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Goddamn, why was Mass Effect 3's multiplayer so freaking good?

A remaster of the Mass Effect trilogy is coming; it’s both an open secret and yet hard to get concrete evidence of. Originally slated to release this October, it was revealed late last week that the “Legendary Edition” has now been pushed to 2021 due partially to the pandemic. Hand in hand with that news was the reveal that the remasters wouldn’t feature Mass Effect 3’s co-op mode, and that sucks.

During the PS3 and 360 era of console gaming, there were a variety of games with solid or great single player experiences, but paltry multiplayer offerings that were clearly tacked on for replayability and diverted resources from the single player. Games like Darkness II, Dark Sector, Bulletstorm, you get the idea. When co-op for Mass Effect 3 was originally announced, the worry was that this would turn out to be another one of those, not at all helped by EA’s public image at the time. (Spoiler: it weren’t great, and they’re still working on it!) It didn’t seem like a win was possible, which is what made it all the more surprising when the actual co-op turned out to be a surprising amount of fun. It was so fun that in a little over a week, the community accumulated nearly 2,000 years worth of play time.

That’s not to oversell what is basically the series’ take on Horde mode, but at the time it was genuinely shocking that BioWare managed to pull this off. You could tell right from the start that a lot of thought went into integrating various races into the class archetypes the series has been using in the single player. These weren’t character reskins, either; a Human Soldier feels very different to a Geth Engineer or a Phoenix Adept who can sling energy lashes like Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2. (The Turian Havoc, one of my favorites, is basically a suit of Iron Man armor.) Some classes could roll away from an attack while others could not, some had different melee abilities like biotic punches or two Omni-Blades instead of one. Small differences add up to a lot, and while light on actual character development, the co-op succeeded in making your character feel like an important part of the Reaper war. Some of the best moments in co-op come from everyone working together, or frantically trying to hold out in the crucial seconds of the last wave to get a perfect extraction bonus.

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It also didn’t hurt that BioWare actually supported the mode for nearly an entire year after the game’s 2012 release. Though the base game would launch with familiar races like the Krogan, Humans, Asari, and Turians, later DLC packs would get weird and bring in the Geth, Collectors (the primary villains from Mass Effect 2), and the comically short Volus. Each DLC pack also received new weapons, additional objectives and the like. The multiplayer was so good that I didn’t mind having to start from scratch when I bought the trilogy for my Xbox One several years ago, and I didn’t even mind the two times I forked over real cash for loot boxes back then.

Having multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 is an important part of BioWare’s history, and not just in the sense that it’s likely what led to it being integrated into Dragon Age: Inquisition and the eventual creation of Anthem. In speaking with Game Informer in 2016, BioWare admitted to wanting the combat for Mass Effect: Andromeda to drift a little more towards the faster paced co-op from the previous title. In Andromeda, each power is on an individual cooldown timer rather than a universal one for all three, and you generally have to always be moving in order to survive. I do think Andromeda plays the best of the four games (also, it’s criminally underrated and you’ll like it better if you actually meet it halfway), but its co-op doesn’t hit quite as hard as its predecessor. It’s good, but not great, and it’s hard to pin down why. Some of this could be due to the fact that it just didn’t receive as much support because the game didn’t become the smash hit EA wanted it to be. What’s here is certainly fun, but you get the sense after playing that it could’ve been something long lasting with proper TLC. It needed time to grow and improve, not unlike what happened with Star Wars: Battlefront II that same year.

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Co-op, in MY Mass Effect? It’s more likely than you think.
Co-op, in MY Mass Effect? It’s more likely than you think.
Graphic: BioWare/EA

Given how into live services EA has been in recent years, it’s actually surprising that they’re not trying to start that up again for the Mass Effect remaster. Since the next one of these is likely a number of years and probably another console generation off, there isn’t any harm in doing so. But maybe it’s the fact that this is most likely releasing on the PS4 and Xbox One only, and not the PS5 and Xbox X. (Presumably, who knows what the eventual reveal of this thing will tell us.) By no means is this a deal breaker, but the co-op of Mass Effect 3 is important to the series and its developer’s history, and like the single player, it deserves to be preserved in something billed as the “Legendary Edition.”

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