Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Retrospective by Aaron Bourne

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Uncategorized
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The third instalment of Bioware’s epic space opera might have received a huge amount of critical flak for its ending, but there’s no denying that the game itself was a delight to play.  An action RPG like its predecessor with a few upgrades, Bioware’s approach to the game appeared to be ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  However, that is not to say that the game lacked for new content.  Whatever people’s feelings on the trilogy’s conclusion, the biggest new addition- Mass Effect 3’s Multiplayer mode- was probably its greatest success.

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In the storm of negativity surrounding Mass Effect 3, many players might have skipped over this entirely.  To do so is to deny yourself one of the best co-operative multiplayer experiences out there.  With ME3’s one year anniversary just gone, I thought it time to look back across the last 12 months of gaming and find out just why this relatively simple concept has kept myself and a group of others hooked for so long…

Firstly, there’s the free content.  It could be argued, with good reason, that without Mass Effect 3’s ending foul-ups, that the extra content wouldn’t have had half the impact that it did.  DLC that was due to be paid suddenly became free, and multiplayer users starting to grow bored with the beginner classes and weapons were given a shot in the arm of useful equipment.  Regular shipments of extra unlockables have definitely helped keep the experience fresh, as have the new levels and enemies.

The ‘Earth’ DLC brought an entirely new step of difficulty- platinum mode- as well as a slight beef up to most of the enemy forces.  Though a number of powerful new classes and weapons soon allow you to redress the balance.  Platinum mode is still a great challenge, though, that combines multiple enemy types in seemingly endless waves that will test the skill and mettle of even the most seasoned player.  It’s challenges like this that keep the experience fresh and make sure you and your squaddies will be back time and again to throw yourself against the Geth, Reaper, Collector or Cerberus forces lined up against you.

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So how does the gameplay stack up?  In terms of style, it’s like a fast-paced, class-oriented version of Gears of War.  Players must work together to keep each other alive, whilst taking down waves of enemies that will frequently outgun and outnumber your team.  Experience is given for each kill and for surviving waves, which you can use to level up your character classes and purchase new skills.  Every few waves, your team are given a mission to accomplish, such as guarding a recon drone or taking out specific enemies.  Failure to do so within the time limit will result in a defeat, lending another tense aspect to the gameplay, but completing these missions will net you a monetary reward and help clear the sector of enemy activity for the main game.

The money system is my only real gripe with Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer.  The only way to unlock new weapons, equipment and classes is to spend the credits you earn on ‘booster pack’ equipment bundles.  As any trading card player will be familiar with, these are randomised and each hard earned pack will see you praying to any deities who will listen for a bigger sniper rifle or better soldier class.  Unlike trading cards, however, there is no option to donate your equipment to teammates- a function I found sorely lacking.  Many a time have teammates come across a gun I was desperately hoping for, while I myself possessed unused classes they would have killed for.  Some kind of trade system would have been a great addition to the game, but that would most likely fly in the face of Electronic Artsplans for the multiplayer.  Herein lies my biggest problem with this system; it seems to be a fairly transparent way for the company to earn money, as packs can be bought with real money.  I feel I don’t need to rant on here about EA’s love affair with microtransactions recently, but it’s a glaring reminder of what gaming has become in recent years.

That aside, I have no real problems with the system.  In all honesty, it could be argued that the randomised acquirement of items reflects your teams tenuous position in the overall fight for survival.  Perhaps they simply do not have access to the weapons and equipment they desire, either, and have to make do with what they can get their hands on.  In such a light, the upgrade method could be seen to be more immersive, although it is still fairly aggravating when your entire evening’s earnings go into a few class upgrades and a submachine gun you will never use.

Equipment issues aside, the meat and bones of the gameplay is surprisingly competent, for what seems like a tacked-on multiplayer.  The wide range of skills, strengths and weaknesses for each of the classes mean teamwork is essential, but when you do work together, you can really see the results.  Each player gets the same rewards for victory, so even if a person’s individual score is low, so long as they’re contributing to the overall result, everybody wins.  Snipers might do much damage, but be unable to face hordes of enemies.  Whilst heavies and soldiers can go toe to toe with the biggest foes, but will need frequent rescuing and support.  Other roles range from engineers, who can deploy turrets and mirages, to biotic adepts that can sweep whole waves of bad guys out of the way with their power detonations.

Much like the player characters, each race has their own classes, each of which necessitating a different approach.  Cerberus, for example, can field waves of gun-toting assault troopers, giant mechs with terrifying firepower, or the dreaded phantoms, capable of instantly putting a team member out of the fight.  The key to the higher difficulty modes is forming a team with an answer to every challenge, who work together to inflict results greater than the sum of their parts.

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As expected for a cover-based shooter, levels are a series of platforms ringed in convenient waist-high walls.  That said, each has a unique flavour that makes you feel as if you’re fighting for a war-torn colony, a valuable resource or a landing zone, rather than just a rock in the middle of nowhere.  As might be expected, each level is based on an area from Mass Effect 3’s main game and will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played through the campaign.  Recently added were the ‘hazard’ levels.  The layout being identical to their friendlier counterparts,  these new levels each boast an additional challenge in the form of an environmental danger.  One sees acid rain pour down ever few rounds, eating away at the player’s shields and forcing them to take cover.  Another has a roving swarm of biters that will quickly damage and even take down a team member caught unawares, forcing you to be as mindful of your surroundings as you are the enemy.

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A few problems persist, such as enemy’s ability to ‘stunlock’ you into a corner, or a certain enemy’s homing rockets being a little too nimble and overeager.  Bioware have been pretty quick to address many of the balance issues, however, so these oversights remain few and far between.

So, in conclusion, Mass Effect 3 is definitely one of the better multiplayer experiences out there.  Many games, especially shooters, seem to have tacked-on multiplayer experiences these days.  Most recently, Tomb Raider’s and Farcry 3’s received critical admonishment, and Spec Ops’ was no different.  Mass Effect 3 is a beacon of hope amongst them, showing developers that if you must include an online aspect to your game, then it is vital it is handled correctly.  The benefits, both for yourself and your gamerbase, far outweigh the effort in doing so.  Anyone on the fence about Mass Effect 3 should certainly take this feature into account if weighing up whether to take the plunge.  And anyone hungry for a decent multiplayer experience could do much worse than pick up a copy and get shooting!

Until next time, I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favourite multiplayer experience on the Citadel.

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