I had the opportunity to check out the Mass Effect 3 demo this weekend, and wanted to give the readers here at Platform Nation an early taste of what to expect when the demo releases Tuesday, February 14. There will be some spoilers in this reflection, so if you would rather experience the story for yourself, consider yourself warned if you continue to read. I won’t cover every aspect of the story, but rather talk about how the game plays, and what you can expect from the game based on this demo.
The main menu looks very similar to what was shown in Mass Effect 2, with one notable exception: Multiplayer. No, it was not enabled for the demo, but it brought a smile to my face to see that word on the list. Shortly after the opening cinematic, you will be presented with the next feature unique to Mass Effect 3: a selector for how you would like to play the game.
You have 3 options, Action, Role Playing, and Story. In Action, you will not have to make any dialog choices, essentially rendering the conversational parts of the game to cutscenes. This does allow you to appreciate the story a bit more rather than worry about the nuances of what option to pick, but you do lose the ability to control the flow of the conversation. The game seemed to pick Paragon and Renegade options at will, and you do still acquire those points for your character, so I’ll be curious to see if it’s an even distribution of choices to keep your character balanced. You also are not able to select where you skill points go; it’s auto allocated (along with your party members). Battle played out as normal; it felt just like Mass Effect 2, and the difficulty is adjustable.
If you select Story, you will gain the ability to control the conversation during the dialogue cutscenes. Similar to the Action setting, you do not need to allocate skill points on level-up for yourself or your squadmates. Combat in the story mode is considerably easier than the other two modes: I did not need to worry about using skills or special ammo on armored or shielded opponents. This did free me up a bit to enjoy combat a bit more, with less managing of the battlefield and more PEW PEW.
The final option, Role Playing, is basically what you experienced in Mass Effect 2: full control of conversations, full control of combat. You also get full control over your character build, which allows you to customize your character to your liking. I like that the game provides you options, but I suspect that people who enjoyed the first 2 games will likely stick with Role Playing for the third. Newcomers to the series may prefer one of the other options (I especially think Action will see heavy use from FPSers who don’t care as much about the story).
Once you make your decision on how the game is played, you’ll either jump right into the action (If you chose Action), or go into character customization (If you chose Story or Role Playing). The options here are the same as in prior games, with one addition being a final question that controls how you handled the choice of saving either Ashley or Kaidan for personal reasons, or a third option that essentially says you’ve lost so many people you just don’t care anymore.
You will play two levels in the demo. The first is clearly the first level you’ll be playing in the actual game, and sets the stage for the Reaper invasion of Earth. One of the things that really caught my eye (aside from the incredible visuals that improve with each iteration; seriously, I actually think this game bridges the uncanny valley, they’re that good) was how well the game handled some of the more thematic elements. One example of this is a series of cutscenes in the chapter that involve your observation of a young child. These interactions are mostly indirect, and in what amounts to maybe less than a minute of total time on screen, you establish a personal attachment with this non-essential character. It also does a great job of establishing exactly where your mindset is as Shepard, and how important the mission is that you are about to embark on. It’s these humanizing touches that are done with a cinematic flair that really stand out. Other notables from the first chapter are excellent use of concussion effects, combined with powerful visual effects and realistic character reactions to these massive explosions and weaponry. You will meet up with a few old faces in this first mission, including a considerably updated Ashley (if you chose the requisite options on character creation), and combat is handled exactly the same as Mass Effect 2, so it will feel very familiar to those that have played the previous game.
Once you’ve concluded the opening chapter, you will be put at a later point in the story for the second demo level. It is here that you will have a full squad, and be at a higher level to actually put some of your skills to use (did I mention that all 6 classes are usable?). The old gang is back together, including Wrex, Garrus and Liara, and you’ll meet up with another friendly face at the Salarian base you land on. Unfortunately, you also become reunited with a hostile Cerberus, and their interest is the same as yours: a fertile female Krogan. It’s hinted that this is a key to fighting back against the Reapers, so I expect some Wrexlettes to be popping out in the full game. The best part about this level (aside from being able to play more of the game), is watching the interaction of your party members. I had forgotten how great a job Bioware had done with creating a realistic, dynamic mix of personalities that interact with you and each other flawlessly. The commentary that they provide seems both effortless and appropriate if you’ve played the other games, without being intimidating or too “inside” if you haven’t played before.
Once you’ve completed this second level (and don’t worry, you’ll get a nice mini-boss battle before the end), you will be whisked back to the main menu with a reminder of the launch dates for the game (March 6th). This demo is just enough to leave you wanting more, and has enough in it to give you an excellent idea as to whether it’s a game you’ll like. I think with the addition of the different play modes, this game will hit a nerve with just about any type of gamer out there. The fact that you can play as every class means you can play through all of the menus and options to figure out exactly what kind of build you want for your first playthrough (which is great for people like me, who change their minds or start to wonder what another class would be like).
So go download and play the demo, and then come on back and let us know what you thought. What was your favorite part? What character are you going to play when it’s released? How many times have you played the demo? And keep checking back to Platform Nation for the latest on this incredible conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy.