Opinion: What The Mass Effect 3 Demo Tells Us About The Game

With the final installment in BioWare’s epic space-opera just weeks away, Dave McConkey gives his thoughts on what the recently-released demo implies about the game’s plot, characters,  enemies and gameplay.

(Warning: Some spoilers below)

This week saw the release of the Mass Effect 3 demo for download via XBL, PSN or Origin. This was the same one-level demo they had on offer at the Eurogamer Expo, but with an additional sequence showcasing the first stage of the Reaper invasion of Earth and Shepard’s frantic escape aboard the repainted Normandy.

While the demo gave very little away, there are a few things about the new game that we can infer if we look closely enough (though some are more obvious than others).

 

Plot

The Reapers are invading. Obviously. If this was news to you then congratulations on waking up from your coma. I am sure your memory and full motor function will return in time. However, for those of us that didn’t spend the last few years in hospital or recently suffer serious head trauma, the demo did reveal a couple of other previously unknown likely plot threads.

When Shepard jumps on board the Normandy at the end of the first section, Anderson (voiced by Keith David – an actor who I will forever associate with the film Requiem For A Dream and the time that he ‘didn’t take it out for air’) remains on Earth to lead the fight against the Reapers. It is pretty clear that organised resistance to the Reapers had all but ended by the time the Normandy left Earth (as evidenced by the burning debris slowly falling to Earth) so it is possible that Anderson will lead a resistance movement against the brutal occupation/extermination by the Reapers. Look forward to leaked radio communications from Occupied Earth, hopefully with choice lines like ‘I am David Anderson. If you are listening to this, you are the Resistance’.  Maybe there will be a rescue mission midway through the game, or a time element to liberate earth before everyone is wiped out. Oh, and as a bonus, for anyone looking for justification for the Reapers not just bombing the shit out of Earth from orbit, how about they are harvesting everyone to make new Reapers like the Collectors were in ME2? Hmmm?

Another plot thread hinted at is a possible war between some or all of the Citadel and non-Citadel races. It is hinted that the Salarians are or were very recently at war with someone at the time the game is set. I am going to guess that it is the Krogans, given how the demo mission sees you attempting to rescue a fertile Krogan female for Wrex. A common, if not unexpected, theme to the campaign will likely be the need to unite all Citadel and non-Citadel races against the Reapers. This could be made more difficult if tensions that have been evident since the first game have erupted into open war between certain factions. Perhaps Shepard will have to act as a mediator to end hostilities. Quarians and Geth anyone?

Here is another bonus – some of the dialogue hinted that this female might be the latest last hope for the Krogan race (man the Krogans love that shit – to date there have been two ‘last hopes’ for the them – the breeding facility on Vermire in ME1 and Grunt in ME2), namely that she might be immune to, or have been cured of, the Salarian genophage. Ooooooh, exciting!

 

Allies

The demo sees you fighting alongside Liara and Garrus as you attempt to liberate the Krogan female. Wrex also makes an appearance as a companion to the party, though you don’t actually control him. Mordin Solus also makes an appearance. This suggests that a lot of the characters from previous games will make appearances in a variety of campaign missions (similar to the loyalty missions I would guess), probably aimed at winning their faction over in the fight against the Reapers. It could also mean that you will control characters from the previous games in one-off missions, just like you did with Liara in the Lair of the Shadowbroker DLC. Bioware have said that the roster of permanent team mates will be smaller in ME3 than ME2, but that does not preclude previous characters popping in and out to take part in missions relevant to their faction.

Here is your third bonus (I am fucking chocka with them) – looks like being the Shadowbroker didn’t work out so well for Liara, since she is fighting alongside Shepard again. I wonder what secrets she uncovered in her time at the heart of the spiders she will bring with her? Secret weapon stockpiles? Alien artefacts? Gossip about the latest interspecies sex scandal? Who knows!

Or she could just be in the demo to give us a familiar character to play with…

Bioware have been tight-lipped as to which characters will be permanent squad mates, and which will be support characters or only make cameo appearances. Garrus will be a permanent character due to him being in the demo and both previous games, and I think Miranda Lawson was on the Normandy as Shepard jumped on, so she could be in. I for one would be gutted if Grunt and Legion were not on the Normandy for most of the game, and I generally really liked having Tali, Thane, Mordin and Zaeed around.  On the other hand I found Jacob and Ashley to be a pretty boring, I never really connected with Samara, Jack just moaned and bitched the whole time and I found Wrex to be a bit of a dick to be honest.

 

 

RPG Elements

I loved ME2 more than any one member of my family (and probably more than some of them combined), but even I would say that the RPG elements had been stripped down as far as you could go while still calling it an RPG. However, it was still probably preferable to the glorified spreadsheet management that was the inventory of the first game.

