If Xbox Live has done anything since I started using the service almost a decade ago, it’s completely shaken my faith in the decency of humankind. Children with mouths so foul that it would (hopefully) put their entire collective family tree to shame and twentysomethings spewing racist and homophobic slurs coarser than getting run through repeatedly with a freshly purchased cheese grater have become par for the course amidst most online services. As disheartening as it is, a majority of titles ship packaged with a multiplayer component and the expectation, at least as far as Online Passes are concerned, is that it’ll be negotiated. Yet, more often than not, the population of a multiplayer game for a multitude of reasons chases those who just want to play back to single-player with their tails between their legs.
Sad, but true, it seems like one of the few constants about any online community. For every one or two games that are played with a seemingly normal bunch of human beings, there is one outlier amongst the pool of gamers that things it’s funny to embody the laughing trickster god of trolling for a handful of rounds. Screaming or singing into the microphone, unleashing a torrent of swears amidst verbal sugar and spice of what exactly they’ve done to my mother as of late or any number of comments calling my race or sexual preference into question, it drove a massive divide between me and my Xbox Live Gold Account.
I stopped playing anything multiplayer out of the sheer frustration of dealing with morons and trolls on a service I pay for out of hatred that knowing whatever free time I was afforded to spend in a game would be wasted dealing with someone who aimed to get their jollies from screwing around or generally making the entirety of the experience miserable. Playing online became a chore and it forced me to seek out titles that has superior single-player. I ignored multiplayer not out of malice, but defeat.
So, when Bioware forced me to return to the table thanks to Galaxy at War, a cooperative multiplayer component that many attest affects the outcome of the story in Mass Effect 3, I was a bit disheartened. After all, playing a game by myself offers me a degree of control and peace of mind that multiplayer certainly hasn’t in recent memory. For every great solo playthrough of Dead Space, Bioshock or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there has been an inversely terrible time enduring online matches of Call of Duty, Gears of War or Halo: Reach. Except the last several round of Mass Effect 3 were anything but what I would have expected from an online environment.
Ideally, I’d like to attribute it to the fact that Galaxy at War leans significantly more towards cooperative than competitive, which still implementing mechanics that drive the four-players working together to stand out for their skills in one way or another. While kills, be it with a certain weapons, melee ability or amount of headshots have their own medals and additional point values on top of whatever is already acquired in a particular match. I was pleased to see medals and appreciation for those who scored assists – those who score a few hits on an enemy without landing a killing blow. Ultimately though, I fought myself enthused by the people I found defending the universe against the onslaught of the Geth, Reapers or Cerberus.
Logging into my Xbox Live account and haplessly selecting Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer with a bit of apprehension, I opted to start a Human sentinel character, given that’s the class my particular Commander Shepard falls in. Arming myself and selecting a pick-up game, I was randomly dropped into a damaged, yet sterile white base that was being defended from Cerberus by another Human, a Turian and a Quarian. And despite being bogged down a few times by waves of riot shield-wielding Guardians, smokescreen-deploying Centurions and hulking Atlas Mechs, we survived all ten, accomplishing retrieval and King of the Hill-style objectives along the way. When a shuttle began making its way towards the surface of the planet, it was surviving waves of enemies until we were able to be extracted.
That match kicked off about 10 hours of some of the best multiplayer I was able to enjoy in an extremely long time. While the voices, Gamer tags and races changed with a constantly fluidic pace, the attitudes remained the same amongst roughly every player I encountered. Covering each other as they moved through levels towards objectives, concentrating fire on the larger enemies and resuscitating downed allies proved to be at the top of everyone’s best interests as the matches progressed.
Granted, every so often, there’d be a player encountered who would run off on their own seeking either glory or simply wanting to garner as many kills as possible for themselves – however, when they’d been rendered incapacitated by the enemy enough, they’d simply log out of the game or start to stick with the rest of the team. Additionally, trolls seeking to sing, scream or share the latest racist or homophobic slur seemed to be non-existent. Not once did I hear someone speak in a way that wasn’t friendly or team-oriented.
Perhaps I got lucky initially and that thought lingered in my mind when calling it quits for the night before making my way to the local Red Robin for a late night burger. Nevertheless, when picking up again to hopefully prove the streak of congeniality I had experienced the previous evening to be nothing more than a fluke, I couldn’t believe how disappointed I was. The same consistently cooperative behavior, in both gameplay and language proved to be the cornerstone of what I took away from my20 hour marathon or so of Galaxy at War.
Yes, the gameplay proved to be solid, offering an experience similar to what I’d come to expect from playing Mass Effect 3, let alone the entire series, alone. Strikingly, the GaW components of multiplayer deliver a frontline combat experience without the terrifying toll trolls and jerks online services, especially in the case of Xbox Live, have become synonymous with. So, while it was like showing up for a party with promises of great parlor games, I ended up staying for the company.
Certainly enough, any game is just the software that ships in the box or downloaded via the internet and typically, many players will find something therein that will surely leave them satisfied. But it’s the social interaction that multiple players bring to the table – be it online or split-screen – that have always served to lend an appreciable staying power to any game that utilizes it in a laudable way. In the case of Mass Effect 3 and Galaxy at War, not only did Bioware pull this off – especially for a game that has traditionally been a solitary ecosystem – but they accomplished bringing together fans in team-based way that uses competitive elements allowing it to seemingly flourish.
Yet more than creating an aspect of a game that I happen to have developed a strong desire to continue playing and exploring, but it’s reaffirmed my faith in multiplayer. Doubtlessly, there will always be players who are all too thrilled to go way out of their way to ruin a game for others – it’s just nature at work and part of the human experience. But the fact that Bioware has seemingly created mechanics fashioned in such a way that it has been reduced to nigh non-existence continuously stays with me as an impressive accomplishment.