Bioware’s worst kept secret has finally been revealed. Mass Effect 3 now officially has multiplayer. After all of the double talk and reassurance from the developers of the contrary, it’s easy to see that the fan base (most especially the hardcore fans) have had negative reaction to the news. The Bioware Social Network is ablaze with anger and frustration, YouTube and Facebook have piles upon piles of negative comments, and even website’s like IGN have been verbalizing their disdain for the concept. Only hours after the word was spilled form Casey Hudson, Project Director of the Mass Effect franchise, the Bioware development team has already done truckloads of damage control. In some cases, developers almost seemed to be begging fans not to cancel their preorders. Why on Earth would Bioware put something this controversial in their game? This isn’t even polarizing; in fact, it seems to have united fans more than ever. Multiplayer for Mass Effect 3 is a bad, BAD idea.
The fact of the matter is some games just don’t fit well with multiplayer. Why Bioware decided to allocate time, money and resources to what is sure to be an extremely expensive gameplay component that will go largely unused is beyond me. Dead Space 2 is a prime example of a single player game being muddled by a useless and unnecessary multiplayer component. Bioshock 2 is another. Mass Effect 3 will almost surely be even worse, as the core experience to the Mass Effect series is the story of Commander Shepard, the choices he makes and the impact those choices have on the galaxy and his relationships. Call me crazy but I find it unlikely that any co-op component included in Mass Effect 3 can capture this element. Mostly because only one person could possibly play as Shepard. I suppose the optimum question is will I even play as Shepard in the multiplayer? I have no interest in playing anyone other than Commander Shepard during the course of the Mass Effect storyline, unless they are small bits like when players took control of Joker for a minor sequence in ME2. I imagine that 95% percent of players feel the same way, mostly made up of those who have played a previous Mass Effect title. So if nobody who plays Mass Effect 3 will want to play as anyone other than Shepard, who is going to play the 4 player co-op mode? That’s probably a really good question that Bioware should have asked themselves during the development phase of production.
What I find most distressing in this case is Bioware’s sheer lack of honesty and integrity when it came to handling the multiplayer rumors. The developers did everything they could to persuade fans that there was no multiplayer at all, though never overtly turning the notion down. When news broke today, it certainly felt like one of the biggest “Fuck You's” in gaming history. Very few fans truly desired any form of multiplayer, as the franchise has been a single player story up until today. Most players who are willing to try it out would have been just fine without its inclusion. It seems that once again, Bioware has just created another rift between them and their dwindling loyal fan base.
In the bustle of skepticism surrounding Mass Effect 3 and Bioware’s future, I find myself reminded of Dragon Age 2. Dragon Age Origins, if you recall, was marketed to the loyalist of loyal fans of Bioware. A throwback to their Baldur’s Gate days, Dragon Age: Origins was a critical darling, a commercial success, and an instant fan favorite. Dragon Age 2 was created for a more God of War crowd and less Dragon Age Origins. The game was clearly designed for a brand new demographic, but marketed to the fans of the original title. Fans reacted very negatively to the changes to the franchise, and critics were mixed on the result. Mass Effect 3 seems to be repeating this cycle. Mass Effect 3 no longer remotely resembles Mass Effect 1 and it is apparent that the series has lost its vision and shifted its focus. Why Bioware seems to shift their target demographic from game to game is confounding. With Mass Effect 3 enhancing their shooter elements, introducing on-rails gameplay, downplaying the RPG features and now adding multiplayer, the final act of my once favorite video game franchise is looking more like Gears of War than ever. If I want to play Gears of War, I’m not going to pick up Mass Effect. I’ll play Gears of War. Not to mention that Bioware really shouldn’t be attempting to steal the thunder away from Gears of War 3, which was about as close to flawless as any game can get. Somehow I doubt that Mass Effect 3 will be quite as polished.
Will multiplayer ruin Mass Effect 3? It’s possible, but probably not. Could it ruin Bioware? This is actually way more likely. In fact it already has in many ways. Over the past two years or so, Bioware’s reputation has been tarnished with their constant double talk, the Happy Dance (when someone dances around a question in a way that does not answer the question and is designed to keep as many people as happy as possible. I coined this term during the last Presidential election), and their attempts to silence criticism from their fans and critics (remember that Metacritic fiasco). Not to mention the amount of money that will be wasted if nobody uses the co-op.
On that topic, what would happen if Bioware poured tons of money into a feature that nobody used? Dead Space suffered this fate, and last month, Visceral Games closed their doors for good. Perhaps that is merely a coincidence, but big corporations like EA hate money going to waste. Even if adding multiplayer was the bigwigs at EAs’ grand plan, Bioware will take the hit. If Mass Effect 3 sells poorly, I wouldn’t be surprised if EA shut the Edmonton Studio down and moved all available resources to Austin to continue supporting SWTOR. Adding multiplayer to Mass Effect 3 may have very well been the dumbest move Bioware has ever made. One that could prove to be quite costly. Personally, I’m too invested in Mass Effect to quit now, but this could prove to be my last Bioware game. Mass Effect 3 has officially dropped from topping my list of most anticipated games. Congratulations to Skyrim to dethroning the king. At least Bethesda doesn’t piss on their loyal fan base.