Hands On – Mass Effect 3: Galaxy At War

By John Walker on October 27th, 2011 at 5:00 pm.

I say these games just encourage cooperation, and should be stopped.

I was recently able to sit down for a game of Mass Effect 3’s four-player co-op mode, Galaxy At War. So, what is it, exactly? What does it add to the game? And is it going to distract you from the single player? I think I’ve answered that all below, along with four brand new screenshots you can click on to enlarge.

My position before having a go was one of disinterest. The Mass Effect series is, for me, a single-player game, because – well – that’s what it’s been so far. As a massive fan of single-player, narrative-driven gaming, it seemed to me the very last thing ME3 needed was an online distraction. Especially one that directly affects the single-player game. Then I played it.

Galaxy At War isn’t anything groundbreaking. Then, it’s really not trying to be. It’s not intended to be a reason why someone might buy the game. This isn’t Battlefield 3’s multiplayer compared to its single-player. I’m relieved to say Mass Effect 3 is clearly still intended to be primarily a single-player experience, optionally augmented by the co-op. And it’s pretty fun. (I should add at this point that I was playing this on a 360, as no PC code was available.)

Think, Left 4 Dead, but you don’t go anywhere, and you can’t pick up weapons, and, er, it’s got four players. The level we played was set on a fairly generic, grey-and-white multi-level platforms, interior and exterior. It was certainly unremarkable. But quickly the four of us – three games hacks and a BioWare employee – were being attacked by waves of Reapers and Geth.

Waves is the key here. It’s about surviving as many waves as you can, before your inevitable death. The more of them you survive, and the more you get done, the more points you get to carry over to your SP story. Which lends it the arcade-feel that ensures it knows its place.

Those things to get done – they’re not that complicated, really. The examples we had were to “hack” a computer, and “hold” an area. Which was really to have the four of us try to stay in a glowing circle within a time limit. It forces a more exciting time of fighting, putting us in the open and requiring more imaginative combat to get through, with bonuses for completion.

And it’s the possibility for that more imaginative combat that makes the co-op more worthwhile. As you’ll remember from Mass Effect 2, fighting with your gang became a lot more fun for being able to fling someone in the air, then empty a barrage of blasts into their spinning body. Here you get to do that as a team, and effective use of skills and weapons becomes very rewarding. I might grab someone with biotics and helpfully float them up so someone with a bloody great shotgun can blow their belly out. This becomes even more crucial when you’re fighting some of the game’s larger enemies, who can prove a real obstacle to completing a wave.

At one point, on a balcony above our squad, amongst the very many regular Reaper enemies appeared a Brute – a giant beast of a creature, covered in shields. And he was being defended by a couple of Banshees – flying creatures with crazy-strong barriers cast around them. It was certainly the most epic stage of our twenty minute game. And it forced decent teamwork to get through – there was no way to deal any damage to any of them without our carefully taking out the Brute’s shields, then others piling in to do damage until they were repaired. Meanwhile the Banshees would occasionally have to drop their barriers, allowing a chance to pick away at their health too. Alone, none of us would have scratched them. So their eventual defeat was pretty damned satisfying.

Less satisfying is the complete lack of a sense of progress. Because the level was really a small arena, completing a wave didn’t offer you the reward of moving on, feeling like you’d gotten somewhere. Instead you started a new, more difficult fight pretty much where you already were. And with spare ammo pretty much only in one place, the outer edges of the level became pretty much out of bounds. (I really hope there’s some tweaking of ammo distribution before it’s released. Armed only with a pretty useless spare pop gun, and a shotgun, I could only carry ten bullets at a time, which made for some fairly boring trips back and forth to the ammo bin.)

So yes, everyone gets two weapons. A back-up, and your main. And along with those you have three special abilities. It’s a stripped down version of the regular ME interface, simplified such that it doesn’t require any fiddling at all, which makes sense in a context where you can’t pause the action. Also making life easier, there’s no friendly fire, which is a good job in the frantic mess of bullets, blasts and biotics.

Death means you’re out for the rest of the wave, but then rejoin your gang once a new lot of enemies appear from every direction. But should everyone fall, you’re done. We reached something like Wave 13 before eventually the four of us gave up the ghost, my valiant lone effort at the last proving a little futile against quite so many Reapers and no ammo. We were told by the BioWare chap that we’d gotten far further than anyone else that day, which I assumed he says to all the girls and boys until I saw another group uselessly flailing about and dying after four or five. Which is to say, me and the two strangers I sat next to, are best at Galaxy At War.

