Back in the olden times of 2010, the long, long ago, I had just finished playing Mass Effect 2 and I said, “I want them to make a squad shooter for this game universe. That would be awesome as hell. You know, where you can play with three friends as N7 members and run around doing a parallel story since the troops are out doing shit. Kinda like Left 4 Dead, but in space”.
Then there were rumblings of ME3 multiplayer, and that seemed to waffle back and forth about how it would work. Finally, we saw it in its current form. It was a combination CCG/Microtransaction/Squad Shooter with leveling, gear mod, and the ability to improve your main game. You know what? For an additional game mode, it is awesome. It’s very simple, with good mechanisms to get players to move around, good variety in enemies and stages, and the difficulty scales pretty well. The “consumable” uses are really neat, too. I don’t use them often, but if I am feeling squirlie about a Gold mission, I’ll burn one or two. The CCG aspect where you get packs and unlock appearances, characters, weapons and items is interesting, and I’ve heard more than one person comment on having to finish up a few more matches before they pack it in just so they can get a Spectre pack before bed. The balance between the different races and classes is very interesting and well done, and I like how the skills really shape the game play of the character you have picked. In short, I would have been happy paying some money for just this portion of the game.
However, BioWare really went above and beyond. They run almost weekly events for PvP. These are linked to “real world” offensives that are occurring within the Universe. These have two tiers of rewards, one for participating in and completing in an event, and one for EVERYONE participating in and completing a different part of the event. What this does is encourage people to play certain scenarios and game modes to achieve a personal reward, and then continue playing to work on the additional rewards. While this isn’t revolutionary, to see this sort of thought go into the alternate game mode is pretty incredible. People are excited to get both rewards, and are willing to work towards them. This is doubly true because additional CCG packs are usually available during these weekends as well, meaning that playing during it gets you even more additional benefits. The fact that the game designers and company push these weekends out regularly is not something I would expect from a simple alternate game mode, and is a wonderful way to keep people interested in your game and franchise. This is something Left 4 Dead 2 does regularly and is built into their game system, and it’s a nice surprise to see it cropping up elsewhere.
This is to say nothing of the multiplayer expansion (DLC, whatever) that was recently released, Resurgence. Resurgence came out with new maps, new characters, new items, and some of the “Signature” archetypes from the game, Krogan Battlemaster and Asari Justicar. This release was coupled with another one of the Operation weekends, in which multiple goals could be accomplished for a bevvy of rewards. Why is this so important? They released additional maps, characters and items a mere month after the game was released. There are a host of games that still only have the release maps and they just simply ask their players to like it. Now, I am not unaware of the differences. ME3 does not offer competitive options, and the stages are not set up for such. ME3 does not care about map balance in any meaningful way. In fact, some of the strategies are predicated that the map is more defensible in one area. The game doesn’t care because it WILL make you move. So what if you can spend 7/11 waves hunkered down? Those other four waves still matter. The maps are reused from the game missions themselves, but frankly, that makes it much more awesome. You can readily identify where you are if you have played the game, and what you are doing there. Ideally, I’d love to see them reuse some of the stages from ME2 that were mentioned as being “overrun”. I would love to go back to Purgatory and do a bar crawl mission or two, or do a slums mission where we picked up Mordin the first time. This is pretty fabulous from a design perspective. It plays to the knowledge of the player, and is a great use of design resources. In short, it’s a fairly brilliant game style that bespeaks a dedication to fun and inclusion that is rarely seen in the RPG genre, outside of MMOs.
The biggest addition I would like to see is some basic puzzle work added into a scenario or two. You already have wave toggles, so I wouldn’t mind seeing something order related or carry related. Move X to point 1, move Y to point 2 and so on. Just something to add a bit of variety to the Kill, Click, Hold tasks that are already in place. Still, this is something of a hope rather than something I feel is lacking. The multiplayer experience is incredible, and I hope they continue what they are doing. I can only hope that other squad shooter games take a leaf from their playbook in the future and repeat these weekend events, advancement methods and general support that BioWare and EA are showing this “side show” that comes along with their main story. This is, of course a shrewd business decision, but it’s one that in the same vein as player enjoyment. It’s always a great thing when fun and financial success go hand in hand.