Or why I spent more time as a nameless Turian Sentinel than as Commander Sheppard.
“Multiplayer?” We scoffed, “For a Mass Effect game? Well aren’t we keen to jump on the bandwagon, EA. Perhaps you’d like to throw in some overpriced DLC for that multiplayer nonsense, too; couple of extra maps for a tenner, maybe?”
A thought process not entirely unlike the one that was darting through my mind, and possibly the mind of every long-term Mass Effect fan, when I first heard that the closing chapter of Commander Sheppard’s story would contain online multiplayer modes.
It seemed absurd, borderline suicidal from a perspective of trying to retain your core fan base, regardless of the appeal we all grudgingly acknowledge exists to gamers who want more than a single player experience for their money.
The fact of the matter was that Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 had been about as far removed from multiplayer material as one could imagine, even with the improvements BioWare had made to the latter’s gameplay. It was a franchise driven by narrative – a story in which you, nobody else, were making key decisions and watching disasters of galactic proportions unfold. You came for the gameplay, certainly, but you stayed for the cinematic atmosphere and this was particularly true of the first Mass Effect.
Well, it’s over a year later, here we sit and what do you know. EA did authorise the release of more DLC for Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer and the content packs do have more maps in them. They also happen to include more weapons, a broader range of character classes, more equipment, challenges, a title system, and – to top it all off – more enemies. It seems the only other thing my cynicism didn’t predict correctly was the price; as long as you have the Online Pass (included with new copies of Mass Effect 3 as standard) the extra multiplayer content is free.
I and many other stalwart fans of the series appear to have spent a lot more time playing Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer than we have its single player. In my case about a hundred and fifty hours more, and the figures are steadily climbing for most of us.
There are some fans who will say that the single player campaign is weaker than it was in previous Mass Effect games, there are others who will suggest that the infamous ‘ending’ debacle soured our experience of Commander Sheppard’s story, and that these are key factors in the success of the multiplayer.
As far as I am concerned, neither of these highly opinionated perspectives has anything to do with the game’s multiplayer. In my mind the single player and multiplayer are separate entities, and the reason I haven’t played through the campaign as much is probably the same reason I won’t watch the Lord of the Rings or The Dark Knight trilogies every week. Commander Sheppard’s story was brilliant, but I like a little time between seeing brilliant stories again and again.
What BioWare’s multiplayer development team has accomplished with the source material is compelling, magnificent work. I’ve been playing Mass Effect 3 online since I bought it back in March last year and the game has seen vast improvement and minute attention to detail in the months since.
That’s not to say it’s perfect; we have all the usual problems associated with host-based online play including lag and server connection difficulties, but let’s not forget we were highly sceptical of Mass Effect being able to ‘work’ even in a very basic sense for a multiplayer scenario. By tossing aside the idea of direct competitive play, BioWare has constructed a surprisingly deep and refreshing take on co-op. You could cite modes like Gears of War‘s Horde or Halo‘s Firefight, but neither comparison really does justice to the number of play styles available in Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer.
The six classes from the story are carried through and their collection of unique powers is slimmed down to just three per character. This means players have been able to build classes within classes, depending on the characters they choose. I could customise a Krogan soldier, play a match, then switch to a Batarian soldier, play another match, then switch once again to a Geth soldier, and play yet another match, and the gameplay from each of these matches would be unique. Lore from the Mass Effect universe has inspired this variety.
Krogan are big, savage, robust bastards, who can smash through lines of enemies and send their battered corpses skittering off into the distance, and this is very much in line with what we know about them from the story. Quarians are technical soldiers, able to set up ambushes, use drones, and compromise enemies’ weaponry from afar, and their penchant for tactical assaults is in keeping with their history as well. These are but two examples of how BioWare has kept fans pleased with the transition to multiplayer in terms of remaining faithful to the source material.
What’s more commendable still is that BioWare has used its social network (BSN) to listen to player feedback and from this has come all manner of changes. From the small weapon tweaks (yes, apparently even in co-op gameplay some weapons are considered ‘overpowered’) to full-blown characters including, funnily enough, Volus classes, and now players are gradually chewing through a tough series of online challenges.
I’m not sure whether it’s the unpredictability of player advancement in Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer that has me coming back for more, but having weapons and equipment unlock at random was a damned clever system as it ensures player curiosity stays at peak levels. What the next ‘Spectre Pack’ contains is anyone’s guess.
Add to this a fortnightly challenge, in which players can complete goals to receive a guaranteed rare weapon, and you can imagine why the last part of BioWare’s trilogy is still very much alive online nine months later – even with Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Halo 4 devouring our attention span.
Regardless of whether or not you enjoyed BioWare’s last piece of the Mass Effect trilogy as a whole, there can be no doubt that their sojourn into multiplayer has pleasantly surprised many of us. It was an achievement in danger of being overlooked, thanks to the aforementioned ‘ending’ troubles, but thankfully BioWare had the good sense to persevere and deliver more content to fans like me who got caught up in holding the line against Reapers, Geth, Cerberus, and Collectors.
I’m Commander Sheppard and this is my favourite multiplayer game of 2012.