Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hands-On with the Mass Effect 3 Demo

After numerous leaks of the script filled with storyline spoilers and even a beta on the 360, the Mass Effect 3 demo is finally out for its platforms. People have been playing it since Friday due to early access from certain sites and territories, but the official release was yesterday. I will only cover the campaign section of the demo as the co-op is locked for me till Friday even though some can play that early as of yesterday. Out of the gate, you'll be asked to make an Origin account if you don't have one no matter which version you play. Hopefully PC owners can transfer their saves from past games to ME3 since Origin is the only service that will have it (sorry Steam folks). Anyway, the single-player sections are what we seen before from preview events and whatnot, so those that have been following the game hardcore know what to expect. Like last year's demo for the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2, this is a lengthy one that spans two missions, one taking place at Earth as the Reaper invasion starts and the later section in a Salarian base. There are lots of choices to play this demo as with the final game from classes and other customization options. The video above for instance was played in action mode, meaning you skip the dialogue sections and go straight into the action. If you want to play it normally, pick role-playing mode as it is the Mass Effect you have been playing since 2007 with both dialogue trees of choices and combat stretches.

The Earth section of the demo is basically the tutorial for the final game teaching you the basic controls. Combat has been vastly improved as Shepard has more moves at his disposal against the opposition. In other words, the combat feels more like a conventional third-person shooter with the addition of evasive rolls and better melee attacks yet it keeps that Mass Effect style. The combat wheel is also intact from past games along with quick commands for certain powers. My Vanguard playthrough for example already has the charge move introduced from Mass Effect 2 as well as pull and shockwave. If you played the games with other classes like Soldier and Sentinel, they will feel the same way as they have been in the past with no significant changes. One of the changes I noticed for ME3 is the health system as it is more Halo-like with shields and health bars (instead of one health bar). I didn't mind this change at all since it is not much of a difference to the past games. Another big change I noticed when leveling up my stats during the second part of the demo is its own branching tree of upgrades. Powers and abilities can be upgraded normally when leveling up, but when it splits off into two separate paths, you have a decision to make which specific stats (duration or more damage) you prefer to go with. This is a change I welcome since specific class playthroughs are not going to be as one-dimensional as they were from the past two games and more RPG-like customization options is a good thing to encourage replay value. With all of that being said, the combat feels fine to me as the additions to ME3 are worth it.

The enemy A.I. has improved even on normal difficulty as going guns blazing is not a good idea. For example, I accidentally biotic charged in an enemy wave of Ceberus guys and then paid for it by dying as I tried to get back in cover. Being tactical and using cover is there for a reason, so use it to your advantage. Even while in cover, it is not as safe as you think as enemies will figure out ways to still hit you and even flank in certain areas. Your squadmates, Liara and Garrus in the second part of the demo, however are useful as they do their part to help you out in combat sections. They are not as useless as say the first Mass Effect, but they have their roles in the action and you can still use tactical commands in case of a sticky situation.

Since this is a demo, the framerate will hitch up at heated times especially on the PS3 version. We'll see in the final game if that remains to be true as the 360 version above seems to be fine. The graphics are generally the same too for the most part from what I seen and the sound is as top notch as it has been throughout the franchise. You can tell that BioWare spent a good chunk of time making the non-human characters like Wrex and Garrus look great. The humans themselves are debatable design-wise especially with Ashley, but that can be saved for another time.

I had a good time with the Mass Effect 3 demo as it makes more ready for the final game dealing with the new additions now than later. I'm also ready to see how the story will play out since this is the finale of a trilogy and with my Mass Effect 2 save of everyone being alive, I won't be missing anything big. The 360 version of the demo does have Kinect controls as I guess they are okay to have, but not a necessity since barking orders normally with a controller is still fine. As mentioned earlier, I can't play the multiplayer/co-op yet till Friday, so expect impressions of that next week. I like the new gameplay additions so far from the improved combat and certain customization changes even though there wasn't much dialogue choice in the demo and its probably a smart thing to save those for the final game. The game has gone gold too, meaning BioWare is done with the game and the wait till March 6 for Shepard to save the galaxy is not long now.

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