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Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode employs a trading card-style unlock system, where you purchase “packs” of mystery items that include one-time-use boosts, new weapons, new characters, and new appearance customization options (don’t get excited — they’re mainly just different colors).

After the multiplayer demo came out, developer BioWare acknowledged players’ concerns that the unlock system seemed unbalanced, promising that the retail version would be notably more rewarding. We decided to put that to the test by dropping $100 on multiplayer unlock packs and seeing what we got.

You can purchase three different packs — each with potential items of varying quality — with either Credits (in-game money) or Microsoft Points (real-world money):

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Recruit Pack: 5,000 Credits
Includes five random items or characters, with a small chance for an Uncommon.

Veteran Pack: 20,000 Credits or $1
Includes five random items or characters, with at least one Uncommon or better.

Spectre Pack: 60,000 Credits or $2
Includes five random items or characters, with at least one Rare or better.

Note that you cannot purchase the Recruit Pack with real money. We found that the Spectre Pack, however, makes all the others irrelevant, so this experiment focuses solely on the top-tier option. The other two provide very little return for the investment.

Now the test: GamesBeat sunk $100 into buying Spectre Packs (50 total). We’ve broken our results down into milestones ($20, $50, and $100 total spent) to give an idea of what you might get even if you weren’t planning to drop a Benjamin — and let’s be honest, who is?

Keep in mind that every pack is random, so this is only one of countless possible outcomes.

Also note the math behind this. $100 of Spectre Packs would cost 3,000,000 Credits. A typical bronze (easy) difficulty playthrough on any map will yield roughly 15,000 credits in 20 minutes. The most efficient way to earn Credits and XP is by playing on silver difficulty, which should produce 35-40,000 Credits every half hour, assuming you have a full squad of four skilled, leveled-up players.

Going the silver route, it would take an estimated 40 hours of multiplayer to earn 50 Spectre Packs’ worth of Credits. But would it be worth it, especially when it takes considerably less than that to maximize the Galactic Readiness rating?

$20 SPENT

$20 buys 10 Spectre Packs, which would have cost 600,000 Credits otherwise. Two of these Spectre Packs include two rares, while all others only included the guaranteed one, though there were also some uncommons.

CHARACTERS

Rare character cards add 100,000 XP in training, so even if you already have that character, you still get a nice boost to the entire class. Common character cards only provide 12,500 XP, while Uncommons provide 50,000 XP. All character cards unlock additional appearance customization options.

  • Asari Adept
  • Krogan Soldier
  • Quarian Engineer
  • Salarian Engineer
  • Salarian Infiltrator
  • Drell Vanguard

After $20, our class levels had been bumped up quite a bit (from level one):

  • Adept – 5
  • Soldier – 5
  • Engineer – 7
  • Infiltrator – 5
  • Vanguard – 5

WEAPONS

Nothing too amazing here other than the Geth Plasma Shotgun, which when fully charged can kill pretty much any unarmored enemy and severely damage the rest.

Assault Rifles
Geth Pulse Rifle I
M-15 Vindicator I

Assault Rifle Precision Scope I

Heavy Pistols
M-5 Phalanx I
M-3 Predator III
M-6 Carnifex

Pistol Magazine Upgrade I
Pistol High-Caliber Barrel I

Shotguns
Geth Plasma Shotgun I

Shotgun High Caliber Barrel II

Submachine Guns
M-25 Hornet II
M-9 Tempest II

SMG Ultralight Materials I
SMG Magazine Upgrade III
SMG Heat Sink I

Sniper Rifles
M-98 Widow I

CONCLUSION

Not bad, but not great either. We’re still missing a lot of character slots, and there are plenty of much better weapons yet to be obtained. Considering $20 could buy two quality XBLA games, or grant copious amounts of loot in Infinity Blade II on the iPhone, our investment’s not really paying out that well…yet.

$50 SPENT

The next milestone includes $30 more, bringing the grand total spent up to $50. Of the 15 Spectre Packs purchased during this phase, you’ll notice a ton of duplicates, especially a lot of Drell Vanguards.

Each time you obtain a duplicate weapon, that specific gun is leveled up by one point (two if it’s a default option). You can level any weapon up to 10, and there are well over 20 to unlock.

