Gaming thoughts 2/15/12 - Mass Effect 3, PS+ and more

Let me start off by saying I'm a tremendous fan of Mass Effects 1 & 2.  I have had some concerns about #3 simply because of the unbelievable expectations I think the game is going to face, ranging from the success of the last 2, to the excellent trailers, to the addition of multiplayer and events like the VGA's naming it most anticipated game of 2012.  Well, while my wife it out of town this week with her best friend and friend's kids at Disney World:


I was downloading and playing this:

Sadly, it was just the demo and not the actual game (which I have on pre-order for my 360 - collector's edition to boot).  That said?  I felt as though the demo was excellent.  It started you off with just a bit of back story, introduced some important characters, and let newcomers experience the conversation wheel used to hepl make decisions that sometimes greatly impact the plot and at other times just add a personal slant to the story.  

Then you are taken to a fairly tense battle scene later in the game, and given plenty of points to invest into your squad so you can get a feel for the leveling system including the branching skills.  AGain, I just love how heavily you can customize your experience.  Make no mistake, there is an RPG game at the heart of this title, but when the action starts, it's more Gears of War than Legend of Zelda.  The speed of the gunplay and the cover mechanics are fluid and tighter than ever.  In one sequence I charged into a trio of enemies, shooting one with my assault rifle just before reaching him, did a melee strike with my omniblade on another, and then swapped to my piston, meleeing the remaining guy.  He staggered back and I popped him with a headshot.  It was an exciting little sequence.

When that was completed, I gave the much-maligned multiplayer a try.  Never have I seen so much worry and complaint about a new feature to a game as this one.  I've since read it was handled by another studio, so the single-player campain would not be diminished by the work on the multiplayer.  That seemed to alleviate some concern as fans of the series felt that their campaign mode was at least safe, even if the online comoponent proved to be unsatisfactory.

Well, guess what?  It's pretty solid in my opinion.  It retains the fluid game mechanics you find in campaign mode, and adds objectives and a team vs waves of baddies system that will be familiar to fans of Gears of War for example.  Here, teamwork is a must - this is not an easy mode.  I tried it with groups and solo.  Solo I couldn't get past the first wave.  With a group, the results were mixed, but entertaining - and if you did not work well as a group, you lost plain and simple.  There appears to be a fair amount of customization for your character, which is awesome, and a leveling system built into the multiplayer as well.  Though I haven't seen how this ties into the campaign mode, it is supposed to make it easier to get the best ending - probably akin to the mining sequences of 2, but a whole lot more fun.

There are some other notable things that stood out to me from the demo as well.  The Mass Effect titles always give you plenty of options, such as importing saves from other games, setting up your control schemes how you like and more.  Now though, there appear to be several difficulty settings as well as combat, roleplay and narrative modes.  Basically the combat one means you play through what would be conversation screens as automated cutscenes.  If you're a fan of combat, this gets you to the good stuff, giving you some context but not slowing you down.  For me, this is the least-interesting mode, but then my son saw this during my demo and said that's probably what he would do - so there's definitely a piece of the fan base who will gravitate toward this.

The narrative is very light on combat objectives, trying to move you along through the storyline so you can make your choices.  I like this better than the combat-heavy version, but probably wouldn't make use of this until I've beaten the game traditionally a couple of times, but maybe want to see more variants in the storyline as well. And there's the traditional roleplaying mode, which is that mix of combat and story the series has managed so well thus far.

As a bonus for people who play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, once you get through the demo, you get a pair of orange daggers (omniblades) themed after the newly introduced weapon in Mass Effect.  I'm not real far into Kingdoms yet, and these were the most powerful weapons in my arsenal hands-down, which is awesome since I use a finesse/rogue class that utilizes daggers already.

So, those above impressions are probably enough for a blog post in and itself, but there's a bit more I wanted to touch on.  I've been neck-deep in RPG titles, my wife having not only taken me to two Pistons games, but buying me Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, so I'll be posting more comments soon on those, but my early impressions on FF have been positive so far.