With post-release DLC an established norm these days, much was expected from the DLC for Mass Effect 3. DLC offerings give the developers an opportunity to take the pulse of gamers before they expand, enrich, fill in holes, tie up loose ends, and let players run around in more of the story’s universe. The possibilities here are especially pertinent for Mass Effect, not only because it leans on its story so much (more so than any other game recently and possibly ever), but also because the controversial conclusion that story received with the ending to Mass Effect 3 opened the door for BioWare to address directly some of the complaints and concerns of fans.
So now that BioWare has issued the final DLC for Mass Effect 3, the last significant content addition to the trilogy, I thought we’d take a look back on the those three DLC offerings to discuss what they did for the game and the landscape of story-based games in general.
The first DLC mission was named Leviathan, a word which would correctly point any Jewish or biblical scholar (or gamer – video games love monsters) to something big and waterbound, some kind of sea monster. For Mass Effect, the biggest of the big are the Reapers, the spacefaring robo-squids the size of Central Park, and Leviathan tantalizingly hints that even they are afraid of whatever the Leviathan is. There’s always a bigger fish.
This DLC is primarily concerned with the Reapers’ origin story, and was pretty well-received. Personally…I could have done without this one. In Mass Effect parlance, the Reapers’s cyclical harvesting of all intelligent life is literally the biggest, most epic force in the universe. Leviathan attempts to fill in some backstory about how that kicked off and why it’s been happening every few dozen millennia or so, but this is a case where I think it should have either been a bigger deal (like an entire story unto itself) or nothing at all. It’s cool that a beginning-point was thought out, but I don’t think knowing the Mass Effect prehistory is that fundamental to the story. Despite the sheer scope of events and story elements, what makes Mass Effect‘s story go is ultimately the nature of the player’s attachment, effect, or lack thereof, on the other characters with whom he or she spends time. Does it really matter much to them or to Shepard to know that the Reapers are giant robot squids with mind-control powers because they were created by actual giant squids with mind-control powers? Such revelations are only really significant for intelligence purposes in the war effort and because Shepard encounters some of these surviving space squids (the organic versions) and manages to convince them to join the war. I can almost hear James’ voice reacting now: “Who cares where they came from? Blow them up.”
All that said, I had a blast with the combat, even if the “investigation” leading up to those events was pretty lightweight. I got a kick especially out of the use of some of the newer multiplayer round objectives for single-player purposes, such as fetching a backpack gadget to deliver somewhere while Reaper troops are swarming at you. This mission had a couple nongame moments – and I swear all games do this – of “move forward and push the button” when moving forward and pushing the button is literally all you can do. Ranting about that industry convention is another discussion for another time. I guess to sum up, I’d prefer if they were adding backstory that they make either about your specific Shepard or about your supporting cast. It wouldn’t need be a huge thing for each character (although that would be awesome). It could just be like DLC #1: Garrus, Tali, and James and so forth.
The second DLC, Omega, is set entirely on one of the more significant locations in this universe as gangster Aria T’Loak attempts to regain her iron grasp on the lawless asteroid station after being indignantly booted out by Cerberus general Oleg Petrovsky, a strategic mastermind who puts even ruthless Aria out of her depth. Players spent a great deal of time on these mean streets in Mass Effect 2, but the station was off limits in the third installment, with the de facto boss deposed and seated disgruntled in a booth at a Citadel nightclub. Omega was also featured in some of the Mass Effect novels, and the events of Aria’s overthrow at the hands of Petrovsky was covered in a comic book mini-series, so Shepard arrives to share the spotlight of the latest adventure in the station’s tumultuous history.
I always got a kick out of my interactions with Aria, since it’s one of the few strong cases in which my Captain America Shepard truly clashes with another personality. We don’t get along, but the necessity of war has forced our alliance, and despite her distaste for Shepard personally, she needs his talent for causing and surviving a massive ruckus. I did want a little more of her from the Mass Effect 3 campaign, which I thought oversimplified what I would have expected to be the gargantuan task of convincing a powerful crime boss who respects Shepard’s dangerousness to assist his war effort, despite how much she hates his guts. Omega leaves no doubt that she owes you by the time all is said and done.
Of the three DLCs, Omega has the most combat. It’s nearly an end-to-end firefight with very few pauses. I was a bit miffed that Aria insists Shepard leave his crew behind (she “doesn’t like some of the company you keep,” which is interesting, because she doesn’t particularly like my Shepard either), since I think the best part of the game is how your adventures shape your relationships. However, squadmates aren’t the only characters with whom Shepard has a history, and Aria is one of only a handful of significant non-squadmate characters who appear in all three games. I suppose they could have devoted an entire DLC to Admiral Anderson, Dr. Chakwas, Captain Bailey, or Joker, but I think Aria was a solid choice, and Omega does a good job of filling in what I felt was a bit of a plot hole with her. Besides, she ends up being one of your squadmates for this mission, and a redonkulously overpowered one at that.
The last DLC, Citadel, can be considered two distinct portions, since each has little to do with the other. The first portion is a combat-heavy mission that involves an identity-theft plot in progress regarding Shepard and presents a new enemy type – a mercenary group that is basically Cerberus with a few twists. The second portion is almost zero combat, instead focusing on dialogues and encounters with the supporting cast. BioWare set out for fan service with this DLC and knocked it out of the park. It’s obvious throughout that the focus of both sections was on the script, character personalities, and relationships. They definitely tried harder than ever before to be funny, and I’m impressed at how well they hit the mark. Witty banter flies amidst the bullets as your entire team accompanies certain sections of the combat. Other highlights include a volus pizza delivery guy, EDI shopping, Jack’s puppy, picking a lock with a high-tech toothbrush, Zaeed attempting to romance (or even relate to) Samara, hungover Javrik, Blasto himself, and various reactions to the mere idea of Shepard dancing.
I was floored by the richness of life this DLC brought to the Citadel itself. Settings within the Citadel pop with color, detail, and personality worthy of the hugest and most cosmopolitan city there has ever been – think Times Square with a Star Trek makeover. Previously, some of the design and visuals of the Citadel could be a bit bland or redundant, but not this version.
Citadel occurs chronologically before the events of the final battle around Earth, but it seems clear to me that BioWare’s intent with this DLC was to provide players some emotional closure with the characters. After three 40+ hour games with these characters, players have gotten to know them as well as fans get to know characters in any TV series. Furthermore, they have had shared experiences, and their development has reacted to the effect of the players. The second section of Citadel is almost all social, focused on the supporting cast. Interspersed with the jokes are some genuinely sentimental and moving moments that pushed my emotional buttons as well as any TV, movie, or book could. I would have loved for BioWare to attempt a DLC with real epilogues for these characters, but I understand the ambiguity of Shepard’s survival at the climax of Mass Effect 3 makes that idea impossible. Citadel‘s dialogues and decisions are probably as close as anything could come to that, which didn’t fully occur to me until I realized how much I was finding the ending few moments bittersweet.