CHARACTERS

  • Turian Sentinel
  • Drell Vanguard
  • Krogan Sentinel
  • Drell Vanguard x4
  • Turian Sentinel
  • Male Human Adept x2
  • Female Human Adept

WEAPONS

Assault Rifles
M-8 Avenger V
Geth Pulse Rifle II
Assault Rifle Stability Damper II

Heavy Pistols
Arc Pistol I
M-6 Carnifex III
Pistol Piercing Mod II

Shotguns
M-27 Scimitar I
Geth Plasma Shotgun II
M-23 Katana III
Shotgun High Caliber Barrel III

Sniper Rifles
M-98 Widow V
M-92 Mantis III
Sniper Rifle Piercing Mod II

Submachine Guns
M-4 Shuriken IV
SMG Heat Sink II
SMG Scope I
SMG High Caliber Barrel I

Bonus

  • Cobra Missile Launcher Capacity +1
  • Ops Survival Pack Capacity +1
  • Reset Powers

CONCLUSION

Although there were some good finds, overall that felt like another $30 down the drain. Even with all the rare character cards, our class levels hadn’t changed much, and we were still missing a few specific races:

  • Adept – 5 (missing Drell)
  • Sodier – 5 (missing Turian)
  • Engineer – 7
  • Sentinel – 7
  • Infiltrator – 5 (missing Quarian)
  • Vanguard – 12 (missing Asari)

$100 SPENT

$50 down, $50 to go. The following is a list of all of my unlocked content after the full $100 was spent. That’s 50 Spectre Packs or 3,000,000 Credits.

CHARACTERS

Note that the entire second $50 didn’t yield a single new character, leaving me with four empty slots on my class-select screen. XP also came to a crawl. I was hoping to get a character pretty close to level 20 without having to play a single match, but the highest I got was 12.

  • Adept – 9 (missing Drell)
  • Soldier – 7 (missing Turian)
  • Engineer – 12
  • Sentinel – 11
  • Infiltrator – 7 (missing Quarian)
  • Vanguard – 12 (missing Asari)

WEAPONS

At $80 in, I unlocked the M-99 Saber, my first “N7” class weapon. Although I ended with plenty of options to choose from, the Geth Plasma Shotgun remained my go-to weapon, especially without the M-13 Raptor in my inventory. I was still missing lots of mods, and the ones I did have were not leveled up by much.

Assault Rifle
M-8 Avenger V
Geth Pulse Rifle III
M-96 Mattock I
M-15 Vindicator II
M-99 Saber I
M-76 Revenant II
M-37 Falcon I
Assault Rifle Stability Damper II
Assault Rifle Magazine Upgrade I
Assault Rifle Piercing Mod I
Assault Rifle Precision Scope III

Heavy Pistols
M-5 Phalanx I
Arc Pistol II
M-3 Predator V
M-6 Carnifex V
Pistol Piercing Mod V
Pistol Magazine Upgrade I
Pistol High-Caliber Barrel II
Pistol Score I

Shotguns
M-23 Katana III
Geth Plasma Shotgun VI
M-27 Scimitar II
M-300 Claymore II
Shotgun Spare Thermal Clip I
Shotgun Shredder Mod I
Shotgun Blade Attachment II
Shotgun High Caliber Barrel III
Shotgun Smart Choke II

Sniper
M-92 Mantis VII
M-29 Incisor IV
M-98 Widox IX
Sniper Rifle Spare Thermal Clip I
Sniper Rifle Piercing Mod IV
Sniper Rifle Enhanced Scope I

Submachine Guns
M-25 Hornet II
M-4 Shuriken VI
M-9 Tempest II
SMG Ultralight Materials III
SMG Magazine Upgrade V
SMG High Caliber Barrel I
SMG Heat Sink II
SMG Scope I

SUPPLIES

Supplies are special one-use items that are automatically equipped to the D-pad and available in every mission. I didn’t keep track of them until the very end since they’re not that important, and you get a ton of them. But the final tally is below.

  • Cobra Missile Launcher – 64
  • Thermal Clip Pack – 73
  • Medi-Gel – 54
  • Ops Survival Pack – 85

The Medi-Gel definitely comes in handy as it allows you to revive yourself, and the Cobra Missile Launcher is vital for instantly taking down minibosses such as Atlas mechs. Somewhere along the way I picked up two missile capacity increases, meaning I can now storm into each battle with four missiles. On Bronze difficulty, there are usually only four Atlus mechs total, which makes surviving all 11 waves a breeze.

CONCLUSION

Had I not stolen the $100 out of GamesBeat editor-in-chief Dan Hsu’s wallet, I’d be feeling pretty gypped right now. After 50 packs of the best Mass Effect 3 multiplayer has to offer, I still don’t have a single level 10 weapon, I don’t even have all of the available characters (which there aren’t that many to begin with), and I didn’t pick up any of my favorite weapons from the campaign.

Worse yet, I can’t imagine sinking the 40 hours of total playtime that it would take to build up 3,000,000 Credits, only to end up with such a mixed bag. XP comes very quickly through actually playing the game, but Mass Effect 3 is quite stingy when it comes to Credits. I think a better price point for the packs would have been 5,000, 15,000, and 30,000, rather than 5,000, 20,000, and 60,000.

I’m sure there will be those who purchase just a couple packs and get some awesome stuff, while others will go on to have worse luck than I did. That’s the problem with gambling. But according to our little test, the odds are stacked against you in Mass Effect 3.

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