Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Demo Thoughts

So, this week sees the release of Mass Effect 3, one of the most anticipated and biggest releases this year - and it's only just turned March. Set a short while after the events of Mass Effect 2, we once again take the boots of Commander Shepard and this time the fight is not for equality, a place in the universe or even for good or evil. This time, you fight to save the galaxy.

My first ever experience with Mass Effect was one of disappointment. I'd just gotten an Xbox 360, and for my birthday I was given a copy of Mass Effect. I tried it and gave up within a very short time. For some reason, I just didn't like it. Fast forward a year or two later, and I went into a GAME. I picked up the PC version of Mass Effect (I'd heard a lot of good about it, and wanted to give it another go) and from then on I was very much a fan of the series. I completed Mass Effect 2 the weekend it came out - I actually own two copies of it - clocking up a staggering 18 or so hours in just two days. I bought all of the content (still missing some of the promotional/pre-order content), played it all. Had a good number of hours in the Mass Effect series.
Mass Effect 2's Knights of Badassdom - My (old) Shepard, Zaeed and Garrus.
Then comes Mass Effect 3. At this point, I'd lost most of my faith in BioWare's ability to deliver. Retrospect killed my like for Dragon Age: Origins, I saw Mass Effect 1 and 2 as highly flawed but enjoyable games with absolutely no consistency in tone, setting and art style. I just wasn't sure Mass Effect 3 would be any good, and with all of the revelations about character changes, gameplay changes, Kinect support for the Xbox 360 and so forth, I just wasn't confident it'd be good.

And then I played the demo...

Just to point out that I played the demo on PC on 'Narrative' difficulty and in 'Roleplaying Mode' with a 'Female' Shepard and Squadmate Deaths to 'Numerous'

They changed a lot. Again. The gameplay itself is still very similar to Mass Effect 2's, including the interface. The combat feels pretty much the same, although melee combat has been expanded on a little to encompass two attacks rather than just being a rather weak action to get enemies away. I felt that the game as a whole flowed much better. There's some rudimentary ladder climbing/gap jumping that feels like it's there to vary the action and little else. In terms of levels/abilities, it's an expanded version of Mass Effect 2's, and it seemed to work from what I saw. You have different paths - for example, in one of the skills for soldiers, you can choose to upgrade your weapon damage or your melee damage, which should allow the player to tweak the game to their style a little better than the previous games.

Dialogue seems pretty much the same with the dialogue wheel, but in the few bits shown in-game, it feels... almost wrong. It seemed like cutscenes with pauses for you to make a dialogue choice, and it disrupted the flow a little, and I can't help but wonder if this is due to the addition of new gameplay modes and conversation options. I would have liked the demo to have contained some more dialogue sections in order to get a better feel for how they've changed or improved it.

There was a glimpse of some of the new characters in the demo, specifically James Vega, one of the new squadmates. He seems like Jacob v2.0 in that he's an overly-muscular meathead who is all about protocol and so on. I could be wrong, but first impressions count, and I was not impressed.
James Vega and a slightly too-shapely breast.
But it's still far from perfect. The demo shipped with some shockingly poor textures, so you have these situations where the game looks fine and poor at the very same time. The animations are also really questionable. BioWare seem to have - once again - got them wrong. Shepard lurches around like some kind of gorilla, and it never looks good - it always looks stupid. Facial expressions have improved, but still tend to look poor or insincere rather than genuine. For a game with such a focus on emotions and personalities, I find this rather irritating. I also felt that Shepard had a slightly bigger chest and a top that showed their shape a little too well. Come on, BioWare, she's not wearing body paint. A lot of the models and textures also had a lot of clipping issues, such as when a Reaper walks, you can see parts of its body pass through its legs, and I had a lot of issues with the hairstyle I chose for my Shepard.
Not too sure about Shepard's pose here. Seems very unnatural.
An example of the clipping issues - look at Shepard's left hand.
They've also changed the art style again. Mass Effect was quite dark, and tended towards simplicity and blue. Mass Effect 2 was slightly brighter, orange and much more stylised. Mass Effect 3 continues that, once again changing the colour filter but there's a huge jump in terms of what things look like, what people are wearing and so on. It really grates with me, because there's no consistency there. It's more noticeable in the character creator, as they've totally gone over the hair textures and hair styles again, and they manage to look better and worse. There's new hair colours (purple? REALLY?!), but seemingly no actual 'red' (as in a natural redhead, but you can have bright/dark red), and overall I was not too impressed with the changes to creating one's own Shepard. There wasn't any need for it, and the new creator is too dark to really see what you're doing.

I must say, however, that Clint Mansell's soundtrack is stunning. There's a very emotional part towards the end of the first section, and the soundtrack is absolutely beautiful at that point. I'm definitely interested in how it'll work out with the rest of the game.

Overall, I'm still very much on the fence with Mass Effect 3. They've improved it yet managed to make it worse. I'm now definitely sold on it, but I'm a little concerned as to BioWare's inability to stay consistent with any aspect of it, and this is perhaps influenced by the loss of Drew Karpyshyn after Mass Effect (he moved to BioWare Austin to work on The Old Republic). The tone, setting, style and, well, everything else changed, often for illogical reasons or for the sake of change. I doubt they've addressed the issues of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, instead just pushing their way forward rather than stepping back and looking at the issues.

Rating: Sad Shepard

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