While you’re individually scored as you play, that’s purely for bragging rights. The score you carry over to your single-player game will be your team’s combined efforts, meaning even if you’re a cack-handed buffoon, you’ll still not have wasted your time. It seems a smart move, but I’m sure will lead to some disgruntled players.

It’s ultimately a pretty meaningless thing. But where the fun comes from is in realising it’s meant to be. It’s popcorn, alongside the square meal of the single-player game (assuming it’s of the same standard as the previous two – we’ve not played anything of the SP game yet.) It’s not going to be the sort of thing people will be playing long after the game’s been released. But it’s certainly an enjoyable time, with its escalating difficulty and arcade sensibilities. Plus, gosh, the game is looking gorgeous.

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75 Comments »

  1. UnravThreads says:

    What about customisation? Is it like Left 4 Dead in that you’ve got so many generic characters, or is it more like the “main” side of things where you can customise your character?

    • westyfield says:

      I really hope there’s proper armour customisation like in ME2. Neon pink turians ftw.

    • iniudan says:

      My camo pink Krogan infiltrator (it a bit like an Ork Commando) will headbutt into dust your so called neon pink Turian.

  2. MaXimillion says:

    What was the Blizzard employee doing there?

  3. CaspianRoach says:

    > But quickly the four of us – three games hacks and a Blizzard employee
    Huh? Blizzard lets their employees to check out other games? SO THAT’S WHY IT TAKES THEM SO LONG TO MAKE A GAME OF THEIR OWN?

  4. jellydonut says:

    A shame it doesn’t have that lasting appeal, but as you said yourself – Mass Effect is a single-player franchise, and anything more would have been out of reach without ruining the focus.

    It’ll be fun to share the ME experience with friends, if only for a little while. :)

  5. DK says:

    Wow that’s considered “gorgeous” now? The extended console lifecycle must have a debilitating impact on games media optical nerves.

    • Groove says:

      I’m currently playing ME2 and I think that looks gorgeous most of the time.

    • John Walker says:

      It might be a consequence of having played Syndicate immediately before it.

    • runtheplacered says:

      Apparently gorgeous = best graphics on the market that’s humanly possible.

      That’s funny because I didn’t think that word meant that at all.

    • abremms says:

      solid art direction is far more important than fancy tech. Even BF3 with all its graphical muscle could have ended up looking terrible without good art direction, and a game like ME3 designed for out-dated hardware can use that art direction to overcome technical limitations.

      its not the tools you have, its what you build with them!

    • DK says:

      Well they have crappy tools and built a very wonky shack with them.

    • Betamax says:

      You’re a wonky shack!

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Your mom is a wonky shack!

      But on topic, yeah, I was always rather fond of ME’s artstyle, the games were gorgeous.

    • stillwater says:

      Mass Effect 2 is to this day one of the most visually beautiful games I’ve ever played. Though it definitely had its fair share of technical flaws that held it back from being even more beautiful: blurry textures, stiff faces, and overly sparse environments for example.

      Have any of those things been noticeably improved this time round, John?

    • scatterbrainless says:

      You know, developers could get away with lackluster, console-limited graphics if they only made their games mod-friendly. Look at Stalker, if the game is loved the mod community will pretty much get in there and do the graphics for you, for free. I think developers should TOTALLY exploit this free labor market more by encouraging modders.

  6. Doomsayer says:

    Getting to the thirteenth wave is yet more proof of the awesomeness of the PC master race. Congratulations, fellow hardcore gamer!

    • DrSlek says:

      I find it absolutely hillarious that they’ve brought the wave based combat from DA2 into ME Co-op.

      The icing on the cake would be if every time a new wave started one of the player characters yell “ANOTHER WAVE!”

    • Betamax says:

      Made me raise an eyebrow as well, although wasn’t there a DLC for ME1 that was very similar to this? Not to mention most BioWare games have utilised waves to some degree, DA2 was just terrible at hiding it in the vanilla game.

  7. diamondmx says:

    “I should add at this point that I was playing this on a 360, as no PC code was available”

    This is getting sickeningly common. Come on devs, it’s really hard to trust you’re making an honest effort of the PC version when you refuse to let anyone see it.

