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It's almost here ladies and germs.  Yes, Mass Effect 3, the sequel to 2010's game of the year is just right around the corner and we all were recently treated to a two level demo this past Valentine’s Day.  I was really debating on playing the demo at all as I didn't want to spoil anything, but curiosity got the best of me and I played through it earlier today.  Here are a few thoughts on it.

The character models are improved since we last saw them in Mass Effect 2, as is the overall "feel" of everything.  Combat looked and played better and the new melee options were easy to use and felt powerful.  The menu systems you know and love are all still intact and little has changed in the HUD overlay.  One thing I did notice though and it seems to be on the 360 as well from what I've read, is that the animation in the first part of the demo was a little stop and go.  It didn't feel as fluid as it should and while the animations and fine graphical qualities have never been what Mass Effect was all about, it felt a little stiff.  Even the running animations on Anderson as I followed him out of the council room seemed off.  The cover system too seemed a little weird to me and my character would magically move away from cover.  Maybe I'm just rusty, but it did seem touchy.

One change I did notice in the battle system is that the amount of weapons you carry directly influences the cool down of your powers.  I found this out when using my Vanguard in the second part of the demo and noticed my cool down on a fully powered biotic charge to be almost 20 seconds.  For anyone that knows the game, that would make the entire premise the class was based on almost useless, so I took to the interwebs to answer this nagging question.  Turns out that the more you are carrying, the longer your cool downs would be and that makes sense.  The second chapter does start you off with four weapons, two of which are of the heavier variety.  I did notice some level ups to your powers allowed you to increase this threshold so hopefully it doesn't come into effect too much.  That biotic charge timer has to be around five seconds at full charge to truly be effective.  I also suspect each class will have its own weight limit, with Soldier or Sentinel most likely being the highest.  Personally, I like the fact that Mass Effect 2 limited your choices in weapons, at least for your partners as it made sense that Liara wasn't using a large automatic assault rifle or a gigantic Claymore shotgun.  The new system still limits you, but the limits are of your own choosing now.

My biggest concern was the audio.  The background music was quiet and places where subtle sound effects should be, seemed muted or not there at all.  Footsteps, for example, were almost nonexistent, at least in the first part of the demo.  I did notice the footsteps more in the later part of the demo when I was wearing my N7 armour though.  The sound just seemed lacking for all that was going on in the introduction.  I'm sure it was only due to it being a demo build and will be worked out when we get it on retail release, at least I hope so. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Multiplayer was the biggest point of contention with the third iteration of Mass Effect and consider me among the converted.  Short answer, it doesn’t suck.  While just a slimmed down demo build, the multiplayer component is summed up best as a glorified horde mode, pitting you and up to three friends against waves of ever increasing numbers and difficulty of baddies.  Cerberus is the only opponent available to fight against right now, but I imagine there will be numerous choices come March 6th.  What really sets it apart from other online shooters are the varied classes and how they are played.  You don’t just rely on your guns here and all your favourite classes are available to use and just as responsive as their single player iterations.  For something I didn’t even consider playing when it was announced, I am pleasantly surprised with how it is being incorporated.  Bioware specifically has stated that no single player content was sacrificed to include the online multiplayer, I guess we will see next month.    

I also loved the hints to the past games and regardless of Bioware adding a story for the people who have never played Mass Effect 1 and 2, you are truly going to be missing out if you skip them and play 3 first.  This is a series that was meant to be played like one and the little grunt Garrus gives as he comes into the scene at the start of the second level was all I needed to get me back in touch with the Mass Effect world.

All in all, I'm glad I played the demo and it made the wait all the more difficult between now and March 6th.  I do hope the few issues I had are cleared up come release, especially the audio one.