Describing Bioware's online revelation as a "really great way for missions to shake hands with single-player story," Hudson then delivers a surprise: we're not going to be playing as Shepard. Instead, we'll "follow in the footsteps" of our custom-made hero or heroine, "capturing regions of strategic import to turn the tide of the war."
The way it works is this: playing as Shepard in single-player, you'll liberate a variety of facilities during your quest. Once you depart you'll turn to Admiral Steven Hackett and his Special Forces - i.e. you. You'll then work to secure and fortify the installations to assist the war effort in multiplayer. It's simpler than it sounds.
Described by Bioware as missions with 'procedural narrative', each map - lifted directly from an environment within the single-player adventure - is framed by eleven 'waves'. You'll see your squad of four players (yep, the co-op rumours were true) dropped in via a cinematic.
Early waves will see you repulse enemies - imagine a variant on Horde or Firefight and you're almost there. After you're hunkered down, the game will throw a variety of objectives - a range of 'annex' and 'disarm' archetypes - at your team to keep things fresh and add narrative oomph to proceedings.
These might include having to disarm a number of explosive devices (teammates protect the disarmer while a bar ticks down) or upload data (locate the correct terminal, then protect the zone). There are more in the offing but it's still relatively early.
Even given the simple narrative, multiplayer obviously has a massive shooter slant, though it's gratifying to see the team has at least tried to tie this new addition directly to Shepard's adventuring. Still, to make sure things are kept competitive a comprehensive scoring element is being included: you'll snag XP and credits for kills, assists, the completion of tasks, staying alive, and more.
Then, at the end of each game, you'll get to stack up scores with your teammates, see how you compare to the elite on online leaderboards and of course level up your character and snag new boomsticks with your credits. Word is you'll also be able to snoop on the various upgrade paths rivals have taken. Maybe their success as an Engineer class has stemmed from the fact they've chosen to throw a bucketload of points into their Incinerate attack rather than beefing up their Combat Drone?
The recent PAX expo demo suggested that Mass Effect had finally come of age when it came to third-person combat. Ergo the move to multiplayer, as Casey Hudson confirms: "Honestly, we feel we're come far enough, crafted a high enough quality shooter to be competitive with the best out there. Now is the right time to give this to players."
This is an excerpt of Xbox World's exclusive behind the scenes look at Mass Effect 3's Galaxy at War mode. For the full eight-page feature buy Xbox World online and have it delivered to your door.