Like any good FemShep enthusiast, I downloaded the Mass Effect 3 demo last night and took my time on the bike this morning to put it through its paces. I’m not sure why, really, as I have every intention of picking up the game when it launches in March. In fact, my copy has been paid off since before Batman: Arkham City launched as I paid for both of them at the same time. I guess I downloaded it because even though I know I’ll be playing the game when it comes out, I really enjoy playing Mass Effect, so if I get to play some new stuff early, I’ll do it.
At the risk of being incredibly pithy and offering an opinion that has little or no value, here’s my take on the game: it’s Mass Effect.
Again, I know that’s a pretty worthless statement, but at the same time, I once knew a guy who said he’d like Halo a lot more if it contained none of the design elements that made it Halo. I’m not saying that line of thinking makes any sense, just that it’s out there.
Now that we’ve established that Mass Effect 3 is, in fact, Mass Effect, let’s move on…
The demo consists of what appears to be the opening level in the game as well as a mission set sometime mid-game. They don’t waste any time setting things up, nor do they spend any time explaining why you have no powers when, based on how many times you ran Shepard through ME2, you may have ended your last adventure with godlike powers. Maybe they explain that later, but the beginning is all “Reapers! Oh noes! Run! Shoot! Vault!” and then it’s over. Along the way they tell you how to run and shoot and use the abysmal cover system (more on that later) before ending with an “emotional” moment that anyone could see coming from a mile away in the typical ham-handed way that video game writers seem to feel portrays loss but ends up making you roll your eyes so hard they pop out of your head.
I didn’t spend a lot of time configuring Shepard in the facial department, so I don’t know how robust the customization is in the demo. I did like that the demo starts by making you agree to the EA online terms of service even though I don’t have access to the online part of the demo. I figured that going through bullshit online hoops to then be denied online or single player content based on some sort of server malfunction or arbitrary restricting of content would prepare me for the future, if past EA/BioWare online shenanigans were to be trusted. One has to laugh, lest one say “fuck it” and go back to Pong.
Any way, you can pick Shepard’s origins and say who died in previous games, including an all encompassing “There were many losses” or something like that. Me, I wish that choice was titled “Mistakes were made.” If so, I would have laughed my ass off. Alas, there’s no laughing when Reapers are hell bent on destroying us. Once you’ve established which crew member died because of your incompetence, you can pick you class and be on your way. I stuck with my ME and ME2 class, the Vanguard, because I suspected that I didn’t want to play ME3 as this class, what with it being somewhat useless in ME2. I was right, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Before jumping into the story, I took some time to peruse the additional options and found some interesting stuff. For one, you can turn off conversations in their entirety, instead allowing the game to make conversation choices for you. I didn’t see an option to have Shepard lean towards Paragon or Renegade, so I’d love to see how they handle that. I think they should make it random and make it seem that Shepard is completely off her rocker, with absolutely no moral compass to speak of. They also give you the option of choosing how to play the game, aside from the normal difficulty options. You can play it as a story, which reduces the number of combat encounters. You can play it as an action game which has all conversations as cut scenes, or you can play it as an RPG. Obviously I chose to play it as an RPG, but woe befall whoever has to review this game and is forced to play multiple hours in the different modes to see how different they are. I know it’s not going to be me.
You hear that Bill? It. Won’t. Be. Me.
One of the oddest choices I saw, in fact, one of the oddest choices I’ve ever seen in any game, ever, is the option of when Shepard takes her helmet off. You can have her leave it on all of the time, or take it off for “most” conversations. As someone who was forced to watch Shepard not only throw back a drink through her full face helmet, but also make out with Liara through the very same helmet, I have to wonder just who in the nine hells would want Shepard to keep her helmet on during conversations? It makes zero sense. Worse, it’s not all conversations, it’s most conversations, so you know there’s a cut scene where Shepard is eating a Bomb Pop through her helmet and I’m going to get up and kick a hole in my projection screen. Personally, I don’t think they went granular enough. I think they should have had the ability to tick various options and on off so that I can have a Shepard that keeps her helmet on for talking, eating candy bars and licking poisonous toads but takes it off for kissing, catching snowflakes on her tongue and licking envelopes. Come on BioWare, why you gotta hate on choice?
