UK Dtoider in the Midlands, I spend too much time ignoring Steamtoid, and used to spend too little time "organizing" EUFNF on the forums and c-blogs. I have a good enough gaming PC, an Xbox 360 (MATTE SLIM MOTHERFUCKERRRRR) and a DSi. Sometimes I play games on them.
Since the main meat of Mass Effect 3 is going to remain a touchy subject for the foreseeable future, I would like to take some time to discuss the multiplayer component. I was one of the people who laughed at the the concept of multiplayer in this series, and I laughed even harder when it was confirmed. It just seemed so typical of a game developed under EA to have a pointless multiplayer mode to justify inclusion of an online pass! Contradicting my bias against the publisher and the developer, I got the game on release with the intention of playing it with friends and have spent a fair bit of time doing so. With no further delay, here follows the thoughts on it that have accumulated in my head space.
Some problems with this mode are only apparent through playing it, others require more obscure trains of thought. A small one is that the keybinds for the PC version cannot be different for singleplayer and multiplayer, this annoyed me since Q and E are ideally used for Team member commands in the campaign but are without function on the multiplayer mode and I am terrible at hitting the number keys without looking at them. I accept that this is largely a problem for me as a terribly uncoordinated PC gamer, but I have a similar issue with the Xbox 360 button mapping where one cannot change which of the three buttons (Y, RB, LB) individual powers are mapped to in the multiplayer, a function that is in the campaign mode. It's not ideal for powers mapped to Y which you'd ideally have aim control up to the last moment with, or for characters where you may choose to ignore a power altogether and have a functionless shoulder button.
Talking of buttons, as we were, you had better hope your A button, cross button or spacebar is prepared for some punishment from this game because it only does bloody everything. This is less of a pedantic gripe than most problems I have, as anybody who has gone to revive a squadmate or interact with an objective only to take cover would surely agree. Or anybody who has attempted to run from a scene only to take cover yet again. There are two analog sticks on the console gamepads and an insulting wealth of buttons on a standard keyboard without worthwhile or any assigned function. For example, the ability to run without fear of becoming intimate with the nearest wall should take precedence over moving around corners whilst in cover (the default function of the left thumbstick). One button should not rule them all.
Cover is important on Mass Effect games, it is essentially a cover-based shooter by this point in time! But the multiplayer maps are small and globular, not many areas of cover will be useful for long before flanking attackers force you to reposition. The enemies and mechanics were designed for largely linear missions and not entirely befitting of this hoard mode, and I for one would not hate to see the co-op developed further with potential DLC expansion or even a whole game into a more linear and narrative-driven feature, perhaps included like the three named multiplayer missions were in GTA IV.
Although the maps may be lacking in variety of scale and complexity, there is significant difference in the three enemy factions. The Geth are underwhelming and pretty manageable, Cerberus forces are bolstered by a few challenging units and the Reapers bring the hardest enemy to abide to the table in the form of the Banshees. They, along with the other formidable enemies, are capable of engaging close enough players in an automatic kill animation that sadly invalidates them as targets for close-quarters combat. As one would expect from the series the player classes also offer significant variety in gameplay. There are different strengths and tactical advantages strewn across them and between the different races available for them, and for somebody such as myself who has not experimented with classes in the series beforehand it can be quite an eye-opener! Stealthy infiltrators can accomplish objectives and revive squadmates whilst invisible to enemies. Soldiers can wipe out groups of cannon fodder enemies with grenades. Human Vanguards can charge, then nova, then charge, then nova, then charge and then nova until everything is dead. Turian Sentinels can nullify or weaken enemy defenses whilst hammering them with a trusty rifle. Adepts can use dazzling arrays of powers to defeat opponents. Krogans can headbutt the shit out of everything. It's pretty good fun if you're lucky enough to play with people who are competent enough to work with their character's strengths in how they are equipped and leveled... and if you're lucky enough to best the unlock system.
I would not expect these guys to be free of charge.
The unlock system is perhaps the most distasteful thing about the multiplayer mode to me. It has not changed significantly since the demo, and on the PC demo I manipulated the system (coalesced.ini modifications) to get an idea of how unrewarding it can be. Items are purchased in packs from a "store", with packs being increasingly expensive in proportion to what possibilities they offer of getting rarer items. The packs are bought with credits earned from completing games (as well as the experience points that go towards character progression). It wasn't clear in the demo, but this system seems to have been used in favour of simply awarding random items with mission completion so that there was a platform for microtransactions within the game. You'd need to have more money than sense to do it, but you can use your Microsoft points, Bioware points or real money (thanks Sony!) to purchase these unlock packs at a completely unrespectable rate. The silliness doesn't even end once you have bought these packs, as they are completely random (with the solitary exception so far of an equipment pack, at a stupid price for purely common items) you have no control over what you are unlocking. For a mode based on games with character building, you sure don't get a choice about what weapons, upgrades or characters you might be unlocking. You're just as likely to unlock weapons you would never want to use as the ones you would. Your chance of getting any particular item doesn't improve well with time since every weapon unlocked has 9 ranks to potentially unlock, every upgrade has 4 ranks and every character has three or four customisations followed by unlimited experience point boost packs. You may think I am being silly, but blow it your your ass because I still don't have a Krogan.
That's twice as many crushed balls for every Krogan.
The multiplayer is not without its fair share of bugs. Most notable to me are the poorly designed maps which will permit players and AI momentary HUD targeting through walls. Players will barely notice this but enemy AI can often be found attempting to shoot through the scenery. Imperfect game connections seem to be responsible for characters losing their firm grip on the ground and potentially ending up stuck above or below the map without any way out, this may however also be associated with Vanguards being incredibly free from the laws of Physics. Joining games through invites will often cause players to be returned to the front end menu if they are already in multiplayer, which seems unnecessary. The use of EA servers are likely for no more than ensuring that they're making money, and requiring a constant connection to them can be frustrating when you're kicked out of a game for nothing other than losing connection to them. It would not be so bad if rejoining the game you had left returned your previous score, total score for all players is a key factor in how much experience (and credits) everybody receives for a mission. The experience points awarded for missions are the same for every player, which makes playing with high-scorers rewarding if you can bear the shame of your pathetically low score. During missions, points for defeating enemies are fairly distributed between players regardless of who got the killing shot in.
A small praiseworthy aspect of the multiplayer implementation is the minimal impact it makes on the achievements, with only a couple of them requiring the playing of it but with several encouraging the player to try it out. On the flip side, playing the multiplayer is required to get story endings that may be considered more preferable. This would be required every time one wished to replay the game since Galactic readiness decreases over time and during development it had been promised that this would not be the case.
This mode is being supported by the developers with tweaks, challenges and perhaps more. There is chance for improvement even if there is little hope, if there had been more thought and effort thrown at this mode I think it could have been a real dazzler. But then I could say the same about the singleplayer. I guess the multiplayer missions at least have conclusive endings.