As games grow more sophisticated and immersive, developers are naturally on the lookout for new and innovative ways to push the envelope and keep players engaged. One of the most popular ways through which developers try to do so is by taking the strongest elements of a game’s single-player experience and re-working them into a multiplayer system. While efforts to keep a game’s appeal alive through innovative multiplayer should always be praised, sometimes such attempts work, and other times they are better left on the cutting room floor.
Tomb Raider: Didn’t Quite Work
Last year’s reboot of the iconic action/adventure series did a lot of things right. It told a powerful and emotional origin story for series mainstay Lara Croft, featuring a solid balance of third-person exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat. Plus, it sold well enough that publisher Square Enix greenlit a sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider. For fans who wanted to get really invested in the game, developer Crystal Dynamics also attempted to transfer the game’s survival-based gameplay into a competitive multiplayer format. Sadly, the multiplayer ended up being the weakest part of the game.
To Crystal Dynamics’ credit, it tried valiantly to make the multiplayer feel as tense as Lara’s solo adventure but that aesthetic wasn’t quite enough to elevate the multiplayer into a compelling experience. For one thing, the multiplayer just felt like more of the same. There was the usual progression/unlocks system that periodically awarded new weapons or playable characters, a smattering of modes and maps, and even a roster of characters that was transposed straight from the story mode. But there was also very little effort taken to really differentiate Tomb Raider’s multiplayer from the thousands of other competitive multiplayer shooters out there.
The limited number of game modes (four in total) and maps (five, with more through paid DLC) grew stale quickly and the lack of balanced matchmaking meant many matches boiled down to whichever team had more higher-level players that had access to more powerful weapons and skills. The multiplayer was also plagued by network issues such as lag and rubber-banding, which made some fans less than happy about spending money on DLC weapons, playable characters, and map packs that added up to about $25 in total.
If Crystal Dynamics were to take another stab at multiplayer in Rise of the Tomb Raider, some changes would obviously have to be made. Giving us original, customizable multiplayer characters instead of lifeless, generic re-skins of story characters would be a start, as would including some sort of co-op mode for those who don’t enjoy purely competitive experiences. Maybe find some way to incorporate the series’ iconic tomb-exploring into a cooperative multiplayer experience; honoring the game’s roots while also allowing friends to work together. I wouldn’t say Crystal Dynamics should strive to make Rise of the Tomb Raider’s multiplayer component (if it indeed has one) into a ground-breaking new experience but if even a little effort is put into making it less generic, I’m sure fans will be more receptive.
Mass Effect 3: Worked Surprisingly Well
When developers announce they are adding multiplayer to their story-centric games, concern over whether multiplayer development will distract from the perfecting the single-player experience almost always arises. This exact concern led many fans to suck their breath with worry when BioWare first announced it would be adding a multiplayer component to Mass Effect 3.
As it turned out, the worry was unfounded. Whereas Tomb Raider’s multiplayer focused solely on competitive outings, Mass Effect 3 went in the exact opposite direction by offering a purely cooperative experience. Players would battle against waves of enemy forces and in turn boost the “Galactic Readiness” of their single-player campaign. While the single-player story had players assuming the mantle of the human Commander Shepard, the multiplayer had no such restrictions. Players could step into the space boots of alien races such as the Turians, Asari, Krogan, Drell, Salarians, and many others for the first time. These various races, combined with the game’s six different combat classes, allowed teams to synergize their strategies and skills as they battled enemy factions such as Cerberus, the Geth, and, of course, the Reapers.
Healthy sales of the game’s single-player DLC allowed publisher EA to offer several multiplayer DLC expansions for free (though the company also allowed players to purchase multiplayer item packs for real money as well) and the thriving community which has grown around Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer still supports and plays the game to this day. BioWare was also keen on showing its support by hosting community-focused special events which allowed players to unlock exclusive rewards and proved just how committed BioWare was to standing behind its decision to bring the Mass Effect series into the realm of multiplayer.
Although Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer was well-executed, it wasn’t without its flaws. The wave-based setup got repetitive after awhile, even with all the different enemy factions and mid-round objectives added in. Maybe in future Mass Effect games there could be another game type that had players progressing through linear missions and solving puzzles along the way in addition to the combat segments. I also wouldn’t mind being able to pick new weapons/characters to unlocked instead of having them decided through random item packs.
Batman: Arkham Origins: Why Even Bother?
