This is a proposal for enhancements to multiplayer setup. It is inspired by the way UFO2000 does things.
What is the basic idea?
A multiplayer game is played with teams created out of nowhere from the multiplayer menu. In theory, all equipment in the game is at the players' disposal. This is fine, but it does invite the player to equip only the most powerful items. This could be solved by balancing, but that's not desireable. Weapons that show up later on in the singleplayer campaign are supposed to be stronger than weapons you get at the start.
The best solution is to introduce a point-based system to the multiplayer game that puts restrictions on what equipment a player can take into battle. An unlimited supply of all equipment should be available to the player, but every piece of equipment, from ammo clips to heavy suits of armor should have a value assigned to them. When building a team, the values of all equipment that's equipped on a soldier will be added together, and this sum will be the Team Cost.
The Team Cost will influence what games that team is allowed to participate in. A 400-point team will be unable to join a 300-point game. A player should either re-equip his team to use less points, or build a different team that does meet the point criteria. The result is that the player will be forced to make concessions. A powerful suit of armor on one soldier might mean reduced firepower elsewhere, and taking Plasma Grenades instead of regular grenades could mean a lack of IR-vision for the team.
How would the various parts of the game handle this?
Firstly, let us consider the server-client aspect of things. When creating a server, a point limit should be set for that game. The value of this limit should be taken from a set of possible values, for example 100, 200, 300, 400, 600 and unlimited. When a client connects to the server, it communicates the team the player is using in terms of a list of equipment. The server will then calculate the Team Cost, and if the Team Cost exceeds the limit, refuse the client.
Secondly, let us consider the interface.
When equipping a soldier, the images for the weapons and equipment should have their cost displayed in the corner in small yet readable numbers. The total cost for the current soldier as well as the Team Cost should also be displayed at all times. This will help the player in deciding what equipment to add to which soldier.
Every soldier should have their individual point total displayed next to their name. This can be useful when temporarily disabling some members of the team to meet a point limit.
The list of servers should display the point limit for every game. When a player tries to connect with a team that exceeds the server's point limit, a dialog should appear telling the player his team is not allowed to participate. When a player tries to connect from the console, a console message will probably suffice.
In addition to the current options, there should be a setting for the game's point limit.
Saved teams should have their Team Cost displayed next to their name for easy reference.
Adding this system or a system similar to what I've described here will add depth to multiplayer games. More restrictive point limits will require the players to either field smaller teams or poorly equipped ones. Of course, for players who like a high-tech slugfest there should be an "unlimited" setting, so everyone will still be happy.