1-Up: Mass Effect 3 Demo Impressions
It's nice to see that somebody out there remembers what a demo is and why you release them...
When I was younger, I had a subscription to PC Gamer. It was a decent magazine, but the best part was the bonus demo disc. Every month, I had approximately 12 to 15 different games to check out and decide to spend money on. Unfortunately, as I got older, games got bigger -- but CDs only had so much space. Fewer and fewer demos made their way via the old method, and as time grew increasingly sparse, I stopped spending it looking for them and fell into the "let's gamble on this one" trap.
Many games no longer even have an obligatory demo. I guess that's good business sense -- if you're making a steamer, why advertise that to the world? All you're going to do is hurt your bottom line by turning people off who might have otherwise purchased the game. But when a decent studio (such as Bioware) can make a great game and release a really entertaining demo, everyone wins.
Fortunately, Bioware has enough faith in its product to deliver a playable demo of the latest installment of the Mass Effect series. I have to say, I'm excited. It's a two-level shot of heroine into the veins of a Mass Effect junkie -- not enough to sate the craving but enough to get me salivating and ready for this experience.
The original Mass Effect was an achievement in storytelling and plot wrapped in a ho-hum RPG. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend and was turned off completely by the sloppy, poorly thought-out inventory system, massive amount of time traversing mountain range after mountain range in the Mako, mission after stupid mission on the Citadel, elevators that seemingly (and slowly) went nowhere, and the terrible human companions you got saddled with at the beginning (Ashley and Kaiden).
It was enough to make me stop playing. For months. I only went back because I needed something to do, and it was one of the few games I hadn't beaten yet.
It was the best decision I could have made. The gameplay didn't get any better, but once I got off the Citadel and hit the plot-centric planets (Virmire, specifically), the story was so well done and so compelling that I couldn't put it down. I began recommending it to everyone I knew, including badgering my roommates -- consistently -- to play it. I gave copies of it away as Christmas and birthday gifts because I couldn't let anyone with an appreciation for story miss out.
And then came Mass Effect 2. This game was liquid fun. I couldn't stop playing it -- not only had they fixed everything about Mass Effect that I couldn't stand, they actually found a way to make a perfect story better. They created new characters who didn't completely suck. They fixed some of the old characters and made them palatable. They put you in the rough-and-tumble universe they swore existed but you never actually saw until that moment.
So, now comes Mass Effect 3. We're a month away, and we have a demo, dropped and ready for criticism. There's a few things I can say for certain, and several things I can infer based on what I saw.
Let's start with what I know...
Combat didn't need an overhaul, and thus, it didn't get one. That said, firearm operation seems more natural -- less like you're firing a space weapon designed to look like a rifle, and more like you're firing a rifle. This is a minor improvement that some many not even notice, but when you're looking to nitpick, it goes a long way toward accrediting the developer. Moreover, health begins to act like health again – when you lose it, you sort of actually lose it, only regenerating portions of it. I applaud Bioware for helping reverse the wussification of gamers worldwide. (You can blame Call of Duty for teaching gamers that their wounds heal magically if they act like cowards and hide from the big scary bad guys.)
Leveling up is as streamlined as it was in ME2 but with more customization available in every skill tree. Graphically, ME3 is significantly improved, although customization of the graphics settings wasn't really an option in the demo. Day 1 hasn't yet allowed us to test out the multiplayer aspect, so, unfortunately, there's little to say on that front.
What I can infer only relates to storyline stuff, so, bear with me.
It appears as though you get all your ME1 cronies back together minus whoever you killed. If true, this is a significant victory, as Wrex was one of the best parts of ME1.
It also appears as if Freddie Prinze Jr. has finally landed a role in something that won't completely fall apart and burn around him, no matter how hard he tries to make that happen. If true, this is a significant victory for his career, as everything he touches dies a miserable, painful death.
Shepard has split from Cerberus, which leads me to wonder -- was giving over the Collector base a really stupid move on my part?
Female Krogans finally make an appearance. I don't know if she can become a crew member or not, but if so, this means possible Krogan romance option. Eeew.
You don't get to see anything of the Normandy interior or space travel in the demo. So, how much are they going to have remodeled of the ship interior, using the Collector attack as the excuse (because you totally know that's going to be their excuse)?
And finally (and this is a big one), how much freedom are you really going to have?
I ask this because ME2 gave you a significant amount of freedom in what you did and how you got there. That was one of its most endearing features, and one of the many, many reasons it got replayed more than once. But Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter -- is Bioware going to keep that level of freedom, or is it going to force you to follow a predefined path and call it "freedom?" Anyone who's played The Old Republic should know what I'm talking about. Yeah, you have choices on where to go and what to do, but you don't really have a choice.
Maybe I'm worrying over nothing -- the demo is a little slice of heaven. Let's hope it's a precursor to something great -- something timeless and memorable and not just another polished turd.