This is the first Mass Effect title with a demo available before the game's initial release, but if you've been following its hype in any reasonable manner, you'll quickly find out that the demo just gives normal gamers the opportunity to try out the levels that were playable last E3. They're probably in their near-final polished state now, however.
I've never taken the time to actually research my demo history carefully to see if this is true, but I have this general feeling that I've never played a game demo that actually made me want to go out and buy the real game. Something about just playing only a part of the package bugs me, I guess. This has me slightly nervous about playing Mass Effect 3's demo as it's my current favorite series and I have very high hopes for this last entry in the trilogy. Well, here goes everything.
The demo itself lasts about an hour and is actually extremely well polished. In a surprise move, all character customization options are open from the start. You can not only pick your Shepard's gender and completely design their look, but you can also pick from all six standard Mass Effect classes. I have no idea how the Mass Effect 2 demo is designed, but I always imagined they just gave you a male soldier and shuffled you along your way. You can also pick whether Kaidan, Ashley, or lots of crew members died in the previous games. A note says these will all affect Shepard's psychological profile. Curious. You can also pick whether you want to play Action, Story, or RPG mode, which is new to the series.
After creating your character, an extended cutscene begins with Shepard being brought in front of Alliance military on Earth to presumably deal with his crimes in Arrival, the final Mass Effect 2 DLC. But while there, the big moment finally arrives: the Reapers attack. Since Shepard had his little chat with Sovereign on Virmire in what seems like forever ago, fans have been waiting for this moment. To be seen for the first time in the demo is a bit... odd, honestly. But I guess it's an interesting hook to players new to the series.
From there, it's a romp through destroyed Vancouver with Admiral Anderson in search of the Normandy currently piloted by Ashley Williams or Kaidan Alenko. It all essentially feels like a tweaked Mass Effect 2, which is definitely not a bad thing. There's some changes to the heads-up display, but if you were expecting the same drastic changes we saw between Mass Effect 1 and 2, you'll either be elated or disappointed.
This early sequence also gives us our first look at the new character James Vega. From screenshots and art, he looked like a big, dumb jock. From the demo I played today, he is a big, dumb jock. I'm sure Bioware will wring some emotion out of him as the game goes along, if he's not too busy giving swirlies and playing Madden 2186.
Then the game transports us to a mid-game mission, where Shepard finds himself on the Salarian homeworld rescuing a (very, very rare) female krogan from his old pals Cerberus. The best part about this mission is that Wrex is there! Though I had Liara and Garrus as squadmates (and Mordin makes an appearance), it's great to see one of my favorite characters from the first game back in full fighting form. What's slightly sad is that the for anyone who started the series with Mass Effect 2 and didn't start a game with the Genesis DLC, Wrex will be dead! How obnoxious.
Captain Kirrahe also makes a short appearance, he's the Salarian general from the Virmire mission in the first game who can die if you don't follow the vague instructions to help him out. I'm pretty sure he's dead in most of my playthroughs, but if this is all his cameo amounts to, not a lot lost.
When you begin this mission, you have the opportunity to spend a few dozen ability points on Shepard and his squadmates. The full descriptions for all skill paths are available, so if you want to start planning your first Shepard now, this is a great place to start. I also noticed that I leveled up twice during the mission, so that's a nice change back to the original style in Mass Effect 1. I didn't really like how you didn't receive experience until after the mission was over in Mass Effect 2.
Before you know it, the level is finished and the demo is over.
Personally, the game seems to play so much like Mass Effect 2 that the demo kind of feels unnecessary to someone like me. I'm a huge fan of the series and have had it preordered for about a year, so me buying Mass Effect 3 is a foregone conclusion. But obviously I'm not the target audience, so hopefully this demo will connect with someone and convince them to give this excellent series (so far) a try.