Feb 16, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Demo Thoughts

Mass Effect 3 needs to hurry up and get here already. The demo did nothing but put the game at the forefront of my mind, as any good marketing ploy should. I played both the single player and multiplayer portion of the demo and am delightfully excited for the full release coming in March. However, I do have some worries.

First and foremost, the single player does hold up from Mass Effect 2 and really makes Mass Effect 1 look like a dinosaur from a gameplay perspective. The only real gripe I have right immediately concerning the single player is the crazy shadowing engine that BioWare has implemented. The black levels just seem way too dark to the point where the game isn't sure if it wants the look of a gritty graphic novel or a realistic shadowing effect. The Kinect stuff is cool, but very novelty. I didn't have issues with it in the demo, but when the full game comes out I don't foresee myself using it too often, mostly because the microphone built into the sensor is absolute garbage when you have the surround sound blaring, which I intend to do for the 'final' foray into the Mass Effect Universe.

The multiplayer on the other hand was quite a surprise. I originally spoke out against the inclusion of it simply because Mass Effect is such a player driven experience, but there are some good ideas at work here. Each match starts with you picking a character class from the six available, and then picking from one of three races that you wish to play from that class (Sorry BioWare, Human Male and Human Female don't count as separate races, no matter how hard you push it). The races have different powers from the class subset, so you get variety in performance instead of just a skin swap. You can also prepare different load outs based on your weapon preferences, and furthermore you can customize each weapon with two upgrades such as scopes and  better cooling mechanisms.

The biggest issue I have though is how all of these goodies are unlocked. BioWare has been taking cue's from the ever growing market of iOS games by including some items which are one time use, such as increased assault rifle damage for one match, to the aforementioned weapon upgrades ala Call of Duty. The issue is how these are all acquired through what essentially a trading card game system in which you buy "Packs" of 5 random items. Which is a good idea on paper, but it really disrupts the customization process based on the rate you earn the in game currency to purchase these packs.

For example, the first weapon upgrade I received was a pistol scope. The problem is that I don't use pistols, so the upgrade just sits and collects virtual dust with no way for me to trade it back for credits. This is also how you unlock other races for the classes, with no guarantee that you would be getting a race for a class that you play. Unlocking a Vanguard race while playing as a Sentinel seems backwards. I just don't understand the design decision behind the packs instead of having a store you could just buy everything from in the order and the preference of the player. Unless of course EA decides that they want to turn it into more of an iOS game and start charging $.99 increments for a bulk credit amount, at which point I would probably stop playing the multiplayer all together. Buying one time use extra ammo packs and other one time use items makes since with a booster-buy system, but tying actual progression to the system as well hurts the depth of the multiplayer.

The gameplay of the multiplayer mode itself pits you in a Horde mode like arena where you must eliminate waves of approaching enemies with up to 3 other squadmates, earning experience and leveling up your classes. For once the leveling system imposed by games such as Halo: Reach and Call of Duty makes sense, as each class has a skill point system like it does in single player, allowing greater customization of a power set and allowing you to actually improve your characters instead of just raising an artificial number to the left of your gamertag. The coolest part of this take on Horde mode though is the random objectives that pop up every couple waves or so, such as hacking a terminal or placing radio nodes. This single-handily gets rid of the 'establish a base here and don't leave this spot' mentality that most horde mode experiences eventually boil down to. The only question is how long will it hold up, but as of now I find it very engaging.

I don't know about you, but March 6th can't come any sooner!