Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer component got a major update today. It added a new enemy faction (the Collectors), new units to the Cerberus and Geth factions, a host of new playable character classes, some map updates, new weapons and items, and a new progress tracker. Here’s the rundown of all the updates, plus a few thoughts:

Let’s start with the biggest addition: the Collectors. I like that BioWare is trying to add as much diversity as possible. Mass Effect 3 is their big finale to a very risky but successful trilogy. Even though the multiplayer bit is very separate from the single player campaign, people playing their game is a good thing for BioWare. It actually got me thinking what other factions they could/might eventually add. I had trouble coming up with much, though. I guess I could see a mercenary group like the Blood Pack, but seeing as you can recruit them to your side in the single player game, that might be weird for some players. Though I guess you can recruit the Geth as well. Oh well. They’re a much more established enemy.

As for the collectors themselves, they play somewhere in between Cerberus and the Reapers. It’s nice to have another set of enemies to keep everything fresher, but this is probably the weakest faction of the bunch (in terms of imagination, not how easy they are to best). Although the Collectors have Abominations (really just a Reaper Husk with red lights instead of blue ones), their base soldier is more like the standard Cerberus or Geth trooper than the Reaper Cannibals. They also have Captains, who are basically Cerberus Centurions with a barrier instead of a shield, Scions, a slow but long ranged armored unit (think Geth Prime, though not as strong as a Prime), and Praetorians, giant floating crab looking things which are their top-tiered unit. In addition, the Collectors have Seeker Swarms, which are weak but small and fast units that cause minor damage and keep you from using powers temporarily, and their units can randomly be imbibed with added strength (remember “Assuming direct control!” from Mass Effect 2? It’s like that, except the unit doesn’t become as strong).

The Collectors are different enough to be a worthwhile change of pace, although the Seeker Swarm and Praetorian are the only units that really set the Collectors apart.

Cerberus and the Geth both got single new units as well. Sorry Reapers, you’ve got enough. For Cerberus, they gain the Dragoon, an armored soldier similar in strength to a Centurion who has an average ranged weapon and a fairly long distance melee attack in which he uses electrified whips. I think the armor is meant to diversify the Cerberus troops a bit, and the new unit falls somewhere in between the existing Assault Trooper and Phantom. The Geth, on the other hand, get the Bomber, a small speedy drone that tries to drop grenades on your head. This might be the most interesting of all the new units. The Geth heavy hitters (Pyro, Prime, Hunter) are all slow moving, and even the rocket trooper you generally do best to engage at a distance. Especially on larger maps, fighting the Geth is an exercise in cover based combat. That’s not a bad thing, but the Bomber really makes you move. It’s fast and well protected enough to get on top of you if you’re not paying attention, and if it does you’ve got to move. It changes the dynamics of fighting the geth, to some extent.

Perhaps part of this DLC I’m most excited about, however, is the vast expansion of playable characters, including several classes of Volus. That’s right, folks, you will now be able to play as the perpetually asthmatic, bowling ball shaped aliens. I, for one, cannot wait, and I dearly hope their dodge animation consists of rolling on their bellies. All fun aside (though I am serious – I want to play as a Volus), Retaliation about doubles the number of playable characters. In addition to the Volus we get a couple Batarian classes, even a Vorcha class, and the extension of old standbys like the Turians and Asari into new classes. Heck, we even get duplicates in a couple places, with different types of the same alien race in the same character class, the difference being the powers they are given. All of these classes must be unlocked through the store, of course, so I haven’t had a chance to play as any of them yet, but looking through them there seem to be a number of new powers, and I’m excited to try them out.

In terms of maps, there are no completely new maps, but several have been updated. There are now new versions of Firebases Daggar and Reactor in addition to their old versions that include environmental hazards. That scary looking reactor in the middle of Firebase Reactor? It can actually fry you now, though I’m still a little unsure how the mechanics work to set it off. As for Dagger, it’s changes are more cosmetic, with a massive dust storm that makes it impossible to see across the entire map anymore. As far as I can tell it doesn’t actually affect your character, but it does give the map a haunting tone and makes it play a bit differently. There have been a couple minor changes made to existing maps as well. The most drastic I found was on Firebase White, where there are three new corridors. This actually makes the map a lot better. It’s more open, and while enemies can come from more directions now you’re also unlikely to get stuck in a corner, as was very possible before. It makes it more difficult to force your enemies to spawn in very predictable and clumped locations, making the map slightly more difficult, but a lot more fun to play.

I haven’t had a chance to dig into any new weapons or items yet. I know there are several new ones, and I played with a couple of people who had unlocked, for example, a Collector assault rifle, but I can’t say much to their quality on my own (nonexistent) experience. I’ll try to update this once I have a better understanding.

Which brings us to the final addition: Challenges. Basically, these are online achievements. Most of them are for things you’re going to do anyways, like finish each level so many times or use a certain biotic power a lot. A few of them, though, are trickier, like complete a mission solo, and will actually give players a challenge. Completing a challenge gives you challenge points, although it’s unclear what these gain you right now. Hopefully it translates to more items in the store, maybe permanent armor or ammo upgrades. We’ll just have to see.

A final note on the DLC – it seems to have done something funky to the menus. I’m sure BioWare will patch it soon, but for the moment it looks like everything lost a graphical layer or two. It’s harder to see what’s selected, there’s no icon showing who has pushed “Ready” for a mission, and everything seems sparser. Like I say, probably a minor bug that will be fixed in no time, but worth noting.

On the whole, this is a great DLC pack, not the least because it’s FREE! I would have liked to see a new map or two, but updates to the existing ones will do for now and I’m thrilled about all the new playable characters. The Collectors will provide a good diversion, and I’m hoping the challenges will end up being something more than a laundry list for OCD completionist gamers, of which we already know there are too many.

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