Making Multiplayer Fit


The announcement earlier this year that Mass Effect 3 would feature multiplayer caused a riot. The more vocal elements of the ME fan-base lambasted Bioware for sullying their headliner with bollocking multiplayer and opening the floodgates for an army of mic’d up imbeciles that would ruin everything with their teenage swagger. They wrote to their local Member of Parliament, burnt effigies of the Bioware doctors and cried themselves to sleep for a solid week. Panic stricken, they convinced themselves that the evil empire, EA, had finally consumed Bioware and that we were only months away from the series being re-located to current day Afghanistan and re-branded as a modern warfare shooter.

I have played a dozen or so rounds of ME3's co-op over the last fortnight and am happy to say that all the fretting was for naught. I found it to be simple yet well designed, a worthwhile addition to Mass Effect 3 that can add umpteen hours to its shelf life. Combat is fast paced, challenging and satisfying but I am conflicted by the way in which it is tied to the narrative. To explain, multiplayer sessions contribute to your galactic readiness rating, a figure that starts at 50% but increases slightly with each round of multiplayer. This percentage corresponds to the fighting strength of the forces you collect throughout the single player campaign in your effort to destroy the genocidal Reapers. For example, if you have 2000 units (single player) and a preparedness rating of 75% (multiplayer), then your final fighting strength will be 1500 units. The number of units you take into the final battle has a small, but not insignificant effect on one of the endings.

I'm torn by this intertwining of campaign narrative and online modes. On the one hand I'm pleased that Bioware made the effort to work the multiplayer into the narrative, something that not all developers do, thus justifying its existence within the ME universe. On the other, knowing that it was affecting the strength of my forces but not yet aware of the extent to which it impacted the narrative, I felt pressured into playing it when all I really wanted to do was push forward with the campaign. Playing co-op alongside the story doesn't do ME3 any favours, as the single player combat feels sluggish and predictable in comparison; I'd have preferred exploring the co-op after finishing the story, which is how I approach most games with single and multiplayer modes.

I liked the idea of Assassin's Creed multiplayer far more than the finished product

It is easy to see why a publisher would want to add multiplayer wherever possible: it adds value and increases the likelihood of the customer retaining the game, which reduces the number of used copies in circulation and maintains a user base that can be sold DLC. However, creating worthwhile online play and running servers must be hugely expensive. In all likelihood, funds would be syphoned from single player and pumped into the multiplayer, which could potentially lead to a less polished core experience.

We expect online multiplayer from certain genres; it is a given in an FPS and all but standard in sports and racing. However, online modes are increasingly appearing in other genres and games that do not lend themselves so readily to multiplayer, and the results have been mixed. Assassin's Creed made a decent attempt from Brotherhood onwards, though I still feel that it adds very little to the series as a whole. It gets bonus points for trying something a bit different - a slower and more nuanced take on the traditional deathmatch - but ultimately it falls flat, rather bare in comparison to the layered campaign. There was no good reason, at least from the player's point of view, for Dead Space 2 to branch out with online necromorphs. It sacrificed the terrifying quiet, loneliness and claustrophobia of the single player for dime a dozen multiplayer thrills. I have lost count of the number of games I have played in the last year where I have all but ignored online modes, deeming them superfluous and undeserving of my time.

Some games do succeed in making multiplayer fit where you'd be surprised to find it. The last thing you'd expect from a game as simple and as personal as Journey is a co-operative focus. Despite limiting your communication and hiding the identities of your co-travellers, Journey is infinitely more enjoyable when experienced with another wandering soul. This understated use of the PS Network is brilliant, though the illusion is shattered when, at the close of the game, you learn the names of your partners. These handles are inevitably a threat or brag followed by a collection of numbers, which is rather galling after an hour of majestic soaring and Zen exploration. I liked it so much better when DaGunz69 was an anonymous scarf.

"I'm gonna frag you up you floaty twat". Sometimes silence is golden.

I was far from convinced when I first learnt that Uncharted 2 would include multiplayer, but it has since become a vital part of the series. It has achieved this on quality alone as, at least initially, it didn't try to pair itself with the single player narrative. Red Dead Redemption did an excellent job of building multiplayer around familiarity bred in the campaign, using the map as a sandbox hub from which to interact with other players and launch a wide range of modes.

