The title of this post actually lies a little. I’m not going to do any sort of deep dive into the multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3, but I am going to talk about it in terms of the intersection between business decisions and consumer expectations. It’s a six-year-old game, so this may be one of the more useless articles I’ve ever written, but I like to hear myself talk.
Without going into spoiler territory, one of the primary mechanics in ME3 is the collection of “War Assets” for use in your final conflict against the villains of the game series. You get these by building alliances with alien races, or rescuing important NPCs, or… well, there are a lot of ways to build up War Assets. You’ll also get War Assets from choices you made in the first two games in the series, so it really is one of the ways where the series delivered on its promise of having choices that matter. The ending of the game depends on how many War Assets you have, so you want lots of them to get the Best Ending.
On the face of it, War Assets are a super straightforward thing.
They get a little less straightforward when we add the “Galactic Readiness” stat, which is a multiplier applied to your collected War Assets to determine your ACTUAL War Assets. This starts at 50% and can only be increased by playing the game’s multiplayer mode, so a player who avoids multiplayer is only going to get half the value of any War Assets they acquire during the campaign.
In fact, when the game originally released, there were not enough War Assets available to get the best ending without dipping into multiplayer, which understandably annoyed a lot of fans – the first two games were strictly solo affairs, and there really wasn’t a ton of story justification for the multiplayer mode… but there was an obvious business reason. ME3 came out during EA’s “Project Ten Dollar” campaign against used games and game rentals, and it came with a single-use code in the box to enable the multiplayer. If you bought the game second-hand, no amount of grinding would make up for the need to buy an online pass.
After a VERY vocal outcry, the War Assets required to get the best ending were lowered so they could be gathered without needing to play multiplayer, and the whole online pass thing quietly went away after a couple of years anyway. So it really doesn’t matter, except as a footnote in gaming history.
…so, why am I even going on about this in 2018?
Well, it’s because I’m replaying the Mass Effect series, and I made the decision to at least try the multiplayer to see if anyone was bothering with it, and I have been very pleasantly surprised to find that (a) it seems quite active, and (b) it’s pretty fun and shouldn’t have been the source of so much controversy. It also fits into the game story fairly well, though it’s not particularly well-explained.
To sum up, there’s one game mode, and it’s 4-player PVE pitting you against ten waves of increasingly-difficult bots, with occasional objectives sprinkled in to break up the waves. You pick one of an initially-limited set of available characters, gain experience and currency through playing, use the experience to level up your character and the currency to buy upgrades and unlock new characters, and the “Galactic Readiness” stat I mentioned earlier slowly increases.
It took me 5 hours 16 minutes to get my Galactic Readiness to max, most of that with me being carried by people who had obviously played a LOT of the multiplayer. It’s a little repetitive, but it definitely scratches the itch of watching bars fill up and occasionally go ping.
Just before I hit 100% Galactic Readiness, though, the character I was playing reached the level cap, and I got a new option on the character select screen – I could now “promote” the character and turn it into a War Asset itself.
In short, I don’t think the original purpose of the multiplayer WAS to serve as a paywall between the gamer and the Good Ending. Rather, it feels like the intent was to serve as an optional route to build up your War Assets without doing a bunch of alien diplomacy, or to compensate for poor choices in previous games, and I think ME3 would have been far better received if that original design had been kept in.