NOTE: Spoilers follow.
Mass Effect 3’s release is looming large on the horizon, and the hype is at an all time high. As promised, BioWare has released a demo for the game, to give players a taste of the awesomeness they will be treated to once the full game releases. But the question arises- will the game be awesome? Will it be as good we’re all expecting it to be? After all, it’s the sequel to what is the highest rated RPG of all time. And in my personal opinion, it’s going to be very hard to top something as awesome as Mass Effect 2, much less equal it.
Does Mass Effect 3 manage to do the impossible and improve upon its predecessor? Has the gameplay been improved drastically? And if so, has it been done for the better? How’s the story going to be, and how will BioWare tie off so many lose ends in one game? These are just some of the questions all BioWare and Mass Effect fans have right now. Obviously, all of them weren’t answered with the demo, but I did get to see a taste of what the final game will be like.
And if the demo is anything to go by, it’s going to be mind blowing.
Let’s start with the basics first- it’s a one and a half hour long demo which shows two missions from the game, and it also features an online co-op beta. I spent around three hours with the demo, one and a half hour on each mode, but in this preview, I will only be talking about the single player. I will be posting my impressions of the multiplayer soon.
The single player demo starts with the very first mission of the game. After the events of the Arrival DLC pack of Mass Effect 2- when Shepard sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Batarians to stop a Reaper attack- the ex-Commander of the Normandy (yeah, he’s been relieved from his position now) has been grounded on Earth. His ship and status have been taken away. However, at the beginning of the game, Earth starts losing communication with the lunar base, and news comes from London that the Reapers have attacked. As a council asks Shepard for his advice, the city of Vancouver suddenly gets attacked by a fleet of innumerable Reapers, and thus the stage is set for the mission and the game itself. The entire mission focuses on trying to get to the Normandy to escape the hot zone that is Earth.
The mission, while mostly consisting of cutscenes, awesome set pieces and tutorials, was light on action, but the way it was presented was mind blowing. Picture the first 30 minutes of God of War 3 in your mind- remember how awesome it was, seeing the vast draw distances and the battle between huge Titans and Gods as you climbed Mt. Olympus on Gaia’s back? Mass Effect 3’s introduction is ten times as impressive, when it comes to scope and epicness.
Seeing the huge, half a mile tall Reapers ravaging the city, seeing the buildings crumble under the incessant attacks by the huge inorganic aliens, seeing gunships fly overhead and indulge in aerial battle, seeing the meteorite thingies that are actually husks was all so breathtaking. With each new game, BioWare has been progressively getting better at cinematic presentation and emotive storytelling, and Mass Effect 3 looks good enough in this department to outclass even the likes of Uncharted or Dragon Age.
One particular scene- when an entire spaceship is torn asunder by the Reapers and a sonic boom spreads out for miles and miles (and you actually get to see it in the background)- was the highlight of the flashy, stylish storytelling BioWare has become so good at. However, the real highlight of the first mission was when Shepard encounters a boy in a ventilation shaft in the middle of the battle. Shepard tries to help him, asks him to come with him, but the boy, who is too scared, refuses and runs away. The same boy is shown at the beginning of the level, playing with a toy ship without a worry in the world. When Shepard is leaving in the Normandy, he sees the boy getting onto an evacuation shuttle. Their eyes meet, and just as hope dawns on Shepard’s face that the boy will be safe, a Reaper lazer destroys the shuttle.
It is moments like these that I think will make Mass Effect 3 a very successful and emotional game. I actually felt a lump in my throat and moisture in my eyes when the level had ended, and I am hardly ever (significantly) moved by anything (no, I’m not a cold hearted bastard). The musical score did a perfect job of complimenting the sombre, emotional mood.
And then began the second level. It was here that the demo truly showcased the action and the gameplay mechanics that we’ll get to see in Mass Effect 3. The second mission is set on a Salarian base, and Shepard, Garrus, Wrex and Liara are going there to extract a female Krogan, so that Shepard can gain the allegiance of the Krogans. But as always, things aren’t as simple as they sound. For some reason, an entire army (of sorts) of Cerberus operatives has attacked the Salarian base and they apparently want to harm the female Krogan, or capture it, or something…
The shooting mechanics in Mass Effect 3 are absolutely phenomenal. The problem with Mass Effect 2, however good it may have been, was that while it was technically a third person shooter, there were a lot of missing mechanics that were staples of the genre and a lot of things it didn’t do right. This time, Shepard can jump, roll, take swat turns and so much more. Shooting is a lot more organic and smooth. Your melee attacks add a whole lot to the combat, and the typical Mass Effect usage of special ammo types, biotic powers and weapons makes the combat that much more awesome.
The AI, too, is incredible. Enemies try to flank you, hit you with precise aiming, position themselves intelligently, use turrets and machine guns, defend themselves with big ass shields, and throw grenades with unnerving accuracy. The shooting and the mechanics in Mass Effect 3 make it an awesome third person shooter, good enough to rival the likes of Gears of War and Uncharted.
However, it’s not all about shooting. During the course of the demo, I levelled up twice, and I saw how much more of an RPG Mass Effect 3 was when compared to Mass Effect 2. Customizability is deep enough the keep RPG fanatics interested and you can grow your character the way you want to. It’s still not Mass Effect 1 level, which itself wasn’t a paramount game in RPG mechanics, but it’s definitely better than Mass Effect 2, and will keep RPG fans happy.
The dialogue throughout the demo was as impressive as ever (with some funny one liners by Garrus and Wrex during the second mission), and the cutscenes were ingenuously directed. My jaw was left hanging open when I first witnessed the horrible Reaper attack on Earth. It was incredible, mind blowing, and so epic. The music was awesome, from the little I heard, and the visuals, as we’ve come to expect from BioWare, were top notch, sometimes almost seeming CGI (during some of the cutscenes).
From what I’ve seen, Mass Effect 3 is shaping up to be an incredible game with excellent production values and a level of polish that is expected from a game of such high pedigree. It has awesome combat, the cutscenes are mind blowing, the writing is snappy and intelligent, and the RPG mechanics are deep enough to keep fans of the first game and haters of the second interested. A few days ago, I was unsure whether BioWare would be able to top the awesomeness that was Mass Effect 2. After this demo, I’m sure they will.
You can read our impressions of Mass Effect 3’s co-op multiplayer here.