Multiplayer Doesn't Ruin Mass Effect 3

Some smart gamers eye the addition of multiplayer modes to formerly singleplayer franchises with the kind of suspicion that classical music aficionados might have if they heard their favourite violinist gave a guest spot at their next concert to Kanye West.

The people at BioWare have indeed disrupted their symphony. They've added co-op multiplayer to the acclaimed singleplayer Mass Effect series for next March's Mass Effect 3. I've played it, and while I don't love it, I see why they're doing it and I see how it could be great.

Mass Effect 3's co-op is optional. You'll be able to finish the sci-fi role-playing game without touching it and even get the best ending, BioWare's David Silverman told me when he gave me a shot at playing co-op a couple of weeks ago in New York City (I'd agreed to not write about co-op until today; such are the deals for getting access to games).

You'll even be able to get the game's best ending without touching multiplayer, though it may take you longer.

Multiplayer in the game is co-op, for four players (online, not split-screen) to join together as an elite squad of bad-guy-shooting warriors. You don't play as the game's hero, Commander Shepard, nor as any of the major side characters from the series. You instead can take on the role of a crack commando from any of six of the game's main character classes and from any of the game's major races-Salarians, Krogan, Asari, Turian and more, i.e. the races of the major side characters. You play together, fighting through areas tied to the game's single-player campaign, battling through 12 waves of randomised enemies, completing randomised objectives.

It plays, no surprise, a bit like the Horde mode popularised by Gears of War, but with role-playing game levelling. There is no multiplayer conversation, no multiplayer morality decisions (and no multiplayer Mass Effect romance—I asked!). There is, however, all of Mass Effect's evolving, improving combat. You play in third-person, utilising the kind of guns and powers you would in single-player Mass Effect. You gain experience points for kills and completion of objectives, and you can spend those points levelling up your character's powers just as you would Shepard and her squadmates in the singleplayer game. Each class has their own specialties. Each race has some unique abilities.

The multiplayer matches are part of Mass Effect 3 concept of a "Galaxy at War". Playing multiplayer or singleplayer earn players Galactic Readiness points. Accumulating enough points enables players to charge to the end of the single-player game and get a better ending (there are other ways to get those points too, which I'm guessing are things like Facebook games, but BioWare won't say.). The areas for multiplayer are represented abstractly on a map of the Mass Effect galaxy. BioWare's Silverman told me that some of those areas will light up with alerts that they're getting attacked. You'll be encouraged to go in as a multiplayer squad to suppress those threats, earning points as you go.

I played a couple of matches of co-op, mixing powers and guns with decent success. Our network connection at the demo venue was poor, so we ran into some syncing glitches, but I got the gist of the experience. We could pick a map, scale it to a desired size (we chose "giant"), pick an enemy type ("Cerebus" for us) and a challenge level ("bronze") and then hope for the best. We played in a multi-room urban map, where enemies could snipe from catwalks and rooms away from the main bowl of combat often contained objective goals. We rotated through a few objectives; we had to hack terminals, disarm bombs, and often just kill all the bad guys. As we the waves progressed, the enemies got tougher. We were fighting foot soldiers at first, but later were tangling with snipers and cloaked enemies. I died getting choked by a giant mech.

We weren't playing the smoothest of games. Mass Effect's combat, while improved, still animates a bit stiffly, as players of Mass Effect 2 can recall. It suffers a comparison to Gears' gunplay. But tossing a singularity into the middle of a battle while my Turian buddy unloads a clip in the floating bad guys is fun. We had a good time.

I like co-op multiplayer, and I was satisfied that playing Mass Effect 3 would be a pleasant diversion from the main game. I just don't know how often I'll play it. I play Mass Effect for the story and the interactions between characters. That's not what this new game's multiplayer delivers, and I'm sure it's because what multiplayer does offer — combat — is what many of those who don't play this series are looking for. The co-op feels designed for people who have ignored the series until now.

If you want to see Mass Effect's conversation system at work in multiplayer, go buy Star Wars the Old Republic. If you want to see the character dynamics (and the sex) of Mass Effect in multiplayer, keep dreaming (and keep it to yourself). If you're interested in Mass Effect combat and levelling in a challenging Horde-mode—if you like Mass Effect as a way to rack up kills — you'll like the co-op. And if you don't care, you can ignore it. That best ending can be yours, anyway.

Mass Effect 3 will be out for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on March 6.


Comments

    Great, clear article. I now know exactly what to expect from ME3's components. Thanks!

    "You’ll even be able to get the game’s best ending without touching multiplayer, though it may take you longer."

    ...........................................................................................................................................................................................................

      I interpret this as "if you play it single player, you'll spend as much time as you did in the previous games to get the best ending; but if you play it in multi you'll maybe get there with less effort than before"

        The fact that co op effects singleplayer at all in a mass effect game is reason enough to wtf.

        Honestly, as much as IGN makes me bleh, their article that just went up on ME3 sums up my feelings almost entirely. With the addition of, no matter how good the single player is, the fact is they had to put SOME time into multiplayer that could have been spent to make the singleplayer even better.

