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Mass Effect Multiplayer Preview

Bioware have saturated the media with trailers, teasers, interviews and features in an effort to build towards the release of Commander Shepherd’s final outing this March. I’ve steered clear of these spoilers for the most part, but it’s been hard. Because one there’s so much publicity out there, and two, it’s very tempting indeed, especially for a fan that’s completed the first game five times. But that’s why I’ve kept my head down, I don’t want to know who’s joining my team, how many endings there are, or what the list of achievements consist of. I want to finish the final episode of this great saga with all the surprises intact.

The release of the demo this week has offered up more possible spoilers to dodge, however with the public release of the multiplayer mode it was too tempting and hopefully spoiler free enough to gear up and venture forth into the Mass Effect universe.

No Volus I'm afraid.

You’re first choice is who to fight as, one of the big draws of the multiplayer is the option to play as a variety of races and classes. Although only the human male Soldier, Engineer and Adept are available from the start, by earning in-game credits you gain the ability to unlock more. Krogan, Turian. Asari, Drell, Quarian and Salarian are all possible choices, each specialising in their distinct classes.

When starting your multiplayer career you’re presented with a complementary ‘Starter Pack’ from the store. This provides you with a range of goodies; weapons, mods, characters and equipment. These are randomised for each player, some receiving a new shotgun or a selection of medi-gels, but as part of my Starter Pack I was gifted with a Turian Sentinel. A blessing. Long had I dreamed of playing as the lizard warrior race that fought man in the First Contact War. With options to alter his name, appearance and armour I was able to create a soldier in the fight for the universe that felt unique to me.

And so the fight begins. Only two maps are available, Firebase Ghost on Benning and Firebase White on Noveria, both of which appear in Earth Systems Alliance Space in a galaxy map. Attican Traverse, Inner Council Space, Outer Council Space and the Terminus Systems are all greyed-out areas, undoubtedly unlocked in the full game. Both maps are similar, with a mix of open spaces and indoor environments. Benning appears to be a dusty colony that’s seen its share of battle, and Noveria is a revisit to the Mass Effect One setting.

You and up to three allies face waves of increasingly tough enemies. The combat is a huge improvement from the previous titles, similar to Gears of War or Uncharted. You take cover, leap to a different position and roll away from an incoming grenade. Movement is faster and more responsive, and when facing off against a range of touch new enemies that’s a welcome change. As are the shooting mechanics, when armed with a sniper rifle I was able to pull off impressive head shots, a feat achieved only through luck in the previous games.

Impressive AI sees enemies flank and surround you, with a diverse mix of foes forcing you to adapt your tactics accordingly. If all else fails, get in close and use the new melee move to guarantee a kill, but not necessarily your survival after waving into the thick of it. The combat is tough, and you’ll need your fellow allies to fight of the hordes of enemies.

Cerberus are the only enemies in the demo, who will we face in the full release?

That’s if you can find anyone to play with. The matchmaking system in the demo is poor, and a number of bugs make getting into a game difficult. Freezes, crashes, errors. Hopefully Bioware are working on these during the run up to release, otherwise pulling myself away from the single-player thrills, for a ten minute wait to find a game isn’t going to tempt me.

Throughout matches you are tasked with objectives: take down targets, upload data, secure a landing zone. Whilst kills, assists and revives earn you experience to level your character, successful objectives result in credits to use to buy further characters and upgrades with Recruit and Veteran Packs.

The mix of credits and experience points compel you to continue playing in the hope that the next pack will unlock the Krogan or Drell. However I didn’t find the gameplay that exciting. Yes it’s challenging, and yes the novelty of playing in the Mass Effect world is a welcome experience, but it doesn’t do anything that we haven’t seen before. Gears of War 3 set the benchmark for horde modes, and Mass Effect’s multiplayer doesn’t come close to it. You’re limited to two weapons, there are no big weapons or build options and once you’ve faced all the enemies they lose their impact fairly quickly. To make an impression Bioware needed to have at least matched Epic’s epic multiplayer, unfortunately it falls very short. Different leagues short.

Whether the full game offers more to the multiplayer mode is to be seen. It’s the single player I’m excited about, but let’s hope that’s not the only aspect worth waiting for.

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