'Mass Effect 3: Earth' brings the galactic war home with a cyber-ninja

BioWare continues to add free multiplayer DLC to Mass Effect 3, this time with "Earth."

Mass Effect 3's "Earth" add-on, the game's third batch of free multiplayer content, aims to extend its cooperative wave-based mode with new items, characters, and locales.

I spent 30 to 40 minutes playing a session during San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, and while I'm a relative newbie to Mass Effect, even I could see that "Earth" adds a new dimension to the multiplayer mode.

"Earth" includes six new characters, one each from every playable class. I picked the most exotic-looking one, the N7 Shadow, a "cyber-ninja" whose design and armor abilities are "loosely based off the Cerberus Phantom," according to a BioWare representative. She's one of the most fleet-footed and agile characters I've ever seen in the Mass Effect universe; I used that speed to close the distance between myself and an enemy before whipping out my monomolecular katana for some deadly strikes.

The Shadow is also equipped with some blade-centric skills: one allows you to teleport behind an enemy and slash it from behind, an ability that's particularly useful against shield-carrying foes. Cloaking, of course, always gives you a tactical advantage. Since the Shadow is most effective in close-quarters combat, the new Piranha assault shotgun is a great weapon of choice, although the Acolyte pistol — which fires grenades — isn't a poor option. The third new weapon is the Typhoon light machine gun, the heaviest in its class.

The "Earth" DLC explores the battles that raged on this planet while Shepard was zooming around the galaxy. My session took place in the Firebase Vancouver map — the other new ones are in Rio de Janeiro and London — on the rooftops of said base. My compatriots and I faced nine waves of enemies before we perished; I was playing on Easy, not the brand-new "Platinum" difficulty level.

"Earth" also brings in new objectives, so you're not doing the same things over and over. In one case, we had to escort a drone in the form of a floating ball of light from one location to another. For that one, I let my partners handle most of the enemies, since they were better equipped to fight at long range.

BioWare community manager Jessica Merizan reiterated the developer's commitment to free multiplayer DLC, and another studio representative said, "We'll keep supporting it as long as people keep playing it." The "Earth" add-on looks like it will augment the co-op experience just enough to keep fans coming back, and it doesn't hurt that it's free.

The "Earth" DLC for Mass Effect 3 will be available tomorrow, July 17th, on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Update: BioWare recently released a trailer for "Earth" that provides some context for the DLC. Watch it, if only because it's narrated by the one and only Keith David.

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