What Could Mass Effect Online Look Like?

[Spoiler-Free Zone!]

In the last three days I have spent probably around 8-10 hours playing ME3’s multiplayer. My conclusion? Bioware might be onto something.

At its core, the ME3 multiplayer consists of ~11 rounds of 4-player co-op, Horde-style survival across six maps taken from the single-player game itself. Every third wave is what I’d call a “cash round,” in which you get a specific objective: King of the Hill, Kill 4 specific mobs, or Activate 4 Nodes. Completing those cash rounds successfully earns you credits whereas all the other rounds awards XP. During the final extraction wave, you have to be in the evac area by the end of the mission timer in order to get the highest point score bonus (e.g. XP).

The first thing I would say is this: the multiplayer is fun. It probably goes without saying, but if you enjoy the combat in any of the three Mass Effect games, you will enjoy it here too. You shoot from cover, you gain XP, level up, decide which weapons/mods to outfit your character with and so on.

Other bloggers have mentioned the similarities between the gear situation and Magic: the Gathering… and it’s true. There are three tiers of gear packs – 5k, 20k, and 60k credits – and each pack has 5 random “cards” that represent either one-use consumables (Medi-gel, extra ammo, missile launcher), new weapons (or upgrades to already found weapons), weapon mods, new races for a class, or class XP (which raises the baseline level of new characters of that class). The mid-line Veteran Pack comes with 1 Uncommon item or better, while the Spectre Pack has a guaranteed Rare “or better” (whatever that means).

I am not a huge fan of companies putting literal gambling in even their F2P offerings, mainly based on my Magic Online experience. I played the physical form of M:tG for nearly a decade already, but after a particularly bad night of Magic Online wherein I realized I paid $60+ on a series of Booster Drafts, I deleted the game off my hard-drive and went and bought WoW the next day.¹

That got me thinking though… how different is that really from random loot in MMOs? Could, in fact, Bioware turn Mass Effect into an MMO without much effort at all?

Most of the set pieces are already in place.

Classes/Talents/Abilities

Check, check, and check.

Originally, I found the ME2 pivot towards Biotic/Tech power spam (6 second cooldown Biotic Charge, what?) to be disconcerting. I suppose it doesn’t make any less sense than Omni-Tools materializing out of thin air or the titular mass effect, erm, effect in general. By the time I was halfway through ME3, the dynamism of power use was a core part of the entertaining gameplay.

You could even go so far as to imagine the Trinity system existing within the game realm, without too much of a stretch. Unlike Star Wars, it seems intuitively viable to heal people with Tech (Medi-Gel) or even Biotics, or perhaps simply refreshing their shielding with either. Or we could (perhaps preferably) see them go the purported Guild Wars 2 route and have shared role responsibilities – anyone can rez any downed member in the ME3 multiplayer, for example.

Races/Setting/Enemies

Mass Effect has them all in spades.

There are six races in multiplayer already, all with their own sort of racial-esque abilities, motivations, politics; we can imagine Batarians, Geth, Vorcha, or even Protheans being added to that count. I am not a fan of two-faction systems, so I would be overjoyed to see a situation wherein there are no “red vs blue” factions period, but rather players fighting for specific (mercenary?) movements of their choice. Did you choose Krogan and your friend choose Geth? No problem!

Indeed, without spoiling anything, the time period following the events of ME3 would be perfect, perfect for this kind of integrated gameplay. As Mass Effect players, we are already used to mission-based activities spread throughout the galaxy, taking orders from quest-givers, and so on and so forth. Expansions could come in the form of dormant² Relays or new star systems being discovered without breaking any suspension of disbelief.

As far as enemies go, while the main three – Geth, Cerberus, Reapers – have been… explored to various degrees, again, the time period following ME3 will undoubtedly be a fairly chaotic place. And remember, we got along perfectly fine in ME1 without having the geth be the only bad guys. There is no reason why pockets of resistance couldn’t spring up, pirates, mercenary groups, terrorist cells, or even the Salarian STG (or Spectres!) could decide they need to achieve X or Y goal, in opposition to your orders.

