Mass Effect 3's co-op multiplayer component, revealed only yesterday, has not impacted work on the single player campaign, BioWare has insisted in response to fan anxieties. Crafted by a separate team at BioWare Montreal, and equipped with unique character and progression options, the new mode gives players another way of affecting the story's outcome, but remains entirely optional.
You'll still be able to get the best ending without setting a foot on Xbox Live, in other words, though you may find the struggle against the Reapers a little easier if you do. Mass Effect 3 features a Galactic Readiness mechanic, signalling how ripe the universe is for that final battle: key plot decisions drive it up or down, but you can also fatten the gauge by joining the fight online.
The co-op mode is titled Galaxy at War. According to BioWare's Chris Priestly, posting on the studio's community forums: "Being able to explore and fight alongside your friends in the Mass Effect universe has always been something we thought would be fun and compelling, and many players have asked for it for a long time as well. Mass Effect 3 is the best place for us to introduce multiplayer through co-op because of the premise of the game - all out galactic war."
Galaxy at War was hotly rumoured over the summer. A CVG source ascribed the move to EA's desire for "mainstream penetration", noting that the publisher is "keen to push the multiplayer side of the game to help spread word of mouth - so it's not just going to rehash stuff from the campaign. It's going all out."
The co-op mode sees players "liberating key territories from enemy control", a design twist that puts us in mind of MMOs. You'll create a unique character, choosing from Turians, Krogans, Asari and other races, and level that character up using a full progression system. Weapon upgrades are also on the cards.
Priestly shed a bit more light on resource division between each aspect of the game. "BioWare is dedicated and focused on delivering an engaging, fun, and action-packed experience for Mass Effect 3, one that lives up the BioWare standard. To reach that level of quality, last year BioWare opened a studio in Montreal that is home to designers, programmers, engineers, and other developers.
"Both studios work together as partners, lead by the core Mass Effect team, unified in a single vision. Under the direction of Casey Hudson and other team veterans, both studios make contributions to both the single player and multiplayer modes in Mass Effect 3. Rest assured that no compromises were made to either of these modes in the development of Mass Effect 3."
While BioWare's not talking specifics right now, Priestly suggested that the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 might get different versions of Galaxy at War. "We are not going into details about the other components of the Galaxy at War at this time except to say we are designing each to make sense for that platform. Each component will be able to affect a player's 'Galactic Readiness' level in a different way. Again, participation in any or all ME3:GaW elements is entirely optional."
Still worried that BioWare's abrupt multiplayer leanings will come at the expense of your offline enjoyment? Mass Effect 3 releases on 6th March 2012.