Shepard Commander: Alert!
These Are My Impressions of the Mass Effect 3 Demo
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:750:]]I’ve had just about a week with BioWare’s first taste of the overall goodness that is the Mass Effect 3 demo and after even this short period of time, I must say that I am hooked. I was modestly amused with the single player demo in that I was able to detect the noticeable difference in the combat flow, an improved AI and the new character animations Shepard engages in beyond running to waist high cover and throwing single elbows for melee strikes. Then came the multiplayer component that released on February 17th and the fun factor went up a hundred fold. When this concept was first presented by BioWare it was met with a wide array of skepticism, disinterest and in some instances, outright rage for what was perceived by fans and critics as the company cow-towing to formulaic game development. Mass Effect is and always shall be an enveloping, dramatic, and action-driven role playing adventure that feels like you are controlling the characters of a cinematic, sci-fi saga. “It doesn’t need multiplayer!” said the antagonists. “Why must every game try to be like CoD just to make crazy profit?” queried the doubters. “How much will this take away from the single player campaign?” asked the fans. Although we don’t know how well the final product will ultimately play, this demo delivers a good amount of answers to the naysayers while simultaneously raising new concerns in even the most devoted fan boys such as myself.
“The Good” about single player:
1) I played through the two chapters with every class using both male and female Shepards and they each played differently enough to necessitate different strategies in surviving and advancing.
2) The dialogue/discussion sequences look better than ever so long as BioWare keeps the “I should go’s” and excessive “Shepard” references to a minimum. I expect a much greater degree of drama during these sections as the entire universe is under siege, but I wonder how well the tension can be eased when I presume moments of levity will be very scarce.
3) The combat plays like Mass Effect 2, but it is much faster, or rather, it can be much faster. The amount of damage your Shepard-build can absorb will determine how direct you can be in firefights. Rushing into and out of cover is a vast improvement and the addition of combat rolling in all four directions adds a welcome and dynamic means of averting disaster on the battlefield.
4) The game just looks so beautiful. Every area of detail from environments to enemies to weapon effects and cut scenes has been upgraded. The lighting effects from both “natural” and “unnatural” sources are particularly satisfying.
5) The AI has sharper teeth! I’m not just talking about the inclusion of heavier ordinance such as the Atlas mechs. It’s the support units that will give you headaches. Enemy troopers will drop smoke bombs obscuring vision and disallowing biotic “lock-on” attacks, while others setup portable turrets at key choke points - while still others try to flank you and your party. The fact that the AI is no longer stupid has me concerned for my “insane” difficulty play through.
“The Bad” about single player:
1) Shepard still rotates on his x-axis with the proficiency of a tank. With the increased emphasis on close-quarter-combat, the ability to turn slightly (but swiftly) to face up the opposition has never been more necessary. Too bad the player still can’t do this. It gives me nightmarish flashbacks to the frustrating lateral movement of Resident Evil 5.
2) I’m not sold on grenades. For the classes that have “grenade” abilities, they require skill points to unlock and upgrade just like any other biotic/tech/combat skills. The problem is you need to find ammo dumps or enemy drops to replenish your supply. Explosives can be very useful for crowd control situations, but I can’t help but think that maxing out self-renewing skills would be more reliable.
3) Shepard’s squad is still dumb. One would think if the enemy AI got an infusion of grey matter that the player’s squad mates would at least get a taste, right? Wrong. I still had to direct Garrus and Liara to focus on the biggest threats on the field AND force them to use their very useful abilities to do so effectively. I understand there’s a reason they call him/her “Commander” Shepard, but his team ought to be experienced enough to use proximity mines on groups of enemies without being ordered to do so.
4) Sticking to cover sometimes leads to sticky situations. Going into cover all but triggers the enemy AI to advance and flank quickly, but getting out of cover to counter a flanking move is not nearly as responsive. If perhaps movement was dictated strictly by the left analog stick independently from the camera angle (like Uncharted’s 1, 2 and 3) this wouldn’t be a problem at all.
5) Choice of combat class is a player-controlled handicap system. When you account for a more dangerous AI and unreliable teammates, how the player dominates the field as Shepard is the name of the game. Although some new skills have been added to every class they aren’t enough to make every class as viable as they were in ME2. The three most important combat abilities in Mass Effect 3 are distraction, evasion and protection; thus the ranking of each class from weakest to strongest is as follows: Vanguard, Adept, Soldier, Engineer, Infiltrator, and Sentinel.
“The Good” about multiplayer:
1) The ability to play as non-humans is an absolute thrill! Having Drell, Asari, Turians, Quarians, Krogans, and Salarians in your party for past Mass Effect games does not compare to actually being a Drell, Asari, Turian, Quarian, Krogan or Salarian. Each species have different pools of skills to dump points into as well as having unique movement/melee animations that will more than likely have veteran players avoiding human characters like the plague.
2) The co-op “survival” mode is challenging and unpredictable. Players that are used to ME2 controls will have no problems picking up on all the subtle differences of every species, but regardless of individual skill, teamwork is the only thing that will see a safe extraction even on the lowest difficulty and the reward for clearing stages is a massive experience and credit bonus. With experience bonuses given to every action like revivals, headshots, biotic kills, etc., this game rewards the player for contributing to the team. Although kills can still be “stolen” by teammates, a point system is in place to give a proportional reward to each player depending on how much damage was dealt before the final blow. It is quite refreshing to finally encounter a multiplayer mode that encourages non-douche-bag game play.
