Will Mass Effect 3’s “Action Mode” Ruin The Game?

The first chance at some hands on with Mass Effect 3 hit the internet this week as the single-player demo became available.  The many fans of this franchise can finally try the new mechanics, experience the continuation of the epic story and ogle the new graphics.  There are also many smaller tweaks to the Mass Effect experience added in this third installment of the franchise.  Among them is a new gameplay pre-set system that allows players to tailor the experience to resemble their preferred gaming genre.  This system offers three “Modes”, Action, RPG or the classic Mass Effect hybrid of action and roleplay.  Unfortunately, players who choose the “Action” option are playing the game wrong.

Obviously the developers at Bioware want to see their game in as many hands as possible; Mass Effect 3 is the final act of one of the grandest stories ever told in the video game medium, and it’s important to make sure that players return to experience the finale.  It’s also obvious that Bioware is hoping to lure in new gamers who might have stayed away from the previous Mass Effect games because of the heavy emphasis on Role Playing elements over shooting.  Although this is commendable, by adding in an Action mode, the developers have done a disservice to their own game and to unwary players.

The Action mode takes away the character customization options, stripping away the Player’s chance to define Commander Shepard’s history and appearance.  They can’t even choose their class and are put in the standard issue boots of the Soldier class.  Players can chose their gender, but that’s all, and they are then thrust into the game with the default appearance, and the canonical backstory.

Once the game begins, it ceases to be a vast world filled with meaningful choices, and rather becomes the tale of Commander Generic against the Evil Space Robots.  All conversations become fluid cut scenes with the game automatically choosing dialog for the player, never even showing them what other options could have been.

Playing in this mode reduces the game to a mediocre third person shooter set in a moderately interesting sci-fi universe.  The demo gives players the chance to play through two missions, the first of which ends up playing out as an extended cutscene where players in Action mode will find themselves staring at the screen while Commander Shepard goes through several lengthy conversations about the Reaper invasion, with no player interaction.

The second mission is more combat-centric, so this mode is less of a problem, but the lack of choice in dealing with Shepard’s teammates rips away the emotional impact of many of the scenes, and makes it harder for players to feel a personal connection with their companions.

Commander Shepard also becomes a less defined character.  Players get to choose their gender but there isn’t an option to pick between Paragon and Renegade, the game’s equivalent of an alignment system.  Giving this choice up front seems like an obvious way to help shooter fans experience the game in a more personal manner.  Alas, with the Action mode enabled Shepard proceeds along a wavering moral path; sometimes Paragon, sometimes Renegade, thereby denying players the option of tending toward their preferred alignment.

The end result of playing Mass Effect 3 on Action mode amounts to little more than a Gears of War clone.  Of course, this is just the demo, and there are still a few more weeks before launch (Plus no doubt many patches and DLC packs quickly following), so perhaps Action mode will see refinements before the game goes gold.  In the meantime, gamers who are just experiencing Mass Effect for the first time through this demo are advised to stay away from this poorly conceived Action mode.