UPDATE 10/11/11: A Multi-player component was confirmed by multiple sources as of Oct 11, 2011. According to the current news, it won't have a competitive feature, nor be a part of the campaign, but instead will be a separate cooperative experience with players teaming up as various races to battle the Reapers and their minions. Or something. So, basically, "Mass Effect Space Opera meets Spec Ops lite with cool RPG powers". I called it first! I think.


UPDATE 8/12/11: It appears my skepticism was well-founded. After reading Xbox World 360's latest magazine, all the controversial article on ME 3 discusses are the same rumors we've been hearing. So no, there is still no official multi-player component that's been announced by Bioware. As I figured, it was just a quick grab for publicity. Somebody slap those guys with a Singularity.


Mass Effect 3's been awash with many rumors and cryptic details that Bioware has practically handfed it's public with their carefully filtered responses. In a way, rumors are inevitable. People, after all, are naturally disposed to forming narratives and finding patterns in order to comprehend the unknown. In the case of Bioware's space opera, one of those rumors however, has managed to gain traction: multi-player. This rumor was even addressed in GI's magazine feature on Mass Effect 3, and so all the mystique surrounding it was shot down. Or was it? 

According to the GI interview, Casey Hudson didn't refrain from suggesting that Bioware was interested in such a possibility: "We haven't come up with a way to do that, so we don't have anything to announce at this time. But, obviously, multiplayer is something we want to do more of in the future as a company." Follow this up with rumors from Eurogamer, information discovered on a LinkedIn account, and a cocktail of gamer opinions and speculations, and the multi-player rumor has evolved into one of the most popular talking points surrounding ME 3. Now, enter the latest tidbit of information which may possibly confirm what Sheploos have either loved or loathed:



Zero in on the fine print: "New Levels-And Multplayer!" What does this mean? Is this merely a tease from some hack magazine, a brilliantly photo-shopped image, or a horrendous typo? Let's pontificate on the possibilities and what they would mean for the quality of the experience.

When asked about the existence of the multiplayer feature, co-founder Ray Muzyka has said: 

"We haven't talked at all about multiplayer in the Mass Effect franchise, but we're exploring multiplayer in all of our games and all of our franchises... The short answer is we have no comment on that. But we're interested in the idea of multiplayer."

Quite an elusive answer, no? This could suggest that they have been considering a multiplayer feature, or it could simply be the classic red herring used to build hype on an already stellar franchise. But it fits their style. Bioware has refused to conclusively overrule the possibility of multiplayer in ME3, although the general idea among those who do believe the rumor is that the single-player campaign mode would not be compromised.

Due to Mass Effect's singular focus on a defining experience that a player can craft via his decisions and their consequences, co-op would be a recipe for disaster in campaign mode. This doesn't even include the problems - and bugs- that would also arise due to issues with save transfers. So, atleast in terms of campaign mode, we probably can rest assured that Bioware will not sacrifice it for "the stans of the COD crowd," as one acolyte scoffed.



The most common speculation I've heard is that there would be a standalone multiplayer experience based in the Mass Effect world. This rumor's already been shot down, but claims of there possibly being an online multiplayer component (similar to Horde, as the rumor mill goes) haven't... yet. Out of myriad ways that one could implement multiplayer without compromising Mass Effect's player-driven core experience, I could imagine this being the most likely iteration. 

Quite simply, players could choose an ME character -most likely not Shepard- and gear up on a map while surviving waves of husks and Cerberus lackeys, with a few tanks like Atlas mechs thrown in for flavor. Or, they could team together while doing Mass Effect themed missions - most likely related to varying subplots in the overall story- ala Spec Ops. With DLC distributed out, Mass Effect 3 could have an addictive and wicked online multiplayer experience- if it works. 

The Mass Effect series so far, has been known for its glitches, and with respect to the prospect of online multiplayer, those most concerned will expect them to be present in some form. The question typically is this: will the feature be developed enough so that any problems will be tolerable? After all, we tolerated the squadmates who fired like legally blind mice in ME1, and ignored the allies breaking cover to get demolished in ME 2(I'm looking at you, Jacob).

The grandiose nature of ME has allowed us to overlook the series' miniscule flaws, and we probably will do the same for ME 3. However, a condensed iteration like online multiplayer inevitably will be held to a higher standard. Our satisfaction hinges on the demanding technical standards set by hardcore current-gen shooters, which enhances immersion and maximizes playability. If the core gaming experience is as critically successful as we expect it, players will naturally seek the same high-quality experience out of this rumored multiplayer aspect, and not just a mediocre distraction that plays like it feels: a tacked-on money grab. It must feel organic - not in the literal sense, but in the functional sense- when considered with the final product. Otherwise, it will prevent us from fully appreciating the art of the Mass Effect Universe. 


ME 3's Multiplayer future is as fuzzy as this picture.


Regardless of whether there will be some multiplayer component or not, players can rest assured that Bioware will deliver us a spectacular campaign experience.  This is what has made the Mass Effect series one of the most anticipated and compelling games coming in 2012, not some sparingly executed gaming feature that has become the primary golden calf of video game marketing. It's nice to entice the possibilities that Mass Effect fans can have with their buddies, be it traveling to different star systems or tackling mercenaries. However, it's best not to get our hopes up and continue to dream realistically rather than shoot for the sky and have our expectations diminished. 

I'm not one to fall for rumors, but I am one who likes surprises and isn't afraid to consider the unexpected. It's clear that -regardless of whether this feature exists or not- Bioware is entertaining the possibility of multiplayer. Yet, I'd rather wait on an official announcement rather than hearsay and speculation - or in this case, a few words on the cover of a magazine that may be exaggerating its information to generate more sales. I'd also rather see this interest focused with less restraints and with more time to iron out any possible kinks.


In the meantime, I will concentrate my energy on something more constructive: developing a plan to defeat the Reaper threat. Now that's speculation that can get us somewhere.