Originally published on GameInformer.com February 22, 2012, at 8:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 3/1/12.
4,850 views as of June 4, 2018.
Someone does not want me to write this blog. Whether repeat deaths in the Mass Effect 3 demo both alone and in co-op or Internet failures resulting in the loss of a mostly written article twice, my unconventional perspective on BioWare's franchise seems to unite the universe against me.
Indeed, while Mass Effect is my all time favorite game, I can't even bring myself to finish its sequel, which in my opinion is a solid title but flawed especially in comparison to its predecessor. Indeed, the demo reminds me of how far the franchise has come -- for better and for worse.
The first entry provided an innovative mix of third person shooter and role playing game elements. Indeed, the streamlined RPG features enhanced the customization available in some shooters without bogging it down in the minutiae of micromanagement that some RPGs excel at.
In fact, the character creation tool remains a robust feature though those continuing the series will default to their save file's character rather than start from scratch.
The ability to choose one's origin and reputation have been retained for this third installment, however, I do not recall being able to select one's class. Whether this is a new feature or not, the opportunity to do so is an RPG genre standard and adds to the welcome customization options available to players.
I find it interesting that as compelling as gamers found the RPG elements to be, one of the mainstays of the genre was criticized to the point of its exclusion in the sequel. I spent lots of time in weapons management, and while it perhaps was not as effective as customizing one's biotics, it still proved a worthwhile endeavor in my opinion.
With Mass Effect 2 and seemingly the third installment, weapons customization is now limited to the same upgrade and mod mechanic that any other shooter sports. Granted, the selection of various biotic powers returns and even offers branching alternatives for the first time, improving depth and strategic choices, but the absence of such depth for one's weapons is lamentable.
The detailed and dramatic story, dialog and setting helped create a universe more compelling than any science-fiction or fantasy world since perhaps George Lucas' Star Wars. The first part of the single player demo emphasizes this aspect and promises a return to a strong narrative that I felt was lacking in Mass Effect 2.
That part focused on the pending Reaper threat and eventual invasion. However, it ultimately tasks you with uniting species against this attack in possibly the same way that your work for Cerberus in the previous title required you to gather a squad and court their loyalty. Indeed, the second part involves helping Wrex secure a female Krogan.
This might be more conducive to the story than its predecessor's habit of presenting obligatory side missions for the sake of securing a loyal crew, but my impression was that this effort was undertaken to gain Krogan support for Earth's defense. As is, the story element is promising, but the potential for more fetch quests could derail it once again.
Dialog trees are spare but I assume by design until you have an opportunity to upgrade this skill. In the meantime, the seeming choice between Paragon or Renegade options returns, as suggested by the reputation bar in the character menu. To the extent this will impact the world's interaction with you, it's a welcome element that could help dictate future action.
Despite large scale settings and scripted events that are also reminiscent of other shooter series such as Resistance or Call of Duty, and a familiar scenario shared by the former or others like Halo, the context in which these transpire is wholly unique to Mass Effect and is so broad and imaginative as to make the series' and demo action feel new and inspired.
In fact the Mass Effect universe is a setting as impressive as any previously conceived and is even evocative of such iconic portrayals as Killzone's Vekta or the "destroyed beauty" of Gears of War's Sera, both coincidentally depicting worlds under attack but likewise illustrative of the best traditions in science fiction or fantasy.
Ranged and melee attacks have always had fairly standard mechanics but they are well implemented and conducive to the combat at hand. The cover mechanic likewise works well for the kind of pop and shoot firefights that exist, though running can sometimes be a literally sticky proposition as you'll get stuck on cover and expose your flank (just like the roadie run in Gears).
Also returning is the radial controls that allow for selecting weapons and biotic powers among yourself and teammates while pausing the action. Despite a learning curve for newcomers, these controls are helpful in combat and thankfully have not been tinkered with to any noticeable degree.
Enemies are varied whether in single-player or co-op and force you to approach each firefight with a successful strategy in mind. Between the various weapons or biotic powers at your and your teammates' disposal, your options for engaging and defeating your foes is likewise varied.
Ironically, I defeated this mech on my first try, but its detonation killed me. Maybe a half dozen tries later, I succeeded again, and this time managed to evade the explosion LOL.
As indicated, a second part of the single-player demo involved securing a female Krogan. The gameplay is standard for Mass Effect and even for shooters in general with its scenario of protecting someone against waves of the enemy. It was entertaining in its own right and could be compelling if integral to the story, but reminds me too much of its predessor's fetch quests.
Though co-op involves the now-standard hoard mode common in examples like Call of Duty's zombie waves and Gears of War's Locust onslaught, BioWare's version feels fresh and compelling given the use of biotic powers by any member of the four person squad. Leveling up allows one to upgrade them to even more powerful variations.
Other elements work well such as the threat and grenade indicators, revives and weapon switching or reloads. Caveats of co-op gameplay are that melee was literally hit or miss, hit detection in general seemed not as tight as it could be and the cover mechanic, as indicated, works well in general but still can cause inadvertent adherence.
Lobbies allow for standard choices of character class, weapons loadout, settings, enemies and difficulty. It should also be noted that I had no trouble playing with friends or strangers, and that mics worked well in general. Having played both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 demos, I detected no noticeable difference either in gameplay or presentation.
I'd only played the 360 demo once before joining mojomonkey12 in PS3 co-op. While he had some connectivity issues, once we sorted those out it was smooth sailing. Unfortunately that can't be said of our prowess, as we stared at this screen more often than gameplay LOL.
Spectator mode was a common perspective for me, though it did allow me to watch mojo perish under a Cerberus boot more than once!
We did manage to progress the longer we played, as we familiarized ourselves with the objectives, maps and enemy waves. In fact, once Jack aka gogamenerdkid joined, we managing to make it to wave 11 I think (I believe the last wave in the demo) before a glitch kept us from killing our last target!
Co-op proved a fun experience with friends or strangers, with an arsenal typical of the single player game, a decent leveling system and upgrade options, varied foes, and well designed maps. The presentation likewise was well designed; though there were framerate drops when firefights were particularly fierce, they were rare and did not really impact gameplay.
I'm confident that Mass Effect 3 will do justice to the franchise and wrap up the trilogy's storyline in arresting fashion. Unfortunately, I also believe that it will not be as impressive as the original either in story or gameplay, but I recognize that my preference for more RPG elements and a more cohesive plot with fewer fetch quests places me in the minority of Mass Effect fans (might even be a minority of one haha).
I do recognize that one of the advantages of those fetch quests are the opportunity to further flesh out the Mass Effect universe with interesting subplots involving the squadmates you are recruiting. In fact the characters in the second installment were colorful and compelling befitting their mercenary status, however, for me it more distracted from the story than improved it.
Thankfully, I think the third entry will be better than the second given the necessary focus on wrapping up the main story arc, individual character development and the inclusion of a seemingly quality if somewhat derivative co-op mode. That's good news for me and should be great news for those legions who inexplicably prefer Mass Effect 2 over the original LOL. (But then I like Star Wars more than Empire, so ...)
At least the demo did not suggest a return of planet scanning though I'd be surprised if BioWare eliminated this element altogether. I can't think of an alternative to its mineral resources for upgrading one's items, despite its propensity to literally always put me to sleep. However, I think the chances of its omission are about as good as a return of the Mako. But I can hope!
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