          Not entirely true, from what I understand they've had a separate team working on mutliplayer. On top of that it is most likely that they've been given an extra $X to do multiplayer, not just expected to work multiplayer into their budget. The addition of multiplayer is a move to hopefully attract a wider audience to the series so EA can afford to give bioware an extra $million or whatever because they hope it'll get an extra 100,000 people to buy the game so its not really taking away time or money from the singleplayer, its adding on more time, money and risk to the end product.

          A separate studio developed the multiplayer, and the singleplayer is expected to be as long or longer than ME2.

          Sure, they could've added an extra few hours to the singleplayer. But they chose to do co-op multiplayer instead, and perhaps sell a few hundred thousand more copies. It's just business. Some - many - people might even enjoy the co-op, given that it's just combat.

          Saying that Bioware can't do [x] because you don't want them to strikes me as a little naive. Just ignore the multiplayer if you don't like it, and enjoy the game.

            Interesting, didn't realise the multiplayer was being handled by another studio, fair enough then.

            On the other hand ignoring the multiplayer was my intention, but they're having it impact singleplayer, while I understand the logic behind adding multiplayer in but I don't like it, I can't understand at all why multiplayer should have any effect on singleplayer, even allowing that it's not necessary.

            As for saying Bioware can't do x, I didn't, they'll do whatever they want, which for the last few years is make games I find mediocre to pretty good, while I will likely get ME3 to find out what happens, I have no interest in any new bioware franchises. Though I'm fully aware they don't care and they're quite happy slowly progressing toward CoD: IN SPACE!

    This makes me worry MORE. they make it sound like the game progression has been scaled down to this single readiness meter, and you can either:

    a) play co op until it's full then win the game and get the best ending regardless of decisions you make; or,

    b) there will be a lot of grindy filler missions to fill the meter if you don't feel like playing co-op.

    I want a game where the ending I get depends on how well I make my decisions, not how many digital enemies I've slaughtered.

    So... I'm concerned.

      Bioware have said your decisions affect the 'end state of the galaxy' after the Reapers have been defeated (who survives, who's in charge, etc). The Galacic Readiness meter just seems to be a way for *all* players to win (and win well), no matter what the stupid things you've done in previous games are.

      As for grindy missions, they may be there but the indication I got was more about side-quests and optional loyalty missions to amass resources.

      Finally, I'm sure there'll be mandatory story missions. The way the article described it, co-op missions pop up inside the singleplayer galactic map, and I'd guess certain levels of 'galactic readiness' won't unlock until certain story elements have been done.

        "The Galacic Readiness meter just seems to be a way for *all* players to win (and win well), no matter what the stupid things you’ve done in previous games are. "

        And you don't see a problem with that? : / In a game primarily about how your choices affect the universe?
        Apparently I'm just not Mass Effect's audience anymore, yay for the witcher I guess.

    I never had a problem with MP in Mass Effect, I knew it would always be optional.

    But this Galactic Readiness bar worries me, in ME2 the best ending was achieved through different means such as making sure the entire team trusted you, seeing that your ship was completely upgraded and making the best choices in the last mission.

    Now it looks like that could be dumbed down to a big meter on the top of the screen saying 'You are *this* far from the best ending'. I could be wrong, but it is a concern of mine and I actually hope that I am wrong about it.

      Glad I'm not the only person who is worried about this - I thought maybe I was just completely misreading it.

      That was the first thing I thought of as well, and I seriously hope that's not the case.

      I'm a bit disappointed in the multiplayer as described as well. If it was something interesting I might have given it a shot, but just another horde mode? No thanks.

      Should have been a separate game.

    That first (tiny) screen looks really gritty and awesome. I hope that is what most the game looks like.. I'd happily say goodbye to the ultra-clean, not-a-speck of dirt armor and uniforms from the first two games..

    As for co-op multiplayer.. I am glad it won't detract from the main game and I like the ability to share the experience with a friend..

    Well, it'd just better get its own disc. *shakes first at ME2 getting chokepointed through Horizon for all platforms so the Hexbox can have a clear disc transition*

    You know, why dont they just use the 6 classes from swtor and make a coop action and mp game, and have space combat.

    I'm sure that would sell more than me3 and swtor mmo combined.

    Change is bad!

      Changing something that doesn't need to be changed often is.

    Yeah swtor as a console co-op action game would be great - who wouldn't love that!

    I have to think reviewers (perhaps not the godly, untouchable entities this site paints them at times) may have played a pert in this. All too often we see "replayability" cited in reviews as either a blessing or a curse, some games have no intention or philosophy towards multiplayer but are marked down when they don't have it. It's almost seen as a given now that nearly every MUST have a multiplayer component or suffer the wrath of a lukewarm recommendation. This isn't an argument of whether MP in ME3 is good or bad but the pressure that's put on developers to provide this component when it's not necessary and regardless of whether they SHOULD matter, review scores and many reviewers' definition of "content" (much like their difinition of "innovation" which is even more infuriating) actually do have an affect on games development. I can't help but think this is the result.

    BioWare fucks up yet another game, don't mix multiplayer with single player in an RPG dipshits.

    The shooting mechanics in Mass Effect 2 are sound (Not ME1 though the shooting in that was total dreck) and I reckon they'd translate really well to a co-op game.

    Now if you want to talk games that shouldn't have included a co-op mode - can I introduce you to Battlefield 3...

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