The multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3 is something that initially caused quite a bit of outrage. The belief that it was being created with resources that, fans insisted, should be allocated towards making the single player campaign as great as it could possibly be was an unwelcome thought. Just as the BioShock 2 multiplayer announcement, this was seen as another case of meddling publishers slapping on an online mode no one was asking for to a popular franchise for a box cover bullet point.
At first glance, this is exactly what the wave 4 player cooperative multiplayer is. At least, that’s what I thought when I tried it out. However, after finishing up the main campaign I decided to give it a proper chance, and I discovered that there is a very sophisticated, well designed multiplayer game beneath the seemingly simple surface.
I thought the mode deserved a more thorough analysis rather than just a short paragraph in the Mass Effect 3 review. If not for considering the implications of its unlocking and leveling system, then at least to share the enjoyment I’ve had with it.
As I mentioned above, there’s really only one multiplayer mode, which is 4 player cooperative combat against 10 waves of Cerberus, Geth or Reaper armies. Wave number 3, 6 and 10 are special missions where you either need to take out 4 specific enemy targets, hack 4 different terminals around the map or defend a location for a set amount of time before the timer runs out. There are 6 different maps (two additional maps with the free Resurgence Pack DLC) as well as 3 difficulty levels; bronze, silver and gold. The latter two being significantly harder than the entry level bronze.
Completing each wave grants you experience points to level up your character, and finishing the three special objectives will net you credits that are used to unlock new characters and equipment.
Naturally, before jumping into the fray, you also need to pick and equip a character. The characters are divided in a fairly unique system. You have access to slimmed-down versions of all six character classes in the single player campaign, which are in turn divided by four characters in a variety of species (two of which are identically equipped male and female humans in every class, and one additional species available per class with the Resurgence DLC). The different species have access to a unique set of three skills available to that particular class. When you level up a character, you are actually leveling up the entire class, so it is possible to have four fully leveled up builds of each class simultaneously after maxing out just one character.
So far so good..
Unlocking and Character Progression
Starting off, you only have access to the human male and female of each class, as well as the lowest level of the first weapons of each type you receive in the single player campaign. When you’ve begun playing and started getting enough credits to unlock some more stuff you go into the online ME3 store and buy one of three packs containing five randomly generated items and gear.
Three of the five things you receive are one-off single use items that you either select before getting into a game as a buff that will last throughout that match (i.e, inferno rounds that adds status effects to your bullets) or a disposable resource that is used up in game (i.e, medi-gel, that gets you up on your feet if you’re downed by an enemy).
The final two things are character classes or weapons, of varying rarity depending on which level of pack you purchase.
Now, here’s where it gets truly frustrating. The three types of packs that are always available are Recruit (5.000), Veteran (20.000) and Spectre (60.000). With a low level character, you’re hard pressed to do anything other than playing Bronze difficulty, which gets you a reward of around 15.000 credits per game if you make it through the last round. The Silver and Gold will get you around 30.000 and 72.000 respectively, and one game usually takes between 18-25 minutes depending on how well you and your team play.
While you’ll be able to buy a few entry level packs after a completed Bronze game, the equipment you receive might be fun to play around with, but it’s very rare that you’ll get something actually useful. It’s the Spectre pack you want in order to have a chance of seeing the cool stuff, but in order to buy just one of these you’ll need to play almost 90 minutes having not failed, left or lost connection to a single game.
Also, considering how the contents of all packs are random, chances are you’ll receive something that you have no interest in even trying.
What’s worse is, once you’ve gotten something out of a pack this doesn’t mean that you’ve now filled that slot for the next time you roll. You can actually get the same weapon or character class up to ten times. Granted, the weapons are slightly improved until their tenth version, and you get further visual customization options and an XP bonus for your characters, but this system can, and will, lead to disappointment when spending your hard earned cash.
This hampers the sense of progression, and you get the feeling that the barrier of entry to the really good stuff requires way too much of an investment to be a path worth going down.
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Another shipment of junk.
The good parts
Let me inform you though, there is a pot of gold at the end of that road. Or at least, you start picking up doubloons at an increasing rate once you’ve done some leg-work.
The real value of this game, for me at least, came as soon as I began breaking through the harder difficulties. This is where you start thinking about and consider what really makes you effective, things like your builds strategy, focus, versatility and synergy with your team-mates.
Without any of this, you will go down fast, and miss out on the much greater reward offered upon completion.
Being that classes and races are so different, there are many combinations of skills and gear that can be not only viable for playing successfully, but also cater to many different styles of play that you might never have been introduced to or even considered before. There’s also a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when making that final extraction on a tough run.
Not only are skills different between races, but each race has different stats and unique heavy melee and/or movement options. The Asari do fast biotic dashes around the battlefield, and the Krogan has a heavy charge attack that grants a bonus when used to take out multiple enemies in a row.
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Naturally, you can and will run across elements of frustration here as with all other online games. You might experience server and latency issues, people who leave mid-game or run out to play hero instead of considering what the team is doing. And it’s when these things occur and you lose your bounty that the sense of progression is immediately stifled.
All in all
The character development system of this game gets quite a lot of things wrong. It’s tedious, it takes too long, you have no control over your personal development and you rarely get the equipment you really want.
However, the system is successful in the way that the game encourages you to level, try out different builds and characters, and hook you into getting that god forsaken loot. The sad part is that you have the very real option to buy the complete virtual packs, unfortunately for real cash through the store. This could be an at least somewhat valuable offer if they would acknowledge that, when the customers pay real money for something, at least give them something they want. It sets a dangerous precedent when games implement what can only be described as a digital slot machine for in-game items in order to squeeze money from their customers with frustration.
Anyway, this is the experience I’ve had with the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, and it really is a shame that such good gameplay is tarnished by a flawed nickel and diming system that’s not very consumer friendly. There’s fun to be had, it improves over time, but it ultimately falls flat due to its framework.