    Stuff like this makes preorders an awful idea, and makes the pre-order discounts and pre-order bonuses incredibly irritating. Buying a product shouldn’t be a £40-60 bet with unknown odds.

    • chabuhi says:

      I agree – I used to frequently pre-order games, but I’m really wary now with the increasing risk that the game will be simply a console port.

    • Kaira- says:

      Like first (and I believe) second ME too?

    • Ruffian says:

      Having been one of the pc gamers, that was scammed by the whole RAGE thing, I would have to agree with you here. I was way too dissapointed with that pos console port, to ever pre-order anything again for a long long time. sooooo dumb. right now I’m just glad that bf3 hasn’t been a huge disappointment. Well aside from the server browser-in-your-internet-browser bs, of course.

    • maicus says:

      Considering the series began as a x-box exclusive, I think its safe to say that Biowares mentality is thats where the audience lies.

    • tetracycloide says:

      Between what I’ve heard about ME3 and what I saw in the PC version of ME2 and DA2 I’ve cancled my pre-order. Definitely going to wait for reviews I trust before even considering a purchase. I would wait for a ‘GotY’ edition or for all the DLC to release and get the entire pack at a discount too but ME2 on the PC still hasn’t done that. Yet another reason to wait…

    • Joshua says:

      Eh? The PC version of ME2 was less of a console port then ME1 was. ME1 was even ported by a whole different company on the command of EA, whilst ME2 was a multiplatform thingy…

    • Optimaximal says:

      Talk about conspiracy theories… I doubt Bioware specifically dragged out Xbox-only code to piss off the PS3 & PC crowd. Heaven forbid it be the only SKU that has the multi-player component to a level of polish worth showing at the moment.

    • tetracycloide says:

      ME2 was less of a console port then ME1 was? How do you figure that, solely on the basis of what company did the port? That’s irrelevant. The PC controls on ME were much more fluid than those on ME2. It’s most noteable on the mapscreen. The only reason I can think of why anyone would think ME2 the better port is because there’s simply less interface to notice the differences in as a result of the gameplay changes that were made. When the two games actually do the same things ME has better PC controls than ME2 regardless of who did the port.

    • scatterbrainless says:

      Yeah, this was pretty much why I had some sixth-sense premonition that I shouldn’t pre-order RAGE even though I was quite excited for the game. Quite glad now after seeing the reviews that I can wait for a lower price for a debugged game. I’m sure I’ll still enjoy it, but I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for a relatively short, bug-castrated release version.

  8. Wurzel says:

    So essentially it’s Gears of War’s Horde mode, but in Mass Effect? Sounds promising enough to me :)

  9. Bostec says:

    This muiltplayer bollocks, always seems to me a cheap way to justified that DRM shit they peddle and put on a field of DRM crops. They did it with Deadspace 2 and now they are doing with with this. I just want a DRM free experience, ME with a pair of headphones, the GF in bed snoring and a dark room. Not having to worrying if the local village pigeons are sleeping on the phonelines, cutting out the connection. Is it to much to ask? Yes my son, yes it is.

    • scatterbrainless says:

      Actually I totally think this can work. I agree in principle that the ME essence is single player, but honestly, after the stupidly huge amount of time I expended on ME1 & 2 by the end I really would have appreciated the ability for a short, straight to the action arcade section. But customisability is the real issue, being able to get into arcade action with your meticulously crafted build, son!

  10. Inigo says:

    After killing both the Brute and Banshee, John wiped the vomit from his chin and realised he was actually playing Halo 3. By himself. In a slaughterhouse. Also he was naked.

  11. smallclaws says:

    Was there a split-screen option? I’d really like to avoid having to endlessly wait for someone to come online. If no split-screen – matchmaking?

  12. Kloreep says:

    “Death means you’re out for the rest of the wave,”

    I remember reading something about being able to rescue team mates before they die for good, did you see any mechanic like that?

  13. felisc says:

    reapers ennemies ? huh ? I guess those must be baby reapers, then ? Or do they really take half of the screen?

    • westyfield says:

      The pictures show Cerberus soldiers – maybe John got confused between one generic-sound baddy and another?

    • Grayvern says:

      Or the enemies that the reapers control or produce like husks or those things in 2 that look like mini reapers.

    • DrSlek says:

      There’s a lot of rumors abound that Cerberus allies itself with the Reapers. How surprising….

    • Betamax says:

      That’s what BioWare are calling the new Husk variants in ME3. There will apparently be a bunch of new ‘Husks’ based on the various other species, including hybrids.

