When BioWare added all sorts of new challenges, modes and enemies to Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode yesterday, they also added a new stat-tracking page that tells you, among other things, how many hours of your life you have spent shooting down enemy waves. It is a number that I kind of wish I hadn't seen... and it just keeps going up.
The Retaliation DLC — like all other multiplayer DLC for the game so far, free of charge — doesn't just add some new maps and content, but also fundamentally changes the philosophical approach to the multiplayer. Where its original sense of safety and low barrier to entry led me to develop a mild addiction to the game earlier this year, its new aspect is more competitive, more aggressive and more challenging. I don't know if I would have felt comfortable leaping into public matches at the start, had every detail of my squad's actions been so carefully accounted for at the time. But as a veteran player the additions in Retaliation are exciting.
New player character types are all well and good but are of course obtained randomly. While I've unlocked quarians, geth, batarians, krogan, asari, drell, turians and vorcha, luck has not been with me on being able to try out either the volus or the new turian havoc and ghost classes. I have, however, been able to try out the new map modes, and they are delightful.
By "delightful" I of course mean "creepy as hell", but in a challenging, exciting way. Firebase Dagger(Ontarom) is old and familiar. It exists in singleplayer Mass Effect 3 as an N7 mission; I've played it dozens of times in multiplayer since March, as its abundance of sniper nests makes it quick and easy for someone like me who prefers playing infiltrator. I am used to finding my sightlines and the layout of the ladders and main tower is almost second nature. And every ounce of that experience is necessary to play through it in the sandstorm that is its hazard mode. I made it worse still by choosing collector enemies.
Collectors sound like bees. Swarms approach, buzzing madly just out of the corner of your hearing. And in the sandstorm, the buzzing hives disappear into the swirling maelstrom mere meters away from you. Their big, obvious heads, so easy to snipe in profile or peeking out above the edge of cover, seem like a paltry silver lining to the cloud of doom that they are.
They're not any less creepy (or less fast, or less hard to kill) when you can see them, for that matter. As I played through Firebase Reactor, each new Collector enemy type led me to exclaim: "oh god, a what now?" And naturally, they all can be possessed. Some of the collector types also explode on their demise. Try, uh, not to be standing next to one when that happens. (And thanks to the players I was matched up with last night for the timely heals.)
The nice thing about the hazard mode on Reactor is that you can lead your enemies into the now-active reactor core, then lock them in and let the system fry them. Doing so is much more satisfying than it should be. I may have cackled like a madwoman, briefly, when I caught two collector captains (think marauders, only lumpier) in there at once. Enemies don't always saunter in there when you need them to, and trying a live bait strategy to goad them is perhaps unwise with a pick-up group not using voice chat, but a practised group of players may well find the reactor an excellent way to dispatch with hard-to-kill enemies like banshees.
With new enemy classes in every creature type, new hazards warming up old maps, and new challenges tracking every singleplayer motion, BioWare is clearly trying hard to keep their six-month-old multiplayer experience fresh and compelling. On me, at least, the trick is working. Quantify me, and I will always try to meet the goal.
So, 53 headshots since they started tracking yesterday... I can hit 250 in a week, right? Sure I can. Just one more round...