Disclaimer: All screenshots here are from the PC version of Mass Effect 3.
The Mass Effect 3 demo arrived on Xbox LIVE and PC today, with a PSN release coming soon. Here we offer up our impressions of the single-player and multiplayer segments, not to mention some footage of the latter in action. The single-player portion is available for everyone who picks up the demo today, while the multiplayer is only open to folks who own a new (and registered) copy of Battlefield 3 -- until February 17, at least.
Xbox 360 Single-Player Impressions
by Lydia Sung
The single-player segment of the demo is split into two parts, and we've seen plenty of footage for both over the past few months. This is, however, the first time most gamers get to try the game for themselves, rather than just watching the action unfold.
The demo opens up by letting players customize their Shepard's physical qualities and backstory. Not a fan of default BroShep and FemShep? No worries, because in addition to changing Shep's gender, you can also alter his/her face and hair. While you can't actually tweak the finer story details like the Council's survival or your romance options, the demo does ask about your KIA squad mates and Shepard's personality templates. In regards to gameplay, you're prompted to pick from three preferences: Action, Role-playing (standard Mass Effect feel), and Story. From there, it's straight into the action with a very Mass Effect-esque opening.
The first half places Shepard on Earth following the events of Mass Effect 2 - The Arrival. Reapers have arrived much sooner than originally anticipated, and Shepard must fight his/her way to the Normandy with Admiral Anderson's aid, confronting husks and cannibals along the way. James Vega gets his debut here, though his role is limited. After the harrowing escape from Earth, the demo skips forward in the story to Ser'kesh, the salarian homeworld, and we are reunited with Mass Effect favorites Wrex, Garrus, and Liara.
This sequence gives us a better idea of how the combat system works, from the less intrusive blood aura to Shepard's increased agility. Weapons pack a more satisfying punch thanks to the slightly altered sound effects, but enemies can soak up damage just as quickly as you dish it out. This is also how the demo introduces Cerberus' army and some of the new class abilities in Mass Effect 3. Assault troopers, Engineers, Guardians, and heavy mechs come in waves, and diving in without thinking will only get Shep killed. Fortunately, every class has new skills to toy around with; Vanguards, for instance, can now pull off deadly combos, like chaining their biotic charge with Nova or a biotic fist to the face.
For the 360 crowd, the visual upgrade from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3 is apparent. Though the game still looks distinctly Mass Effect, it boasts a higher polish that gives us smoother cinematic shots and noticeable textural details, particularly for character faces. Combat still feels somewhat clunky, so that hasn't changed between the second and third game, but powerful melee strikes and increased mobility do help tremendously.
If Dragon Age II left a bad taste and lingering worries regarding the quality of Mass Effect 3, the demo might just alleviate some of those fears. March cannot come soon enough.
PC Multiplayer Impressions
by Sean Ridgeley
Multiplayer makes its debut in the Mass Effect series in this demo, and it proves a pleasant surprise. It's co-op, now, so don't go thinking your precious crew have gone off and joined up for some fragfest.
The demo features two levels contained with relatively small, confined environments with multiple areas, levels, and rooms; both throw waves of enemies at you and up to three other partners, and one requires you to disarm objects while fending off foes, which feels hokey. Speaking of which, each time you get wiped out you'll have to either revive yourself with medigel or, more often, mash the spacebar to stay alive longer and increase your chances of a teammate bringing you back to life - it's one of those mechanics that sounds nice on paper, but in practice is annoying as all hell.
Various filters and customization options are offered: you can switch between enemy types, maps, and difficulty, plus a variety of classes, colours, and so on. Additionally, both voice and text chat are supported along with push to talk, though text chat isn't supported in the lobby.
Co-op sports basic equip and progression systems akin to what you've seen in recent multiplayer shooters, which up the fun and addiction factor considerably -- yep, it's actually a worthwhile endeavor.
As in single player, you can equip up to two weapons at once, each with its own modifications, plus various items and boosters. The equip menus are kind of clunky, but do the job adequately.
The more you play, the more experience and cash you earn, which you can then blow on personal upgrades, weapon upgrades, new weapons, or items.
Unlocks are a gamble: it works much like opening a Magic: The Gathering booster pack in that you get commons, uncommons, etc. depending on what 'pack' you spring for. Though some will wish they could choose manually what to go with, it's an exciting system.
Connectivity, loading, and crashing are at times a serious issue which put a big damper on the experience, but this is the first day of a multiplayer demo, so I'll give the benefit of the doubt for now.
Multiplayer at this stage seems a reasonably fun offering that stands up well enough beside single player, though it's hard to ignore story-based side missions wouldn't be significantly more compelling.