As I promised, I’m going to start with my favourite co-operative game- Mass Effect 3. However, I should probably clarify one thing first though; I haven’t played the single-player campaign yet. That’s mostly because the games are so good that I know finishing the story will kind of be the end of an era- the gaming equivalent of finishing the last Harry Potter book. My love for this series is therefore based on just how awesome I’ve found the multiplayer to be- and also on completing the first game, which I bought after playing the third. Below is my explanation of just why I find this game so appealing.
In multiplayer, there are 64 available characters (originally 25, with new ones added throughout the year after release) – split across 12 alien races and various humans, in 6 attack classes. Each race has different health and shield levels, and different weapon preferences. Each character has three abilities, which can be for attack, self-defence, or team support.
Some are common to many characters, such as Incinerate (a fireball attack), Overload (an electrical attack that removes enemy shields), or the ability to place a Sentry Turret. Other, more esoteric powers are unique to one character, such as Poison Strike (a teleporting semi-charge that creates a poison cloud corrupting nearby enemies).
There being so many potential powers and combinations that there is something to suit every type of playstyle. You could use a Tactical Cloak (invisibility) to hide and snipe from the farthest reaches of the level, and take enemies out before they get anywhere near the team. Or, levelling the Cloak differently, you can use it as a temporary distraction to sneak up to enemies and attack at point-blank range. Taking a Vanguard character into battle allows for a tank setup, taking damage away from teammates while dishing out far more, while taking an Adept provides Biotic powers that can put enemies in suspended animation, or throw them across the room.
My first character- a fluorescent blue Human Engineer equipped with Overload and Incinerate- remained my favourite for the first few months of play. However, the release of new characters and power combinations means that role was taken firstly by the Quarian Infiltrator (the invisible sniper style mentioned above), and now the Turian Ghost Infiltrator. The TGI, pictured here in his neon glory, is one of the most powerful classes in the game when played correctly.
His abilities are the Tactical Cloak, Overload, and a Stimulant Pack that increases shield levels, weapon damage, and melee damage. Although, to be completely honest, I first started playing as him because he has both invisibility and a jetpack- a very fun combination to use.
Speaking of jetpacks leads on to one of my very few criticisms of this game. To ensure that brand new players would not be disadvantaged by playing the game months after its release, the later characters brought out were more powerful and had stronger abilities than the starting characters. While this is a good idea in theory, it was perhaps applied too strongly- when looking at the ME3 forums, very few original characters are still used due to the new one being either more fun or simply more survivable.
The two characters that are probably too overpowered to be fair are the final ones released, the Alliance Infiltration Unit, and the Geth Juggernaut. The AIU is mostly a typical infiltrator build, but her final power is essentially temporary invincibility- while it is active, she cannot be killed. Furthermore, this ability is treated in the same way as a grenade ability, meaning she can top up her invincibility powerups at every ammunition box on a level, and keep it almost permanently active on small levels.
The Juggernaut doesn’t even need to worry about invincibility powers, because at twice the height and eight times the shield strength of any other character, almost nothing can take it down. On the lowest two difficulties, using a Juggernaut means actively having to try to be knocked down. They also cannot be hurt by the instant-kill attacks of stronger enemies. I’ve never played as one myself, because I haven’t unlocked it yet (new characters are unlocked via random cards bought in packs), but playing in matches with them I’ve seen one downed less than a handful of times.
The same criticism could probably be made about the weapons, though to a lesser extent. Weapons are easily customised, meaning the same weapon can be tweaked to fit very different characters by adding extra components. Pictured here is the Phaeston assault rifle: by using Ultralight materials and a power magnifier, it’s perfectly suited to backing up a Biotic class who need a very light loadout in order to use their powers quickly.
On the other hand, adding an extended barrel and stability modifier makes it a useful weapon for Soldier classes to use suppressive fire.
The amount of customisation available means, similarly to characters, that there is always something new to try out. However, because there are so many weapons, even well-performing weapons can be forgotten about. Also, there are some weapons that can only be used well by specific characters or classes, making them a fairly niche option. For example, the Anti-Synthetic Rifle is incredibly powerful against one species of enemy, but useless against any other type.
Gameplay and Teams
Gameplay is pretty simple at its core- a team of 1-4 players take on waves of progressively more enemies, the aim being to survive through 11 waves. Mixed in with fighting are objective missions such as holding a specific point on the map, retrieving lost objects, or escorting a valuable drone to a safe location. That sounds like it should get repetitive quickly but in practice, it very rarely does. This might be luck on my part, as my not-amazing ability level means I have a set of characters that I can comfortably play Silver difficulty on, and a (smaller) set of characters I can use for Gold difficulty, meaning the game is rarely boringly easy or frustratingly hard.
The maps available are mostly based on different territories seen in the single-player campaign- there isn’t anything too strange on most of them, but they are all fun to play on, and all can suit different styles. The most interesting part is the addition of Hazard versions of the original maps, which add a danger that affects gameplay in some way. Some maps only have a very subtle effect (such as Giant, which adds thunder and lightning to make aiming more difficult). Others change how the map is played completely: Firebase White, which has a sniper-friendly outside area with close-quarters inside areas, gains a visibility-destroying snowstorm which forces everyone inside.
The multiplayer challenge system is very comprehensive, covering general challenges such as playing on each map a set amount, weapon challenges obtained by scoring points with each weapon, and alien challenges obtained by surviving matches with specific characters. This system means trying out everything in the game is encouraged, which stops people from just sticking with their favourite setup forever. It worked especially well on me, as I’ve become quite the completionist, rotating characters, weapon setups and maps to fill as many challenges as I can. It’s a good combination of being involving and accessible, meaning it’s my favourite challenge/award system of any game I’ve played (with the possible exception of the one in Black Ops II, which runs on much the same idea).
The only thing that ever bugged me about the system is that it was introduced after the game had been out for 6 months, so everything I had done before that would have counted towards a challenge didn’t count- considering the amount of work that making it retroactive would have required, that isn’t too big a deal.
The system also included weekly challenges that rewarded successful players with free weapon and equipment packs- this lasted until a year after the game’s release, and is probably the part I missed most about the game ageing.
According to my online activity feed (from the game’s companion website), I’ve played 556 matches totalling over 176 hours of gameplay. This makes it probably my most-played game ever (the only exception to this could again be Black Ops II). Almost two years after release, the online community is still strong, and its easy to find matches online. It can also be easier to survive a match now, as the people left playing this late in the release cycle are either very new or very dedicated and skilled. Even playing against people with no headset on, and therefore without being able to communicate, 99% of people still revive their injured team-mates and protect each other.
For all these reasons, and a few more besides, this is why Mass Effect 3 is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Bring on ME4!