Let's just get it out of the way right now: Mass Effect 3
's multiplayer was a dark horse hit. Plenty of people ignored it but a lot of people who tried it got hooked on the Horde-mode survival, RNG item store and upgrades. Every time someone brings up ME3
MP, we go through these motions.
Now that that's out of the way, it may benefit you to know that the metagame has evolved a great deal over the past year. Five DLC packs were added to the game, dramatically changing the metagame and of how players approached the game. A common theme you'll see throughout the evolution of ME3
's MP is something called the power creep; a term used to define how newer content that is introduced fails to take into consideration the balance of older content. In most cases, the newer content completely is more powerful than the older stuff, making said older stuff outdated and underpowered. An example of this happening is the introduction of the Asari Valkyrie in the Retaliation pack versus the N7 Fury from the Earth pack. Without deeper digging on how the two kits differ, one would suspect that the Asari Valkyrie does the exact same thing as the Fury, but has significantly higher survivability due to her having Tech Armor and its damage reduction. Why would you want to play as the Fury, who has less shields and no armor, when you could play as a Valkyrie with more defense?
Luckily, Bioware also threw in a number of hot fixes; adjustments made to the game's statistics without the need of introducing physical patches. When newer Vanguards and Adepts came onto the scene, people saw Drell quickly becoming outpaced in terms of performance. Drell had little shields and and even fewer attractive offensive options. Why play as the squishy Drell when you could play as a Krogan Battlemaster Vanguard? The Drell might have powerful Cluster Grenades but the Krogan could do almost the same damage by using Biotic Charge and meleeing everything afterwards. Shortly after Resurgence, Drell and Turians received impressive buffs to their passive skills, giving them significantly more weapon damage bonuses. To this day, Drell are still a niche choice for having the highest base weapon bonuses in the game at nearly 32.5%.
Early in the multiplayer life cycle, Infiltrators were definitely the most popular kit in the game. It's difficult to say no to a power that turns you invisible and boosts your weapon damage by nearly 80% on top of what you can already output. At first, maxing out Tactical Cloak would give sniper rifles a mind boggling 120% bonus! Not to mention nearly 8 seconds of invisibility to complete important objectives. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Soldiers, while popular in single-player, were definitely pretty weak in multiplayer. Early Soldiers were reliant on their weapons for damage but it can be difficult to get high end DPS with even the best weapon in the game, not to mention needing to top off regularly at ammo crates. Most of the Soldiers had powers that weren't worth comparing to even the free damage Incinerate offered.
Later, after Resurgence came out, the Tacticsl Cloak's duration was nerfed. It didn't make faithful Infiltrators move to another class, but it certainly put a damper on their beloved DPS. It did split the user base in half for the utility of Tac Cloak. Most still use the damage evolution for pure damage. But other Infiltrators, like the N7 Shadow or Quarian Male, will usually opt for a duration of 11 seconds to benefit their specific skill set.
Once Resurgence did come out, all the new character immediately became fast favorites. Geth were renowned for being glass cannons, being able to output ludicrious amounts of damage due to the buffs Hunter Mode conferred, and this is before the extra bonuses for using Geth weaponry. The Krogan Battlemaster Vanguard combined the best of the Vanguard class with the best of the hardy Krogan race. And Batarians had extremely powerful falcon punches. The Asari Justicar found a niche as a useful defensive, support class with her Biotic Bubble and even more Justicars found a niche in using their bubbles to throw on massive debuffs onto boss enemy units.
The first DLC pack hinted at the power creep with kits that already weren't all that popular such as the vanilla human kits like the Soldier or Engineer. Geth were extremely useful and the Krogan Vanguard was simply a powerhouse. And with new weapons coming out to supplement the other classes, even the older alien ones, the classes that were already unpopular became even more so. When Rebellion came out and introduced the Gear slot to further improve certain characters, the new weapons introduced in the pack increased the gap between characters like the Human Soldier and say, the Krogan Vanguard. The Reegar Carbine is one of the most powerful weapons in the game, and while it is certain powerful on a vanillla class like the Human Soldier, the Krogan Vanguard simply multiplies its power with his durability and utilities in close quarters combat.
Speaking of the Rebellion pack, the new weapons and equipment certainly made a bigger splash compared to the characters. Gear that can offer bonuses to shields and melee strength, not to mention the Reegar, the Krysea, and the Cerberus Harrier, which is now the most used weapon among N7 players. The new characters were rather mild by comparison, but the introduction of the Escort objective type was a big shake up. Escorting a data drone through hordes of deadly Reapers or Geth means smart players know that they're about to spend a few rockets.
Meanwhile for the characters, we only received three unique characters who swapped out certain skills by class. The Male Quarian Infiltrator for example had Tac Cloak while the Engineer version swapped it out for Incinerate. The Cerberus Defectors were woefully underpowered at the onset compared to how they are now with their balance patches. While their skills are interesting, both Lash and Smash shared a common trait in having tremendously long start up animations you couldn't cancel. Meanwhile, the Male Quarian had extremely powerful Arc Grenades that detonate on impact and Vorcha with true regenerating health to counter-balance their low shields which encouraged aggressive combat. Cerberus Defectors are still the least played class of all time while Vorcha and Male Quarians retain a niche for their powerful skills.
When Earth swung around, it introduced a bevy of unique characters who were all humans strangely. Most of the humans who were vanilla are hard to call powerful or unique but the humans from the Earth pack are differentiated as top of the line N7 operatives from Rio De Janero, with the aggressively biotic Fury adept and the tougher-than-a-krogan Destroyer soldier. Each of the six N7 characters introduced radically different ways of playing which introduced a breath of fresh air. The introduced weapons also had a time of extreme popularity that tapered off after a few weeks of time. The Typhoon experienced a time of domination among weapon-centric builds, especially with the Destroyer before he too was nerfed alongside the Typhoon. After their time in the sun though, the nerfs dampened most of the excitement to use them a lot.
Due to the nature of the RNG, usually when a new pack came out, most players were desperate to try the new content but instead got around to unlocking content from previous packs. It actually took me until last month to unlock the N7 Shadow.
Retaliation mixed the bag that Rebellion used, re-introducing old character classes but with different power sets to make them feel new. Many people had already played Geth as glass cannons but what about playing as Geth Soldier with Fortification to up your survivability and a Flamer powered by higher passive bonuses compared to Vorcha. Or an Asari with both Tech Armor and Annihilation Field for extreme CQC action. This was also the pack to introduce Volus as a sort of strange and unique alien class. Volus are extremely weak in direct combat but their unique power, Shield Boost, gives them a makeshift support role in the battlefield, refilling their shields and any adjacent allies. A lot of N7 operative would often times try to show off their skills by playing a Volus ironically but real Volus gameplay allows teams to survive in difficulties they can't normally compete in. The pack also introduced the long requested Turians who can roll. Except instead of rolling because apparently Turians can't roll, they have jetpacks to propel them for evasive maneuvers.
Of course, the biggest changer Retaliation offered was the return if the Collectors, who quickly became the most challenging faction to fit against. Many operatives agree that fighting Collectors is like fighting any other faction on a higher difficulty. Their ranks are composed of many units that force players to fight unconventionally as there are units that dangerous at both close ranged and long range. They also bring a lot of danger that changes the rules a lot, such as barrier that negate powers and attacks that reset power recharge timers.
Retaliation also refreshed Mass Effect's shelf life as a multiplayer by introducing player cards and challenges to show off your service in the war against the Reapers. If you've defeated a lot of Cerberus units, you'd receive a card called War Fighter, or extracting many times as kits from the Resurgence pack would make you an Insurgent. Completing all the challenges of course gave you the Best of the Best title featuring John or Jane Shepard.
Lastly, we finally come to the Reckoning pack, the final farewell to Mass Effect 3 altogether. Reckoning introduced several weapons that were unique to single-player like the Blood Pack Executioner and another six new characters, completely new. It brought some of the most rule breaking characters with characters with so much health due to their size, they can't take cover and one can't be sync killed! Some were received with mixed reception like the Krogan Warlord or Awakened Collector. Other had a fervor of excitement like the Geth Juggernaut or the Alliance Infiltrator. It was a fine way to send off the Mass Effect multiplayer, with a deafening confirmation that Bioware is moving on from the game and will leave it as is with no more updates or changes. In the end, even the buggy Talon Mercenary got fixed before Bioware moved on, leaving the exciting game that had been continually evolving for the past year to its fans to play in order to craft their own personal stories with their multiplayer characters.
Sorry Salarians. Looks like Bioware never got around to you guys.