Life, The Universe, And Gaming — Doing Bolt-On Multiplayer Right
If you’ve been on the internet for any spell of time that surpasses zero, which you obviously have if you found your way to this page, and good on you for doing so, then you will no doubt have been bombarded by the various “Types of Gamers” arguments to be found online, which classify such types as the hardcore, the casual, the mainstream and so on. Of the various types around, I like to call myself a ‘play ALL the things’ type of gamer, an affectionate term I’ve totally just come up with that details my approach to gaming which I’m sure is shared by tens if not twenties of other gamers in the world, who will viciously attempt to play each and every game in existence, not so much because they want to or are able to but because they simply have to, or their worlds will seem colourless, devoid of any real meaning which obviously does not include human interaction.
The point is that I am the type of person who tries to play as many games as possible, which always leads to an interesting conundrum as year-end approaches, when I attempt to strategise on how exactly I will play each and every game in that ever-growing release window, without entirely sacrificing the shadow of a life I currently have (spoiler alert: I don’t really have a life) and without having to spend an arm and a leg in order to do so. Even more of an achievement considering I only ever paid full price for a single game (Dragon Age 2, of course) on console, isn’t it? To this extent, I typically have a backlog that gets games added to and removed from as time goes by, but you can rest assured that every now and then I get more games going into that backlog, than are being removed.
It’s usually for this reason that I steer far clear of multiplayer offerings, something that previously killed my ‘play ALL the things’ vibe when I suffered many years of what can only be called DotA addiction (nine months clean, this Thor’s Day). Apart from that I try as far as possible to not spend too much time playing games like Gears of War 3 online, where I know I can get addicted to it and then lose valuable time that could be spent getting through my backlog. Sure you get a singleplayer game like Skyrim every now and then, which must be played continuously for weeks in order to be fully experienced if at all but in those cases I feel as if I’m still experiencing the game, as opposed to multiplayer offerings where I realise that I’m just repeating a routine. More on this in a bit. Singleplayer offerings can be consumed, continued until completed and then confined to my gaming shrine or sold with the intention of acquiring other games on my ‘to-play’ list (you all have one, admit it).
However in recent years, and this is especially true of Electronic Arts and their titles, developers have been adding multiplayer into everything and its mother. From Dead Space to Crysis to Assassin’s Creed to Splinter Cell to Max Payne, you name it, a developer has considered multiplayer for it.
Multiplayer in this case is not just about PvP (player versus player) and PvE (player versus environment) competitive modes, but also co-operative. Upcoming games such as Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 are going to feature entirely co-operative stories that can be experienced with a friend if you really want to. Why horror games ask you to share an experience is a topic for another day.
The real gem of the lot though — and you guys know I was coming to this right? — is Mass Effect 3.
It’s been just over three months since Mass Effect 3′s release and their multiplayer servers are still experiencing regular gaming traffic, mostly thanks to outstanding and continued support from developer BioWare. I myself just played in this weekend’s Operation: Savage multiplayer event, although at the time of writing was unable to complete the event’s squad objective. I blame Marko. A friend of the site known to most as Domzor recently acquired the game after many months of indifference and these were his words in a local forum post, upon completion of his first real multiplayer session:
Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer is the most addictive “horde mode” style co-op I’ve played. Ever. I now understand why Cavie always wants to play it.
Yes I really had to quote that. But apart from my shameless ways, the point is there; someone who was previously entirely indifferent to the multiplayer mode gave it a go and was hooked immediately. And it’s telling that there are people who were playing multiplayer from day one, still playing it today. Sure some got tired of it and moved on, but those people obviously have A.D.D. and probably require help when going to the toilet in case their colons fall out of their massive sphincters… right? Wait, where were we?
Multiplayer of any kind can work, as long as the developers give it the right kind of attention. Knowing their players is the first step towards making a great multiplayer experience. The next would be knowing the game world and understanding what works and what doesn’t. If a co-operative mode works then that’s great. If the game is more suited to PvE gameplay a la Horde mode, then rather focus on that. If the game works well for competitive PvP, then focus on that instead. Or a combination of the above.
As an example, Crysis 2 may be a mediocre singleplayer offering in the eyes of some, but nobody can fault the multiplayer for offering really fun, exciting PvP combat with nanosuits. On the other side of the coin, ask anyone who’s played Dead Space 2′s multiplayer how long they kept playing it. Further, you get some really weird examples where a game’s primary focus is multiplayer but it’s actually got a better singleplayer. We won’t go there today.
Unfortunately many of these games initially show multiplayer that for all intents and purposes seems tacked on. Sure sometimes that’s exactly what it is, I know a lot of people said exactly that of BioShock 2′s multiplayer, but every now and then a developer puts real effort into a multiplayer that doesn’t even need to be there. Think of Call of Duty: World at War, if you’ve played it. What’s the instant thought that pops into your head apart from sniper games with Reznov? That’s right, Nazi zombies! That particular offering came out of nowhere and shocked the world with how addictive and fun it was.
As anyone who’s played multiplayer before knows, unlike singleplayer where an experience is about discovery, multiplayer offerings come with standard maps that allow players to familiarise themselves quickly with their surroundings to the point that playing on a certain map becomes a routine. The variation then comes in with the way the multiplayer is carried out and how players go about actually playing. It’s why you could spend thousands of hours playing DotA, Counter-Strike or Gears of War and think nothing of it, yet the mere thought of doing such a thing in Skyrim seems an incredible feat even though Skyrim is infinitely larger and more diverse than DotA, Counter-Strike or Gears of War maps. Repetition is a part of the multiplayer experience, yet it doesn’t get old.
This then is why I stay away from multiplayer offerings; they offer routine in the form of repetition which is so addictive that an entire week of nights goes by where all you’ve done is the same thing over and over again with friends. Yet why can I not stay away from Mass Effect 3? Or indeed Gears of War 3. Thankfully not Dota 2; that would eat my life up if I allowed it to.
One of the reasons I focus on Mass Effect 3 is because it presents probably the most compelling argument in favour of bolt-on multiplayer in games that didn’t really need in it in the first place. Indeed many who bagged on me for my “fanboy review” of Mass Effect 3 a few months ago are still playing the game online, some of them each and every day. You know who you are, you hypocrites. There are people who play Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer that haven’t even touched the story. A game that was previously a primarily narrative-driven singleplayer offering, and you’ve not even gone into that part of the game?! How in fuck’s name? Cue the “Well at least they avoided the ending” quips.
I have a backlog to get through, yet the second I hear: “Hey guys, let’s play Mass Effect 3,” I’ve already got one hand on the game’s box and the other on my Xbox 360, opening up the tray to switch discs. Multiplayer games have that effect. There are no new Achievements to be unlocked, I will spend hours playing through more or less the same thing over and over again and by the time I’m done I’ll have wasted an entire evening of precious time I could have used to get through my backlog. Yet why does it still excite me more? And before you fuckers start with your fanboy shit, trust me the same applies to such games as Gears of War 3 and Guitar Hero / Rock Band, both which have offered multiplayer from the start. The difference however, is that Mass Effect 3 is not a multiplayer game. You need not ever touch the multiplayer component and you’ll have played the game for your money’s worth; which cannot be said of the other titles in this paragraph. Yet still the multiplayer is addictive and enjoyable.
Mass Effect 3 does bolt-on multiplayer right.
Other primarily singleplayer developers really need to step up their game, no pun intended, and take note of how it’s done.