I'm really, really trying to avoid discussing games that haven't actually released anymore. Partially, I'm just not seeing the point. I've played plenty of games that don't seem that special until you've seen how all its parts come together in the way it's actually meant to be played. Persona 4 and Catherine come to mind. Good games can be hurt by previews as we see them online *cough*Singularity*cough*, just as much as bad games can exploit them *cough*Amy*cough*. Once the demo comes out though, things become a little more fair to talk about. And here's Mass Effect 3, whether you like it or not, one of the biggest games of the year. Will it measure up to its predecessors? Still too soon to say, but the potential is definitely there.
The overall impression I get from the demo is that it's more of an action game. And also, it's more of a role-playing game. Yes. You can do both.
One of the things I've really come to hate with the oh-so-insightful discussions on this site isn't so much the genre elitism as it is the idea that that genres like this can't mix effectively. Yes, ME2 was more of an action game, and some RPG fans are bitter that it got better reception than the original by cutting out certain RPG features rather than improving them. I just played through the original one last time. And let me tell you, I don't think it's a good RPG when I have like fifty new weapons and mods and crap every time I open my inventory. It's tedious. More importantly, it's boring. You get SO many items that when you open up "Equipment" you have dozens of new items and you don't think "Wow, these will come in really handy," you think, "oh crap, I need to dump all these on a merchant so I can buy the four good weapons that I can't loot on site." All of it becomes meaningless and you can do pretty well just ignoring mods and shops altogether, just equipping better guns and armor you loot. ME2 was a little bit more limited, yes, but my decisions were less about what has better numbers and more about how I personally would like to play. Characters don't develop as organically in ME2 either, but that made me really stop and think about what skills to focus on each time I got the chance to level up. My decisions in the story have that kind of weight, why shouldn't my decisions in character development? That, to me, is role-playing. Sifting through pages of loot for the one marginally better weapon isn't.
Thanks for putting up with my little rant there. So how's the demo look? well...
The announcement trailer showed Earth already caught up in a global fight against the Reaper invasion. I hypothesized that this was something occurring much later in the game. (Like how the first ME2 teaser actually showed the bad ending where the Normandy is destroyed) Turns out I was completely wrong. The demo begins where the game does, with the reaper invasion. I'm getting kind of a "Deathly Hallows" vibe from this. The story may not be particularly good on its own, so it will be important to remember that it's the third act of a bigger story, not a stand-alone one.
That said, if they were really trying to sell the story, or at least the amount of player choice, they didn't do a great job with it. I was only given a handful of choices, Shepard mostly talking on his/her own, occasionally saying things "my" Shepard wouldn't. I went through one more time making the opposite choices and it didn't make any difference. I wouldn't expect it to in the opening level, but then in the second mission, you have no control over whether Wrex stays with your squad or not. The only differences were reputation points. Speaking of Wrex, I was intrigued by the character creation menu, which asked for "Combat Losses," as in what characters have died in previous games. The options were Kaidan, Ashley (whom you had to choose between saving in the first game) and "numerous" which i figured implied that you lost a lot of people in ME2 and at least killed Wrex in ME1. However, in that second mission, Wrex, Garrus, and even Mordin (who was notoriously easy to get killed) were all present. I imagine more of the choice in the game will come in outside of the actual missions, but the demo probably should have used a more "malleable" mission to show off. To be fair, Shepard was talking on his/her own a LOT less in the second mission, so maybe that was just for exposition purposes in the first.
Gameplay actually reminded more of Uncharted than anything else, at least the pure shooting aspect. I mean it basically plays like ME2, but there was a lot more action in the background of the two missions and a bit more focus on presentation, though it sometimes risks yanking the player out of immersion. (Does the HUD have to be up ALL the time?) But it hasn't sacrificed quality gameplay. Shooting and cover still have a very nice, tactical feel to them. And powers are useful and necessary to learn. Melee has also been improved. It's miles above the awful system in ME1 and now there's a special melee attack for each class. it seemed a bit over-powered at first, but then I got cocky with it and a Cerberus thug pulled out a knife and destroyed my shields, so I guess we'll call it fair. Also, Shepard no longer regenerates health, at least not completely. Your health meter is split into five sections, and once all the hp in one section is gone, you can't recover any of it without using a medi-gel. Think like the batteries in Human Revolution.
But what about the RPG elements? Well, if ME2 was too "dumbed down" for you, this should satisfy. Shepard has a large number of skills, and each skill has six or so levels, and the player has a lot more input on HOW to develop them, like whether to go for a wider area of effect or higher damage. This appeared in ME2, but only on the last tier of the skill. And, unlike ME1, it gives the player very clear, visual information on what effects upgrades will have, and they're not as miniscule as "increase duration by .5 seconds." There's also supposed to be a better weapon mod system (you can pick up a pistol scope on the second mission) but it wasn't seen in the demo.
Shepard isn't the only one getting better; the enemies have too. The enemies in the second mission showed a ton of variety. Some of them come at you with riot shields, others set up very powerful turrets. The AI was also very good about keeping on the move and trying to flank the player, rather than just peeking out from the same spot of cover. They're fun to fight, and also fairly challenging.
Some other new little things:
- The selection at the beginning where you choose action, story, or role-playing. Some people got up in arms about this, but ALL it does is choose some settings in advance, which you can change at any time, like difficulty and whether your given choices in dialogue or if they're automatically chosen for you...? What? I don't see the point of it, but I don't see the harm in it either.
- There's an option on when to show helmets and thank God! Now you can have Shepard's helmet always on, always off, or just off during conversations. That dumb looking thing could ruin a lot of scenes in ME2.
- Ashley. They REALLY changed her design. She just looks like a brunette Miranda now. Wait, she wasn't even a brunette in the first game, she had black hair. What the hell? Not that I care that much, it's just really, really weird. I jumped off the Ashley ship in ME2, anyway... and landed on Tali! *fist pump*
- The one thing that DID annoy me in game was that I had to aim directly at something to interact with it, rather than just face it. But I think I'll survive.
- You finally get to meet a Krogan female in the second mission. She's pretty awesome too, and the last scene with her and Wrex is kinda hilarious.
All in all, I'd say the pieces are in place for a grand finale indeed. The fact that they're trying to appeal to a more mainstream crowd with multiplayer and that silly "action mode" isn't a bad thing, and hasn't really hurt the experience for fans in any meaningful way. We'll just hold tight three more weeks and see if Bioware can put those pieces together. I'm looking forward to it.
Thanks for reading. Shepard out.