After what seemed like a year of rumours, BioWare finally confirmed Mass Effect 3's online multiplayer mode last month.
'Galaxy at War' let's fans group up and fight off waves of enemies and increasingly difficult objectives, Horde style - but it also offers the chance to shape the main single-player story.
To explain how it all works, Xbox World sat down with Mass Effect 3's creative director Casey Hudson, who spoke out on multiplayer narratives, a Mass Effect MMO and Bethesda.
Can you talk us through the rationale of bringing something like multiplayer to the Mass Effect universe? Did the idea spring from way back, or is it a relatively new addition to the universe?
Well, to us it was always a fun, intriguing idea to partake in the Mass Effect universe with friends, to look around, kind of see it from inside with others rather than just taking part in this solo experience. In general, that's the direction that videogames are heading; they're more social, more online, and we've been trying to find a way ever since Mass Effect 1 to integrate some kind of multiplayer.
In those early days we were trying to figure out what kind of a game it was going to be, and were thinking of ways that maybe the whole story experience might revolve around a co-op (structure). That, instead of there being just one Commander Shepard, he's in fact kind of lots of different heroes that can jump in, meet each other and interact. And by embarking upon that route we realised there was just a lot of things we simply couldn't do, or had to compromise when ensuring the solo experience was as great as we wanted it to be, so we dropped that idea and proceeded to perfect single-player, to make it really solid.
Then, with ME2 we revisited the idea, deliberating whether you could perhaps take control of one of the other characters for a while, but - again - there were a lot of factors that would have compromised the single-player story. So the difference really was that, with ME3, we adopted a fundamentally different approach to what the thing is about, which is that there is a whole intergalactic war going on, which wasn't the case in the previous entries. So Shepard is still the hero, making the big decisions, deciding what's going to happen with the universe and building alliances, but now there's armies all over the place, fighting to just hang onto different locations. That provided us with a different idea; now in multiplayer you can play as that crew of special forces, journeying around and helping Shepard with the war effort.
The idea of a 'Galaxy at War' seems to point towards an MMO-like structure, though...
On a personal level, I think I would like to play a Mass Effect MMO. I would love to just be in a lot of these locations. I would like to live in the Citadel, and walk around and do neat stuff, get caught up in adventures, and I think that's a lot of the feedback that we have from our fans; they want more adventures in their DLC, they want to make sure that your squad members are there, and have interactions with you, because it points to an interest in just living in the world versus being under pressure to finish the story which is another type of experience. Sure, it's a great experience, but I think when you build a universe - versus a one-off story - then I think people want to live in it.
ME3's multiplayer seems quite innovative, rather than the usual Deathmatch, CTF-style experiences. Might you be willing to add those more traditional modes via DLC down the line?
Anything's possible, and we'll see how people react, what they say they want. The issue with PvP stuff, though, is that it really has the least to do with what would make sense about world building, which is what Mass Effect 3 is really about. So it would be the most trivial, tacked on thing that we could do.
What we wanted to do, first and foremost, is ensure we didn't compromise the size and quality of the single-player experience; that when you're in the multiplayer world you feel as if you're residing in the same universe, in the same story, as Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect's overarching narrative was well in place a long time ago, and you knew what you were working towards, but the way you've skilfully forged a decent shooter along the way... has that surprised you?
I think it's just evolution, in trying to understand how people play our games. I don't think there is any way we would have been able to predict where exactly we were going to take things, the changes we'd make, but I know for sure that we would have predicted that as each Mass Effect instalment came out we would look at feedback, analyse how people were playing it, looking at what the latest technology was going to let us do, then build our next series entry out of that.
What do you think Bethesda does better than Bioware, and vice versa? Are you pals, or is it more than just a friendly rivalry?
We are definitely friendly with those guys, and it shows - we have a huge amount of respect. They have this great, very open world - a toy box - which we love. We really look forward to new Bethesda games, but our personal focus tends to surround core narrative experiences. By that I mean really shaping the experience like a blockbuster movie, really making it yours; that you're personally influencing the story. I think both approaches are equally valid.