When BioWare first confirmed that Mass Effect 3 was going to feature a multiplayer/co-op component, the news was met with some trepidation and skepticism by loyal fans, and with good cause. Mass Effect, over the course of two entries, has always been a single player only RPG/action game.
Speculation and accusations ran rampant for the genesis of the inclusion, from larger, mass appeal to the conspiracy theorists who insist Electronic Arts is solely behind the inclusion so as to push their controversial online pass system. Whatever the case may be, a co-op multiplayer function will exist in Mass Effect 3, regardless of how much weeping and gnashing of teeth is present in the gaming community over the decision.
Now that everyone has at least accepted that it exists, let’s dive into the details of how Mass Effect 3 multiplayer will work, what it will include, and what gamers should expect.
First, the multiplayer system in Mass Effect 3 is a co-operative, four player survival mode that is similar to Gears of War’s Horde or Halo’s Firefight. The player controls an elite special force comprised of races from all over the Mass Effect galaxy – Human, Asari, Krogan, Turian, Drell, and Salarian. The maps available to play represent locations that are also pivotal to Shepard’s war effort. Players visit the location in the single player campaign before ultimately handing the job over to the Special Forces.
BioWare producer Casey Hudson explains it further.
“It’s a way to see the same experience from different sides of the window. Shepard is out there making the important decisions. And from his perspective you can see these special forces guys, troops all over the galaxy fighting. Then in multiplayer you jump over to the other side of the window to be those people, and see Shepard having secured the location now leaving it to you. So it’s a different way of telling the story.”
The previously mentioned races will have 3 different “kits” which further define their chosen character. “Kits” are nothing more than character classes. For example, the human class allows the gamer to be a soldier (access to explosives), a vanguard biotic (spell caster who can pack a punch), or an engineer (tech powers). Turian and Salarians tend to favor the technology classes, with Salarians further favoring medics. The Asari and Drell are more closely tied to biotics, while Krogans are built to be tanks, charging into the fray with shotguns blazing and head-butting anything that gets in the way.
Players can customize each characters’ armor, and easily change between every race and kit, leveling up each separately. The setup encourages experimentation, as there is a relatively low level cap of 20. In addition to armor, players can customize their weapons as well, adding even further depth.
Teamwork is important to the end goal. The classes are distinct enough that a smart combination of different abilities will greatly improve one’s chances. Each character has special traits that make them better suited for specific tasks, and working together will increase the chances of success. Going “Lone Wolf” instead of working with one’s squad is not recommended, as all players equally split the rewarded experience points, regardless of which player achieved more “kills.” There is a scoring system of sorts that tracks statistics so these vital elements can be saved, but it is important to note that the system is just for the sake of trophies at this point.
Each map contains two “super objectives” – holding the position and getting out in the evacuation. There are side objectives as well that increase the chances of success, such as hacking terminals, and it will require one of the players to split off and do it while everyone else covers said player. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork.
The biggest question many gamers have is how will Mass Effect’s intrinsic narrative and context hold the player’s interest? Performance in multiplayer can impact the single player campaign, expediting the building of the war resources. Tying into the whole “Galaxy at War” concept – which demonstrates how ready Shepard and his crew are before the final battle – players gain resources that can be used in the campaign. Hudson has been adamant, however, that the multiplayer mode is completely optional and should players choose to ignore it, it will have no bearing on the single player campaign.
Time will be the ultimate deciding factor in how this will all shape up. As a gamer who tends to focus more on single player than multiplayer, I get anxious when my favorite games start introducing more and more multiplayer elements. But hey, I’m slow to change. Perhaps adding a co-operative multiplayer element to the Mass Effect franchise is a way to increase the shelf life even further on what is sure to be a smashing success of a game.