In today's market, it's difficult to get away from multiplayer. Whether you embrace it, ignore or detest it, it is most definitely here to stay, both where it belongs and where it doesn't. As we move towards the next generation and beyond, the distinction between single and multiplayer is likely to become less defined, which would necessitate narrative becoming even more important in competitive and co-op modes. Hopefully that will spell the end for shoe-horned-in online modes, though who knows how this will affect the traditional single player experience.

Odds & Ends

As you may have noticed, I haven't kept to my usual posting schedule so far this month. Things have been a bit hectic as I've struggled to find the time and in some cases the motivation to get stuck into my writing. I hope to eventually return to my old routine but updates are likely to be sporadic for the next couple of weeks. Do keep checking back though, as I will post as and when I get the chance - hopefully twice a week, but don't hold me to it! Cheers.

Comments

  1. I don't think it's that big of a deal that ME3's co-op affects the SP. Weaving it into the story is cool, but the real reason it's great that it exists is that it finally gives me what I wanted for almost five years: playing as a Krogan, Turian, Asari, and Quarian. Not really a fan of buying those packs though, if it were just saving up, I'd have a Black Widow and Geth Pulse Rifle by now.

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    1. Those packs are rather unusual. It's not made clear that parts of the packs are consumables, that disappear after one or two uses. It's fine if you are using in-game currency, but I'd have been pretty pissed off had I used real money to purchase them only to find that they disappeared. Still, really enjoyed playing it. Cheers

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  2. Daydream Drooler25 April 2012 at 06:23

    What Volvo said. I also think the single player combat is just as fast as the co-op, I loved the gameplay for ME3. also the co-op readiness doesn't have nearly the effect most people think, you can unlock all endings without playing co-op.
    as for MP in general, its been growing on me. I just think the dev's need to realize when its good for the game and when its not. like when Bioware announced MP for ME3 I freaked out but than later on I found out its wasn't really MP but co-op.
    AC brotherhood had a great idea that could have been the best MP ever but it fails because it relies on the players to play it right which they dont. they act like its another COD and just run around like retards. Dead Space 2 was godawful.
    I agree on Journey, I love what they did with the co-op but your right about showing the tags at the end of the journey.
    good blog, hopefully sometime soon we can get some Dark Souls in before it eats your soul, lol. as well as some ME3... that's if we can both find the time, now not only to I have to deal with this never ending book process but puppies as well, lol. lots of fun!

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    1. I suppose my issue wasn't so much the effect it had, more just that it was clearly contributing to my single player campaign. I didn't seek out the details at the time because I didn't want spoilers, but I could see the correlation between MP and SP and that Bioware intended for the co-op to be played alongside the SP, which is what I did (reluctantly, at first).

      I've given up on Dark Souls single player. I came to a full stop at Sen's Fortress (?) but I'd be up for revisiting it for some co-op. Good luck with the book and puppies! Cheers

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  3. Just picked up ME3 on amazon for 30 bucks. i mite wait and play it till they come out with a new ending. i haven't read anything about the current ending but i hear it is total garbage

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    1. Hey Mark. ME3 is a great game and the ending - at least the one I got - is a lot better than you have heard. It's no classic, but it fits the tone of the series and I felt provided enough closure for an end of trilogy game. There are some loose ends and plot holes, but overall I enjoyed the closing 10 minutes. Cheers

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  4. I'm glad to see you enjoyed the multiplayer in ME3. I had a ton of fun with it myself, and the online community playing it has been very cool so far. Bioware was very sneaky with how they present the MP to you. I also thought I had to play it to get the best ending, and I was feeling pretty upset myself. Fortunately it was a lot of fun to play and it isn't necessary for the best ending. My conspiracy theory is that Bioware felt that it's normal RPG gamer audience wouldn't even try the MP without a little prodding... Who knows...

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    1. I really enjoyed the ME3 multiplayer, but not so much that I kept playing it once I was done with the single player. Once the campaign was over it went back on the shelf, like most games I play. Cheers

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    2. I wonder if it's weird that I'm still playing the multiplayer here and there myself... I actually don't play too many multiplayer games, because the online community turns me off at some point. I haven't had any bad experiences with ME3 yet despite playing it on XBOX Live. I wonder if there are any other multiplayer games out there with a mostly positive online community...

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    3. Outside of CoD, I've haven't had too many issues playing online multiplayer on PS3. But then I'll always mute players where the option is available, so I'm probably just ignorant to the abuse!

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