Thursday, February 16, 2012

Take Earth Back

Well, the Mass Effect 3 demo dropped this week, and I have to say, I had a pretty darn good time playing it!

Spoilers ahead for the first two games and anything seen in the demo.

Up front, let's get the few things I didn't like out of the way first: 

I always forget how different the animation style for Mass Effect is from my other Bioware games. It's not bad mind you, it's just different. It feels choppier somehow, rougher around the edges. It completely fits in with the feel of the franchise, but it always takes me a bit of time to get used to it. 

Where is my map????? Okay, this might (fingers crossed) just be a demo issue. Maybe. There was no map at all my screen, not even the semi-annoying little circle at the bottom that at least let me know the position of nearby enemies. Now, the menu screen has a "Map" option, but it wasn't functional for the demo. Granted, maps always annoy me in the ME games. I am not going to lie and pretend that they don't. But not having some sort of directional guide and not being able to pull up a full screen map to figure out where the heck I am or where the heck I am going was a tad frustrating. Now, you can use the "V" key to get a brief little indicator to point you towards your objective, and thankfully that was one of the first little (very quick) hints to pop up on the screen. I utilized that key quite a lot, let me tell you. Still, it would have been nice to have that little enemy indicator as well, especially since....

The camera just felt all out of whack to me. I am trying to remember if it is always like this in ME games, and I think it might be. I hope so, because that means it is something I got used to and got over pretty quickly. Still. Wow. Basically, you are just looking over Shepard's shoulder the whole time. It's not first person (thank goodness), but you can't really look around too much. Very limited perspective and no zoom that I could tell. 

Lastly, they have way pared down the way to access combat moves. It's always been a little minimal, but in the past when you scroll down your mouse (which is your camera control and your targeting control) over one of the UI parts of the screen, you get a pointer back and can click on your various skills/moves or change weapons, use medpacs and whatnot. As far as I could tell, that wasn't there at all. Your mouse looks you around, and you use it to point and shoot. You've got your spacebar to interact with objects that can be interacted with once you get close enough, and to use a special shot or biotic ability you have to use the number key that it is assigned to in the bar at the top of the screen. Now, that ability bar has always been there, with shortcut keys in place, but it was optional before and I never really used it much, preferring to use my mouse to select an ability from the area with my health and party status. If that option is gone for good, it is going to take some serious adjusting for me when the game rolls around (and some quick memorization, because of course many of the keys are different from previous games). 

Also, in previous games there was a way to pause in combat and order your companions to do certain things and line up a set of moves to perform a more controlled coordinated attack. I am pretty sure that we will have that ability once the game drops, because I recall the "giving your squad orders" feature being quite heavily advertised every time the game was presented at conventions and whatnot. But I will be darned if I could figure out how to do that in the demo.

Still, a lot of this is just more of the same for how ME plays, which I think stems from its creators trying to walk the line between a first-person shooter experience and a full-out role-playing game. It will either go away in the full version of the game (the demo is always going to be a stripped down version), or I will get used to it. I am not really worried about any of that. Seriously, if those are the only problems I end up having with the game, well, that would be nice. 

Now, with all of that out of the way, on to the good!


The demo takes you through the opening sequence of the game, which is mostly cut-scenes with a few quick starter movement and combat sequences. After that, you get a second mission from later in the game that is a bit harder, but your character has leveled up and you can allocate points to the abilities you prefer for yourself and your two squad mates (Liara and Garrus, in this case). Then you get a chance to get really down and dirty and see how the combat works and how to best use your newly obtained skills. 

There are a few new faces right off the bat and a bunch of old friends. Not gonna lie, my heart melted a little when Kaidan popped up. Now, if you've played the first game, you know it's an either/or situation on whether you get Ashley or Kaidan, but the demo set-up gives you a chance to pick which one of them died at Virmire, so that was nice. From what I saw in the demo, I actually have to say they have done a good job at making this game accessible to people who haven't played the first two without sacrificing the wonderful story experience for those of us who have.

