Mass Effect 3, evil stepchild of Mass Effect 2, itself the dastardly spawn of the original Mass Effect. Unless you’ve been enjoying the hermit lifestyle in your very own mountain cave for the last several years, you know of which I speak. You may also be familiar with some of the controversy (ooh!) surrounding some of the game’s features – including the new addition of multiplayer to Shepherd’s universe.
The ‘Galaxy At War’ system will feature co-op for up to four players, and will influence the progress of the single player campaign (though apparently it is still possible to play, and complete fully as a single player). But what does it actually play like?
Well, the short answer is (forgive me): Mass Effect: Horde Mode. You and up to three buddies don the guises of various races of the Mass Effect universe, and shoot stuff in ever increasing waves until you achieve victory.
The preview build I played suffered horribly from the lack of Mass Effect’s over-the-shoulder snap to cover system, which made the fights far more awkward than they will be in the final product – but I’m assured that all such functionality will be available when the game is released. The map I played was of average fps shooter size – big enough to move around in, not so big that you can get lost – and the combat itself had the familiar, weighty Mass Effect 2 feel to it; dashing around shiny metallic corridors to hold an objective, then running outside to help fight off a rather large and very angry robot-mech-thing.
Multiple classes and shared XP progression between the players should provide some decent customisation options, but again the preview build I played had only preset classes. It’s worth mentioning that you won’t play in the MP game as Shepherd or any of his noteworthy companions, instead you will control generic ‘Turian’ (etc) characters, with the same range of special abilities such as Biotics we’ve come to know from the previous games. Shepherd has better things to shoot, obviously (or maybe he’s still in bed with one of the crew).
Special abilities such as Biotics now have a distinctly meaty feel to them, something I’ve always felt was lacking in its predecessors. The support class I played had access to one or two Biotic powers and watching them slam into hapless Geth was immensely satisfying. The classes are designed to work together with varying weapons and abilities, and teamwork will be important to overcome the waves of Geth and other nasties you’ll encounter.
Of course all this will be neatly wrapped up in EA’s Online Pass, and it’s not yet clear exactly how success in the multiplayer mode will influence the single player campaign. Come March 6th 2012 we’ll find out, and while it’s easy to cry wolf over yet another single player RPG forced into an ‘online’ format, Shepherd’s flock can graze on in safety for the time being.