When I originally started the Pour One Out series, my plan was to spotlight various multiplayer games with interesting concepts that failed to find an audience. Multiplayer games or modes that at least tried to make some kind of argument for their existence.
Mass Effect 3 attempts no such arguments. Yet it, through brute force, found a dedicated audience for its multiplayer mode.
An audience that Mass Effect 3, quite frankly, does not deserve.
If you were to hop online in Mass Effect 3 at this moment, queues would be as short as ever. Though Mass Effect 3's user-base is not quite as large as the user-base of a Halo or Call of Duty game, it is equally devoted and equally likely to spend money on multiplayer-specific downloadable content.
Which is to say, the community shows no sign of dying down anytime soon, and Bioware continues to profit.
Fans initially opposed the idea of multiplayer in a Mass Effect game. Bioware's initial announcement was met with fan outrage, with players accusing Bioware of taking away resources from the singleplayer campaign to focus on a multiplayer mode that was widely viewed as unnecessary. They averted these criticisms by farming out the multiplayer mode to their Canadian studio.
Though Bioware can't be blamed for following EA policy, which states that all games must have some form of multiplayer. They followed instructions, and their secondary studio (presumably) created the best product they could given their limitations and instructions.
Which turned out to be a rather uninspired survival mode that pits human controlled characters against waves of AI enemies.
The very same survival mode found in every multiplayer game since the release of Gears of War 2–back in 2008.
The same survival mode found in Halo ODST and Reach, Gears of War 2 and 3, every Treyarch Call of Duty game this generation, the Transformers games, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Uncharted 2 and 3, Saints Row the Third, Resident Evil 5, Starhawk, Dead Island, Resistance 3, Red Faction: Armageddon, Bulletstorm, Fear 3, Borderlands 1 and 2, and Bioshock 2.
To give credit where credit is due, Mass Effect 3 has one major feature that separates it from the games above: a lack of additional multiplayer modes. Which wouldn't be a problem if the survival mode was expansive or unique enough to justify its existence.
But it isn't.
Halo added weapon drops when it created Firefight, Gears of War 3 added in light tower defense mechanics to Horde 2.0, hell even Saints Row the Third added wave mutations that randomly made all the enemies micro-sized or placed them all in rabbit suits.
Mass Effect 3 added microtransactions. It combined a free-to-play model with a retail game.
The Mass Effect 3 survival mode uses RPG mechanics to let players upgrade characters between games. After completing a game, players receive virtual money to spend on random crates and unlock new weapons, characters and upgrades.
Of course those same crates could also be purchased for real money, with the highest-tier Spectre Pack costing $2. Though to get a specific weapon or character, you would likely have to purchase more than one pack.
Though $2 doesn't sound like much, it starts to add up quickly. Buy five specter packs (keep in mind that $5 is the minimum amount you must spend on MS points), and you've spent one-tenth the full price of the retail game on random-chance items.
Instead of making a multiplayer mode that's adds depth to the expansive Mass Effect universe, Bioware created a safe survival mode designed around microtransactions.
Which is a terrible waste of talent and potential.
Many positive things can be said of the Mass Effect series. The characters are engaging, the settings beautiful, etc- but never once has anyone said “My favorite part of Mass Effect is the shooting.”
Shooting controls have always been the weakest mechanic in Mass Effect games. Though the shooting has improved with each entry in the franchise, they are never quite up to the standard set by other third-person shooters. Nor did they need to be.
Mass Effect 3's shooting controls are competent enough to sustain the players interest while they progress the story.
Which the multiplayer mode strips away entirely. It takes away all character interaction and re-hashes locations from the singleplayer game; on the promise that adding more player-controlled characters will make shooting things more fun.
Which then begs the question, why bother playing it at all?
Plenty of other games offer the very same survival experience with better shooting mechanics, and, if you happen to get bored of survival mode, they offer other multiplayer modes to hold your interest. A game with fun shooting on a mechanical level, instead of passable shooting.
Mass Effect 3's multiplayer represents, at its core, wasted potential. With one of the richest fictional universes ever created, the developers squandered the vast possibilities by making a clichéd multiplayer mode that supports microtransactions, and tosses out every element that makes Mass Effect games special.
So gather around, crack open your favorite beverage, and pour one out for the travesty that is Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode.