The online co-op half of the Mass Effect 3 Demo has been out for nearly a week even though everyone was able to access it by last Friday. It is no surprise that this co-op is a wave-based survival mode, but with the Mass Effect twists, it turned out better than I thought. I was going to write it off as just another Horde mode, but you can tell BioWare took their sweet time making it as a legit multiplayer mode than another tacked on bullet point to sell more copies. There are two maps to play in this demo as one takes place in a Noverian base while is at a more urbanized environment. Even for a demo, there is tons of replay value with the amount of unlockables you can get and it provides a good taste of the action in the final game.
One of the major reasons that co-op is more deeper than what people expected is the amount of characters you can play as and level them up. For the demo, you start as humans with the variety of classes the franchise has been known for from Soldier, Vanguard, Engineer, etc. As you buy starter/veteran packs with credits earned from playing matches, you gain more characters of different races, weapon modifications, extra health/ammo items, and more. A Turian Soldier for example would have different powers and stats than a human soldier, so BioWare did a good job of mixing things up with their races and classes so they don't feel one-dimensional. Leveling them up is the same traditional Mass Effect fashion with powers and stats along with the new branching trees introduced in this game when you reach level four with certain abilities. However, there are multiple characters with different classes to mess around with compared to customizing what the campaign gives you. It is also easy to level up quickly in this demo as a long game can guarantee that especially when you are just starting out.
There is a finite set of enemy waves players have to beat to complete the mission. For the demo, they are set at ten, which didn't seem much, but these games go longer than you think (almost a hour if you go deep). Hopefully the wave count can be customized in the matchmaking options of the final game. There are also difficulty settings that are significantly different in terms of the enemy count and types of enemies they throw at you as Bronze is the easiest, Silver is basically normal difficulty, and Gold is the hardest. Even on bronze difficulty, beating the ten waves with a full team of four is not a cakewalk as one wrong move will lead to failure. Teamwork in general is a key factor in beating these missions as going nuts without any sort of a gameplan is a bad idea especially with enemies that can kill you fast. At some waves, another objective would open up for players to complete than just clearing out objectives. These range from getting to certain chokepoints of the map to hack software or killing specific targets. More objectives just add along for things to get done while enemies are still out there to kill you, which is a good thing.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, it is still Mass Effect, but with more human controlled players in a certain area. Being that it is online co-op, the power and weapon wheels are not used since you can't stop the game during an online match, so you have to rely on quick commands to switch weapons, use powers, and items. It is highly recommended that the group you play with for this mode is diverse in terms of the classes as going in with four soldiers or four vanguards for example is not a good idea. The various classes are still true to themselves as they were in the campaign as having a variety of them in one map definitely helps. An engineer for instance would use drones in certain parts of the map to mow down enemies while soldiers and vanguards can finish the job with their damaging powers up close. Players can be revived if they're down, but can be curb stomped or bled out if you don't come in time to rescue them. Playing the maps with a varied group of classes does prove that co-op Mass Effect works as they have their roles to complete the mission.
Even though it is another wave-based survival mode at its core, Mass Effect 3's online co-op is actually fun to play especially with a group of players that use a variety of classes. There is a ton of replay value that can be as much as the competitive multiplayer juggernauts out now with the amount of characters and classes you can play as. The maps feel fine just by the demo so far as it is crazy seeing an Atlas mech roam around a small indoor environment at times. However, I hope the online matchmaking improves as load times can be long going in and out of games in the final game. Even when not finding matches, the load times are longer than normal even going back to the multiplayer menu. All of being that said, this is Mass Effect multiplayer done right as I don't think a versus mode would work out as well as this co-op, but who knows. We'll see if the online co-op still holds up when Mass Effect 3 is out in two weeks on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.