Thursday, 29 March 2012

Loving Mass Effect 3's multiplayer

I really tried to stay away from another Mass Effect 3 related post, but it’s climbed inside my head for so many good and bad reasons. However, whatever my rampant inner fanboy may scream at Internet forums and comment fields, there’s no denying it’s an excellent game. I was especially pleased to find how good the multiplayer turned out.

Based on an abandoned Mass Effect FPS project turned third-person, it controls very similarly to the single player experience except you only have access to three powers on each class. Even though your custom character is limited compared to Shepard, you still have some fun biotic, tech and weapon combinations at your disposal to beat back the enemy waves each map throws at you and up to three other players.

My favourite aspect of the multiplayer is that it sticks two fingers up to the Call of Duty XP progression system and does its own thing. The best gear isn’t unlocked when you play for hours on end and sacrifice personal hygiene for game time, but instead is cruelly awarded at random. Instead of tying XP to gear, players buy equipment packs with in-game credits that come stuffed with random goodies.

It reminds me of my days spent collecting Pokémon cards, eagerly tearing open each foil pack to check for new cards. Mass Effect 3’s equipment reward system is exactly the same. Sometimes you get lucky, but most of the time you get virtually kicked in the nads for your efforts. It’s brilliant.

Unlocks that appear at certain levels in games like Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 may give you something to work towards, but they also set artificial limits and targets. Whenever I finally unlock whatever I’ve had my eye on I start to run out of drive and the game stops being interesting. Mass Effect 3’s random system always seems to spit out different rewards and doesn’t even hint at me beforehand what they might be. I like the mystery.

Once a character hits level 20 you can ‘promote’ it to the single player game, where it becomes a permanent stat that affects the (crushing, disappointingly limited) ending. That class then gets reset to level one where you can re-spec it with new abilities as you level up, whilst keeping all of the guns you have already earned.

I just hope that more games follow Mass Effect 3’s example and branch away from the unlock system that is being squeezed to death by the unrelenting annual horde of military FPS games.

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