My upfront verdict so far? LOVE it.
No, seriously, this is amazing, it truly is. It is the culmination of story of the two prior games and Bioware approached it as such. Right from the very first scene there is the sense that the stakes have risen and that even though the tag for the game is "Take Earth back," Shepard and crew's actions quite clearly have a truly galactic effect right from the beginning. This game hits the ground running folks.
I mean, I can see where a newbie to the franchise might be able to pick it up with game three and enjoy themselves, but I don't know why they would want to. There is so much story in the first two games, and if you've played them, then everything that happens in the third is just that much more meaningful, from reunions with old friends (and adversaries) to experiences new party members have had as a result of Shepard's previous actions to Shepard's own evident frustration that she's been warning the Alliance and the Council about the big bad for years and they just kept brushing her off, and now the enemy is here and it is too late to prevent them from just rolling over humanity like a boulder. It's nuts and tense and emotionally wrought and ohmygod so freaking fun.
I'll try to keep this mostly spoiler free for you. I am not that far into the game yet, so there's not a whole lot I can give away at this point anyway (and wow, do I wish I had a job I could actually take a day or two off from so that I could just lock myself up with the game for two days straight). I can say that the game picks up just a month or two after the second one left off, with Shepard having turned herself into the Alliance after taking out the Collector homeworld and telling the Illusive Man to shove it. When all hell breaks loose, Anderson reinstates her into the Alliance and shoves her on the Normandy, sending her to get help for whatever remains of Earth. Off the bat your first two crew members are one familiar face (either Ashley or Kaidan, depending on which survived Virmire in game one) and one new face, James Vega, an Alliance grunt who has kind of been Shepard's minder while she's been under house arrest.
The Normandy is the same ship from game two (thank goodness), but since Shepard turned it over to the Alliance it now has a military crew again and they have been working to retrofit it a bit to bring it up to Alliance regulations. So, it is mostly familiar but with a few tweaks here and there. It's strange to wander around it and see the spaces where your former companions camped out and find them empty. So far, I like the replacement for Kelly Chambers a lot more than her predecessor, but as nice as the new engineer seems, I kind of miss Donnelly and Daniels. Still, early days, so who knows, right? On the plus side, EDI and Joker are still firmly ensconced on the ship, which is how it should be. Oh, man, EDI...like I said, trying to avoid spoilers, but wow, I am vastly amused by where they are going with her in this outing.
I wanted to get oodles of screenshots for you, but Mass Effect is so freaking annoying about screenshots that it is kind of a pain in the butt to do so. Still, I grabbed a few for you to enjoy.
|My Shepard, Kara, in her N7 armor. I love that you can customize the armor colors and shading so fully, it is super awesome!|
|Kara Shepard's casual appearance (for when aboard the Normandy). Hoodie!!!! (Collector's Edition bonus goody.)|
|Another CE bonus, you get a mech puppy on the ship! Better than a space hamster? Well, we'll see, won't we?|
|Just exploring the ship yields a few ship models for Shepard to put up on display in her quarters.|
|James Vega, the newbie. Seems okay so far.|
Also, now that I've got the full game, I can see if my concerns from playing the demo were warranted or not.
Animation: Not really a concern, per se, but it threw me. I have to say though, that whatever irked me about the animation in the demo is completely gone in the full game. The graphics and animation in this game are freaking amazing and beautiful! Wow. (The lag that a lot of people are experiencing, and that attacked me last night, on the other hand, is crazy annoying. But my awesome husband seems to have gotten that resolved for me, so it was quickly back to "yay!")
Maps: Okay, well, so far the maps are still about as useless as they always are in the franchise. But I kind of expected that to be the case. I will say that I am offering reserved approval for the "points of interest" concept that they have added. If you have a plot/quest point in an area, the map will tell you which point of interest holds that point. Also, my little enemy radar did not actually disappear entirely. The in-game pause (which is holding down on the left "Shift" key) brings it up. I just totally forgot about that dang key during my first playthrough of the demo.
Camera: Yeah, it's still annoying, and pretty much exactly what it was in the demo. But I am getting used to it. It's not enough to take me out of the game anymore, which is I suppose the most I can really expect on that front.
Combat Moves: Okay, that left "Shift" key I mentioned before? Yeah, that is all I needed to do in order to find my familiar combat screen. It was in the demo (as I discovered when my husband played it, and used in my second go-around). I just had a total brain-freeze and forgot how to bring it up. It's pretty much exactly like game two's combat engine in that respect, which I am 100% okay with.
So, most of my fears proved mostly groundless (and some just due to my own faulty memory). I mean, yeah, there are a few things *cough*chasesequence*cough*and*cough*dreamsequence*cough* that were mildly annoying, but I can live with those here and there because the rest of this is just so much fun! I cannot wait to see how this story unfolds. I really can't.
I am also really looking forward to how the romances progress. I have two characters from the previous games and I am doing my first playthrough on my character that romanced Kaidan in game one and stayed single in game two. (My other Shepard, pissed at Kaidan's reaction to her temporary alliance with Cerberus, hooked up with Garrus in game two.) I am sure that the multiple love interests background will provide more drama, but I figure my poor second Shep waited long enough to be reunited with Kaidan, so she gets the first shot out of the gate. The other one can snuggle with Garrus until it's her turn at the new story. Already there have been some interesting conversations on the topic in the game, so I am glad they don't seem to be wanting to push that aspect totally to the background.
Speaking of conversations. Holy wow, the banter! ME3 adds actual conversations between the characters as they are going about their missions. Not dialog option conversations, just, discussions of the situation or of what's going on between the characters. It is fantastic! I love this. There was some small banter presence in previous games but it has been completely taken up several levels this time around and feels a thousand times more natural. I look forward to much entertainment as a result.
For those who played the demo and are expecting to be bored playing through those two scenes again in the full game, by the way, don't be. I was delighted to find that the opening scene in the game was expanded from what we saw in the demo. Quite a few more conversations and interactions with various characters.
One interesting note: If you import a saved game, you aren't given the option between Action, Role-play, or Story for your game, it just defaults to Role-play. I mean, I have no problem with that, but I thought it was interesting. I looked around in the options and menus and didn't see anywhere to change it either. I am not sure what to make of that. It seems like a weird thing to throw in there solely for people who are only going to play the third game in a trilogy.
Anyhoo, I think that's about all I have to say on the matter thus far. Now, if you'll excuse me, those Reapers aren't going to defeat themselves...