Shepard made galactic peace possible. It is up to us to maintain it.©

Itemization/Rewards/Crafting

Whether Bioware makes itemization deeper or keeps it fairly level, the fact is that it already exists. Shepard can wear 6-7 different helmets with different stats, independent of what kind of leg armor he/she has. “Tier sets” exist. There are dozens of different guns, upgrades, and weapon mods. It has been established that new item technologies can be researched and produced, all in the same universe in which “Fabrication Rights Management (FRM)” technology can keep certain items unique (e.g. effectively soulbound).

Now, I have a hard time imagining that chasing +5 Flaming Shotgun M-23 Katana V upgrades would sustain any sort of ME:O endgame the same way fantasy MMOs can get away with it. But sort of assumes there is necessarily an endgame gear grind at all. Which leads me to…

MMO Structure/Themepark vs Sandbox

I am going to suggest Synthesis here.

Is it possible to have a sandbox in the themepark? I have no idea. But as I was glancing at the Galaxy At War map, I could not help but notice how the southern portions were labeled as Earth Systems Alliance Space, Inner Council Space, Outer Council Space. Meanwhile the northern portions were the Attican Traverse and the Terminus Systems. So… perhaps Terminus = nul-sec? Hell, we can already imagine fighting over bases, planets, and star systems in the Mass Effect universe right? Meanwhile, the people who want missions from High Command can get them while following a proto-typical MMO/ME storyline.

It does occur to me that, in many ways, SWTOR has already laid claim to this particular niche. Voice acting, the dialog wheel, everyone having their own spaceship, and so on. But I believe, in retrospect, that Mass Effect Online would have been a much better fit; with SWTOR, too many mechanics were shoehorned into the MMO mold. The odds of Bioware eating up their own market-share with such a thematically similar product is basically zero, of course.

Something is going to happen with the franchise, though, and I can’t wait to see what that is.

P.S. Apparently Massively beat me to the punch by a day.

P.P.S. Then there is this.

¹ My entire opposition to MMOs up to that point had been “I refuse to keep paying for a game I already bought.” That $60 lasted me about 3 hours in Magic Online, but would have been four months in WoW.

² Shh… it could happen.

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Posted on March 16, 2012, in MMO and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. As long as the MMO is all PvE then you might be right. But PvP would not work at all because of balance. Another reason why MP works so well is because you can be almost any class and most races as long as you unlocked them by winning the right card. And of course the bronze, silver gold matches offer three different difficulty levels.

    Balance has always been a major issue in MMO’s even for PvE. ME’s MP get around this but I’m not sure how a MMO could. And then as mentioned a standard MMO has you pick one class and kinda stick with it. The MP for ME gives you freedom to do what you want.

  2. I like the ideas a lot; rumor has it we’ll see Batarians, Protheans and Geth added to the multiplayer soon as playable factions. They could also add the mercenary factions from the previous games as allies or opponents (or customization options). I just wish the Geth enemy faction was a little more exciting, with only 5 types they feel too easy and too bland. In 1 they could summon their own cover, had snipers, walker-tanks and their crazy froggy-gecko geth.

    However I am also starting to think that the MMO is where a franchise goes to die (really really worried about the Elder Scrolls MMO)….but if it was more of the MP I suppose it could work.

    For the system as is, since it costs no real money, I don’t mind the “Booster” system the multiplayer uses, it’s new, and keeps people playing, but it also means that even though there are some “best” guns, because they are rare you see all sorts of guns in MP and I like that. I always find it “immersion breaking” that even if there are a dozen guns you only ever see a handful.

    • I agree that MMOs is where franchises go to die. In fact, the whole Kingdoms of Amalur deal really demonstrates the intentions behind MMO IP creation: use a single-player game to establish lore/setting, drum up interest and a fanbase, to set the stage for an MMO later.

      However, can you see another Mass Effect single-player game/trilogy happening? “Sequels” in Elder Scrolls and Fallout work, but I’m wondering if too much of Mass Effect is based on the strength of Shepard’s character. ME4 staring Garrus or Liara would feel… ehh, maybe it could work. If they introduced completely new characters, I think the expectations from the community might be a bit too insurmountable.