BioWare has kicked off the run-in to Mass Effect 3's release with the early access launch of the RPG's demo. Johnny Cullen takes a look at the taster's single-play portion ahead of an open launch tomorrow.
Dragon Age II stripped a mighty chunk of patience from BioWare fans following the amazing Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, showing signs the studio might be losing some of its magic. Does Mass Effect 3 continue the trend? No. In the space of 45-50 minutes, any doubts you had should be dispelled.
BioWare must be under terrible pressue with Mass Effect 3. We're now three weeks away from what is undoubtably the most anticipated release of the year so far, but for all the hype and anticipation, the sense of skepticism is impossible to ignore.
First, can BioWare come back from the bashing it got from fans over Dragon Age II? And can ME3 match or even surpass Mass Effect 2's superb spectacle? EA and BioWare are hoping the release of a single-player and multiplayer demo can answer the questions.
Shepard vs the Reapers
The demo that will launch on PSN, Xbox Live and PC tomorrow for those who hadn't gained early access to it over the weekend, and has two parts that will set up Shepard's fights throughout the game. I did say fights, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Before getting into it, you're given the choice of setting up a male of female Shepard. For me, there's only one person for the job: FemShep.
After choosing the type of experience you want (Action, Role-Playing or Story) and set up your Shepard with class and past experiences, you're shown the game's introduction.
The Reapers are about to kick off their invasion of earth, but the galaxy's leaders still don't believe what to expect until it's too late.
Shepard has been detained by the Defense Committee on earth following the events of the final story DLC for Mass Effect 2, Arrival, but is called back into action by the DC: the Reapers have already arrived and are wreaking havoc.
This part is more of a tutorial to introduce new players, but you might be forgiven for forgetting this is the case considering the massive set-pieces you get throughout.
The first section of the demo, where you're accompanied by Anderson as you fight through Reaper Husks to get to the Normandy, provides an excellent introduction to the game's plot, such as a touching moment between Shepard and a distressed 10-year old hiding from the invading Reapers.
It's affecting. The amazing soundtrack, made in part by Clint Mansell of Black Swan fame, goes a long way to making it so.
Shepard vs Cerberus
There are two stories here. The main one is Shepard's attempts to stop the Reapers from wiping out earth, but he/she will have another enemy in the form of an old ally: Cerberus. For reasons unknown until you play the full game, the organisation and the commander are against each other, despite the fact they stood side-by-side in Mass Effect 2.
One example of this comes in the second part of the demo. If the first part was all about the story, the second part introduces Mass Effect 3's combat gameplay.
In this part, you're off to Ser'Kesh, the Salarian home planet, where Shepard, Liara and Garrus head in to rescue the Krogan matriarch and Mordin, while Wrex - initially agressive in order to save his species following an already tense history between Krogans and Salarians - circles about in their ship.
The matriarch must be escorted with Mordin, while you and your team must fend off Cerberus squads.
This is actually the same taster I tried at Eurogamer Expo last September. The combat's excellent, with support from your team coming when needed. But as I said, there's two sides to this demo: story and gameplay, the latter of which is very much present here.
I haven't had a chance to try it out with Kinect yet, and the servers for multiplayer aren't live until tomorrow when the demo fully launches for all. But everything seems to be in check.
Shepard vs Skepticism
Which brings me back to skepticism. Dragon Age II stripped a mighty chunk of patience from BioWare fans following the amazing Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, showing signs the studio might be losing some of its magic.
Does Mass Effect 3 continue the trend? No. In the space of 45-50 minutes, any doubts you had should be dispelled.
Whether it'll be better than Mass Effect 2 is another different matter, one that will have to wait until the full game.
Of course, one issue remains: multiplayer. Does it feel like it fits in the Mass Effect universe? Is it tacked on?
We'll just have to wait. One thing I do know is this: based off the single-player portion, the first week of March can't come quick enough.
Mass Effect 3 launches on March 6 in the US and March 9 in the UK for 360, PC and PS3. The demo goes live for all on PSN, XBL and PC tomorrow.