Before we start, everyone go to http://www.humblebundle.com/ and buy the Mojam games. Three great games by Mojang and their associated teams and all money goes to charity. I weighed my donation towards Charity Water. This is gonna be cool.
The first thing that struck me about the Mass Effect 3 demo was being prompted to choose from one of three settings for my playthrough: action, role-playing and story. Action was a faster-paced mode without dialogue choices, role-playing was the traditional blend of action and talking, and storytelling mode reduced combat to a bare-minimum difficulty to allow players to breeze through the game’s story and dialogue situations. While this might be a bit of a departure from Mass Effect’s traditional structure, its interesting to see Bioware attempt to incorporate two different camps of casual gamers into their game.
Then the demo launched in actuality. Opening up on Earth in New York, I was initially somewhat confused to see the lack of focus on the events of the Arrival DLC, which acted as a bridging story to the events of Mass Effect 3. More surprisingly however, was the pace of the on-rails cutscene which introduced the game. In the seven or so minutes that encompassed this section, I counted about five dialogue options and was struck by the fact that there were sections where Commander Shepard would talk without the direct input of the player.
So, back to the demo. Commander Shepard is in New York confronting the United Nations (presumably) about the destruction of a Mass Relay in Arrival. The conversation quickly turns to the subject of the Reaper Invasion, and the UN initially doesn’t seem to believe him. "We fight or we die” I tell my Shepard to say, and as she speaks, the shadowy claws of a Reaper descend from the heavens outside a nearby window. Explosive lasers are fired, the UN council-men are left dead, and actual gameplay begins.
Armed with only a pistol, I spawn on a rooftop with Captain Anderson. The new interface looks a lot cleaner, making it easier to determine your exact health and armor. The same can’t really be said when the command wheel is brought up, which somewhat occludes the screen to the point where friendly squad members can’t be pinpointed easily.
This section of gameplay is remarkably beautiful. The scale of the Reapers is unparalleled in this opening section as the massive squidlike creatures tower thousands of feet into the air, raining destruction upon the planet. After climbing a few ladders and rolling over some gaps (new movement features! Shepard no longer has to clumsily run around enemy fire), I come across a horde of zombielike husks. I fire the pistol at them to notice that the visual kick of the weapon is far more pronounced. Combat now feels more visceral thanks to some great new sound effects. I run out of ammo quickly and am prompted to use a power-melee attack on the remaining enemies. Shepard’s omni-tool morphs into a wrist-mounted dagger and she plunges it into the husk’s body with a tap of the circle button. Cool.
After fighting hordes of a new enemy-type called the Cannibal, Anderson leads Shepard to a drop zone where he summons the Normandy to pick her up. As Shepard jumps into the ship’s docking bay, Anderson throws her a dog tag and tells her that “you’re reinstated” before returning to the fight. The Normandy flies away and we are left to ponder his fate.
Overall, I was left very impressed with this first section of the demo. The narrative set-up was immaculate and sets the inane stakes of Shepard’s quest up very nicely, making Mass Effect 3 a highly anticipated conclusion to one of the finest video-game stories in recent years.