Does Mass Effect 3 Really Need Multiplayer?
Unnecessary. Tacked on. Against the spirit of the game. When BioWare announced that Mass Effect 3 would have cooperative multiplayer, franchise fans didn’t soft-pedal their criticism. They saw their beloved space opera RPG joining a long line of successful games whose sequels were marred by obligatory, unwanted multiplayer modes. In vain, they second-guessed the developers, wondering why Mass Effect even needed multiplayer.
When asked about multiplayer in Skyrim, Bethesda marketing VP Peter Hines raised the crucial question: “If you’re doing multiplayer, why are you doing multiplayer? What are you trying to accomplish?” Most gamers would agree with Hines’ verdict: “If that’s a singleplayer game that’s 15 to 20 hours, then make that! Don’t waste your time on features that don’t make the game better.”
So why do game developers and publishers add multiplayer modes to successful singleplayer games? Their track record is, at best, mixed. Bioshock 2, in many ways the originator of the trend, is widely regarded as a failure, and its multiplayer was singled out for particular criticism. Assassin’s Creed, on the other hand, was widely praised for the unique gameplay provided in Brotherhood. Multiplayer in games such as Dead Space 2 falls somewhere in the mediocre middle.
The answer is three-fold. First of all, more than any other entertainment medium, video games are obsessed with the new. This drive towards innovation has enabled them to attain heights of cultural saturation and technological achievement that the first generation of game designers would have thought impossible. The rapid, geometric improvement of gaming hardware and software has kept developers hungry for the cutting edge, eager to provide their customers with the most impressive graphics and the most sophisticated AI. After all, that’s what made video games so popular in the first place, so why stop now? Game and game designers have made millions by finding creative ways to turn modern technology into entertainment, pressing ever forward, from eight bits to sixteen to sixty-four. It’s not something that they can just turn off like a tap.
Nothing is more modern than multiplayer. It has been transformed, in what seems like a few short years, from finicky LAN connections into a streamlined, user-friendly, automated experience. Xbox LIVE, PSN, Steam, Origin, MMORPG servers connecting millions of players — all ubiquitous. A game without online multiplayer, viewed in a certain way, is like a relic from a bygone age. If multiplayer gameplay is available and easy to implement, why not use it? If designers are looking for a way to make a game sequel seem new, fresh, and up-to-the-minute, what better way to achieve that goal than by groundbreaking new tech? Nothing exemplifies this phenomenon better than BioWare’s much-derided decision to add Kinect controls to Mass Effect 3.