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.
I’ve heard surprisingly positive things about ME3’s multiplayer over the years, but yes, you’re right — much of the disappointment at the time was the feeling that you were obliged to engage with the multiplayer to get the best out of your single-player experience, even if you had no interest in doing so. It didn’t need to be there from a gameplay perspective and probably took some resources away from the rest of the game that could have been better expended in other ways.
Plus, yes, Project Ten Dollar was a big part of it too. I guess they thought people would be more receptive to the “Online Pass” bullshit if it was for an “optional” (hah) multiplayer mode rather than actual single-player game content as in Mass Effect 2.
Interesting that there are still people playing it though. I’d have thought the community would have moved on long ago, but it’s sometimes surprising how long people will stick around in games that you’d think would be long dead.
I pour one out for Blur, however; no-one’s playing THAT any more!
You have me tempted to go back through old console games and find the oldest one I can still find a multiplayer match in, now, without going into weird stuff like the emulators for original Xbox Live and the like. Maybe Call of Duty 2? That’s 2005 I think. I’ll have to see.
Blur does stand out though, it’s one of those games I heard really good things about and that then got killed by the publisher with no warning. Competition for mindshare in the racing segment is pretty cutthroat, I guess. 😦
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That’s the thing, its only real competition at the time in that sector was Split/Second, which also died a death because Disney just didn’t market it… like, at all. I don’t really know what happened, but the pair of those games were a real mess in terms of marketing.
They’re both still great in single-player, though, so if you haven’t had the chance, give them a go. You can get copies pretty cheap these days.
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I enjoyed playing the multiplayer a lot when this first released. The fact it “wasn’t” optional at the time didn’t bug me too much as it was enjoyable enough. I can see how someone who just wanted the single player could be very annoyed though. Then there were the loot crates!
Yeah, the loot crates. Compared to something like Overwatch, they seem so innocent now. 🙂
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