The Powers That Be at Bioware apparently listened to feedback from fans, and have increased the complexity of the RPG elements of the game while still keeping things interesting. They have claimed that the RPG aspects will lie somewhere between the ME1 spreadsheets and the ME2 Duplo blocks, and from what we can see in the demo, they have not lied.

First is the character skills tree. It will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the previous games, only this time each ability or skill has six upgrade levels. When you go to upgrade the skill you are taken to another screen, where you can see the effects of each upgrade. The first three upgrades are done as usual, but the last three levels all have two options for the ability, only one of which can be chosen. Think of ME2 when you maxed out a skill, and were given a choice between one of two effects. This choice system is now in play from the 4th level to the 6th. This conceivably means that within each skill there will be certain ways of tailoring it to make it more suitable to certain tactical situations, or specific enemy types. It certainly increases the complexity and subtlety of the upgrades system considerably.

Bonus Fact (that’s number 4 in case you are counting) – each level costs one more point than the previous, so level 1 costs one point, level 2 costs 2 points etc. meaning that it looks like Shepard will be able to advance more than the 30 levels he was limited to in ME2.

There are also some hints that the weapon customisation has been revamped. During the demo level you can pick up a ‘Pistol Scope’, though you cannot apply it during the mission. This could mean that it is just another component that you pick up and then research just like in the previous game, or it could mean that the weapon management has been given a complete overhaul. It could suggest that each weapon has a certain number of hard points or upgrade slots that can have various components swapped in and out between each mission. I am thinking something along the lines of Crysis 2 or Battlefield 3, where you have room for a barrel, muzzle and optic upgrade that you can mix and match (only obviously because this is the future, there would be cool internal upgrades for ammo capacity or damage that have cool names like ‘Advanced Particle Blaster’ or ‘Resonant Magnetic Stabiliser’).

What would make this even better would be if instead of finding one pistol scope upgrade and being able to equip your whole squad with it, you had to find individual items and upgrades for each of your squad mates’ weapons. It would help with the individuality of each of your team mates and enhance the ‘role playing’ aspects of the game, especially if there were very rare weapon specific upgrades to find. Though it might make things a little harder, it would at any rate give you something to spend your credits on and give the shops more than four items to sell…

 

Enemies

Both stages of the demo gave tantalising hints at what we can expect from the enemies in Mass Effect 3, and from what we can see we will not be disappointed.

First off, we finally get a look at what a Reaper foot soldier looks like. They are obviously derived from the same stock as the Husks and Scions from the previous games. These so-called Cannibals look like grossly misshapen humanoids that have been consumed by reaper technology. Think of a Husk that has been hitting the ‘roids and you will be there. Apparently they are the Husk form of Batarians (according to the Mass Effect Wiki). They are not individually all that tough (being the first real enemies you come across this is not surprising), but even in the demo they exhibited signs of the upgraded AI the chaps from Bioware have been banging on about. In one brief defensive section, they assaulted head on, but they were also constantly trying to flank me and catch me in enfilade (thanks Wikipedia). Had their shots been any more damaging I probably would have died quite a few times.

Other enemies are hinted at during this section. At one point you are almost hit by a rapidly moving flying unit that bore the unmistakeable aesthetic of the Reaper husks, but more resembled a bird or dragon fly the size of a tank. It is very likely that the Reapers will have many more combat forms that are variations of ‘partially melt some humanoids and then glue them together’. If Cannibals are former Batarians, what happens when Krogan are Reaperised? Or Asari? Fighting Reaper Asari Commandos or Krogan Battlemasters sounds about as much fun as dental surgery. Or fuck me – Rachni! Reaperised Rachni?!

The second half of the demo has you fighting against more conventional enemies, this time in the form of Cerberus soldiers who for some reason are trying to kill the Krogan female. Aside from your usual grunts, you also face Guardians that are equipped with invincible ballistic riot shields (but are otherwise pretty feeble), Combat Technicians that can lay and then repair turrets and Centurions that are protected by barriers and can fly. No doubt this is just handful of the forces you will encounter throughout the game. For what it’s worth, the enemies definitely have a much meatier feel to them, looking more solid and imposing than in previous games.

You also get to battle it out with a Cerberus Mech. This is the only negative thing I can really infer about the game from the demo, but the Cerberus Mech (or Atlas) just isn’t all that tough, and is functionally the same enemy as the YMIR battle mechs from the previous game. I killed it pretty easily and just cannot find it in myself to get excited about it, just because I suspect I will kill loads of them before the end of the game.

So there you have it. Gripping story, interesting characters, fine detail and intimidating characters. What the fuck more could any gamer want? I am so excited I could piss. I also didn’t pre-order my N7 edition (for the X-Box) on time so I will literally turn tricks for anyone out there willing to part with theirs. Anyone?

And yes, this is what I did on my Valentine’s day. And it was awesome. Not sad at all…



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