      It’s a shame they couldn’t come up with more original names for them though. Brute, really?

  14. Grayvern says:

    My problem with this is it’s a separate studio and that It’s not a separate game I don’t see why a standalone downloadable £20 mass effect multiplayer game couldn’t work.

    Especially since no-one has capitalised on wave based defense or horde mode in a standalone dedicated fashion, or indeed with class based mechanics.

    • Betamax says:

      This is my main issue with it too. I’m willing to buy that they got given some resources exclusively to add this mode, and thus it didn’t take away anything from the rest of the game, however the idea has enough potential that I have felt from the start that it would have been better to have the new team work on this as a seperate title to come out say a year after ME3.

      Presuming ME3 is another smash hit everyone would go gaga over a co op focused spin off title that gives tantilising glimpses at what comes next for the franchise. They could still do something like that, but it will take longer to put out and people will say ‘seen ME multiplayer already’.

  15. Joshua says:

    A pity they are not full fledged missions, where you actually have to run to a point and stuff.

    But yeah, it sounds awsome. Thanks for the report.

  16. reticulate says:

    So a stripped-down Horde mode?

    I can deal with that.

  17. Blackcompany says:

    Sounds like the Horde/Rush mode of, well, every other multiplayer shooter out there. Most of which feature better graphics, better FPS mechanics, etc. Which with this being primarily an RPG comes as no surprise. Fallout was a subpar FPS as well, and I loved it.
    .
    But all of this begs an important question: If you want to play an overly simplistic Rush mode in a shooter, why would you not just pick up a genuine, polished, visually gorgeous game fully intended to be a shooter? Why would you ever play Rush mode or Horde mode in Mass Effect’s probably limited online community when you could just play the same mode in a larger community on a polished, FPS-first title?
    .
    Which always leads to another important question: How much time was diverted away from the single player campaign and story in order to “finance” the time for a tacked-on, checkbox-on-front Multiplayer mode?
    .
    Not saying this will be a bad game. I certainly hope not. I just worry about this multiplayer-in-every-game trend…

    • MichaelPalin says:

      After the backslash from Dragon Age 2 and the disappointing plot of ME2 I pretend that Bioware just cannot screw ME3. I mean, anything that is not a masterpiece will leave long-term Bioware fans very disappointed. But that is just wishful thinking, I’m afraid, everybody will love ME3 no matter what, :(

  18. Vexing Vision says:

    The question I believe most of us are dying to ask: What happens if you attempt to launch ME 3 while being offline?

    Clearly the drop-in, drop-out nature of the multiplayer stuff has some kind of online requirement…

    • Zenicetus says:

      I was just about to post that question, you beat me to it.

      The big question is, indeed, whether this is really just a lightweight little MP option on the side, or whether the scoring system tied to the main game progress means that the singleplayer mode has a constant connection requirement, to “maintain score integrity”. In other words, an excuse for always-connected DRM. Maybe we’re just being paranoid, but the potential is clearly there.

    • LimeWarrior says:

      Wait, weren’t the last few Mass Effect games published through EA? Does that mean this is an “Origin only” title? Please no… Origin is the reason I’m avoiding Battlefield 3.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      @Zenicetus Maybe we’re just being paranoid

      At this point one cannot be paranoid enough.

    • Hematite says:

      That’s exactly what they want you to think!!!

  19. FataMorganaPseudonym says:

    “My position before having a go was one of disinterest.”

    And my position after reading this is still one of disinterest. Well, less disinterest and more lamentation for the effort and resources wasted on this and the likelihood for the single-player to be less than it could have been because of it, even if by the slightest bit.

    “It’s ultimately a pretty meaningless thing. … It’s not going to be the sort of thing people will be playing long after the game’s been released.”

    Seriously, then why did they even bother with this? If they were going to do it right, it should have been its own game, rather than a shoehorned tack-on to Mass Effect 3. That way, at least, they could have devoted even more time and effort to it, and fleshed it out into something that would have actually been interesting and longer lasting. And, most importantly to me, if it had been its own separate game, I could have much more easily have simply straight-up ignored it, because I care jack all about multiplayer of any nature, no matter how potentially more interesting (to other people) it may have been. But given that it has been round-hole-square-pegged into ME3 like this, it just makes me sad and annoyed.