When developer WB Montreal took over the reins for Rocksteady’s highly-praised Batman Arkham series, it knew it would have to try something really different to help Batman: Arkham Origins stand out. If there was one feature that made fans quirk their eyebrows in interest, it was the game's specially-designed three-way competitive multiplayer mode.
On paper, Arkham Origins’ multiplayer sounded kind of neat. Two teams of three, playing as criminal “Elites” in the employ of iconic villains Joker and Bane, had to frag each other in a typical territory-control game mode. They could even play as their dastardly leaders at certain points in the match. The twist was that a third team, playing as the dynamic duo Batman and Robin, who can utilize hiding places and various gadgets to take out members of both teams. Team Batman could win the match if it managed to build their “Intimidation Meter” up high enough.
Sadly, the reality of Arkham Origins’ multiplayer was a far cry from the fantasy WB had built up in pre-release marketing. The multiplayer suffered from crippling network issues out of the gate which made finding a full lobby of players nigh impossible and which also caused frequent game disconnects and freezes. Even when a match could be started, the game’s horrendous matchmaking and over-reliance on microtransactions sapped all the fun out for anyone who wasn’t already high level or playing as Batman or Robin. The persistent network issues, which lasted for months after the game’s launch, and overall lack of support from WB made Arkham Origins’ multiplayer the irredeemable final straw of an already mediocre experience.
Considering the negative reception Arkham Origins got, Rocksteady wisely decided to eschew any sort of multiplayer mode for its upcoming new-gen Batman game Batman: Arkham Knight, instead choosing to focus solely on crafting a compelling single-player story. Still, it would have been kind of neat to see a more refined take on Arkham multiplayer, maybe a cooperative experience that had two players playing as iconic heroes and fighting off waves of thugs or a competitive experience that pitted cops versus criminals. Or perhaps some Batmobile action. Maybe once Rocksteady wraps up Arkham Knight, another developer will give Batman fans a multiplayer experience that’s worth playing.
God of War: Ascension: Ended Up Being the Game’s Highlight
Back in 2012, if gamers had listed all the single-player franchises that needed multiplayer, I doubt the God of War series would be very high on it. However, when developer Sony Santa Monica unveiled God of War: Ascension to the world, it also made the stunning announcement that the game would have a multiplayer component. Fans were undoubtedly curious what sort of form a multiplayer mode in a God of War game would take and the answer was, unsurprisingly, a brutal and bloody affair that had players eviscerating both each other and enemy monsters in competitive and cooperative modes.
While God of War: Ascension’s single-player once again starred the rage-filled anti-hero Kratos, the game’s multiplayer allowed players to create and customize their own combatants and pledge themselves to one of four Gods (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, or Ares), each of whom granted players their own unique skills and attacks. The combat was fast-paced yet also fair for those willing to stick with it thanks to the unique “rock, paper, scissors” format that Sony Santa Monica took the time to develop and balance.
Much like BioWare with Mass Effect 3, Sony Santa Monica did an excellent job of supporting Ascension’s multiplayer with both free and paid post-release DLC that added in new maps, new game modes, new armor and weapon collections, and even an entirely new weapon type. Many reviewers actually found the game’s multiplayer to be its strongest element, since single-player protagonist Kratos’ ongoing war against the rest of the Greek Mythological pantheon had grown rather stale by the time Ascension came out. If the God of War series were to ever produce another entry (hopefully one set within a different mythological setting), I wouldn’t be averse to seeing the series’ uniquely violent approach to multiplayer make a return with it.
Every (Multiplayer) Game Tells a Story
There are many other examples of normally single-player-focused games receiving a multiplayer component, too many to cover in one article. Some of these examples are remembered fondly by those who played them, others…not so much. If you liked what you read here today, I’ll be sure to do future installments in which I recall and discuss further examples of games that, for better or worse, made the jump to include multiplayer in their normally single-player-exclusive offerings.
Nate Hohl has been working as a freelance writer and game journalist ever since he graduated college in 2011. He has written for a large number of different websites including freelancewriting.com and Newegg's gaming site gamecrate.com. While he enjoys writing news and reviews, he feels his skills are best applied when exploring relevant topics and engaging readers through opinion and editorial pieces.
Nathaniel Hohl posted a new article, Opinion: When adding multiplayer works... and doesn't.
Adding multiplayer to a long-running game series could be just the thing to bring things to a new level. Other times... not so much. Nate Hohl examines the multiplayer score across four different games.