3) The baseball card pack unlocking system is surprisingly satisfying. I mentioned that the player earns credits in addition to experience for clearing stages. Experience allows the character’s abilities to grow in strength and versatility, but items must be purchased, but not in the manner in which gamers have become accustomed. The player purchases starter, recruit and veteran “packs” with their credits which contain a random selection of items like new weapons, weapon modifications, ammo/armor boosts, health/revival packs and new characters to play as. Some players may dislike the fact that luck plays a large role in them getting what they want, but they can take solace in two facts: 1- useless duplicates are fairly rare and 2- you have as good a chance at getting something awesome on your first pack as your 20th provided you always purchase veteran packs at 20K a piece.
4) Experience that is earned within each combat class does not need to be re-earned to build new character unlocks within the same category. On our preview podcast for Mass Effect 3, our associate Kevin brought up a valid concern for multiplayer being that the level cap is only 20 and therefore putting a glaring limitation on the player’s motivation to keep on playing. My counter to that statement was that there were 6 classes, times 20 levels of advancement, times 4 species per class to build which yields 480 levels to be gained. That is a very daunting number to achieve and thankfully not necessary. When you get to level 20 in the soldier class as a human (only humans are available at the start) and you unlock the much coveted Krogan soldier, you do not begin from scratch if you want to use that character. You do get all the experience points a level 20 would have to distribute as you see fit which is an excellent benefit seeing how max level non-humans are vital in completing the higher difficulties of multiplayer.
5) Modification and specialization is a huge strength. Character uniforms will be able to alter colors, highlights and patterns to make every player’s team of specialists look unique. Every gun has 2 modification slots to give the player enhanced stability, damage output, increased rate of fire and larger clip sizes. Regardless of class, any character can bring any 2 guns into combat they have unlocked thus far (although I recommend picking 1 as your favorite in order to enjoy an increased power recharge bonus).
“The Bad” about multiplayer:
1) Match making is broken and needs to be fixed ASAP! If the player has three other friends to make a full squad with, you’ll have no problems making private matches and knocking out multiple rounds of play quickly. Selecting “quick match” as a solo player is laughable in terms of “quickness.” The majority of the time had me jumping into a lobby with only one other player and it would take forever to fill in the other 2 public slots – if at all. Players can jump in and out of matches at will, but host migration is a wretched collection of load screens which can result in outright disconnection. The amount of real time wasted in waiting for proper matches to be formed can become very frustrating.
2) Connectivity of every player to multiplayer matches seems temperamental at best. Another common sight in the matchmaking lobby is every player selecting the “ready” button with the exception of one. At first I thought this was simply the result of some tool that is AFK or fooling around with his or her load-out for an unreasonable amount of time. As this became a common theme I began to believe that it was the result of shoddy connections. The game will randomly kick the player out of active games at a rate that is not problematic save for this fact: any progress the player has made is instantly nullified as the only way to save progress is by going all the way or having your whole party get wiped out within proper game menus.
3) The X button is far too glitchy. On the PS3, the X button is the all encompassing environment interaction key that is necessary to depress in order to go into and out of cover, revive teammates, execute combat rolls and engage/disarm devices that need to be hacked within the match. Getting the X button to do what you actually want in crowds of enemies is terrible. Reviving a teammate that is right next to waist-high cover is almost impossible. Hacking devices that are next to walls requires spamming X because the game didn’t register the first 10 times you pressed it. This shouldn’t be a problem for PC gamers by remapping actions to different keys, but counsel controllers have severe button limitations.
4) End game multiplayer motivation seems lacking. It’s true that earning a combined 120 levels divided by 6 combat classes will take a healthy amount of time to accomplish. Skilled players will have no problems doing this in casual plays sessions in less than 2 weeks. The reward for multiplayer is advancement. The reward for advancement is building a strong squad of specialists for Shepard to deploy in some manner during the single player campaign. Where does that leave the player after that? The answer lies in clearing stages at higher difficulty levels. Silver challenges require 4 squad mates at level 10 at least to have a reasonable chance to win and gold challenges require everyone at max level, complimentary classes and players on top of their individual games to have a snowball’s chance in hell. As of now, there doesn’t appear to be a point to subjecting yourself to that brutality other than pride and without a trophy or achievement to showcase the accomplishment, I don’t see many players being interested in participating at those higher difficulties.
5) Nobody seems interested in using headsets for this multiplayer mode. Especially on higher difficulties, communication is vital in clearing these maps as there is no “radar” to exploit and unless the squad battles like a tight-knit Spartan phalanx, knowing precisely where downed teammates are located is pretty important info. The two maps available for this demo are not particularly large so keeping tabs on your squad mates is less of an issue, but if maps get larger, players need to take advantage of this free communication option. Also, if someone on your team is annoying, an option for muting them NEEDS to be included. It exists in virtually every other multiplayer game.
So that’s the bottom line on the Mass Effect 3 demo. Unfortunately, none of the progress that is achieved in the multiplayer portion will carry over to the full game, but that’s no reason to ignore this very fun demo. It gives the player a risk free opportunity to experiment with class development within a virtual environment that is far less forgiving than previous installments. The potential for EA and BioWare to reap massive profit on this piece of fictional entertainment has all been laid in the groundwork of ever intriguing replay options. Although no demo is flawless, hopefully BioWare can make some patch alterations to iron out the minor yet noticeable wrinkles in an otherwise silky smooth video game experience.