We’re not so sure about the Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer [Preview]

26 Oct 2011  by   John Robertson

Any multiplayer component for Mass Effect 3 was always going to have to be more than the usual offerings of deathmatches, leaderboards and/or hideously tacked-on co-op. Fans of the Mass Effect series expect a certain degree of complexity, a certain scale and characters that pack a bit of personality. A ‘Quick Match’ 8 vs. 8 scenario was never going to cut it.
Enter ‘Galaxy at War’, Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer component that aims to wrap the now common wave based system in a blanket of stats and skill-trees whilst tying everything into your personal single player game.
At its highest level, Galaxy at War is presented as a battle between the allied alien races and the Reapers (you know, those bad guys threatening to wipe out all existence other than their own). At its immediate level however, things play out in a fashion similar to any other game featuring wave based co-operative multiplayer.
Up to four players can play together as one of a numerous races; Krogan, Asari, Human, Turian and various others that will be familiar to anyone who has indulged in the Mass Effect universe – however, it’s not possible to play as Commander Shepard, Wrex or anyone else from single player.
There are character creation options but our demo skipped us right past those and straight into the action. Each of the races comes equipped with their own perks – Krogans have the ‘Krogan Charge’ attack, for example, while the Asari start with a much wider arsenal of telekinetic/magic abilities.

Conversely, some basic movement functions have been stripped back from certain character types. Playing as a Krogan means you can’t roll, instead you’ll be relying on your bulky armour and skill in finding suitable cover to avoid being ripped up by enemy bullets.
Each wave tries to distinguish itself from the last by introducing objectives that must be completed before you’re allowed to progress. While our first wave simply involved dispatching the Geth (read: really smart robots) that had spawned, the second wave required us to hack into a data terminal and the third to hold an area for a set amount of time.
It was that second wave which offered the truest glimpse of ‘co-operative’ play- one of our four having to stand and work through the hacking timer while the rest of us took up defensive positions to protect them. If you do go down a revive system gives your partners a chance to pick you back up again, but make sure the area is clear first because picking someone up takes a while.
The time between rounds was generally spent scrambling madly for ammo. Even the early waves are loaded to the brim with enemies of various types, so making sure you’ve got plenty of caps in your gun is equally as important as working together and knowing the location of your allies.
We only got to play on the one map, a military installation set on the side of a snow-capped mountain. In true Mass Effect fashion the exterior looked stunning, but the interior featured that stale, recycled look the first two games have suffered from. This map, and the others that will come as part of the final game, is a modified location from the single player campaign but no clue was given as to its role in the game or its identity.

A Galaxy at War map shows territories in green and red; green meaning they’re under your control, red under enemy control, this is worked out based on the number of matches you’ve played and won on specific arenas. This map is yours and yours alone, it doesn’t feed into a global map and it cannot be affected by your friends… which is a bit of a shame. Hardly a ‘galaxy’ at war is it?
As you level up you gain the ability to unlock nodes on a skill tree, up to a maximum rank of 20. A quick blast through the menus showed more potential unlocks than we could realistically memorise, so personalising your character to fit your own playing style shouldn’t be an issue.
BioWare were desperately trying to drill into us the idea that Galaxy at War is a ‘multiplayer campaign’, but when I asked exactly what it was that made it a campaign their reply was that it has lots of “character progression” and “lots of maps to explore”. So, by that logic, Call of Duty’s online is also a campaign? No, it’s not.
The closest Galaxy at War comes to being a ‘campaign’ is the way in which it affects your Galactic Readiness Level. Once you’ve hit the level 20 level cap, you can send your character ‘to war’ which increases your ‘Galactic Readiness Level’ in the single player game. Just how (if at all) this alters the state of your campaign is being keep a closely guarded secret, but the idea is intriguing.
Once you’ve sent your character away to war, he’s gone forever and you’ll need to start a new one. You can send as many maxed-out characters as you like to the final battle against the Reapers, a cunning way to increase the replay value of co-op and provide more incentive to play as all of the available races.

BioWare were also keen to point out that anyone who doesn’t want to enter the realms of multiplayer will not be disadvantaged for their decision. The Galactic Readiness Level can also be increased by performing specific, optional tasks in single player (although the nature of these was not shared).
In all honesty, our demo was somewhat underwhelming. For a game that has already offered two in-depth, engaging experiences, Galaxy at War seems like a bit of a pointless exercise. Wave based systems are a dime-a-dozen nowadays and, from what we’ve played thus far, Galaxy at War is inferior to the likes of Gears of War’s Horde mode or Halo’s Firefight.
Sure, the Galactic Readiness Level incorporation and levelling up is a nice touch but it’s really nothing more than a few extra decorations to the tree. The high standards BioWare have set themselves with Mass Effect means that a copycat game mode is not going to cut it.
Then again, perhaps (like Mass Effect’s campaign) this is one of those things that grows slowly and sucks you in over time. I desperately hope that that is the case, because it would be a great shame if a franchise like Mass Effect were to be pulled into the realm of ‘whack in a multiplayer or we won’t sell enough games’.

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