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Mass Effect 3 Requires Online Pass for Co-Op Mode, “Galaxy at War” System

Mass Effect 3 will need an Online Pass to engage in total galactic warfare.

Electronic Arts confirmed the game’s Online Pass requirement for its multiplayer mode yesterday. In Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, up to four players can join together for cooperative mode missions entirely separate from the single-player campaign. The co-op is part of a system called “Galaxy at War.” Players need to redeem the Online Pass to have access to this feature.

The Online Pass will be included in all new copies of Mass Effect 3. For those that don’t buy the game new, the Online Pass has typically cost $9.99 on the PlayStation Network Store and 800 Microsoft Points on the Xbox Live Marketplace. The pass in Mass Effect 3 will be locked to the user account, similar to Mass Effect 2’s “Cerberus Network” code. This means that multiple users on the same system have to buy their own Online Pass to join the Galaxy at War and play co-op.

BioWare, Mass Effect 3’s developer, revealed the controversial multiplayer Tuesday. Galaxy at War is similar to the Cerberus Network from 2010’s Mass Effect 2, the game’s central area for new content and community updates. The system will also be available for players through games and applications on Facebook and Apple iOS devices. Furthermore Galaxy at War connects players to their BioWare Social Network account for game add-ons like downloadable content. Additional details of the extensiveness of Galaxy at War haven’t been revealed by BioWare.

Even though BioWare stated the multiplayer is completely optional, the co-op mode is directly tied to the single-player campaign. Casey Hudson, executive producer of the Mass Effect franchise, said, “Because it’s been an integrated design effort, we’ve created something that’s a cohesive experience between the multiplayer and single-player aspects of Mass Effect 3.” Players may need to use the online mode to get the best ending in the single-player campaign.

By playing Mass Effect 3, a player’s “Galactic Readiness” level increases, which will determine the game’s ending once the campaign is finished. While BioWare has stated the best ending can be achieved without playing multiplayer, the co-op mode helps reach the requirement at a faster rate. “War Assets” can be earned through the multiplayer which contribute to the Galactic Readiness level.

The multiplayer features six different character races and classes along with different sets of weapons to choose from. Story figures like Commander Shepard or Garrus aren’t playable but instead the multiplayer will use customized characters exclusive to the online section. It’s being developed by BioWare Montreal, a separate studio from BioWare Edmonton who is developing the campaign.

EA began the Online Pass system in 2010 and the practice has spread to several other publishers and many game releases. EA revealed a few months ago it has made $10-15 million from Online Pass sales. The goal of the Online Pass is to force players to buy new copies of games instead of used.

An online voucher code isn’t something new to the Mass Effect series. Mass Effect 2 on the Xbox 360 had the Cerberus Network code included with all new copies of the game. It cost 800 MS Points otherwise. The Network initially gave players access to the side character Zaeed Massani and bonus weapons. It evolved into the game’s hub for downloadable content.

Mass Effect 2 on the PlayStation 3 has an even more restrictive online pass. Previously an Xbox 360 exclusive, when Mass Effect 2 released for Sony’s console in January it made players redeem the “Cerberus Pack” code included with the game before starting the campaign. The code included an interactive comic where players could make storyline decisions from the original Mass Effect, which was never released for the PS3. These choices were integral to the campaign experience of the sequel. The player was given all the negative outcomes from the first game if they didn’t have the online pass. The Cerberus Pack costs $14.99 on the PSN Store.

For months BioWare has avoided confirming if Mass Effect 3 would include online multiplayer, something that the game was strongly rumored to have. Many Mass Effect fans on the BioWare forums are worried the attention to multiplayer will negatively impact the quality of the campaign. Some feel it’s a tacked on and unnecessary mode because Mass Effect has always been a single-player experience.

Chris Priestly, senior community coordinator for BioWare, tried to calm these concerns and said:

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.

Mass Effect 3 is scheduled to release March 6, 2012. It’s the first game in the franchise to simultaneously launch for the PS3 and Xbox 360. The standard edition will retail for $59.99.

Watch Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer reveal from BioWare:

Photo by Electronic Arts

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