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Mass Effect 3 multiplayer preview: Hands-on with the sequel’s most controversial new feature

Are you worried about the addition of multiplayer to Mass Effect 3? So were we. This is a series defined more by its role-playing elements – story, character, world, choice – than by its shooting, and we couldn’t imagine an online mode, competitive or cooperative, capturing that style of gameplay correctly. In fact, when we finally sat down to sample Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer for ourselves, we feared not just that it would be pointless, but that it would be detrimental to the single player campaign as well.

Fortunately, we were only half right.

To begin with, though, how does the multiplayer work? Well, if you’ve played Gears of War’s Horde, Halo’s Firefight or Call of Duty’s Zombies, you already have a pretty good idea: this is yet another co-op survival mode in which you and your friends (four total) team up to battle wave after wave (up to 11) of computer-controlled enemy forces. Like in those previous examples, the bad guys increase in difficulty, progressing from basic Cerberus foot soldiers to the new, ninja-esque Phantoms or the heavily armored Atlas mechs. Like in those previous examples, you can rush to and revive your buddies when they fall. Like in those previous examples, you earn spending points when you successfully finish a wave, and must start the wave over when your entire squad dies.

“Like in those previous examples”… obviously, Mass Effect 3’s idea of multiplayer isn’t exactly original. Considering those other games have had years to improve and expand upon the idea of a survival mode through sequels, Mass Effect’s initial attempt might even seem outdated to some. There are no tower defense-style upgrades. There are no massive bosses. There are no vehicles. With the exception of occasional (and optional) mini-objectives, such as capturing data points spread across the map or hacking a computer terminal, you’re mostly just shooting. And let’s be honest – without the power wheel to pause and more slowly, strategically direct the action as you would in the single player campaign, Mass Effect’s combat is a lot less distinctive.

Three things, however, still make Mass Effect 3 multiplayer special. First is the uniquely Mass Effect opportunity to play as both multiple classes (Soldier, Infiltrator, Engineer, Sentinel, etc.) and multiple races (Human, Asari, Krogan, Salarian, Turian, even Drell). While the gunplay may feel generic, playing as a powerful Asari biotic who can send whole groups of helpless enemies spiraling into the sky with her Singularity, or controlling a blood-enraged Krogan as he charges through the opposition like a bull through a meat shop, certainly don’t. Neither does evolving and personalizing your online hero through a skill tree, assigning experience points earned through completed waves to your choice of abilities and specializations. Imagine the possibilities and combinations for one character, then imagine how those might grow exponentially with a superheroic team of four.

Second are the maps, set in areas inspired by Commander Shepard’s journey through the main story mode. Of course most games’ multiplayer arenas are taken from sections of the single player, but because Mass Effect is an epic RPG and you’ll likely have spent hours exploring and getting to know each of these planets, visiting them again for co-op is more of a treat. We experienced a minor geek seizure when we realized we were battling across Noveria, the secret snowy base from the original Mass Effect, during our demo.

36 comments

  • Odogx44x - November 4, 2011 5:53 p.m.

    I am getting this game! Looks awesome! Also I am going to have to play the first 2 over because they affect the third one. But I do not mind, the first two were great
  • Sketchydevil - October 27, 2011 9:19 p.m.

    This is honestly going to be good I bet. Having played both games I very much trust Bioware even if its in another companies hands.
  • Fiirestorm21 - October 27, 2011 5:30 p.m.

    The only thing redeeming this is the single-player integration. If done right, that could be a cool feature. Otherwise, it's a waste of development effort, outsourced or not.
  • A_Winner_Is_You - October 27, 2011 2:40 p.m.

    I was leaning towards purchasing the collector's edition of ME3 until all this multiplayer nonsense started leaking out. Now I think I'll wait until the price goes down a bit on the standard version. Nobody wants this. Nobody asked for this. We have to let EA know how we feel by voting with our wallets.
  • BladedFalcon - October 27, 2011 2:40 p.m.

    ...So, it turned out to be exactly what i thought it would be. A mediocre "me too" multiplayer mode that adds nothing now for those that actually like multiplayer, and only subtracts from cost and development time from the single player. Sure, it's cool that in the end, the MP player doesn't affect the single player necessarily. but that wasn't the point. that was never the point. I never really feared they would tamper directly with the single player or force you to play MP in order to get extra stuff or a better ending. I always was against the idea of multiplier from the start for the reason I stated above. So this has me annoyed.... but to be fair, even previous games with questionable MPs like boshock 2 and dead Space 2 both turned out to be pretty good in their single player. So it is likely that the single player from ME3 will be great... it's just, this much build-up over the last two games, i expect the very damn best from this game... And so far, this whole MP business falls very short on that expectation. lastly... I'm just throwing this out there, but ultimately, i believe EA is the one to blame for this, and not Bioware per se.
  • angelusdlion - October 27, 2011 3:03 p.m.

    and I think you are making too big of a deal of it. I trust Bioware, do you? and of course, it's all EA's fault. everything is.
  • BladedFalcon - October 27, 2011 3:20 p.m.

