Duty anyone?).

On top of that, the new multiplayer elements are surprisingly fun and addictive, albeit challenging. However, despite the quality of the game mode, its on-going success depends very heavily on the number of people that continue to play it after they complete the story. It's not something you can successfully do alone.

Nonetheless, even if this does come to pass, Mass Effect 3 looks like it will be able to deliver the same quality level of single player content that the series, and Bioware, is renowned for.

Mass Effect 3 is scheduled to be released Tuesday, March 6 on Xbox360, Playstation 3, and PC.

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