You still get the character customization option (along with a few presets to choose from if that's not your cup of tea). It's still not to the level of some of Bioware's other games *cough*DragonAge*cough* but at least they have added in a few more decent hairstyles/colors. Of course, that is countered with the option of having a freaking bouffant available as a hairstyle option for FemShep. I almost fell out of my chair, ya'll. What the heck is up with that? What military officer in the twenty-second century would wear a bouffant? I mean, really, what? Sigh. Also, FemShep's eyelashes are still just...too much. And there's no way to alter them. But in the grand scheme of things, not really a big deal. Like I said, there are some fun new options. I mean, I'll be playing with a pre-created character when the full game hits, but they do give you the option to tweak (or heck, totally change) your character's appearance even when starting from a saved game. So I am glad to know I can at least update her hairstyle and makeup. Hey, I have my girly moments.

Issues with figuring out how to use my skills and abilities aside, actually getting to see them in action was a lot of fun. I also really enjoyed getting to see some of my old (and older) teammates interacting with each other and with me. Story-wise I am really intrigued to see where this chapter will take us. From the demo we learn two interesting factors. The Alliance (Earth's space force) has reinstated Shepard in the wake of her being absolutely right about the Reapers, and Cerberus (with whom Shepard was loosely, if unwillingly, allied during the second game) is back on the side of the bad guys once more. Also, they have no compunction about getting in Shepard's way or attacking her and her crew. I will be very curious to see which of the companions from game two are back to actively help (or even hinder) Shepard this go-around. Especially after my husband pointed out how there is a large likelihood that in many people's playthroughs, most or all of their crew got killed during the second installment's endgame. That's got to be a bear for the writers to sort out and balance to make sure that no one misses out on too much content just because they couldn't keep a particular crew member alive. Still, it would suck immensely for all of those wonderful characters to just be gone. We shall have to see.

One other really cool bit from the demo? Female Krogan. Yup. The second mission you play in the demo is to rescue/escort one from the Salarian homeworld (while under attack from Cerberus). I mean, mostly she's stuck in a life-support pod while you are trying to get her off the planet, but we did get to meet her briefly once the day was saved, and she was awesome. I really really hope she has a goodly part to play in the plot, because I love her already.

One interesting new bit I noticed was the option for type of gameplay between action, role play, and story. I chose role play because that was the "traditional" Mass Effect experience. But from the descriptions it sounds like action focuses more on the actual combat and just kind of runs you through the story on rails without you needing to worry about trying to influence the outcome with your choices, no dialog options, for example. Story, on the other hand is all about that part of the experience, minimizing the combat, with battles not so much affecting how the story unfolds. Role play seems to be the middle of the road between these two paths. I think it is a definite example of how the fan base of this game is a bit wider because it does draw in the fans of shooters and the fans of RPGs but doesn't really fit squarely in either category. After I've done a playthrough in the role play style, it might be fun to try one out in story. 

I do wish that we could have gotten a glimpse inside the Normandy during the demo, mostly to reassure myself they didn't mess with it too much from game two. Normandy 2.0 is my favorite spaceship pretty much in the history of ever, even edging out Serenity, which is pretty spiffy. I will be heartbroken if they've gone and screwed it up.

I didn't mess with the new multi-player feature at all, so I can't really speak to that. But as I have no intention of utilizing it in the full game either, well, yeah. I mean, bully for you if you've been looking forward to that. Some of the comments I've seen online seem to suggest it is pretty well done. Not my cup of tea though.

All in all though, playing the demo just made me super jazzed for Mass Effect 3. I will probably play it through a couple more times, try out the different classes and whatnot, as well as to get a feel for the playing style once more. If you have any interest in checking out the game come March 6, I highly urge you to give the demo a try. It is available for XBox 360, Playstation 3, and PC for free (though I know with PC you will need to have or set up a (free) account with Origin, I would guess there might be similar requirements for the other platforms as well). You can download it by clicking right here. Even with all of the time I spent messing around in the character generator, it only took me about an hour to play, and I think it gives you a good feel for the franchise and the forthcoming game whether you've got any history with Mass Effect or not.

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