Editor’s note: Ryan Smith is a longtime gamer and freelance writer who lives in Raleigh, NC. A graduate of East Carolina University with a degree in business and marketing, he has written in the past for WRAL Tech Wire and GameArgus.com. He currently plays Xbox 360 and PC as well as Nintendo DS. For story ideas, tips and feedback, he can be reached via e-mail (ryannicksmith@gmail.com)

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – There have been rumors circulating over the last week about Mass Effect 3 having added multiplayer functionality, despite the fact that Mass Effect is one of the premier single player franchises of the current gaming generation.

Well over the past few days it has not only been confirmed to have multiplayer, but a lot of the details have now been released.

The conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy, which is due out next March, will take place, at least somewhat, on Earth, as the galaxy plunges into all-out war as the nemesis of the series: the Reapers, finally arrive en masse. First seen in the masterpiece of a single player RPG (role playing game) that was Mass Effect, the Reapers were behind the entire plot of the villain of the first game, who was merely their puppet. Reapers are massive sentient mechanical organisms that are both spaceships and bodies. They are unimaginably large, intelligent and ruthless, their sole purpose being to wipe out and consume all life in the galaxy.

Mass Effect 2, while to me not as good as the first, was more critically praised than the first and was certainly even more story driven. Over the course of the 40+ hour single player campaign, Shepard (the main character of the series) is tasked with uncovering the plot of an unknown organization/alien species to abduct human colonists. Entire colonies at a time in fact are being wiped out.

It’s a highly dramatic and immersive storyline in both Mass Effect titles and not only is it amazing storyline and gameplay, it’s single player only. You don’t need your immersion shattered by teaming up with Gamertags (Xbox360 Usernames) like “skat3b0ard3rpr0” or “callofdutyrox” to take down the Reapers. You do it as Shepard, the first human Spectre, the elite agents of the Citadel Council, the galactic ruling body, who serve in many cases as judge jury and executioner.

In Mass Effect you are basically Space James Bond (or Jane Bond?), but you do have a team of highly motivated, well trained NPCs (non-playable characters) who accompany you two at a time. The NPCs are just as important to the storyline’s progression in Mass Effect as you are as the main character, you need their help and you have to earn their trust. In Mass Effect 2, you will literally fail the mission and die a horrible death if you do not gain the complete loyalty of most, if not all of your team. This is one of the main reasons Mass Effect and other classic Bioware games are so amazing – the NPCs are some of the most memorable and entertaining game characters around.

So with such a novel storyline and an unforgettable cast of characters, you feel like a part of the story, why spoil that with tasteless multiplayer?

Watch the trailer for the story here.

Well, Bioware with Mass Effect 3 plans to build on their “galaxy at war” concept with the third title, since the entire Mass Effect universe is at war with these Reapers. To do that, they have added their “horde style” (ala Gears of War) multiplayer mode, where you will take on the role of a front line fighter in the combat. From the released details so far you can pick between most of the race/class combinations of the Mass Effect universe to team up in squads of four, under the command of Admiral Hackett (voiced by sci-fi legend Lance Henriksen). The gameplay of the multiplayer will consist of increasingly difficult waves of enemies, with random objectives thrown in the mix (such as defending other NPCs, finding an item, etc.

The interesting part of the multiplayer is that it is integrated into the single player campaign, but also entirely optional. The more you level up (each multiplayer class levels up independently) the more “war assets” you will receive towards the end of the single player campaign, which will allow you to call on your alien and human allies for reinforcements and supplies to combat the Reapers. Now if this was the method of gaining these war assets, it would make multiplayer so utterly contrived that I would be shocked and appalled. However it isn’t the only way to gain these assets. You can also gain them by doing side quests in the single player game. As an RPG completionist, I try to gain every item and complete every quest before I finish, so this shouldn’t prove a problem for me.

This multiplayer mode could work in the game’s favor, the gameplay could be stellar, the class/race combinations unique enough, the replayability high. But will it feel organic? Will it feel like it belongs in the previously single player series? No way to be sure until we can try it for ourselves.

More annoyingly however, they are also incorporating the “galaxy at war” into social media and mobile devices via “a suite of Mass Effect games and applications.” Taking on the role of a more “normal” soldier in the fight against the reapers alongside other players could be fun and could certainly work to the game’s advantage, but waging war against the reapers on Facebook and little mobile apps just seems counterproductive to the immersion.

I trust Bioware. If they really feel that Mass Effect needs multiplayer, fine. But is it publisher EA’s decision or theirs?

Furthermore, if the next Elder Scrolls game has “deathmatch” I quit. Well probably not, but I will complain even harder.

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