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to improve and expand upon the idea of a survival mode through sequels, Mass Effect’s initial attempt might even seem outdated to some.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.