Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer: Themed Solo Challenges

Part 3 of Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Revisited

I explained the mechanics of Themed Challenges in the previous post. Solos are in principle no different from duos — only they’re much harder to do.

In a way, I started playing this game solo. With the SP campaign finished twice, once immediately upon release and once again when the Extended Cut appeared, I was naturally curious about the MP, but at the same time I was horribly afraid to go online and play with random people. (Have I mentioned this was the first online game I’ve ever played?) So for the longest time I struggled on my own, on Bronze, playing the vanilla Human Soldier on Firebase White vs Cerberus and Geth, as they could be held for entire waves from a single defensive position. Well, entire waves 1 and 2. I’d die as soon as the objective on wave 3 made me move around. It was extremely frustrating and didn’t get me anywhere, since not many credits can be earned in incomplete games. But still I kept trying!

Eventually I talked some friends into playing with me; only none of them got addicted as quickly and as thoroughly as I did, so in the end I was forced to turn to public games for my daily fixes after all. It was only after many months of everyday gaming that I even considered trying to solo again — for the Solo Mastery and the Best of the Best banner. By then I could pull off a Bronze solo with most kits; Silver was doable (but far from easy) with those I was comfortable with; and Gold was only imaginable with the sturdiest, most difficult to kill of them all (Krogan Vanguard), and even then it was an hour-long undertaking that I attempted and failed many times before getting it done.

REDness Wallpapers Demolisher (2014) by RedLineR91

After this I made no further attempts at soloing until I discovered the themed challenges. At first, the point of taking these up was to improve my skills so I could handle the platinum duos with ex-Clusum better; but it only took a couple successful runs for it to become a thing of its own. And a very addictive thing at that:

The first challenge series I finished on Gold (and recently, on Platinum too) was The 7 Tiers of Neufchatel: an excellent entry point for a beginner soloist, since it lets you learn the ropes with some of the most sturdy and overpowered characters and weapons. Then I did the N7 Series, which consists of 21 challenges of growing difficulty, starting with fairly easy games and progressing to some really tough ones. The two final ones — the End Scene (Human Infiltrator vs Geth on London) and Ariake (Volus Adept vs Reapers on Condor) both require 10 Waves Survived in addition to three other gold medals on Gold. All in all, so far I’ve done around 30 solo challenges on Gold and around 10 on Platinum. And I don’t intend to stop any time soon!

At the start I said that themed solo challenges aren’t so different from themed duo challenges — but only in the sense of a shared challenge/submission/hall-of-fame framework. In terms of gameplay, there’s a world of difference between any solo and non-solo game, be it a duo, trio or full-team. For a solo to succeed, you have to know where the enemies spawn, how they move about the map and how they will deal with you if you don’t deal with them first. Anyone who’s played long enough will have an intuition about these things, but more than intuition is needed on higher difficulties.

Jack’s Dream by JCros

For example, a clever missile usage strategy may cut the duration of a Platinum solo by 10 minutes or more. It’s no joke! The average time taken is around 50 minutes, and a shorter game means more than just bragging rights. The longer it takes, the greater the chance of failure through loss of calm, focus and patience. However, executing a clever missile strategy effectively requires you to know which enemies to expect on which wave, where big groups are likely to spawn, how to approach and nuke them quickly and safely, and how to back out if that’s not possible.

Some of these things can only be learned from experience, which mostly comes down to relentless trial an error. In fact, digging into the literature for tips and tricks before you have an idea what it’s like to actually play solo won’t be very helpful. But there is another sort of learning resource, which has proven so valuable for me it’s second only to hands-on practice: seeing how others do it. When I get in trouble with a challenge, I’ll find a recording of a successful run, study it, and if I approve of the style and setup, I’ll try to mimic it in game. The results are immediate and dramatic and I’d recommend this approach to every aspiring soloist.

It’s not at all hard to find many and excellent recorded runs on the interwebs, but the solo veterans I routinely go to for both entertainment and education are ex-Clusum, The Night Slasher, and The Techno Turian. Among their videos (which are very many! I believe each of them has over a hundred recorded Platinum solos) are some of the most impressive runs I’ve seen, true masterpieces of patience, precision and quick thinking — and of course, of tons of experience. Here are some of my personal favorites:

I’ve recently recorded a Platinum run of my own for the first time. Coincidentally, it’s a Human Soldier on Firebase White; I’ve come a long way since those bygone days of struggling on Bronze. It’s one of the Weekly Themed Challenges that I’m working on nowadays. Nothing very inspiring or educational about it, but I’m as proud of it as I can possibly be!

It occurred to me after I’d already published the post on duo challenges that from the way I write about all this, one might conclude that playing challenge games is nothing more than some weird sort of self-inflicted torture. Not at all! At times it gets frustrating, that much is true. Nothing leaves quite so bad a taste in the mouth as an hour-long solo that ends in failure on wave 10 — but within minutes it turns into an even stronger determination to do it better next time. And then there are those situations where I keep making the same mistakes over and over again and can’t seem to get over some specific bump on the learning curve no matter how many times I repeat the run — but then I get to be deliciously smug when I finally conquer it. The more difficult the challenge, the more rewarding it is to complete it.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t be doing it if it was no fun. Incredible as it may seem, it is indeed still fun, and very much so, even after three years of active, everyday playing.

In conclusion… I am Commander Smehur and Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer is my favorite game!

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