The first teasings of Mass Effect 3 have now been released in the form of a single and multi-player demo. Generally released on Tuesday (specifically designed to wreck relationships across the globe), the demo is now available through the Xbox UK Facebook page, but the multiplayer servers aren’t currently online.
While the nature of Mass Effect as a series means everyone’s playing experience differs, which is in fact one of it’s most appealing features, the demo does contain single player story content and therefore everything that follows is spoilerific, you have been warned.
What immediately hits you is the scale that this game will take, with the title screen (above) depicting the Reaper assault on Earth. These 50,000 year-old tin openers – or mechanical apocolypse-bringers, if you prefer – intend to destroy the entire galaxy with the help of the Mass Effect relays, which were left scattered around as bait for sentient species to go zipping around the cosmos.
Now they are back to claim their bounty, and the story begins with Shepard grounded on Earth after being stripped of his (or her) Commander status following the events of Mass Effect 2.
The first of many choices you must make as a player in the game (apart from your Shep’s gender), is what ‘style’ you would like to play. The game asks you to ‘Choose Your Experience’, between ‘Action’, ‘Role-Playing’ and ‘Story’.
‘Action’ cuts through the pesky story nonsense, gives you a ‘generic’ character profile and cuts straight to the shooting, treating any decision-making as a quick and easy cut scene and allow you to adjust combat difficulty as you see fit.
‘Role-Playing’ is the traditional, and some might say real, Mass Effect experience which BioWare intended, while ‘Story’ cuts down on the action to a minimum and keeps all the initial customisation options, but levels up your character as the story dictates.
Presuming you want to customise, the demo gives you all the options you might fancy, including who Shepard has lost from his team up to now, decided between ME1’s fallen comrades or ‘Several’ – suggesting there will be a significant effect on Shepard’s mental state depending on the amount of loss which has been suffered, which doesn’t show in the demo, but certainly will have implications in the full game.
As you jump into the action, The Alliance is tracking a large unknown threat approaching Earth. Soon there is news of the UK being under attack, and sure enough the Reaper invasion shown in the teaser trailer spans out as far as the eye can see.
For now Shepard has to get back to his ship, which means a bit of a trek with series regular Admiral Anderson. The interface is all familiar, albeit with some spit polish, but the health bars of both you and your enemies has now been split into sections rather than a continuous bar, meaning you can’t just hide to recover any longer – choosing your battles has never been more important.
The combat movement is far more fluid than ME2. Unfortunately it still fall short of the smoothness of Gears of War, but Shepard now has the ability to roll, dash between cover and, most addictively, deliver an instant-kill ‘hard’ mêlée attack which has your omni-tool sprout a large glowing blade to impale evil-doers.
Powers and abilities have been inevitably tweaked (the Adrenaline Rush is now a shadow of its former self at level 1) and the points trees are more complex. Instead of having three linear levels and then one specialisation at the end, the player can now customise three out of six Ranks, choosing between two variations. For example, at Rank 4 Disrupter Ammo can either have its damage enhanced, or you can make it available for the rest of your squad at 50% effectiveness. This allows for more personalisation of skills as you progressing, making a big impact on your combat effectiveness at later levels in the full game.
Combat too has taken a more stylised turn. Thanks to the improved mobility controls, it’s now easier to flank and outrun enemies, so BioWare has hit back with enemies with turrets and riot shields as well as meatier husks and even giant user-driven mechs.
Other little touches just throw up questions. There is also a ‘Weight Capacity’ statistic thrown in here and there but no sign of an inventory at present, perhaps something held back from the demo? There is also none of the detailed weapon customisations on show here, suggesting that these were added later on in the development process. Also the Bypass mini-game seems to have gone, what about hacking?
The feeling of the game really takes shape in the second section of the demo. Set later on in the game, the sequence depicts a visit to the Salarian homeworld to transport a Krogan female. It’s an action mission through and through, but you are bumped up to level 12 so you have a wide selection of powers at your disposal from both you and your team.
Powers play a much bigger part in combat than before, dealing some serious damage and deploying more quickly. Armour and barriers aren’t as easily taken down by straight-forward shooting, so some tactics are needed to take enemies down without you or your squad-mates taking too much damage.
Your companions are, as always, what brings the richness to the Mass Effect universe, and even the short selection shown by the demo oozes character. From Admiral Anderson’s trouble facing the reality of Earth’s destruction, to Mordin’s frantic but calculated orders shrieked to you amid a firefight, there is plenty here to make you think of them as real.
With just under a month to go until release on March 9 (in Europe), the game will be being polished up since this demo was submitted for verification, so we might still see tweaks and changes. (As for the multiplayer component, this should go live on Tuesday if not before, and there will be a separate update then if there is enough to say.)
For now, appetites should be thoroughly whetted.
Don’t forget to check out our other Mass Effect articles, back in 2010 we spoke to Shepard’s voice actor Mark Meer while the game was in full swing, and then again last year when things were starting to wrap up. Plus the game features in our most anticipated games of the year, take a look.
James Michael Parry