According to the game’s exploration trailer, Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s single-player campaign spans an entire galaxy, encompassing dozens of star systems and hundreds of planets. Though you won’t be able to land on and explore every single one, the scope sounds undeniably ambitious.
Andromeda’s online multiplayer, however, scales that scope down significantly, offering instead a series of tightly contained cooperative “horde mode” maps. Teams of four players must survive seven rounds, completing objectives or simply eliminating waves of varied enemies until the extraction round. Imagine a combination of Mass Effect 3‘s surprisingly enjoyable multiplayer and Gears of War 4‘s updated horde mode and you’ll understand roughly what Andromeda’s working towards.
During the opening hours of PAX East, I was able to play a single multiplayer match, which, while brief, showed off all the fundamental elements comprising Andromeda’s co-op. Though clearly nowhere near as robust as the single-player’s open-ended character customization system, you can adjust your loadout by picking a race, two weapons, and three powers. These powers range from equipment like grenades and assault turrets to biotic abilities like pull and throw. There’s also a dedicated leveling system built into multiplayer, so in all likelihood, you’ll unlock stronger options as you progress.
I ended up playing as a human female soldier, but I found myself fighting alongside a Krogan Vanguard and Asari Sentinel on a dusty desert outpost called Firebase Sandstorm. Surprisingly, the map actually seemed smaller than those found in Mass Effect 3, but it was dense with objects to duck behind and clamber over. If a teammate went down, darting over to his section of the map generally took just a few seconds due to both the size of the map and the jumpjet dashing that carries over from the campaign.
In the event that your teammates can’t reach you, however, you can self-revive using a consumable revive pack, though these are limited. You also start each round with first aid packs, ammo packs, and Cobra RPGs, but these too are in short supply. You can refill your ammo at certain fixed locations within each map, but I never noticed any revive pack or Cobra RPG pickups. Thankfully, health regenerates quickly if you manage to stay behind cover for a few seconds, which made it relatively easy for my team to endure all seven rounds.
Our enemies did their best to make it difficult, though. Most of the bad guys were generic gun-toting soldiers or ferocious, dog-like creatures, but occasionally we’d encounter specialized units like durable mechs and sharpshooters with powerful sniper rifles (that also had conspicuous laser sights). Most interestingly, some enemies were members of various Milky Way species–at one point, I killed a particularly powerful Asari who was labeled “Assassin” in the heads-up display.
I later found out these characters were supposed to be renegade members of the Andromeda Initiative who defected, and it’s up to players to bring them to justice. It’s a simple but effective bit of narrative framing, though it’s important to note multiplayer doesn’t meaningfully tie into the main campaign’s story. You can earn unspecified “rewards” that you can use when sending your NPC allies on strike missions in single-player, but you don’t have to increase your Galactic Readiness like you did in Mass Effect 3. You can choose to play co-op or just ignore it completely.
Either way, the multiplayer component’s focus on intimate, frantic combat could make it a welcome complement to the heavy themes and nuanced conversations of the single-player. Still, I hope co-op becomes more complex and challenging the more you play. Even the rogue Andromeda Initiative characters weren’t particularly difficult to take down, and our two objective rounds–which essentially required us to reach specific points around the map and hold a button–were simplistic. Without deeper mechanics like Gears of War 4’s base-building Fabricator, I worry Andromeda’s co-op could end up feeling superfluous and superficial.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is due out on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on March 21 in North America and March 23 in Europe.
Look out for our Mass Effect: Andromeda documentary series next week–we’ll be taking a look at Mass Effect’s journey, how the original trilogy’s ending sparked controversy amongst its fanbase, and to what extent Andromeda is a fresh start for the franchise. Keep an eye on GameSpot for Episode 1 on March 17 and Episode 2 on March 18.