Oct. 11, 2011 at 1:05 PM ET
At long last, BioWare has dished the details about the multiplayer features coming to its highly anticipated game "Mass Effect 3."
After months of leaks, rumor and rampant speculation, followed Monday by a series of vague tweets from BioWare brass, community manager Chris Priestly last night revealed that "Mass Effect 3's" multiplayer is happening and will allow four people to play co-operatively only, and that these extra missions will be "completely optional."
Priestly unloaded loads of additional multiplayer details in the BioWare forums and spent no small bit of print trying to allay the fears of upset Mass Effect fans who have decried the company's decision to pull the critically acclaimed series away from its character-driven, single-player focus.
"Our priority and focus with Mass Effect 3 has and always will be to deliver a complete and satisfying single player experience," Priestly insisted in his post's FAQ section.
"Mass Effect 3" will be the first game in the space-faring, galaxy-saving franchise to allow multiple people to play online together over Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network and the Internet. As Priestly explained:
Players can choose from a variety of classes and races, form an elite Special Forces squad, and combine their weapons, powers and abilities to devastating effect as they fight together to liberate key territories from enemy control. Success in multi-player will have a direct impact on the outcome of the single player campaign, giving players an alternative method of achieving ultimate victory against the greatest threat mankind – and the entire galaxy – has ever faced.
Priestly went on to explain that gamers will not play the franchise's beloved protagonist Commander Shepard or other main characters from the series such as Garrus and Liara in the multiplayer missions. Instead, for the multiplayer missions, players will create custom characters to fight on different fronts in the galactic war against the devastating machine-race known as the Reapers.
Priestly also unveiled the new "Mass Effect 3: Galaxy at War" system. The key to saving the galaxy at the end of the game is the "Galactic Readiness" level you achieve as you play. It is measured by Commander Shepard's ability to apply "every possible asset — people, weapons, resources, armies, fleets — in the final battle against the Reapers."
Players can increase their Galactic Readiness level in different ways using the Mass Effect 3: Galaxy at War system. The multiplayer missions will be one way to improve your readiness, but Priestly said that, in the coming months, BioWare will also reveal "other platforms and interfaces" that can impact your game.
But he also repeatedly pointed out that "it is still possible to achieve the optimal, complete ending of the game in Mass Effect 3 through single-player alone."
Meanwhile, he insisted that the addition of multiplayer features did not detract from the team's focus and dedication to the single-player experience — as many critics have feared.
"A dedicated team from our recently formed BioWare Montreal studio has been focused on creating the multiplayer game features while the main game continued to be developed by the team in BioWare Edmonton," he explained. "Both teams are integrated under the same leadership group that produced Mass Effect 1 and 2, led by Casey Hudson."
Despite all the assurances, not everyone is pleased with the news. As of this writing, the BioWare multiplayer thread is now 77 pages long and filled with players (sometimes heatedly) debating the pros and cons of the newly announced features.
"My fear is they're essentially trying to wedge two totally separate games into a single title, and one or the other (or both) will end up broken as a result. No one wants that, least of all me," wrote a commenter by the name Iakus.
"The Mass Effect series has always been about, for me, tailoring the events from the perspective of Shepard. It's about creating that personal experience that is unique to me alone," wrote commenter voteDC. "Co-op, no matter how well done it is, can only detract from that. I will not be having that unique experience as I will have to now share it with three others."
Still, plenty of expectant fans welcomed the news that they would be able to play what is perhaps the coming year's most anticipated game with friends. ("Mass Effect 3" launches March 6, 2012.)
"I have to admit, I'm seriously overjoyed by this," wrote RamirezWolfen. "I might even pre-order two copies of ME3. One for me, and one for a friend."
"This sounds like its gonna be freaking amazing!" wrote VampireCommando. "What I don't understand is why people are saying that they hate it and that it will ruin it already before actually having a chance to play it, you never know guys you could end up loving it."
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Winda Benedetti writes about games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things here on Twitter or join her in the stream here on Google+. And be sure to check out the In-Game Facebook page here.