Mass Effect has always been a series with one goal in mind: to take the player on an epic, galaxy-wide adventure with interesting characters, exciting situations and monstrous villains. The series has never been about multiplayer. It was never a factor.

With the Galaxy At War concept, BioWare and EA have raised the stakes for Mass Effect fans by taking the arrival of the Reapers and turning it into an optional multiplayer experience. While it isn’t a requirement that the player indulges in the multiplayer aspects of Mass Effect 3, those who do are somehow going to see their multiplayer ranking and time investment pay off.

The Galaxy At War is presented in third-person, not unlike a game like Gears of War. The major difference between the two is that Gears of War (and its later, more refined sequels)’s gameplay feels more fluid and intuitive than Mass Effect 3. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in that Mass Effect 3 requires a slower pace in its gunfights than in Gears of War 3, for example, where the player can engage multiple enemies and annihilate them with a barrage of machine gun fire. As a veteran of countless multiplayer battles (from the classic, always-exciting Delta Force: Black Hawk Down to the modern Battlefield 3), I have to say that I’m a bigger fan of slow-paced warfare than the usual kinetic mayhem of something like a Call of Duty title.

In Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, the action is a bit more surgical, as well. Players must focus their firepower in an effort to down an enemy. I’m a fan of this concept, personally, as when I engage the enemy in a gunfight (be it in this game or any other multiplayer title), I take the fight personally and make it my sole goal to ensure that enemy isn’t going to down my teammates. It helps that each individual enemy isn’t a pushover. There are “Nemesis” units that pop up and will often be a bit smarter than the rest of the AI-controlled enemy units, so expect sniper fire coupled with close-range ballistic shield-wielding enemies as you progress through the levels in multiplayer.

That’s also a highlight and selling point to the Galaxy At War concept, in that on the “Gold” setting, the enemies are tough enough, forcing players to work together, otherwise, face failure. I was lucky enough to meet a gentleman from Ohio who was all too happy to communicate and work hard at being a great team player in a random match. Our other two teammates were silent, but they worked with us, as well, setting up defensive positions while covering me as I laid down sniper fire on enemy Cerberus units.

Depending on how much BioWare and EA spice the multiplayer up and whether they continue to support the Galaxy At War concept, I can see this aspect of the game working remarkably well, for as long as it takes the player to complete the main storyline, as both are connected even if it’s slight. If they drop Mass Effect 3 and wash their hands of the multiplayer space, as a longtime Mass Effect fan, I more than likely wouldn’t continue with it, especially with more polished multiplayer titles out there.

Popping a Cerberus Sentinel’s head clean off with a sniper rifle, resulting in an oddly-out-of-place-for-the-series amount of gore was a bit jarring, though utterly satisfying. I wasn’t a huge fan of when Mass Effect 2 made the jump to a more action-oriented experience, but if in making that jump and those strides in development, it led to Mass Effect 3’s solid multiplayer, I’m fine with it. The multiplayer works, overall.

While there are minor glitches (a friend fell under the map and couldn’t participate in the battle, though enemies still reacted as if he was there), surely BioWare and EA will patch things up quickly immediately after release. If Earth is burning and the rest of the galactic community is at war, you better join the fight.