Despite plenty of fan-fueled reservations, BioWare recently confirmed that the highly anticipated conclusion to Commander Shepard’s intergalactic space opera, Mass Effect 3, will feature a multiplayer component – in the form of optional 4 player co-op.

Plenty of gamers tried to deny the possibility ever since we first heard rumors of multiplayer back in May 2010 and as more concrete information has become available, including official confirmation and a squad leader combat video that was surprisingly reminiscent of Gears of War 3‘s Horde 2.0, fans of the franchise are still very skeptical about what the new feature could mean for the Mass Effect experience – which has, until now, been mostly a very personal journey.

However, now that the cat is out of the bag, BioWare has made it a priority to reassure fans – pushing out a lot of information about what players can expect as well as remind everyone that multiplayer is going to be optional and will only enhance the Mass Effect 3 experience for those who want it.

Unlike a lot of tacked-on multiplayer components (we’re looking at you Dead Space 2), new information from OXM suggests that cooperative gameplay has actually been in the works since the original Mass Effect but it wasn’t until Mass Effect 3 that game director, Casey Hudson, felt comfortable implementing the feature.

You can head over to StickSkills, who has compiled a full list of the new details, or read the highlights we thought were especially interesting (or reassuring) below:

  • The multiplayer experience boils down to a four player co-op survival style mode that lets you fight increasingly difficult waves of Cerberus foes.
  • The enemies you’ll encounter can range from your most basic foot soldier to “assassin-like Phantoms and even the hulking metal titan-esque Atlas mechs.”
  • Each “stage” allows you to go up against eleven waves that must be finished in order to complete that section. The mode reminds quite a few of Gears of War’s horde mode, allowing you to net experience points regardless if you finish the wave alive or not.
  • The “Galaxy at War” mode gives you a reward system, character-progression suite, and a “stake in the larger battle that’s taking place in your single-player campaign.
  • “The more you play and build up your multiplayer characters to survive increasingly tough odds, the more power and influence your single-player Shepard will wield by the time the endgame comes based on the amount of War Assets earned.”
  • If you’re one of those gamers that loves to complete every piece of a game, then you’re in luck. By doing enough in the singleplayer campaign, you will be able to earn enough War Assets, you won’t have to participate in the “galactic war.”
  • As you complete each area or defend newly freed areas, your progress will be detailed on a color-coded map that you’ll be able to view while you’re in the game or a few other platforms. iOS devices, Facebook, and more will allow these to be viewable and have their own “unique hooks” into the Galaxy at War mode.
  • Each class will allow you to possess “specific abilities” as well as the ability to upgrade a few. Krogan soldiers were described as being able to use a charge attack to knock down enemies, along with Soldiers being able to use the Omni-blade for a few rather lethal attacks. For those wondering, you’ll also be able to choose your gender when choosing any class.
  • Along with killing your enemies, mission objectives will be sprinkled here and there. Retrieving data packets around the map and protecting an ally while they hack a series of terminals were a few of the described mission objectives.

Some die-hard fans will no doubt claim that the Mass Effect experience is going to be diminished in some way by multiplayer – and there’s no doubt that the money and time put into the cooperative component could have been used to to add more customization, weapons, and enemy times or to make the campaign longer.

Mass Effect 3 Omni Blade

However, it’s not BioWare’s job to give players what they expect – especially considering Mass Effect 3 is already going to be a massive and robust title – the developer should be allowed to experiment and utilize their assets in whatever way is most exciting to the team as well as potentially satisfying for consumers. That said, there’s little doubt that the cooperative mode stands to be a pretty entertaining addition – as players will be able to coordinate assaults using a calculated mix of weaponry and biotics. Imagine throwing a singularity at a group of enemies who are in cover – so that your partner can easily take them out from a safe distance with an assault rifle.

Even the most cynical Mass Effect fan has to admit that the potential in the co-op mode could keep players coming back to Mass Effect 3 again and again – instead of just shelving the title after they’ve played through the campaign a couple times. In spite of what players may want, that’s BioWare’s goal – to provide an entertaining experience that gamers will want to return to time and time again. For the time being, let’s just hope the developer has a better grasp on multiplayer than they do vehicle combat.

Follow me on Twitter @  benkendrick.

Mass Effect 3 releases for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on March 6, 2012.

Sources: OXM [via StickSkills & Eurogamer]