    I'm making it the deal that it is. It's an unnecessary mode that no true ME3 fan really needed. And whether you want to admit it or not, that Multiplayer didn't build itself up from nothing, it cost time, money and personal that could have potentially been better used in the single player, or to at least develop cooler, extra DLC for the game. For example, instead of this MP feature, who would have preferred an extra DLC pack that gave you a side-campaign that allowed you to play as Garrus, Anderson, or any other important character that gave a different point of view and expanded upon the events of the game? I certainly would ave preferred that, by far. As for trusting Bioware... I do, mostly. But it turns out they already pulled this with Baldur's gate II. In which the game supported Online, and the game suffered as a result, with reports of bugs and other programming shenanigans that the original Bladur's gate never had. So yeah... I trust in Bioware... but i don;t consider them perfect or infallible, and it worries me that the MP WILL impact in the proper coding and testing of the game.
  • EBAX1 - October 27, 2011 4:14 p.m.

    They already stated that it is being outsourced. I doubt it was Biowares idea, it was probably EA's, so its not like the MP is going to take away from the SP, its just going to give people who play the game a couple more hours of entertainment. For all you people getting pissed over this, you are retarded. Thats like saying Battlefield 3 would be a better game if there was only multiplayer
  • BladedFalcon - October 27, 2011 5:19 p.m.

    Considering that almost any review I've seen so far from battlefield 3 pretty much states that the weakest link of the game is by far, the single player... Battlefield probably WOULD have benefited from being a multiplayer-only experience, they would have been able to craft more maps, polish the engine, and perhaps issues like the texture pack would have been better paid attention to if resources and attention had not been pulled from the single player. Who everyone seems to peg as mostly forgettable with just pretty graphics. So the exact polar opposite applies for ME3 There's no point in adding a new half-assed mode just to add more "variety" or "options" for the players. Like I've said before, if people want a true quality co-op or multi-player experience, then they would look at Gears of War, not at Mass Effect. I much prefer a game that focuses on doing only one thing right, but does it the best that it can, than being a jack of trades, and ace of none. Also, again, the outsourced company still costs money, and that same company could be put to better use to complement the game with cool DLC that expands on the story... but I already said that in my previous post, which apparently you didn't take the time to properly read. So please refrain calling me retarded when you fail to do things right.
  • SmokeyTheBear87 - October 31, 2011 3:06 a.m.

    What you don't seem to understand is that the resources dedicated to the multiplayer portion would not have gone into the singleplayer in any case, the team at Bioware is the only team allowed to do significant work on any of the singleplayer, and they already have quite a busy schedule. EA is filthy rich, and you think that they're going to subtract money from the singleplayer development of one their most popular and profitable games just to add a survival mode? You must be crazy. You should refrain from saying things such as "It's an unnecessary mode that no true ME3 fan really needed.", considering there are plenty of "true" ME fans that are excited for this mode. Speak for yourself. Plus, there was plenty of awesome DLC for ME2 and there will be for ME3, adding a survival mode from another company doesn't negate the work the core Bioware team will do on DLC. P.S. - Baldur's Gate II was pretty awesome by the way.
  • ObliqueZombie - October 27, 2011 1:04 p.m.

    Eh, it's there. I actually LIKE how BioWare is giving me the option to play it and still be rewarded, instead of forcing my to play it to get the ending I want. Hoorah, BioWare, for making player choice apparent even through Multiplayer.
  • Doorstop - October 27, 2011 1:01 p.m.

    Everyone's quick dismissal of Bioshock 2's multiplayer depresses me. It actually had alot of great ideas like hunting for XP "Adam Vials" just sitting on the maps, breaking down walls and grates for more routes around the map, and you could turn freaking invisible and shoot fire from your hands! I would've bought the Map pack if I knew the chance of actually finding enough people with it was possible.
  • jackthemenace - October 27, 2011 12:51 p.m.

    Few, massive relief. Plus, if having to play through a few matches online with the mates of mine who're getting it means I don't have to spend hours TRAWLING through planets with the horrendous probing missions, I'm totally for it.
  • SketchLemon - October 27, 2011 12:41 p.m.

    How much customization will there be? Can I adjust my Asari's head tentacles? The color of a Krogan's teeth? The beadiness of my Turian's eyes?
  • GrandmaSlayer - October 27, 2011 12:33 p.m.

    Has anyone else noticed that shepherds helmet is identical to the NEVEC soldier's in lost planet?
  • Ironarm - October 27, 2011 11:44 a.m.

    I was fine with the MP up until now. I was just not going to play it, but now I hear that the MP can affect the single player campaign. That's utter crap. It should remain completely separate. If I'm punished in the game for not playing multiplayer I'll raise all sorts of hell.
  • KolbitosFruitJuice - October 27, 2011 11:48 a.m.

    Did you read the whole article? You won't be punished. You can still get the complete, 100% single player ending without playing MP. MP just gives you an alternative way to get there.
  • ObliqueZombie - October 27, 2011 1:03 p.m.

    What KolbitosFruiJuice said... read the whole article before angrily posting a comment.
  • J-spit - October 27, 2011 11:19 a.m.

    I only play fighters online, baby. I like my single player adventures to be...you know....single player adventures. Dead Space 2, RDR, GTA IV, Bioshock 2 etc. Not sure why Mass Effect, of all thIngs, needed to get it's multiplayer on. Damn the state of gaming.
  • Aretelio - October 27, 2011 11:07 a.m.

    Awesome, the developers get to waste time on boring multi-player that could be better spent elsewhere on the game.

Showing 1-20 of 36 comments

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