"Rest assured, it's nothing of what you've feared." That's what Mass Effect 3 executive producer Casey Hudson said via Facebook when the game's cooperative online multiplayer mode was announced. This brought a sigh of relief to some, while others cringed at seeing "Mass Effect" and "multiplayer" so close together. At the Electronic Arts Vegas Game Show earlier this year, we got to try this mode for ourselves, as well as speak with BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn about the game in general, which you can see in the video below.
From what we've gathered, the fate of pretty much everything in Mass Effect 3 will rest on the galaxy's readiness level. This is a representation of how well Shepard has prepared the entire galaxy for the coming battle. It can also be influenced in several ways, one of which is the new multiplayer mode. This cooperative, four-player online mode drops players into a horde-mode-style area where they must battle against increasingly difficult waves of enemies.
Your personal commander Shepard won't be available here; he (or she) is much too busy romancing aliens and punching reporters. Instead, a new character must be created from the game's most humanoid races--Asari, Turian, Drell, Krogan, Salarian, and human--and established classes. Your character's abilities are tied to his or her class (there are no racial abilities), and which weapons you bring is up to you. However, your class will determine firearm proficiency.
We were assigned a human infiltrator for our play session, which took place on the industrial-looking slums map. In multiplayer, the map you choose determines the set of enemies you will face. For this map, it was all Cerberus commandos; others may include the insectoid Collectors or a combination of different groups for a greater challenge. Back in the slums, we found that shooting people in multiplayer wasn't different from single-player. Some enemies carried massive shields that required one of our team to act as a distraction while the other sneaked up behind the foe. And when a massive Atlas mech suit landed, it was an all-hands-on-deck moment where we had to quickly bring the brute down.
Special objectives were interspersed throughout the match. During one wave, we had to run across the map and disable four enemy devices. Another required us to group up in an area and defend it while uploading data. Despite our best efforts, our character would get taken out after one-too-many space bullets to the face. When our character went down, we could frantically press a button to postpone death. Of course, this became more difficult, and by the time the second unit arrived, we simply couldn't maintain it any longer. Dying took us out of the current wave and into spectator mode. We could then return at the start of the next wave, assuming our teammates lived that long.
Killing enemies and completing objectives earn your character money and experience. Money is used to purchase and upgrade weapons, while experience increases your character's level. At a certain point in your character's progression, you will have the option to export him or her into your single-player. There, you can use your character as a war asset on the Galaxy at War map. How exactly these characters will function in your campaign remains to be seen.
Despite the fact that this is a cooperative mode, you're not required to have three friends to play. In fact, we could have played with two, one, or even zero teammates if we were so inclined. The game wouldn't have granted us any AI teammates, but it would have adjusted the enemy difficulty accordingly. Or you can just ignore the mode entirely. There will be other ways to raise your galaxy's readiness level, and the optimal ending is available without having to touch multiplayer. Mass Effect 3 will be released on March 6, 2012, on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.