    • DrSlek says:

      One of the biggest problems with having this co-op mode affect singleplayer is that eventually very few people will actually be playing the game anymore. Buy ME3 3 years or so after release? Want to hop into co-op and increase your “galactic readiness”? Good luck finding 3 other people to play with! The problem is only compounded when EA shuts down the servers for the game (and they will). It’s the kind if planned obsolecence that’s so frustratingly common nowadays. Halo 2 is the perfect example of this. Multiplayer is simply not possible in that game anymore because the servers have been shut down.

  20. MichaelPalin says:

    Wait, “Galaxy at War” is the actual name? I though RPS was joking as usual.

    Bah!, at this point I cannot care about Mass Effect 3 anymore. Everything points to the trilogy ending with a massive war against the Reapers, with Shepard running in the front single-handedly killing Reapers with a sword. The first game was so imaginative… Oh!, well, I pretend it’s another 10 separate small games that have nothing to do with the Reapers as ME2 was. The side stories in that game were awesome.

  21. MichaelPalin says:

    Weren’t the geth already defeated in ME and then definitely defeated in ME2 in the side mission of Legion?

    • Zenicetus says:

      If they can be reprogrammed once, I guess it could happen a second time?

      That’s fine by me, I always thought the Geth were a more interesting opponent than the Reapers and their puppet species. But then, I grew up with “Magnus, Robot Fighter” comics. Killing robots (preferably with a little “squeeee” sound when they die), just seems like the natural thing to do…

    • TormDK says:

      The Geth were not defeated no.

      We were given insight into their groupings however, as in “Good” Geth, and “Bad” Geth. Legion claims that the “Good” Geth have rebuilt the Quarian homeworld, and are acting as it’s stewards, so I hope the Uber Paragon ending lets Quarians and Geth live side by side.

  22. PKBitchGirl says:

    Were you given the choice to play female aliens? (well other than the blue fanservice ones)

  23. lightswitch37 says:

    Hopefully it’s as good as Gears of War horde mode. What you said about the ammo makes me doubtful. Half the genius of Horde is that the ammo is never in defensible places, forcing you to move periodically and take risks in order to get it, rather than just camping in the most defensible areas. It’s really what made Horde so great.

    I don’t understand why everyone was so against multiplayer Mass Effect. If they had made a system similar to Borderlands I would have been psyched beyond belief.

  24. Vinraith says:

    Can it be played with less than 4 people? Does it scale?

  25. Betamax says:

    So long as I can play as a Krogan infliltrator I’ll be satisfied. Definitely hoping (but not expecting) they get split screen in there though… Given how throwaway this mode will be it seems ideal for silly funtimes on the sofa/other seating of choice.

  26. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Is that an Alliance Fighter I spy in the last screenshot?

    … can I ride it?

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      If you’re taking cues from GoW, why not take some from Halo: Reach as well? By which I mean the space bits.

      God, games need more space bits.

    • Optimaximal says:

      The fact that the canopy seems to be just a texture makes me thing the answer is ‘no’.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Well, the Mako didn’t exactly have a canopy/door opening animation, so some hope there… ?

      Eh, who am I kidding. It’s just a pretty chest-high wall.

  27. ch4os1337 says:

    Im think they might of shit the bed guys, im sorry.

  28. IC says:

    I’m OK with this, to be honest. I loved ME2 to the extent where I wanted to keep playing even after I’d finished every quest and explored every planet – and there was just nowhere else to go to shoot things and use my terrific powers.

    I do enjoy it primarily for the storyline, of course – but the fact is ME2 had an incredibly satisfying, flexible and enjoyable combat system. The game would have benefited from somewhere you could go to blast away at baddies in peace, like the open areas in many other RPGs. Hopefully this will provide that, in a sense.

  29. evilhippo says:

    Utterly pointless. Does the market really need yet another multi-shooter? If Bioware (or more correctly, Bioware’s accountants) think RPG and Twitch Shooter players are the same market segment, they are quite wrong. They will lose as many people as they gain from making their game more ‘accessible’.

  30. NereidaS6546 says:

    thoi trang giay
    Dude, I will shit myself with glee if you can play as a Volus. I can see how you would have technical issues with a short, pudgy little model, though. So I’m not counting on it, Earth clan. Bet every single one of you that I’m first to level to 50+ and unlock “Avina the Reaper Queen” as a playable character. :P
    I was worried, but I like the sound of this. And if they add Hanar as a playable race, my month will have been made.