Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode was something of an oddity. It was tacked onto the final entry in a trilogy that had been strictly single-player up to that point, it featured none of the characters who'd become so beloved by gamers, and it had microtransactions (a sketchy feature even in 2012). EA was infamous at the time for tacking mediocre multiplayer modes onto every game, and it seemed like Mass Effect 3 wouldn't be any different.
Even so, I will defend it to the end, and I'm sad that it won't be included in the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. The Mass Effect multiplayer was fun and crazy and silly in a way the single-player game was not, and it was a wonderful place to blow off some steam with fellow Mass Effect fans.
What was the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode?
You'd be forgiven for forgetting that Mass Effect 3 had a multiplayer mode. Even though it was touted in the game's marketing and augmented by post-launch DLC, Mass Effect 3's multiplayer is hardly its most memorable feature. It still has its dedicated community of players, but interest in it was low enough that the developers of the Legendary Edition remaster excised it from said remaster completely.
Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode is allegedly the product of corporate meddling on behalf of new publishers Electronic Arts. The game was released during a time when EA was attempting to make all of its games into pay-to-win microtransaction machines, a practice gamers now mostly abhor. There was even a time when EA wanted to make a first-person multiplayer ME game called Mass Effect: Team Assault, though that was never released.
Given all of this, it would have been easy for the multiplayer to have been borderline unplayable or otherwise not fun. But there's a reason so many players have stuck around and kept playing the multiplayer modes in the almost 10 years since Mass Effect 3 was released.
"Adrenaline's better than oxygen any day."
The gameplay of Mass Effect 3 is quite different from Mass Effects 1 & 2. Those games played more like RPGs, with your effectiveness based on how high your skill level was with any particular power or gun. Mass Effect 3, however, was built more like a shooter: It was fast, fluid, and brutal. It was less about raising your skill in any particular area, but about finding your balance between weapons and powers.
For example, if you wanted to invest more in guns instead of powers (meaning tech or biotic abilities), you could load yourself up with as many guns as you pleased. The extra weight meant your powers would recharge slowly, but you could just load yourself up with ammo augmentations and grenades and neglect powers completely. You could also limit your weapons to a single pistol or submachine gun, and make use of your absurdly short recharge times to spam the battlefield with neon-blue biotics or gnarly tech powers.
In short, it felt so much better than the perfunctory gunplay and powers of its predecessors. Granted, it wasn't to everyone's taste — I'm sure there were many people who wondered if they'd accidentally put a Gears of War disc in their consoles when they started this up. I loved it though for the simple fact that the combat made every playable character feel and look like the seasoned soldiers and warriors they're supposed to be.
"If this is a war, I'll need an army. Or a really good team."
The other saving grace for the mode was the fact that you could play as many of the different alien races you'd seen in the story. While Commander Shepard is a good player avatar, it gets a little samey being stuck in the body of a boring old human, especially when Shepard has such a diverse crew with talents that Shepard doesn't have.
In ME3 multiplayer, you could be an Asari, Turian, Krogan, or even a tiny Volus — I'm sorry, "Biotic God." You'd even get your shot at playing a Geth or a Collector, characters that are usually villains in the series. Granted, you would have to unlock them via the aforementioned microtransaction system, but even so, the opportunity was there. You could customize your alien character, giving them a name and armor colors. For someone who'd been playing these games for years and had long wanted to play these races, it was just so cool.
There was also how these characters got powers that Shepard and company never did. The N7 characters, human graduates of the elite N7 training program, all had wild and useful powers that you never saw in game (not amongst your squadmates anyway). The Slayer vanguard's little flip before he sets off a blue biotic sword slash that sweeps the battlefield? Amazing. The Shadow teleporting behind enemies and slashing them in half while completely invisible? Absolute gold. The Demolisher throwing so many grenades she's practically carpet-bombing the battlefield on foot? How could anyone dislike that?
"Don't stand there looking pretty. Kill something!"
In fact, that's the essence of what made the multiplayer so enjoyable. It was cool, guiltless fun with the game's third-person shooter mechanics, and offered the chance to enjoy them in an arena setting without any of the baggage that comes with almost every mission in the campaign.
Mass Effect 3 is a heavy game. All of the previous games' dark foreshadowing and grim warnings of things to come paid tragic dividends. Even Commander Shepard is constantly tired and emotionally strung out during the events of this game. Almost every time they and their team left the ship to go out and shoot some baddies, they're reminded that there were millions suffering across the galaxy and they're the only ones who can stop it. That's exactly what gamers wanted and expected from Mass Effect 3, given how the Reaper threat had been hanging over our heads for over 100 hours of gameplay.
But such a heavy story can take its toll. That's why when I felt like playing a little Mass Effect 3 but didn't feel like getting my heart broken, I would fire up the multiplayer and go a few rounds, either with my friends or like-minded strangers. It was a great way to enjoy the gameplay and the universe — and given that multiplayer rounds could even shift the balance of power in favor of the good guys, it had a positive effect on the grim single-player campaign.
There won't be any multiplayer in the Legendary Edition rerelease, but we'll still get to enjoy the gameplay of Mass Effect 3 with new graphics. That will have to be enough. Mass Effect Legendary Edition will launch on Xbox One, PS4 and PC (and Xbox Series X, Series S, and PlayStation 5 via forward compatibility) on May 14.
Don't Fear the Reapers
Save the galaxy again in this next-gen remaster.
Though it might be lacking in fun multiplayer, Commander Shepard's remastered return still looks like it'll be amazing. Get ready to fight the ultimate space evil all over again.
Learn more secrets and tips for Mass Effect Legendary Edition.
- Mass Effect 3's ending revisited
- The ultimate Mako showdown
- Best and worst decisions you can make
- Can these aliens be pets?
- Rare scenes you probably missed
- What the Mass Effect Legendary Edition enhances
- What can the next Mass Effect learn from the remaster?
- Why we'll miss the multiplayer
- Now it's Dragon Age's turn
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Rachel Kaser is a Windows Central gaming contributor, who's been writing since 2013 and gaming since the age of five. She's covered everything from gaming news, reviews, and analysis -- if it exists in gaming, she knows about it. She also contributes to Future's other sites, iMore and Android Central. If you want to hear her opinions on games, pop culture, tech, and everything in between, follow her on Twitter @rachelkaser.