Once the demo gets going there’s all sorts of sturm und drang about the Reapers, because even though Earth is, literally surrounded by ships, the Reapers show up with zero warning and start blowing the city up. So much for planetary defenses. Before the shooting starts, you get to see the new Freddie Prinze Jr. character, complete with stupid pseudo-mohawk and you get to see Ashley, provided you didn’t let her die. Ashley looks good, but I swear she was checking out Shepard’s ass. I don’t blame her. Shepard has a fantastic ass, and the new redheaded “official” Shepard is quite well done, but I don’t remember Ashley playing for the other team. In fact, I know she doesn’t because in ME I tried to get her into bed on multiple occasions only to get shot down. My Shepard’s sexuality is somewhat fluid, having had relations with Liara and Jacob, so I know a little about switching things up. Maybe the animators were going for a look of begrudging admiration, but they ended up with “I am so gonna tap that ass.” Again, I don’t blame her, I am quite sexy, it just came from out of nowhere.
There’s some combat in the early part of the demo, but nothing significant. That comes in the later mission when you have to help Mordin get a Krogan female off of some Salarian planet while Cerberus tries to stop you. They put the Krogan female in some sort of full body veil, which I thought was interesting in that they let you know that it’s a female Krogan without trying to make some sort of biological differences. After seeing lizard boobs in Skyrim, I’ve seen enough of my share of scaly bosoms so I’m more than happy with this. This just further cements the notion of the Krogan being the dwarves of the Mass Effect universe. They’re gruff, incredibly hardy, go insane in combat and are the only ones that can tell the females of their species apart from the males. I also liked the line about Wrex not being able to resist a fertile female, because nothing wakes one up in the morning quite like the notion of crazed Krogan sex.
I liked that BioWare added a more combat heavy portion of the demo and that they jumped you forward and gave you a bunch of skill points to allocate. The ability to choose between two paths for your powers is a nice tweak, as is the ability to jump between the paths. By that I mean that you can use the Path A choice when you upgrade your power to level 4 and then use the Path B option for level 5. It’s a little more RPGish than the stuff in ME2 which only allowed a choice once you leveled a power all of the way up.
What I didn’t like about the combat heavy portion is how utterly shitty the cover system still is. Cover seemed clunky and twitchy and worse, the game allowed me to keep moving along cover even once the cover ended, causing Shepard to pop up like a Whack-A-Mole only to promptly get shot and killed. Me not remembering how to apply health packs certainly didn’t help, but the point is that if cover stops, you need to give the player a choice as to what they want to do. Let them decide if they want to come up from out of cover or if they want to stay there and reevaluate. Don’t just pop a dude up and get him shot in the face. That’s just rude. Also, the slowing down in the middle of a run because your shield shattered is extremely annoying, especially when you have no choice but to run full force into a hail of gunfire. Oh hey, are you losing health? Here, lose more health!
On a similar note, I was disappointed to see that my beloved Vanguard class is not going to be a viable option for me in Mass Effect 3. The specialized biotic power, the ability to catapult yourself, Cannonball style towards your enemy and stun them, was more of a liability than anything else in ME2 and the trend continues here. Worse is that your submachine gun, one of your close quarters weapons, is incredibly twitchy and inaccurate with an amazing amount of recoil. I spent all of my time rocking an assault rifle in this demo. That shouldn’t happen. A Vanguard should be all pistols, SMGs and shotguns. Maybe if you’re playing on easy or you’re taking the story approach to the game then the Vanguard is a more viable option, but I found myself regretting my class choice more and more as the demo wore on. I guess it’s good that I found this out now and not five hours into the game but still, it’s disappointing. Oh well. If they’re not going to explain why Shepard doesn’t have her powers, I don’t have to explain why she decided to change classes. My hope is that I can import my Shepard, make a class change and have it still count as a run through with a ME2 character for achievement purposes.
All of my gripes aside, I still enjoyed the hell out of this demo as it had all of the things I’ve come to expect, good and bad, from the Mass Effect series. With SSX releasing a scant week before ME3, I can’t guarantee that I’ll jump into ME3 as soon as it comes out, but it will be shortly thereafter. I’m curious to see how the various play style options make a difference, especially for something like an Insane run done for achievements. If the story play style really does tone down the combat, I’m all over that for those achievements. In the end, the demo did what it was supposed to do, namely get me excited for the game. I’m not sure how many people who haven’t played the first two will be willing to give this one a try, so the demo does feel like BioWare is preaching to the choir, but at the same time, Modern Warfare 3 sold more than enough copies to support the idea that a sequel, even a threequel, can bring in lots of new players.
My understanding is that the online portion unlocks on the 17th, so I’ll try and revisit then and see if adding multiplayer to a single player RPG ends up being as bad as an idea as it sounds. Good thing I haven’t made up my mind or anything.