By Joseph Leray
When I first logged into “Mass Effect 3”’s multiplayer last spring, I did so with one specific purpose: to play enough to up my Galactic Readiness rating to 100% before finally squaring off against the Reapers. Zoe, my Asari adept, hadn’t stepped foot back onto Firebase White in over a year, but the news that “Reckoning” would be the last piece of multiplayer DLC for the game lured me back.
The first character I unlocked in “Reckoning” was the Talon Mercenary Engineer. All “Mass Effect 3” multiplayer characters have a melee attack, and most of them are omni-blade strikes. The Talon Merc, however, has an omni-bow. I’ve written briefly about my love affair with videogame bows-and-arrows, so the Talon seemed like a good fit.
And he is, kind of.
The biggest problem is that the omni-bow isn’t generally satisfying to use. It lacks the tension and feedback of, say, “Gears of War”’s Torque Bow, and the simple truth is that holding the B button doesn’t feel as good as pulling the right trigger. It looks and sounds like the thing fires flechettes or darts instead of crossbow bolts. That the Talon Merc sometimes gets stuck in his bow-shooting animation doesn’t help, either.
Talon Mercenary Engineers come with three powers: the ability to lay down Cain Trip Mines and two omni-bow boosts- Concussive and Armor-Piercing arrows. None of these powers require cool-downs, but they’re all grenade based: you’ll need “charges” in order to lay mines or buff your omni-bow. Instead of affecting cool-down rates, the weight requirement only affects how quickly your charges regenerate, so if you’re comfortable with constant trips to each map’s ammo boxes, feel free to carry the heaviest weapons you have.
The Cain Trip Mines pack the heaviest punch of the Talon Engineer’s arsenal, but they can be tricky to use. When things get messy, you can always throw some at your enemies’ feet and hope they walk over them.
I prefer a more tactical approach, though: setting traps at spawn locations or choke points in the map before moving off somewhere else. This allows me to focus on other enemies knowing that I’ve blocked off possible flanking routes. The Talon Merc can play a large supporting role with a few well-placed mines, and he’s a great fit for the optional data-uploading and extraction missions, fortifying and safeguarding any position your squad wants to hold against the never-ending creep of enemies.
This highlights one of my favorite things about “Mass Effect 3”’s multiplayer, actually. The Talon Mercenary Engineer is unlikely to lead the team in kills (he simply doesn’t do enough damage), but BioWare have implemented enough varied mission types that support-oriented classes like the Talon Engineer can find a niche to fill. The Cain Trip Mines and Concussive Arrows have gotten my team out of any number of tight jams, even if my kill-to-death ratio is skewed.
Concussive Arrows are the bread-and-butter of my Talon Merc character. They’re pretty weak on their own, but their damage stacks with the basic omni-bow stats. Like all of “Mass Effect 3”’s concussive attacks, these bolts have a hefty knock-back effect, sending unarmored enemies flying.
This is particularly useful for the Talon Engineer: Y’see, the omni-bow is strapped to the character’s right arm, and arrows don’t bend around cover the way Warp and Incinerate, for example, do. This limits the type of cover he can use, which puts him in harm’s way more often, and his shields are relatively flimsy compared to other classes. The Concussive Arrows’ knockback effect is a great crowd-controller that will keep enemies from shooting at the Talon Merc too much.
The Armor-Piercing Arrows are pretty self-explanatory: they’re stronger than their concussive counterparts, and make short work of Brutes, Atlases, and Scions.
Depending on how well-versed in “Mass Effect 3”’s mechanics you are, you’ll notice that the Talon Engineer doesn’t have any viable way to set off tech explosions. There’s one optional perk in the Concussive Arrow skill tree that can be detonated, but players would need to coordinate with teammates to make it work. Combined with the mines and different ammo types, this Engineer feels more like a Soldier class, but without the shields to keep him propped up.
This isn’t really a problem, but it highlights the fact that the Talon Mercenary Engineer has a bit of a learning curve. His slow bow-shooting animations take some getting used to, and maximizing his potential requires a tactical touch that, say, a Vanguard wouldn’t need: you’ll need to think critically about the map to find ammo boxes, appropriate cover, and effective choke points for setting traps. To make things more interesting, the Talon Engineer’s unique skills don’t have any cooldowns, and his mines and omni-bow skills have a lot of specific, contextual situations they excel in.
For reference, my build looks like this. It sacrifices charge count and shields for boosted omni-bow damage. I have to refill my grenades pretty often, but that’s mitigated to a certain extent by carrying just one light weapon and using special gear. My mines are strong enough to set traps and cripple bosses, but my bow is powerful enough mix it up with the rest of my squad.
The Talon Engineer is balanced in such a way that you’ll never have all the grenades, shields, and damage bonuses that you might want, and finding a build that works for you is part of “Mass Effect”’s appeal. I do wish BioWare made it easier to reset each character’s skills, though — the Merc is finicky enough that you might paint yourself into a corner if you’re not careful.
Still, I’ve had a lot of fun tinkering with and getting used to the Talon Mercenary, not to mention the countless other upgrades, tweaks, and updates “Mass Effect 3”’s multiplayer has received over the course of five free DLC packs. The Talon Mercenary Engineer is a niche character that won’t please anyone looking to rack up kills, but he reminds me why I first fell in love with a multiplayer role-playing game: it’s well-balanced, encourages team cooperation, and includes enough variety for everyone to feel useful and empowered.
If anything, I just wish I’d re-enlisted sooner.