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We're officially under a month until the release of Mass Effect 3 and a group of fortunate souls have gotten the opportunity to go beyond the single player portion of the blockbuster's demo a bit early. As one of the people who has had that chance I felt it was the least I could do to shed some light on what everyone else will be picking up on Friday.
I want to stress that this is entirely based on the demo of the game and lots of stuff could still change.
What It Is
Until the demo released, no one really had a solid idea about what Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode would entail. Would it be Co-op through some of the game's campaign missions? Was there going to be a competitive or versus version? The answer is that, at least for now, it's what the industry most often refers to as a "Horde Mode".
While that may very well induce a groan, let me caution you that outside the waves of gradually more difficult enemies Mass Effect 3's take on the style is a little bit different. Different enough that my friends and I started off saying we'd only play a few rounds, only to end up spending about five hours glued to our screens.
What It Does Differently
Most people likely heard the term "Horde Mode" and immediately decided this wasn't for them. However, unlike the more well known Gears of War and Halo versions of the game type, Mass Effect's take is clearly built as the main multiplayer vehicle, instead of an option for those who don't find competitive modes as entertaining.
Mass Effect 3's multiplayer isn't built around each separate instance being it's own stand-alone experience. Instead you build characters that grow over time. Think about a more in depth version of your standard Mass Effect progression. This progression takes what normally would be a game mode solely focused on separate, one off, unique experiences and adds to it a progression that goes beyond getting to a later round in the progression of any particular instance.
Beyond the simple addition of progression to this equation, there is a tweak to the design that changes how you have to play the "Horde" style of game. We'll go into that in a slight bit more detail later. One other notable difference is the number of waves. This might not sound too drastic, but having fewer waves means that enemies are more deadly across the board. I'd personally equate it to playing on Hardcore or Insanity in ME2, especially in the later rounds, provided you are playing on a challenge level befitting your character's progression. Shields go fast and staying out in the open for too long is sure to leave you calling for a revive.
Progression in Mass Effect 3 is determined by two in game currencies, Experience Points and Credits. Experience points are earned in exactly the way you'd think. Killing enemies nets you points; generally the more kills you get the more points. Don' t worry though, whoever does the most damage still gets the most points once an enemy finally goes down.
So if you do most of the damage to an enemy and someone picks them off, rest assured you wont be getting cheated out of the points you worked for. Along with that are medals for gameplay milestones; feats such as earning a specific amount of kills, assists, surviving X number of rounds, or performing melee takedowns. This XP builds and contributes to buying upgrades for your character's skills.
Credits, earned by completing in game objectives, are used for buying upgrade packs. In the demo they come in a pair of flavors, Recruit and Veteran packs. Each contains new character unlocks, weapons, weapon upgrades, weapon mods or experience along with consumables such as ammo upgrades, rockets, and Medi-gel. The cheaper Recruit packs provide the chance for more individual items, but if you want the rarer items around the Verteran packs are the way to go. The best part is that all of the items you earn from credits are cross class. If you get a new assault rifle while playing a Soldier, it'll still be there if you decide to play as a Vanguard.
Speaking of classes and characters, each of Mass Effect's eight classes is available to play with. Each class has four separate characters; two humans and two alternate races with varying powers. In case you were worrying about having to level characters individually, don't. All the characters in each of the classes earn the same experience as all others, meaning that if you start out playing as a human and later decide you want to play as a Turian, you won't be starting from scratch. New characters in each class are unlocked by purchasing the aforementioned packs from the in game store.
How It Plays
The short version would be: Well. It plays like your average Horde game mode for the most part, but one little twist affects the entire philosophy of tackling Mass Effect's multiplayer. Unlike the similar modes presented by Halo and Gears of War, ME3's multiplayer doesn't simply task you with surviving. Instead it throws in the twist of an objective that forces your party to move.
Where as Halo and Gears are best tackled by finding a spot to hunker down, Mass Effect requires you to move out of your comfort zone. You might be told that you need to upload information to a terminal on the other side of the map, or take down marked enemies within a certain time limit. In many cases objectives are nearly impossible to achieve on the higher difficulties when your team isn't communicating and moving together.
Couple that with the fact that even on the lowest difficulty the game can take sloppy players down in the first round and what you have is a game mode that hinges almost entirely on strong team play. If you aren't on your toes, there's no way you'll make it to the first objective wave and get those all important credits.
All The Rest
There are a few other things you should know that I didn't get around to mentioning before. Feel free to skim through them and I hope you all enjoy the experience as much as I have.
- All weapons have a weight value that affects the rate at which your abilities recharge. Mixing and matching the right weapons for your particular class can make a huge difference. For all intensive purposes the heavier the weapon the more damage it does. Pistols and SMGs don't do much damage but combining the two will grant you a boost in the recharge time of your powers. Daring players can run one weapon for an even faster recharge rate. Each weapon is available for any class to use, as are the Weapon Mods.
- The demo may only contain two maps, but there's space for at least twenty on the overview that greets people at the Multiplayer Menu. Each Location is marked on the Galaxy map above as a relatively small dot. Judging from the size of the two available, which are both located in Earth Systems Alliance Space, it wouldn't be outlandish for each of these five sectors to hold five unique areas to fight across. Who all, aside from Cerberus, you'll be fighting in these areas is still a mystery; however, I think it's safe to say the new and even more demented Reaper creations will show up along with a good chance that we'll see the Mass Effect universe's three colorful mercenary groups.
- There are three Challenge Levels: Gold, Sliver, and Bronze. At this point Bronze seems to be focused on players with low level characters. Silver geared towards those with higher levels and better weapons. And finally Gold towards those who have maxed out their chosen class, thoroughly upgraded their weapons, and are looking for an elite level challenge. As of writing this I am yet to make it out of the first round of Silver, but haven't attempted it with a cohesive group. It also seems as if different maps will have different levels of challenge as one of the two available in the demo appeared to be slightly more difficult to finish than the other.
- The Ammo Powers introduced in Mass Effect two are available in ME3's multiplayer, but they are handled a little differently than in the single player game. Each character has three slots available for single round upgrades. These items range from weapon upgrades, armor/shield boost, and the Ammo Powers we're all so fond of. While this may sound annoying, it also means that you'll never be without a useful ammo power for your favorite class or have to rely on others to help you out when playing in a public lobby.
- Your characters possess a fairly wide array of customization options that allow you to make your own unique soldier. Like the weapons, unlocking each tier of customization is obtained through the game's Recruit and Veteran packs.